When I look back on a lifetime of enjoying sport, I credit my dad with providing me with two of the main incentives.
Firstly, he encouraged me to play any, and every, sport which came my way, and, secondly, he provided me with a younger brother to practice them with.
In the very early days, we would compete at marbles and conkers in the daytime, then, at night, we would spend our time fighting it out at Subbuteo Table Soccer.
I was two years older, and bigger than Tony, but he was more subtle and skilful.
Later in life, we had a certain amount of success playing local cricket and football together, but, oddly enough, it was another sport which provided our greatest achievements.
Tony had a friend called Michael Neck whose father was a local solicitor.
In 1964, his father’s practice, Hamlyn, Taylor & Neck, fielded a team in the “Law Offices Pub Skittles League”, and it was often short of players.
Michael invited Tony and I to fill the gaps, and we began to enjoy the matches which, traditionally, always ended with a “beer leg”.
Those who enjoyed a pint, formed what they called a “Syndicate” to pay for the beer leg drinks.
Two years later the league closed, so Michael and Tony decided to enter a team into the Torbay Skittles League, and decided to call it “Syndicate”.
Now competing with four divisions of pub teams from all around Torbay, we knew that the competition would be much fiercer, even in Division Four!
We chose the Palk Arms, in Torquay, to be our “home” alley, and Tony made up our team with his friends and some local cricketers.
That first season, 1966, was memorable, and, at the end of it, we gained promotion. In 1967 we won the Third Division, and in 1968, we were Second Division Champions.
1969 was our first season in the First Division, and it was, of course, much more competitive than anything we had yet experienced. Every match was decided by just a few pins.
However, we only once finished outside the top three teams in the First Division, and eventually won the title in 1974.
In 1975, we almost achieved the first-ever grand slam by winning the First Division, the local final of the Devon Cup, the Roy Perry Cup and the Challenge Cup in one season! Thanks mainly to my brother, he and I put the icing on the cake by winning the best pairs trophy to complete an amazing year.
In 1976, we reached the Devon County Finals in Exeter, and borrowed the Torbay Gentlemen’s bus for the occasion. What a day that turned out to be!
Naturally, I have many wonderful memories of my evenings playing pub skittles, but I tell this story to illustrate the priceless rewards that can be gained from taking part in ALL team sports.
Of course, games like pub skittles don’t require the same physical commitment as football and cricket, but, otherwise, offer so many similar rewards.
They give you something to look forward to each week, and they create that special camaraderie that exists between people who are part of the same team, fighting together for the same ends.
Games like these require no training, and not much skill, yet provide days out, fun and laughter, and long-lasting friendships.
Looking back, I am still unsure about just why we were so successful.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that four or five of us were bowlers at cricket, but I prefer to think it was all down to the beer they served in the Palk Arms!
The story has a happy ending because now, in 2022, Syndicate still play in the Torbay Skittles League, fifty-six years after we first formed it!
Do I still play for them? Not likely! I can’t bend down that far!
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