Rams bow down to the man who brought back club's glory days
WHILE fixtures across Torquay were falling foul of the weather, the sun was blazing at Broadpark as Kingsteignton Athletic prepared to celebrate an event commemorating the 50th year since something remarkable happened to turn their fortunes.
A young player arrived from Preston, Lancashire, a Northern lad who had once featured in the reserves of a Preston North End side containing the likes of Tom Finney.
When Malcolm Wildman left his Deepdale roots for Devon, coming to stay with the Harris family and his future wife June, little could anyone have imagined the impact he was to have on the club and community.
Wildman joined Kingsteignton in 1962 amid a bleak period for the club. Their last silverware had been back in 1955, and the Devon and Courtenay Clay Company had recently acquired their home ground, Homer's Lane leaving the club's existence in the balance. Fortunately, they had just been offered the two fields on Broadway Lane that were to become Broadpark.
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Life club member Mike Beer was playing there at the time when rumours circulated that a semi-professional footballer from League Division Four side Stockport had joined the club.
He said: "We thought we've heard all this before, but as soon as he started playing you could see he was a cut above."
Then team secretary, Stan Neck was also immediately impressed with the new arrival: "He was just a terrific player; I think he was the best player we ever had to tell you the truth."
And appreciation of Wildman's talent was not confined to Broadpark. Another former secretary, John Bibbings, said: "Most people say he was the best player ever to play in the South Devon League; he was that good."
Certainly the signing of Wildman marked the beginning of another golden spell for the Rams, culminating in successive league titles in 1965-66 and 1966-67, and a fifth Herald Cup win in 1967. And success bred success, with Malcolm's talent drawing others to the club.
Committee member Roland Gardner added: "Better players wanted to play in that team. Nobody said no to Kingsteignton in those days."
Malc's contribution was not confined to the field of play. He went on to manage and, though he didn't take to that role, he became the father figure providing advice – of an honest Northern variety – to the managers and players who came after. He has been the club secretary and is now approaching twenty years service in his latest stint as chairman. And his style is still very much hands on.
"He's been down here putting a new window in recently," revealed treasurer Sue Smith. "And he organises the firework night, our biggest fundraiser."
Even the building of the clubhouse itself was partly initiated by Malcolm. But why did a player with such conspicuous talent decide to remain a one-wman club and forego the chance to play professionally?
Steve Wildman, one of Malc's sons, admitted he didn't have the answer.
"He said to me he got offered more money to play on a Saturday than he would have had during the working week but he was loyal to the manager of the time."
Clearly Malc Wildman is someone for whom club loyalty is something you can't put a price on and the club's eagerness to show their appreciation was clear to see in the extent of the effort that had been put into his special day.
First on the agenda was a Certificate of Achievement presentation by SDFL chairperson Lisa Buley.
Then, Malc kicked off the afternoon's Devon Senior Cup match between Kingsteignton Reserves and Woodbury. In the clubhouse afterwards, Mike Beer presented Malcolm and his wife June with a plaque from the club along with flowers and a gift. Malc's response was typically measured and straight to the point: "I've got to say I wouldn't change it for anything. Great guys, great girls, great club, and I've loved every minute of it."
Although the day was mainly for Malcolm, it is also 80 years since the club itself first competed in the SDFL, and like their talismanic chairman, they are happy to strive for success at the local level for now. Having finished third in Division One last season, this year's promotion was something of a bonus but there is definitely a buzz around Broadpark.
"There's a good atmosphere," explained committee member Helen Workman. "There's camaraderie and the social side is there again which is good for the teams."
As guests enjoyed a pleasant late afternoon buffet laid on in a gazebo decorated with balloons and banners, June Wildman summed up a successful afternoon: "I'm very proud and it was such a surprise for him. I'm so pleased."
How can you summarise the legacy of a man whose influence can be seen in every inch of the club that he has spent nearly a lifetime nurturing? Perhaps with Mike Beer's closing words: "All I can say is Malcolm, with this club, is the club."