After a riotous day discovering the joys, and the consequences, of too many jugs of Sangria, we woke on Sunday, January 19, 1974 in our hotel in Benidorm, realising that today was match day!
One by one, the Torbay Gents came down for breakfast, and tried to put on a brave face.
Jock and Johnny, who had suffered most, were last to appear, and both received a loud cheer as they arrived, which made their hangovers even harder to bear!
This was the last day of our three-day trip, so, after the toast and marmalade, we all grabbed the sun loungers and spent the rest of the morning by the pool.
Tony Leach, who had played professionally for Gillingham, came up to me and whispered: “Rog, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get the lads to do some loosening up for this afternoon?”
“Don’t even suggest it, Tony, or you’ll end up being thrown in the deep end!” I replied, and added: “We all finished with training and tactics years ago!”
Luckily for us, football matches, in Spain, don’t begin until late afternoon, and this gave our invalids a few extra hours to recover in time to meet the bus.
We had changed into our kit in the hotel, and, headed for a dirt pitch, without a changing room, tucked away under the mountains, behind Benidorm,
FC Nacional were waiting for us.
In order to get this fixture, we had had to lodge £50 with the manager of our hotel, payable to our hosts if they beat us.
Although I couldn’t share it with my team, I reasoned that, surely, our opponents will have strengthened their team to make certain that they would win the money!
As both teams walked out on to a grassless pitch, covered in small stones, I noticed how young and fit the Nacional team looked, and feared the worst.
The referee blew his whistle, and, within minutes the Spaniards were showing off their skills, and ball control.
Time after time, they attacked, but as ever, our goalkeeper, Derek Aplin, was the king of his penalty area.
If their constant appeals for free kicks were typically Spanish, nothing was more Anglo-Saxon than a back line of George Loye, Malcolm Bidder, and John Churchward!
“They don’t like it up ‘em,” said George, as he volleyed another stripe-shirted winger into touch!
After yet another Spanish attack, Tony Leach came away with the ball, and threaded it through to Maurice Travis, who broke free to score the first goal of the game.
We led 2-0 at half-time, and, despite a late fight back, Maurice completed his hat-trick, Johnny scored two, and I fluked the last one, as we ran out 6-3 winners.
For all their youth, fitness, and ability, the Spaniards had no answer to the pure physicality of an English team brought up in the hurly-burly of the South Devon League!
On the bus back to the hotel, we compared scrapes and cuts but deemed every one of them worthwhile in the service of our first-ever win on foreign soil.
The hotel manager looked shocked as I reclaimed the £50 stake, and I was looking forward to telling our agent just how much we had been underestimated!
Like all cheap holidays, ours came with an unpopular flight time.
After our evening meal, we packed into a small tour bus and were taken back to Alicante airport for a 2am flight back to London.
The wait for the flight seemed endless, but we had lots to talk about, and the bar was open.
As I sat sorting the boarding cards, there was a steady queue for beers, but I noticed that no-one was ordering Sangria!
Eventually, we arrived back in Gatwick in the early hours, and then faced a drive home which, in 1974, took almost six hours.
We had endured 30 hours without sleep but no-one was complaining.
After all, just as Julius Caesar once said, in the singular: “Veni, Vidi, Vici”, we could now say in the plural... “We came, we saw, we conquered!”
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