Memories of Sport in Cornwall

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Alan Murton of Goonhavern was born and raised in Truro and here he recounts his memories of sport in the city and how it came to be an important part of his life.

 

Prologue

I was born into a sporting family. My father had boxed and played cricket but was past his playing days when I came along, my mother always knew the latest England Test score when he came home for dinner and my brother loved his sport.

I lived in Richmond Hill close to the Treyew Road grounds where soccer and cricket were played.  My father worked on Saturdays, typesetting Monday’s “West Briton” so it was my grandfather who took me up Chapel Hill to watch my heroes until I was old enough to join friends behind the Penwethers Lane goal or spend the afternoon hanging numbers on the scoreboard beside the pavilion.

In 1944 at the age of eleven I won a scholarship to Truro School and entered a new realm of sporting opportunity, one I soaked up and enjoyed to the full.

There is a downside to my qualification to write on Cornish sport – academic success took me to university and a career up-country.  I played my last game for Truro Rugby Club at Easter 1956 and my last game for Truro Cricket Club in July.  It is a great memory that, dropped from the team to travel to Redruth, I became a late replacement, opened the innings and scored 50.  I got out in a moment of euphoria only to catch a rocket – well justified – from Viv Percy our respected skipper.  I cannot remember the result but I’m positive that we all enjoyed a beer or two when it was over.

I am aware that there are many better qualified to record the deeds of Cornish clubs and individuals. These are personal memories of growing up in the Cornish sporting arena.  One thing is certain – the love of sport I acquired then has been a dominant factor in my life and I have reaped the rewards of lasting friendships and the fellowship that once was natural to all true sportsmen.  I must declare my distaste for much that passes for sport in the modern world.  I believe that I was lucky to be active as player, coach, referee and umpire, in the

Duchy and up-country, at a time when we played for local pride and personal pleasure.

 

Association Football

Daniell Street Rovers

Back row: Mr N.N Pearce, unknown, ? Jennings, Mr Heayn, unknown, unknown, Alan Murton: unknown, Mr Phillips

Geoffrey Sanders, Wilfred Phillips, Bill Bray (Capt), Ray Stephens, Brian Pascoe

Soccer was my first love, nurtured at Treyew Road and inspired by the deeds of my heroes.  I remember ball players like Rex Jennings and Bobby Prouse, the dominance of Reg Mainwaring for whom the phrase “Stopper centre half” might have been coined and Chacewater’s gift to Truro City, a fullback called Hooper with a fearsome sliding tackle.  Cecil Treganowan was nearing the end of his playing days but his roly-poly figure was always in the thick of things and I was privileged to see the class of Gerry Gazzard before he went to join West Ham.  I was on the bank at the ground when Portsmouth FC brought their triumphant League Champions team to play the County’s best and humbled them with a double figure score.  St Austell was our bogey team and if City made the Easter Monday finals at Poltair they almost always sent us home disappointed by winning on their own ground – it was their slope of course!

There was no soccer at Truro School and I soon took to rugby but with many of my friends we continued to play soccer, whenever and wherever we could.  Coats and satchels served as goalposts at Hendra, in Mr Venn’s field below Richmond Terrace, or “trespassing” on the “Tech” field on the other side of Penwethers Lane from Truro AFC.  It was there that we formed “Station Athletic.”  The founder members included Michael Oatey, Geoffrey Sanders, David Smith, John and Alan Carter – all of us lived within the sound of the “Limited’s” whistle and the rattle of the shunting yards, hence the name.  We formed and ran without adult guidance and won and lost matches on our “adopted” Secondary Modern School pitch – for lack of a proper strip we used Truro School jerseys, until someone blew the whistle on us.

There was a groundswell of youthful enthusiasm for the game in the City and two Minor Leagues were formed (U16, U18).  Like a Company with good products but no cash, Station Athletic was swallowed up by near neighbours Daniell Street Rovers.  Messrs Eathorne, Carter and Phillips took on management of the side and we were supported by the parents of all the players and by N.N. (Nanny) Pearce – the potato merchant.

A Truro AFC stalwart, Ken Hambly, was a key figure in setting up and running the leagues for Under 16s and U18s.  He also managed the successful Truro Minors side, which swept all before it in the older division.  Tremorvah, Kea, Trelander were others among the sides who vied for a place in the finals at Treyew Road.  The champions and runners-up played off in “Easter Monday type” finals.  In our first season in the U16 league (1948/49) Daniell Street Rovers finished runners up to Trelander – having lost one and drawn one of our league matches with them.  We suffered a major blow in the run up to our big day when Billy Bray, our right-wing half and captain fractured an arm and “failed a fitness test.”

