A SPECIAL FEATURE BY PHILIP EVANS
A GREAT strength of Lyme Regis Football Club down the years has been the high standard of the club’s goalkeeper talents. And that is certainly still the case today with the club able to call on five very competent glove men for its three teams.
The first team’s goalkeeping jersey is currently being worn by Brett Garner, the former Axminster Town player who is considered to be one of the best keepers in the area and is enjoying his first spell with the Seasiders in the Devon & Exeter Premier division.
The last Axminster keeper to play for Lyme, if my memory serves be correct, was Pete ‘The Cat’ Hayball.
Earlier in the season the versatile Lee Cleal was the first choice for the first team but, regretfully, he is no longer playing football.
The ever-reliable and no-nonsense keeper Rob Harp, formerly of Netherbury, is the regular choice for Lyme Regis Reserves in D&E Division Two, and former first team keeper Chris Higgs, who as a youngster was on Exeter City books and played for Dorchester Town, has returned between the sticks for Lyme Rovers after taking a break from football and proving he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the game.
Last season’s first team keeper, Will Meech, whilst not available every week due to work commitments, is fit again after injury and standing in the wings to step in when required, as is Rovers’ outfield player Robbie Fowler, who was called on several occasions to keep for the first team last season and never let them down.
Looking back over my 57 years’ association with Lyme Regis Football Club, I’m struck how lucky we have been to have had so many talented keepers, some of whom went on to play at a higher standard and pick-of-the-league honours.
I first started watching Lyme at the old Sidmouth Road ground in the 1950s during which time Brian Wellman – grandfather to current players Steve and Mark Batey and Toby and Robbie Fowler – Roy Emmett and John Perry were vying for the first team keeper’s jumper.
Jack Loveridge, father of life-member Les Loveridge, also played between the sticks but that was before my time and I never saw him in action.
We changed in a chicken hut
I was 15 when I played my first game for Lyme Reserves against Donyatt. We changed in a chicken hut behind the village pub. The landlord cleared out the chickens, put in a couple of benches and a tin bath to wash in.
In goal that day was one Kenneth ‘Cooey’ Hitchcock whose antics between the sticks have gone down in the folklore of Lyme Regis FC.
Allegedly, it was he who stuffed the ball up his jumper in the Sidmouth Road fog, ran the length of the pitch and tapped the ball home without the referee Doug Pomeroy seeing. The goal was attributed to Arthur Smith.
I had to stop playing at 19 due to work commitments on a Saturday afternoon covering sport for the Express & Echo in Exeter but turned out for the Exeter Press X1 on Sunday mornings. I also had a couple of seasons with Axminster FC after launching the Axminster News and then returned to Lyme, taking over as Reserves team manager with Dave Cozens running the first team.
At the grand old age of 28 I managed to win a place as full-back for the first team and held my place until I was 33 when I broke my ankle in the Axminster Hospital Cup final, after which I played just a few games for the Reserves before hanging up my boots.
Playing in goal for much of my time with the first team was Phil Hodder, another excellent keeper, passed whom I scored two own goals in a Perry Street League Cup final which we lost 5-3.
So who has been the best Lyme goalkeeper throughout the past 50 years? That’s a tough one so I have consulted with a number of my former playing colleagues and have decided it would be a toss up between Robert ‘Jock’ McLennan and Grant Northover, who at one time was on Yeovil Town’s books.
Coming a close second would have to be Chris Higgs who was considered to be a prestigious talent when he was playing for the Exeter City youth teams and then Dorchester Town.
Ashley Caddy and Nick Tregale, from Axminster, were also considered to be high on the list of Lyme’s most brilliant keepers. Tregale went on to manage the Lyme Lazers women’s team.
So, with the help of former Seasiders Martin Rowe, Dave Reed and Stuart Broom, and club chairman Howard Larcombe, here’s a list – in no particular order – of those who have played in goal for Lyme teams during the last 50 years:
Cecil Langford, Jack Loveridge, Reg Emmett, John Perry, Johnny Cozens, Jock McLennan, Phil Hodder, Chris Sweetland, Bernard Hall, Dave Hull, Ken Caddy, Martin Cleal, Keith Broom, Ken Hitchcock, Andy Hercock, Kevin Warren, Grant Northover, Simon Gillings, Steve Meech, Gary Way, Simon Hall, Dave Sweetland, Mike Croad, Jon Whetlor, Mark Burkhalter, Mark Tozer, Nick Bowditch, Glynn Rattenbury, Doug Miners, Mark Beviss, Gus Cleal, Alistair McLennan, Pete ‘The Cat’ Hayball, Nick Tregale, Ashley Caddy, Chris Higgs, Will Meech, Jedd Whittington, Robbie Fowler, Toby Fowler, Harvey Brimicombe, Robbie Prior, Jim Larcombe, Rob Thom, Josh Stunnell (now manager of Axminster Town), Nigel Biddlecombe, Dave Holland, Lee Cleal.
Apologies if we’ve missed someone out. If you know of anyone who played in goal for Lyme but are not on the list, please let us know.