By Kevin Westlake.
For anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, family was everything. Life was no different at Plymouth Albion. I was lucky enough to have hundreds of “aunties and uncles”, who looked out for us whilst our parents were enjoying the clubhouse after a game. These men and women manned the huts, shops, kitchen and bars around the ground, which made getting away with mischief hard, but luckily, I mastered the art quickly.
As mentioned previously, I have fond memories of growing up at Beacon Park. The club itself wasn’t particularly child friendly, but some of the hiding places in the ground allowed for the kids to get up to all sorts of naughtiness.
There was a point where Albion purchased a big white elephant, otherwise known as “Squash Plymouth”. When Albion first took over the building, the staff found it hard to come to terms with Albion’s management, but more so, they had to put up with children ripping through the lower corridors, hiding in cupboards, breaking things and generally being a nightmare. My experiences were no different.
This is where I first encountered Sheila Cann. Now, many of you will still know Sheila, as she can still be found at Brickfields manning the bars, stocking the fridges and generally saving the day. I can remember being kicked out of the squash club on many occasions by Sheila, and multiple times on a Saturday. The staff there put up with a lot. It is only now, reflecting upon everything, I can see how hard I made it for them.
In my later years, I went on to work with Sheila and the staff behind the bar and was constantly reminded of how much of a nuisance I was in my younger days. I remember one particular Saturday afternoon when a group of us (including my twin sisters) were playing on the steep steps outside the main glass court. We used to run up and down the large stairs making a mess and setting the building fire alarms off by opening the big red fire door!! This would prompt the staff to jump to action and close the door to silence the alarms. This was usually followed by being frog-marched to the main clubhouse to stand trial in front of everyone.
On one particular Saturday, I opened the fire door as usual and everyone scattered to the corridors, trying to escape the clutches of the staff. On this occasion, it was club-man Terry Brown who reacted quickest. Terry was never a fast mover, but he was scary to a nine-year-old. He raced around the corner and caught me in his crosshair… He vaulted down the stairs (surprisingly quickly) and came within inches of catching me… this left me only one option with other exits blocked… I darted for the fire exit and scrambled to safety. Terry laughed loudly as he closed the fire exit, and as he retreated inside, I could hear him chuntering to himself “that Westlake kid…”
Now, being a cocky young man, I thought I had succeeded again and escaped certain punishment.
How wrong was I? What I didn’t know at the time, sparked a mass manhunt for me after about an hour of zero havoc being caused! Eventually, people noticed the serenity and silence and asked “where is Kevin? Why is it so quiet?”
Well, here is the reason! Outside the fire door was a so-called “fire-path”, unfortunately, this was blocked with over-grown with blackberry bushes, nettles and shrubbery. It was completely inaccessible to anyone or anything. I sat there on the floor for over an hour, too afraid to bang the
door for fear of facing the wrath of Terry Brown. I couldn’t move, so, in my infinite wisdom, I sat there and ate as many blackberries as I could.
It was only the repeated and desperate calls of my name which prompted me to reappear, covered in blackberry juice and feeling very sick. Needless to say, when I was discovered, a very stern telling off followed from various players for limiting their social time. Not for the first time, my old man was getting flak from the disillusioned crowds.
Plymouth Albion was a great place to be, and the new management at Brickfields are trying to build the same culture now, let’s hope they don’t have to deal with another “me” in the years to come.
My next tale includes a Devon Cup Final hosted at Beacon Park against Exeter RFC. Back then, it was the highlight of the season, with Devon’s rugby royalty flocking to the club to see the best teams in Devon lift the historic Devon Cup. As it happens, on this occasion, nobody actually saw the Devon Cup lifted… and it was my fault. Keep checking the website to find out more!