An Affectionate History of an Extraordinary Football Team
In 1973 the Young Thrusters football team was created from the ruins of the defunct Bristol Royal Infirmary team.
In early 1973 the National Health Service was preparing for one of its now frequent major organisational upheavals. Winston Tayler and I were two aspiring NHS managers, fresh from a National Training Scheme, eking out our working days in the open plan general office of the headquarters of the United Bristol Hospitals on the fourth floor of Manulife House in Upper Maudlin Street.
Underemployed and energetic we made our own amusement. The United Bristol Hospitals had an almost moribund Social Club football team which had eleven light blue shirts and shorts made of some vile nylon material, sixteen socks, a ball and very few players. Stuart Farrer was the Assistant Hospital Secretary at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Ginger haired and gregarious he tried manfully to keep the soccer club going by getting anybody he knew who could stand up to play for the team. In its death throes he invited Winston and I to play in a match at Farleigh Hospital in early 1973. I think we had nine players including Winston.
One of the great attractions of the team was that the kit was kept in a brown cardboard suitcase with a leather strap which was used to send the kit off to be washed for free at the hospital laundry at Brentry Hospital after each game. This perk was only reduced by the fact that the kit rarely came back in time for the next match and always less one sock.
Stuart was by this time thoroughly brassed-off with his responsibilities for the fading team and Winston and I naturally filled the vacuum, using our spare time (no more than six or seven hours a day) to organise the next match. It was to be against Barrow Hospital, the local mental illness hospital team, who were keen to play but did not have a pitch available.
Meanwhile our team clearly needed a new name as United Bristol Hospitals Social Club Football Club was neither catchy nor accurate as virtually no social club members were still playing. The origin of the name Young Thrusters is of some importance as it has stuck and provided a unifying label for the motley collection of individuals associated with it. It has always been memorable although opposing team secretaries have not been quite able to believe it, constantly mishearing it over the telephone and translating it into ‘The Young Foresters’, ‘The Young Fusters’ etc. To those playing it has been a constant source of amusement and even some pride.
In 1973 the Secretary to the Board of Governors of United Bristol Hospitals was Brian Thomas, a highly intelligent but inscrutable man with a whimsical sense of humour. The practice in the UBH headquarters was that official letters had an extra yellow copy which was put in a daily folder and circulated amongst the staff to aid communication and ensure that people could keep up to date with what others were doing. Outdoing the flowery prose of your peers provided a form of literary narcissism. Winston and I read them avidly as part of our education and to wile away the long working hours. They provided us with a never ending sense of amusement as we misinterpreted them and read the best bits out to one another. One such letter was from Brian Thomas to John Spencer, House Governor at the United Oxford Hospitals, about the impending reorganisation of the NHS which was planned to take place on the 1st April 1974. It spoke of the reorganisation providing a golden opportunity for the ‘Young Thrusters in the Service’ to gain early promotion. As this was just what Winston and I aspired to do, the idea of being ‘Young Thrusters’ was vastly appealing and led to a great deal of mirth. If we were to be Young Thrusters perhaps all the football team could be described in this way.
That is how the idea was born but how it stuck is more difficult to fathom. Perhaps it was just very catchy and caught the imagination. The match with Barrow Hospital was to be played on Wednesday 23rd May 1973 after work. (On this day the number one single was “See My Baby Jive” by Wizzard and in the USA “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder.) One of the Barrow players was Bill Guild, a dour but amusing Scot who was Deputy to the Hospital Secretary, Gerry Dooley. Bill also played in the centre for Clevedon Rugby Club and had been given permission to use their pitch, complete with rugby posts, for the game.
The Rugby Club also supplied John as referee. So the first match under the new name was played at Clevedon. The Thrusters, as was to befit their subsequent history, had nine players. In goal was Tony Liss, the Assistant Hospital Secretary at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, who was about four feet tall but very agile. Tony was a bit of a wide boy and never played for the Young Thrusters again.
At the back was Mike Lawrence, a gifted rugby player (or any sport for that matter) and school teacher friend of mine. Mike had played rugby for Coventry and Bristol in the Richard Sharp era, Sharp being the England fly-half and captain in the 1960s. Bernard Cornwell’s fictional character Richard Sharpe was named after him.
Mike had arranged for another school teacher, Stuart Robinson to bring him to the match in his new Ford Escort Estate. Stuart proved to be a cultured defender. Also at the back was a health service guy called Higgs who was to play two games before fading from view. The midfield consisted of effervescent ginger-nob, Stuart Farrer, gangling Winston Tayler and me. Up front we had Bob Adams, a humorous Mancunian who at the time was a higher clerical officer at the BRI but who subsequently left the NHS to work for BUPA in Wilmslow.
Alongside Bob was the legendary Jack Haley, who even in 1973 seemed quite old, but who, in his time, had been quite a talented winger. The Thrusters managed to win the game 3-0 with goals by Farrer, Adams and Fewtrell (a tap in from a few inches which became an overhead volley from half-way in the bar afterwards). However not much else about that evening was good and it is surprising I can still remember it as I suffered from a nasty bout of concussion after the game. The cause of this was an enormous square cook from Barrow Hospital called Lester Harrison who was an effective but somewhat unsubtle stopper. I had pushed the ball past him and attempted to run after it only to be met by a gigantic shoulder blocking my way. Due to the disparities in our heights this was level with my left ear and the resulting collision earned me a free kick and a sore head. After the match my evening consisted of two quick pints, a nightmare drive back home, a violent puke in the drive and a long sleep.
Still, everybody else had enjoyed it and the Young Thrusters legend had begun in a year when Edward Heath was Prime Minister and had his tussle with the striking miners.
It has a fascinating history and one that is shared with Old Reds (approaching 50% of all Thrusters were also Old Reds). Over thirty years ago Mike Lawrence said to me, “Chris, you ought to write a history of the Young Thrusters.” Always one to do what I’m told, albeit not promptly, I have.
The Young Thrusters – An Affectionate History of an Extraordinary Football Team
has been published in paper and digital formats!
Early Young Thrusters
The 40th anniversary reunion was at The Pump House on the dockside at Hotwells in Bristol on the evening of Saturday 25th May 2013.
It was preceded by the Young Thrusters most successful Golf Competition ever, at Ashton Court, organised by PRAT the Younger and Director of Entertainment, Denis Brown – see the picture of all the competitors below.
The evening started for about 35 people at the Knights Templar who after a few drinks boarded the Flower of Bristol ferry boat, organised by PRAT the Youngest, Alfie Cannock and PRAT Work Experience, Dave Brain to arrive in style at Hotwells outside The Pump House.
The evening was attended by 59 people 57 of whom shared a three course dinner. The two extra guests were the elusive Sammy Stride and Kelvin who had captained Old Georgians in the last football game Roy James played, which was in April 1990.
The evening was presided over by PRAT the Elder and King of Kernow, Mike Lawrence. The entertainment included a quiz and A Toast written and performed especially for the occasion by Ian Bell – watch on YouTube here.
The Young Thrusters Ruby Reunion was reported in the Bristol Post on 24th May 2013.
In 2016 there were plans to hold a further Young Thrusters reunion but this time to go back to Bells Diner in Monpelier which had been the chosen venue for AGMs from the 1980s. One of the key instigators was Alfie Cannock.
Very sadly, Alfie died suddenly in April 2016 and the event was postponed. However, it finally did go ahead in May 2017 with Jayne Cannock’s blessing.