I was left to captain the side and every man jack played above himself but to no avail and we lost again in a cracking, sporting game by two goals to one.  Monday’s West Briton reported the game and though my faded cutting has been lost in one of our house moves I still re-call the headline: “The Boys Were Good.”  Presentations followed the game and Trelander took the cup and silver medals and the DSR team collected bronze medals, which were later inscribed for us.  It was my first sporting trophy but not my last and I have it on my desk as I type.  I made my first public speech from the grandstand – not my last either.  The following year age moved us up a division and we struggled.

Rugby became my first choice and after one autumn Saturday when I hooked for the School Colts in the afternoon and struggled at left half for the Rovers in the evening I abandoned my soccer ambitions…

 

Rugby

(Photo: Pixabay)

I saw my first game of rugby aged eleven.  My grandfather took me to Treyew Road to see Cornwall play a Combined Services side.  The war in Europe was over and servicemen posted to the Duchy had more time for rugby.  Truro City AFC’s ground looked strange to me, H shaped posts replaced goal nets and were well forward of the soccer goal line. There was no rugby club in the city but after the war enthusiasts re-started Truro RFC, playing their matches at Boscawen Park before they moved to the ground at the top of St Clement’s Hill.

I remember little of that war time game though my grandfather did his best to explain what was going on.  One plump and balding figure did register with me and was always in the action for Cornwall.  S.M. (Sam) Mischler at scrum half had come out of retirement to prove that he could still take on the best.  I came to know him later as the Headmaster of Truro Cathedral School and as a referee or a touchline enthusiast at the derby matches I played for Truro School against his pupils.

Soon after that treat at Treyew Road I was having my first lessons in Cornwall’s favourite game at Truro School.  Sam Rhead ran the under 14 side in which I first made an impact. I was relatively short and tubby – “Built more for comfort than for speed” my father would have said – so I was predestined for the hooker’s job.  It was a job I kept throughout my school rugby days and in my early outings with Truro.  K.W.D. (Ken) James was coach and mentor to the first fifteen.  A committed rugby man from Wales he was known and popular throughout Cornwall as a referee of distinction.

The school had invested in levelling much of their land in Trennick Lane into three terraces and all rugby matches were played there from 1949 onwards.  We also trained there, after picking stones from the new turf, though by no means as rigorously as young and older players do today.  I adapted my soccer skills to dribbling the ball and spent hours alone after school practising what has become a lost art in the game.

The laws of the game were different, a knock-on was a knock-on regardless of whether or not the ball was re-gathered without touching the ground, the ball had to be played with the foot after a tackle and sides could work the touchline, kicking the ball directly in to touch anywhere on the ground.  Foot rushes and the “Wheel and take” were still in vogue and not the exclusive prerogative of the Scots.  “Feet, Cornwall! Feet!” could be heard wherever the Duchy played.  I played two years in the 1st XV and in the second (1951) our skipper Bill Badcock spent much of the game hugging the ball at the front of the lineout, we’d roll forward a few yards until the opposition forced him into touch so that we had the throw-in at the next lineout.  Effective but not exactly exhilarating stuff!

It was in the Prefects’ Room at Truro School that I listened – unlawfully – to the dying minutes of the University match when John Kendall-Carpenter (an Old Boy) made his last-ditch tackle, corner-flagging like fury to take the Cambridge winger in to touch in goal and save the game for Oxford.  I was fortunate afterwards to see him play many games for Cornwall and England.

Some of the school fixtures were played outside the county and on one trip to Plymouth Ken James brought two Royal Navy players to our coach, hitching a lift back to Devonport – they were the Welsh internationals Malcolm Thomas and Lewis Jones, who pulled on the amber red and black Cornwall jersey several times.

Once the rugby bug had got me I joined the crowds at as many county matches as playing commitments would allow.  I can still remember the “Buzz” walking with the crowds from the station at Redruth, through the “Rec” and passing through the gate into our rugby Mecca.  No matter how early we went from Truro the train always seemed to empty at the station, pouring its eager passengers on to the down platform.

We were rarely disappointed.  Cornwall didn’t always win, and Gloucestershire were usually the party poopers but with players whose names were household names we were assured of entertainment.  I was lucky that I watched Cornish rugby when it was full of gifted players.  Many were capped for England and many should have been.  I once saw the great wing forward Vic Roberts rip the ball from an unsuspecting fullback’s hands and touch down for a try.  I watched Kennedy, a Rhodesian at Camborne School of Mines tearing down the wing, Bill Phillips of Redruth kicking goals that were “Still rising when they hit the road…”   The names of many more come easily to mind 50 years on but I don’t have space to pay tribute to them all.

