VETERAN Bristol football writer David Hughes describes his coverage of the grassroots game as a “labour of love” – and it’s one he shows no sign of relinquishing now that he is 80! Writes Simon Parkinson
That landmark birthday last month coincided with the Brislington ‘boy’ hitting another commendable milestone in his long and eventful career; sixty action-packed years reporting on the sport across the length and breadth of the city.
“I joined the Bristol Evening Post at their old offices by the fire station in Silver Street as a personal assistant to the managing director of the time, Walter Hawkins, at the age of 19 in 1957, and I’m still writing football stories for them now!” the keep-fit enthusiast recalled with a smile.
“I was playing regularly on the right for Brislington 20 Plus in the Suburban League as part of a five-man forward line, and I’d work through my lunch hour so that I could leave the office an hour early to play for Brislington Buses in the Bristol Wednesday League which was a really good standard, so much so that even some well-known local professionals, who weren’t supposed to play any amateur football at all, would take part using pseudonyms!
“I never worked ON the Evening Post sports desk but I worked FOR them covering local games, as they didn’t employ those types of writers then apart from City and Rovers reporters.
“I would cover things like the Bristol Inter-League knock-out tournament, usually under floodlights, which would, for example, pit a Bristol Premier Combination representative side against the Downs League, or Suburban League against District League, while the Wednesday League were participants too.
“I would also cover all the GFA Cup finals which in those days were held like an annual tour at top local grounds such as Keynsham’s, Cadbury Heath’s and Manor Farm’s. I still cover county cup competitions but don’t get out to as many games as I used to.”
Dave revealed: “I’d been playing for St Silas in the Premier Combination based at Sparke Evans Park by the River Avon, then Soundwell at the Star Ground as well as Easton Rangers in the Suburban League, around the time the sports editor at the Evening Post, David Solomons, asked me to start a new series called the Star Match.
“We’d ask teams to write in suggesting a Star Match for the weekend and get quite a few applicants, and then on Fridays the Post would announce which game was to be featured.
“I was charged with naming a Star Man but you’d have to buy Monday’s paper to find out who it was. I didn’t get a single complaint in nine years with my choices! The lucky player would win a match ball for his club and it was deemed quite an honour.
“The Star Matches themselves would appear in Saturday night’s Green’Un sports paper and because there were no mobile phones, I had to find the nearest phone box, shop or garage to the ground I was at, drive to it at half-time to telephone across my first-half notes to the copy taker in the office, dash back to the game and do the same thing on the final whistle.
“Sometimes my cousin would go to the game and take notes if I was late getting back for the second half. The worst time was when a fire alarm went off in the Post building and there was no one there to answer me!
“While I was still a management assistant I was asked to produce an internal staff newspaper from 1960 onwards called Post-Scripts, which lasted 30 years. I went on to become a night works manager when the Post transferred to its present premises at Temple Way in 1974.”
Dave is full of enthusiasm when he speaks of one memorable month in 1970 watching the FIFA World Cup tournament in Mexico unfold, including Brazil’s famous 4-1 victory over Italy in the final.
“I used to go for a run every morning past the Brazil base during the month I was out there and, informing them I was an English journalist, managed to get a press pass to gain access to their camp,” he explained.
“I ended up helping with a translation for ITV for Billy Wright, the famous Wolves and England player, when he interviewed Pele before England lost 1-0 to Brazil at the group stages.
“Pele would answer the questions in Portuguese but because I could speak Spanish, and the languages are similar, I was able to act as an interpreter at the interview. I was promised a payment but never received it!
“At least I was able to go round and get all the Brazilian players’ autographs and I have pictures of me with Pele to this very day.”
While his career has been challenging and eventful, nothing could prepare Dave for a serious cancer scare in 1989 when aged 52.
“According to the specialist I wasn’t expected to last the night after the operation,” he recalled. “I was diagnosed just three months after running the London Marathon, one of 21 I’ve run all over Europe, ten of them in under 3 hours 10 minutes.
“I thought I’d best get checked out after finding I wasn’t performing so well while running and one day I almost fell into the city docks.
“I was so ill after the op I wasn’t supposed to work again, but I made a remarkable recovery and was told that only my high level of fitness had saved me.”
Dave still gym trains four times a week at the St Paul’s gymnasium in Newfoundland Road following the closure of the Empire Sports Club. He is president of both the Premier Combination and Bristol and District leagues, a past president of the Avon League and vice-president, and founder member, of the Bristol Premier Sunday League.
He is also founder member of the ever-popular Fry Club Cup, along with its secretary Brian Davies, which began in the late 1960s, while he is a life member of Avon Amateur Athletic Association for his contribution to the local running scene.
“I well remember the night at Somerdale when a hot air balloon made an emergency landing on the pitch during a Fry Cup match and the players of both sides ran in all directions!” he laughed.
“There was also the time during a skiing holiday in Italy I visited the offices of the local La Stampa newspaper in Turin and was given a press pass for a league game between Torino and Verona.
“Whilst walking around the pitch for the match I was mistaken by a club official as the referee and, despite my protests, rushed to the dressing room until the appointed arbitro later arrived and everybody had a good laugh!”
Dave looks back fondly on 30 years of interviewing and presentation with the Bristol Royal Infirmary’s Friday night hospital sports programme, which “I only finished with during the past year or two”.
And then there was Almondsbury Greenway’s famous sprint to Wembley for their FA Vase final of 1979, which disappointingly ended in 4-1 defeat.
“They’d been the best local amateur team in our parts over many years and the first Bristol club to reach a Wembley final,” Dave said.
“We stayed in a hotel on the Friday night at the end of Wembley Way and the crowd Almondsbury took there was the biggest for an away match in amateur Bristol football history.
“I’d driven to Newcastle two years in a row to see Almondsbury’s back-to-back semi-finals, to cover them for local radio and papers.
“They, Bristol St George, Cadbury Heath and Lebeq Tavern Courage were the four best amateur teams in Bristol grassroots football in those times.”