Torquay CC before a Sunday game against a celebrity side in 1973. Alan Smith is second from the left in the back row


A MEMBER of the Torquay team that won the Devon Senior League title three times in five years during the 1970s has died at the age of 91.

Opening bowler Alan Smith played in the Torquay team that topped the league table in 1974, 1976 and 1978. Until 1978 there was only one division of the league and Torquay were seldom far from the top of it.

Smith, who moved to Devon from the Wirral in the early 1970s while working for HM Customs and Excise, was a whippy opening bowler happy to run in all afternoon.

“There was no restriction on how many overs you could bowl in those days and it was common for dad to bowl 23 overs straight through from one end,” said son Steve.

Alan Smith“There used to be double weekends several times a season, which meant he bowled 23 overs on a Saturday and 23 more on a Sunday.

“Dad wasn’t a young man when he joined Torquay – he was in his mid 40s by the time they won the league in ’74 – but he did not seem to mind even though he must have been shattered.”

Smith first appears in a Torquay scorebook in 1973 playing for the 2nd XI. He was quickly promoted to the 1st XI where he became a regular.

Although Torquay missed out on the title in 1975 – Exeter, South Devon and Torquay was the one, two three – Smith had a decent season. He had two five-wicket hauls, which were against South Devon (5-17) and Buckfastleigh (5-33).

Torquay dominated the league in 1976 when they won the league without losing a game. One of their wins came after dismissing Exeter St Thomas for just five at the Recreation Ground.

While skipper Mike Goodrich was spinning them out at one end on his way to bowling figures of seven for four, Smith took the other three at the cost of just one run. Torquay won the match by 184 runs and Smith finished the season with 40 wickets.

Smith showed his mean streak again the following season in a Devon Cup win over Torquay Corinthians. He bowled four eight-ball overs at a cost of just 16 runs.

Goodrich said that sort of bowling performance was typical of Smith.

“He was always on to the batsman, getting through his overs quickly and never letting them settle,” said Goodrich.

“Alan bowled on the spot, a lot like Richard Hadlee, and was difficult for batsmen to get away.” 

Work commitments meant Smith wasn’t always available in 1978, but he was a member of the squad that beat Exeter into second place. 

During Smith’s last two seasons with Torquay he was working in the North West. If he did not travel home at weekends he played for Lymm Oughtrington Park CC, which became a permanent arrangement in 1979.

Work brought Smith back to Devon in time for the 1983 season. His serious playing days were over, although he did fit in a few appearances for South Devon CC, where son Steve was vice-captain.

The switch to umpiring was almost inevitable for an all-round sportsman who had been a football linesman and referee in the professional Central League when he was younger.

“My father umpired until the late 90s when he maybe retired as his eyesight was failing and he was unsure of the lbws,” said son Jim.

The next switch was to the bowls green with Kings and Torbay BCs, where he played until his late 80s.

Alan Smith was born in Darlington on March 19, 1929 and educated first at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, where he played cricket and took part in cross-country running. He also played the clarinet in the school band.

Smith was a member of the school’s Army Cadet Force, which was good preparation for two years’ National Service in the Durham Light Infantry. He played football and boxed for the regiment.Mike Goodrich – Torquay's title-winning captain in 1976

By the time Smith left the Army he had reached the rank of second lieutenant. While based in Chester he met Beryl. The couple were married in 1952 in Chester Cathedral, where the new Mrs Smith had been a Sunday school teacher.

Smith studied for a year at Kings College, Durham University before joining the Civil Service. For 18 years he was a customs officer on the dockside at Liverpool.

The family, which expanded rapidly with the arrival of four sons and a daughter, lived on the Wirral where Smith played for West Kirby from the mid-1950s to 1971.

Promotion to a role in the newly created VAT unit brought the Smith family to Torbay. It was another promotion took Alan back to High Legh near Manchester, but by 1982 an opportunity to return to Devon arose and the Smith’s moved to Paignton.

Gordon Ripley, the former Paignton CC secretary, umpire and lay preacher, was a colleague of Smith’s before he retired.

Sons Mike (Torquay) and Steve (Torquay, Paignton, South Devon) inherited the cricket gene from their father as did grandsons Chris and Mark, both of whom played for Paignton.

Alan Smith suffered a stroke in November 2020. He died on January 30 in a care home in Dartmouth. His wife of more than 60 years pre-deceased him. The couple had eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.