I was fortunate when on vacation from college to be selected for the Truro 1st XV and had some of my happiest rugby days with them – on and off the field.  Brian Taylor was our skipper, not a particularly large man for a second row forward but he was difficult to take ball from in the lineout.  Most of all I remember him as an inspiring leader of as keen a side as I’ve ever played for and I am still proud of my days there.  Truro was a “Senior Club” in the days when the sole qualification for that status was the ability to raise two sides regularly.  Each week we were on a hiding to nothing against clubs that had their smattering of County players and had been established for many more years than the post-war Truro club but not a man in the side would have swapped his Truro jersey to play for another town side.

Among my fondest memories was the day we won our first game against another senior club.  Falmouth came to St Clements Hill. The pitch was hard, the game was harder and a final whistle never more welcome when we won by the only try of the game.  Apocryphal history has it that I missed the score because I was wrestling on the turf with my opposite number.  What?  Me ref?

There was no rush that night for the twin galvanised “bungalow” baths that Bill Huddy had filled with hot water – we’d bathed in much muddier at Christmas and this was Christmas, Easter and Bank Holiday rolled in to one. The Swan Inn in Kenwyn Street was treated to joyful songs with a vengeance that night and mine host Fred Albon didn’t turn a hair.

Most of my friends played in the Truro side and those that stayed in Cornwall continued to play and work for the club for many years.  As students we were grateful to be given games when we came home for holidays and to play with the stalwarts and characters of the club of which there were many.  Bill Sawle was hooker and could be guaranteed still to be tying his bootlaces when the referee waved for the kick-off, Arthur Blake was Brian Taylor’s second row partner and the club owed him much on and off the field.  Hilary (Dick) Jolly, who moved to the big city from Lanner, took more than his share of knocks at fullback but always came back for more, Bill Ward shuffled up and down the wing and Peter Boggia’s blond locks could be seen making tackles – what else do you have centres for?

We played against the best of Cornwall’s home-based players and I learned much from them and had the greatest respect for their skills. Of them all I still regard Harry Oliver of St Ives with awe.  He must have been the best fly-half never to be capped for England, notwithstanding many trials at Twickenham.  In 1955 I was an eager and fit young flanker & full of myself, my college having against all odds reached the semi-final of the Oxford University Cuppers and lost narrowly to a side that included P.G.D. Robbins, M.J.K. Smith, and the Winn brothers.  Mike Smith didn’t give me half the run-around that Harry Oliver did, stepping off both feet and once I swear he jumped back to avoid my desperate dive and hurdled my frustrated body to set the line away.

Suffice it to say in conclusion that I maintained my interest in Truro and Cornwall Rugby throughout my exile, kept informed by the West Briton, which my mother sent me every week for 30 odd years and it’s good to be back where I belong…

 

Cricket

Truro second XI circa 1949

Back row: Teddy Trewin (scorer) Geoffrey Boughey, ? Hobbs, unknown, Ken Hambly, Bill Huddy (our regular umpire:)

Seated: Joe Donovan, “Dagger” Dunstan, Dr Kiernan, Peter Barnicoat, unknown

On the grass: Neil Boughey and Alan Murton

I watched cricket at Treyew Road when a railway carriage served as a pavilion, a shed was the scorer’s hut beside the rickety scoreboard.  As small boys we were kept on the move, stretching from a suspect plank to hang faded metal plates on cup hooks.  This was immediately after the Second World War when Double Summertime was in force, evening matches could be started after a day’s work and finished in reasonable light.

The scoreboard was an apprentice school for a budding Wilf Pearce or Pat Armstrong – not separated from my heroes by a railing or a terrace I could listen to their chat, speak to them (when spoken to) and feel involved.

Before the war my father had been a quick bowler and played for the West Briton team, which had a good reputation in the local villages.  He’d also played for Ladock and spoke of the club there with great affection.  From him I heard of the many heroes of Cornish cricket, for example Kit Trevarthen and Wearne Cory, and learned about the uncompromising honesty of the game.

I first played at the age of ten at Bosvigo School in a team of eleven-year-olds selected by Edgar Grose to play on a pitch in the field.  The wicket was cut shorter than the outfield but with the same spiky meadow grass.  Whether I was selected for my performances in the yard below, batting with a sawn-off bat in front of three whitewashed stumps, or because of the hours I was known to have spent at Truro CC’s ground I shall never know.  You could only get to bat in the playground if you were first to the bat in the cupboard at playtime or if, after queuing with other lucky ball owners, you removed the lad in possession.  I deny absolutely that I got my wickets through the “Six and out” rule when the ball was despatched over the playground walls.

