Match of the Week: Football and darts in Martin Davey's sporting day
MARTIN DAVEY had never had a day like it.
At 4pm he was furious with himself for letting his team down in their battle against relegation.
Seven hours later he was celebrating two sporting comebacks in quick succession.
Davey can claim the rare achievement of having represented his county in more than one sport, in his case football and darts.
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Once a promising Devon under-18 and Exeter City youth striker, he is now player-manager of Shebbear United in the North Devon League premier division while holding down a place in the county darts team.
It is challenging enough taking on the twin responsibilities of managing the squad and being its top goalscorer, but Davey was only halfway through his sporting day after the drama of Shebbear's 3-2 victory over Shamwickshire Rovers on Saturday.
Come the evening he would be on the oche for unbeaten Devon County Superleague leaders Bideford Royals in their 6-3 victory over Barnstaple-based Yeomen, the defending champions who had won their last five matches.
Davey's day appeared to be heading for disaster when, with Shebbear 2-1 down, he was sent off for a second bookable offence, only for his team to score twice in the last ten minutes.
Watching from the doorway of the dressing room, Davey punched the air with delight at the final whistle.
"Absolutely fantastic," he said. "I'd let the team down but they kept pressing and pressing. I was thinking, 'Please get me out of this mess', and they did."
After three successive defeats Shebbear were looking ripe for relegation as sixth-placed Shamwickshire dominated the first half against the leakiest defence in the division.
With the wind and slope in their favour, Shammy led 2-0 at half time, Ben Evans-Loude firing in the first, James Bateman the second. Had Andy Allan's 45th-minute shot found the target rather than hitting the bar, it would have been no more than they deserved at half-time.
Failing to muster a shot on target, Shebbear's main imprint on the first half was the 13th-minute late tackle by Davey on Mark Jury, an obvious yellow card.
At the change of ends there was a turnaround in the plot. Shebbear dominated the second half as much as Shammy had the first, if not more so.
Davey missed two chances, one producing a fine block from goalkeeper Dan Elston, and James Vanstone sent a half-volley just over the bar, before Greg Mitchell pulled one back on 71 minutes. Matt Facey's low cross enabled Mitchell to touch in at the far post.
Five minutes later a Facey free kick had a less desirable outcome for Shebbear.
Elston had safely gathered the ball when Davey clattered into him, another clear yellow card.
Davey walked the 50 yards to dressing room without looking back and spent a few minutes watching through window.
When his team were awarded a penalty he emerged to stand in the doorway.
Mitchell's penalty was saved by Elston but the keeper's work was not done yet. The ball came back to Mitchell, Elston saved again, but Vanstone snapped up the third chance.
As Shebbear sensed a winner, Bertie Shell headed away from under the bar and a Daniel Osborne shot was saved by Elston.
Shamwickshire were unable to hold out as Vanstone hit the winner in added time, although the whistle did not sound until Adam Halling had struck the Shebbear bar.
When it was finally over, Davey ventured on to the pitch to congratulate his players.
"At 2-2 I would have taken the draw," he said. "But they kept pressing and, when the ball came to James Vanstone and it went in, I was jumping."
All he had to do now was calm down.With a big darts match only four hours away, Davey needed to compose himself for another vital sporting contest, albeit one that would see him move from a relegation stage to a title-chasing one.
His way to calm down? "I like to have a few drinks and that relaxes me," said Davey.
Where better to start than at the pub in nearby Stibb Cross? Especially as he owed his players.
"I've got to buy them all a pint now," he said before leaving the ground.
And when he got to the pub they were waiting. "As soon as I walked in all the boys started cheering because I had a tab of £33 to pay," he said.
Davey had to drink in moderation with the darts still to come.
It was to be a long night of pacing himself, not only his beer consumption but his practice throws.
As is his habit, Davey arrived an hour before the match to loosen up and get his eye in.
Superleague matches are played over nine singles contests in succession and Davey was drawn to play the last.
So it would be almost 11pm – four hours after he arrived at the Borough Arms – before he played a potential decider.
"If it goes to 4-4, you are on last to win the game, so it's a long draw through the night," he said. "You have to measure your drinking and you don't want to over-practise".
After the first three matches, the chances of a 4-4 scoreline seemed almost dead as the Royals surged into a 3-0 lead.
Lee Watts beat Adam Wyatt 4-2, Taz Wotton defeated Julien Stainer 4-1 and Clint Gregory saw off Phil Tolley 4-2.
The Royals team included four Devon A team players – Watts, Andy Steed, Lee Bryant and Davey – while Yeomen could call on only one, John Imrie.
Yeomen were creaking under the strain of the unavailability of John Lakeman, Russell Jenkins and Kevin Winter, three of their top four players in the season's averages.
Replacements Wyatt and Stainer had lost but the third stand-in, Josh Phillips, launched a Yeomen fightback, winning the fourth match.
Phillips, in his first Superleague season, beat veteran Martyn Johns 4-3. Johns had recovered from 3-1 down but, in a nervous final leg in which both players missed numerous attempts at checking out, the Yeomen man clinched it on a double one.
Imrie nailed Michael Whatley 4-0 and Ian French mastered Roger Wright 4-2 as last season's champions pulled back to 3-3. The prospects of Davey's match developing into the night's decider began to loom large.
But it was not to be. Royals regained the upper hand through Steed's 4-1 win over Ian Knight, and Bryant's 4-2 triumph over Gavin Passmore, from 2-0 down, ensured the two points for a team victory.
It was Bryant's eighth win in eight Superleague matches this season and Steed's seventh in seven.
With one point for each individual victory, in addition to two for the team win, Davey still had tangible reward to play for and now we would see the calmer side of the man who that afternoon had been knocking down Shamwickshire players like skittles. Twice he came back from a leg down to win.
At 1-1, Davey narrowly missed a double 18 and was punished immediately by Yeomen's Paul Groves hitting a double five to go 2-1 up. The Royals player produced a clinical sixth leg to level at 2-2.
Groves won the fifth, Davey the sixth, and it was down to the decider.
Groves had victory at his mercy but missed two checkout chances before Davey clinched victory with a double-top finish.
It was Royals' ninth win in nine matches this season and a third Superleague title in five years is within touching distance.
So a happy end for Davey to a dramatic day. But an expensive one.
It was not just the round of drinks for his players and the petrol to Barnstaple, but the fines from the FA and the club for his red card.
"It has cost me the best part of £100," he said.
Such is the life of the sometimes wild but committed amateur sportsman.