By Kevin Westlake.
Do you wonder about the internal running of a rugby club? For example, who does what jobs? In this day and age, most tasks are conducted by grown adults with training and a degree of competence, but back when I was a child growing up at Plymouth Albion, the important jobs were given to kids. There was no such thing as a risk assessment or formal training. You were shown once and told to get on with it.
The above facts lead me on to my next childhood story, one of danger, suspense and darkness throughout. For the record, these stories are 100% true. They actually happened. It would be interesting to find out if any of the “old guard” remember the shenanigans at Beacon Park and how much of a nightmare I was!
I remember it being a very special night, it was Albion’s attempt at retaining the Devon Cup for the eighth successive year. The final was Plymouth Albion vs Exeter RFC– a local rivalry like no other, where a thunderous battle was always guaranteed. Rugby royalty flocked from far and wide, donning blazers and ties… the historic cup on show in front of the grandstand, two clubs waiting patiently to seal bragging rights for another 12 months. The teams exited the changing rooms and filed out in front of over 2,000 excited rugby supporters on a fine evening in May, the game kicked off… And that is pretty much all I can remember, other than the result.
Albion lost, from memory, the score was 3-6 in favour of the visitors, which was disappointing, but the best was yet to come. As the final whistle went, Exeter fans congregated in front of the grandstand, Albion supporters staying in place to sportingly hand the trophy over for a trip up the A38, and then it happened, Kevin Westlake struck again…
Now, this time, I maintain it wasn’t my fault. I had been instructed previously to complete my jobs efficiently and to ensure I completed them to the best of my ability. This was my dad’s fault. He is 100% to blame.
Albion used to train at Beacon Park, every Tuesday and Thursday I had a number of jobs to do… for example, collect the balls and put them away. Help the players put away the cones and equipment, turn off the floodlights and help to lock up the changing rooms whilst dad attended the weekly selection meeting. Every week, I worked hard to do my old man proud!
Right, back to the big match. Albion had lost, and I was upset. I wasn’t used to seeing them lose, so I thought “let’s get the jobs done and go home”. As the match finished, the Devon committee filed on to the pitch, preparing for the presentation of the cup. The Chairman invited the Albion team to collect their tankards and get ready to watch Exeter lift the cup. I stood near the middle entrance to the ground and waited. Then boredom kicked in – I didn’t want to watch Exeter relish the moment, so I moved to the floodlight switch-room, to prepare to turn off the floodlights (and completing my jobs efficiently). I started touching the switches, then impatience got the better of me…
Just as Exeter were about to lift the cup and celebrate……. BOOM……. darkness. All of the floodlights went off. I thought nothing of it, locked up the switch-room and made my way back through the ground. I got about 15 metres when a booming voice screamed “WESTLAKE!!!!” – It was Bill Blank, my nemesis from my first story…… he grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and marched me to the changing rooms. This time, Bill had finally got me…… I was definitely in for the high jump.
What followed next was a committee meeting of the highest order, with Exeter officials remonstrating, Albion officials apologising for the “technical glitch” and Devon officials scratching their heads. I stood there, looking as innocent as I could. Eventually, everyone calmed down, and somehow, they had forgotten about me. Even Bill Blank seemed to forget I had been involved.
You would be very hard-pressed to find any photographic evidence of Exeter’s win that year, and that was due to little “Wesser”. The floodlights did come back on, but as with all old floodlighting systems, it generally takes about 20 minutes. By then it was too late, all players and supporters were back in the clubhouse, enjoying the superb Albion hospitality offering.
Nowadays, the floodlight controls at Brickfields are firmly behind lock and key, but occasionally, I get asked to switch them on for a match-day – I think that might change now.
Plymouth Albion has always been a family club, and next season, the plans to extend this go further than ever before. Continuing our partnership with Babcock, we plan on taking rugby around the city and inviting more and more schools and clubs to the home games and increasing our presence in the local community. For information about this, please get in touch with Mike Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My next instalment focusses on grounds maintenance, specialist painting and green bums! Keep checking the website and our social media for more exclusive silly stories from the past.