At Truro School I was soon in the U13 XI and by the time I was skipper of the Senior Colts (U15½) I was already playing occasional holiday and evening games for Truro seconds and other local teams.  Attendance at St George’s Methodist Sunday School brought my first contact with T. W. R. (Willy) Christophers, a popular cricketing worthy in his home village of Leedstown.  His job with the NFU brought him to Truro where he became a key figure in the development and growth of Truro Cricket Club.  He was, with others, instrumental in the club’s move to Boscawen Park.  If I have any cricketing regrets it is that I never played on that super ground in its idyllic setting.

It wasn’t long before the Sunday School team was playing evening matches, a mixture of youth and age, Ken White, ex Fireman and painter and decorator, played and did the press reports. He once embarrassed me with the headline: “Schoolboy’s Sparkling Effort…”  Gerald Phillipps or Tom Salmon wouldn’t have used such expansive language.  I remember a game at Ladock, scene of my father’s triumphs with the ball.  I recall fielding at square leg among the reeds in a hollow just inside the roadside hedge and batting on a wicket a bit bumpier than the school pitches I had become used to.  It was fun, we had a great evening, the result didn’t matter and all that without repairing to the Falmouth Arms which father would have done.

Cricket was an enthusiasm which fired family friends Bernard and Ken Hawkey, who farmed at Nansavallan.  They kept bat and ball in the dairy and, milking over, impromptu games took place against the dairy wall – woe betide the dog if it got between Bernard’s off drive and the boundary.  It was on Nansavallan farm that I played my last game of cricket in Cornwall during a holiday from Middlesex.  It was an evening match on a pitch mown out of one of the meadows and I cannot re-call who played whom but I’m sure that it was in the early days of Kea Cricket Club.  I discovered that batting on the flat wicket at Stanmore had not entirely deprived me of the skills learned at Bosvigo, Ladock and other sporting pitches and I managed a useful score, dodging the fliers and jabbing down on the shooters.  What I did relish most of that occasion was the spirit that brought us together, regardless of age and ability, we all played for the sheer love of the game.

John “Buck” Tonkin was the 1st XI cricket coach at Truro School and I was privileged to have three years in the side, as Captain in my last year.  As a rising sixteen-year-old I opened the innings with Trevor Cory, County cricketing son of a famous cricketing father.  In those three years I played and enjoyed my cricket with many who found places in the County side and who continued to work for Cornish cricket; Doug Nance, Michael Buzza, and Ray Stephens are names that come immediately to mind.  It also reminds me that cricket then and now is a family commitment and mothers and wives could – and still can be – found most summer weekends in the kitchen preparing teas that are the envy of all tourists from up-country.

I was selected to captain the Cornwall Colts team in 1951 in what was perhaps the wettest summer of all time – we managed to complete only the trials and the fixture against the Choughs at Redruth.  We lost, Gibson took us for over 50 and I managed a duck, lbw to a shooter.  We did travel to Liskeard for the home game against Devon but needlessly – the club had stopped the visitors from coming to a sodden ground.  Apart from my Truro School team-mates I came to respect the talents of Jimmy Glanville who bowled leg breaks for Redruth for many years, PF (Piffle) Williams, captain of the Cathedral School, a lad called England from Launceston and Roger Hosen from Falmouth, as committed a cricketer as he ever was in his England Rugby jersey.  The Colts team was selected and managed by Jon West, County Youth Organiser – a giant of a man in every respect.

In my holidays I played second XI cricket at Truro and learned much from stalwarts like Joe Donovan, “Dagger” Dunstan, Stan Woodman, Doc Kiernan and Bill Huddy our umpire.  I once scored 30 odd in an unbroken partnership of about 170 with Joe in a 2nd XI league match at Redruth.  We bowled them out for less than 50 but the match had to last for a given time and Joe was uncompromising – the orders were “Stay out there.”  He was a gentle man but a committed winner.  On another occasion in a match at Penzance which they had to win to beat us to the league title the home skipper won the toss and said: “You’ll bat first.”  Joe said: “We will – until six o’clock!”  We damn nearly did and the draw saw us take the title back to Truro!

