In memory, Torquay Athletic must have one of the most scenic locations of all rugby clubs. The club address, ‘The Seafront, Torquay’ is evocative of a resort of railway station posters and Agatha Christie stories.
It is an address that recalls an England that existed before the speculators and the developers and the retail chains cut the heart from English towns, replacing gentility with brashness, and respect with profit.
In my schooldays in the 1970s, we were allowed to go Torquay on a Saturday afternoon.
The school bus would drop us off in the town at around half past two and then collect us at five o’clock at the south end of the seafront.
There would have been odd Saturday afternoons when there was not much of interest in the town, no records to buy, no shops that detained us for very long and I would have wandered along the seafront to the rugby ground. It was close to the pick-up point, there was free admission, and no-one took much notice of a pale, under-sized scrawny boy who sat in the wooden stand and watched a game he did not understand.
One Saturday, there was a match against Penzance & Newlyn and, it being the 1970s, I think I might have seen the England international Stack Stevens play, but perhaps he had left by that time, and close on fifty years later, it is hard to be certain.
In retrospect, it is hard to imagine those days of the amateur game when a player who starred for England and the British Lions might play for a local club.
Rugby became an occasional television spectacle for me in the 1980s and 1990s, watching the Five Nations each spring, but never going near any rugby ground.
Moving to Dublin in 1999 brought the odd ticket to watch Ireland at Lansdowne Road and the growth of the habit of going to Donnybrook or the RDS to watch Leinster, but it was attending obscure matches in France that often brought the greatest delight, those moments that required an anorak-like devotion to being present.
There were the friendly matches. An August evening match between Agen and Bordeaux-Bègles at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande. A match at Capbreton, Bordeaux Bègles against Northampton Saints.
Then there were French Top 14 matches; fixtures like Bayonne against Montauban, or Biarritz against Bourgoin-Jallieu. My children at some future date will recount tales of extreme eccentricity.
It wasn’t about who was playing; it wasn’t even about the result (though driving from a French campsite down into Spain and seeing Bayonne beat Stade Francais was a very fine night out). It was about the game; about chess-like movements, about speed and agility, about physical strength and sheer brute force.
The obscurity or prominence of the matches are not important – it is still the game that matters. I recently enjoyed standing within the precincts of Trinity College to watch Dublin University play Cork Constitution.
With the passing years and the cult of celebrity in some sports, it is the game itself that matters more than ever.
May Torquay Athletic continue to be a source of inspiration for skinny kids.