The Young Thrusters
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. It consisted of a few enthusiasts, access to hospital playing fields and a set of ancient nylon all-blue kit. The story traces the forty years from the formation of the club up until a massive reunion which took place at The Pump House on Bristol Docks in 2013. It mixes compelling trivia such as scores, scorers and appearances; stirred in with anecdotes from tours, Annual General Meetings and humorous incidents along the way. There are numerous original pictures of teams, individuals and artefacts.

 

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Making of a Legend:
An Extract from Chapter One

I am a little woozy and very content. It is about 11 pm on Saturday the 25th May 2013. I listen to the whoops, belly laughs and the buzz of excited conversation. Around me a kaleidoscope of shifting colours in the half-light, the smells are of beer and food.

In excess of 50 old friends are milling around on the mezzanine floor of The Pump House on the dockside in Hotwells, Bristol celebrating forty years of the Young Thrusters. I think back to May 1973 when I was 25 years old.

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.

 

The Young Thrusters History