My days in Truro’s 1st XI were in my summer vacations from university and I was proud to play with Viv Percy and his team, a mixture of old and younger – contemporaries of mine like Mike Buzza, a lifelong friend, Michael Drew, the Boughey brothers Geoff and Neil, David Bennett, son of the awesome Superintendent Bennett of the Cornwall Constabulary, Peter Barnicoat and Ray Stephens.  The regular domiciled members seemed to give way without rancour when the young bucks arrived home and it was a privilege to play with so many great clubmen like Wilfred Pearce, lay preacher, aging a bit he wore tennis shoes to increase his speed in the field.  He once came through thick mist at St Just to claim a catch on the boundary that none of us had seen from the middle.  Without a second’s pause the batsman walked.  There was Eric Mason who’d leave his newsagents in Pydar Street to open the innings against the height and pace of Yorkshireman Roger Whitehouse – even on the stud marked rugby pitch at Falmouth.  Eric barely reached his former Truro team-mate’s waist but he never flinched under the battered blue cap that was his trademark. Frank Manning, whose bowlegs wouldn’t stop a pig in a passage, stayed at the crease for longer than most and for years used always to remind me of the catch I’d held fielding substitute at Camborne. It deprived him of the Batting Cup and he never ever won it.  Ray Roberts, the most charming of men, disregarded his game leg and would bowl “there or thereabouts” all afternoon if the skipper asked him.  At the other end Mike Frank or Peter Barnicoat took the new ball and Dr E Keith Scott and Bill Weichart would queue, eager to bowl their spinners.  Keith, sleeves buttoned down, rolled his leg breaks and googlies out of the back of his hand and Bill teased and floated his off spinners up to the bat.  They both liked to bowl at the grandstand end – the carry from wicket to hedge was shorter at the top end of the ground and long on and long off could not be sent deep enough when they were coming fast off the bat.  Behind the stumps Bill Job kept wicket with great skill and boundless enthusiasm.

After home matches the celebrations were held in “Brad’s” – the old Highertown Inn – when we travelled we joined our hosts wherever they chose.  Has time added a rosy glow to my memories?  I think not.  Though we played to win, an honourable draw or a defeat was a result not a disaster.  Not even after the thick end of a tousing at Mullion – hours spent chasing leather as Cliff Casley put bat to ball followed by the agony of watching the diminutive Harold Watts torment the pride of Truro with his mixture of orthodox left arm and spiteful chinamen.

The spirit of my cricketing days at Truro is encapsulated in the after-match jollifications of away games.  A combination of ale and a stop in Hayle for fish and chips conspired to rob a colleague of his front plate and dentures and to make cleaning his car the next day a worse than usual chore for the driver behind him in the convoy.  No names no pack drill.

Another story is retold every time I meet with friends from those happy days.  In the early 50s only our skipper and a couple of salesmen had cars, never enough to take players, kit and scorer to away fixtures so the club hired a taxi.  Always the same cab and driver – “John Bull” Rapsey.    We had played at St Just; I can’t now remember whether it was the day of the sea mist or the day that the home professional, burly, bearded Jack Chisholm, had to be fetched to the ground late.  Jack’s legs were stiff with multiple soccer injuries but he was a mean competitor, as many young pros found when they tried to go round him at Home Park where he was the Argyle’s centre half – he was more Pirate than Pilgrim.

We’d played, we’d won, and we celebrated together – both teams – in the St Just local.  When we came out a closing time the village policeman was in the square to see us safely on our way – no breathalyser then.  A couple of us introduced him to Supt Bennett’s son and promised to put in a good word for him with his senior officer.  The mood was jolly and he bantered with us without turning a hair.  Our cab arrived and we left St Just behind, peaceful and undamaged.

On the bleak and unlit road towards Penzance the ride got bumpy and we came to a stop.

“You’ll have to get out chaps, I’ve got a puncture.”  John Bull’s unruffled words.

We got out to another dose of fresh air – not always good for the toper after a heavy night. Mike decided that he’d walk home but of course a Loughborough student could only do it on his hands – he made at least 20 yards progress before giving in to gravity (or was it specific gravity?).  David, policeman’s son used his devolved skills to control non-existent traffic.  Others took advantage of the early stop to find a convenient gateway.

“OK boys – I’ve changed the wheel.”

We clambered in ready to sleep our way back to Truro then:”Bumpity bump” – the ride was no better.  “You’ll have to get out ‘gain – seems I’ve changed the wrong wheel!”

Well, ‘twas near ‘nuff wannit?  We did as bid.  We laughed then and we’re still laughing.

 

Truro born and educated Alan Murton returned to Cornwall in 1994 with Writing as a key aim in early retirement after a course with Open College of the Arts with Cornish poet Philip Gross as his mentor. He sent some of his writing to Cornwall Today and was soon a regular in its pages until the West Briton took it over. He joined Truro Creative Writers in 1995 and worked with them, for 20 years as Chairman/Secretary.

            Apart from competing in Old Cornwall Society competition he wrote for two subscription magazines and has been published nationally as well as locally.

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