My Lonely Goalpost #2 – Ian Stokes – Sturminster Marshall.

Dorset has a proud reputation for producing football teams throughout the area of the county. For many of these teams the goal was to play in the Dorset Combination League. Sturminster Marshall were one team that achieved this and Ian Stokes was kind enough to share his football story.

Ian Stokes has a cheeky charm to him who just eats and breathes football. He has pride in his stories of playing football for Sturminster Marshall, setting up a team for the local youngsters and supporting Southampton. His charm is demonstrated in the warmth and humour in his voice when this call interrupts him cleaning the patio door. “You have just got me out of a job as I was outside cleaning the patio door,” Stokes joked. He is polite and humorous and simply loved talking about football.

Stokes was brought up in the Dorset Village, Sturminster Marshall which has a football pitch in the middle of the village. Football is clearly entrenched in the Stokes family where his father and some other people started up the Sturminster Marshall Village football team up again in the late 50’s. Stokes recalled, “I was brought up in one of the council houses that borders the football pitch and football was outside my front window.”

Sturminster Marshall started in Dorset Minor League Division 4 and were an instant success where they had a promotion every year for four seasons. They were in Dorset Division One and awaiting an invitation to the Dorset Combination League (now The Dorset Premier League where you have promotion and relegation). Interestingly, Stokes informed me that the Dorset Combination League was the first ever league in England that was an invitation league where you had to be invited in and had to opt out. “You never got promoted in and you never got relegated out,” Stokes stated.

According to Stokes the Dorset Combination League was the first league in the country that the away team had to change their shirts regardless of the colour of the home team. Stokes recalled that he thought this was a rule that was not even prevalent in the football league. Regardless of the accuracy of the facts it highlighted the prestige and importance the Dorset Combination had for footballers across the county. These rules and regulations added to the important reputation the league had throughout the county.

Sturminster Marshall entered the Dorset Combination in 1965 or 66 and football was engrained into the Stokes family, “I had football on my doorstep and football was my Dad’s life and it was my life.”

Stokes father was a Scotsman that moved to Sturminster Marshall in the late 40’s and called himself a “Scotch Worzel.” He loved football and was a Glasgow Rangers fan. His Mum was Sturminster Marshall born and bred.

Stokes joked that his father was from a small fishing village on the Clyde called Glasgow. As a youngster, Stokes served his footballing apprenticeship in the 1960’s were he was hands on helping with the chores needed to run the village football team. He would help his father with the nets, the corner flags and marking the pitch. Another important job was roping off the outside of the pitch as this was a perk of playing in the Dorset Combination League. A piece of string was always going to stop those Dorset pitch invasions.

It was the same some thirty years later when my team, Allendale [Wimborne team that played on a parks pitch] was promoted to the Dorset Combination. The Allendale players and supporters had to rope the pitch out and lift the temporary dugouts to and from the pitch for matches. 

It could be questioned the need for the rope and barriers outside the pitch. Looking back there is respect for the footballing food chain and there had to be something that took you from the recreation pitches to the small stadiums. The roped pitch was the happy medium.

With his apprenticeship served, Stokes was ready for men’s football at the grand old age of fifteen in 1971. Stokes had to get a special dispensation letter from John Cooper, his Games Teacher to allow him to play for Sturminster Marshall Reserves in Dorset Division Three North.

His father gave him some valuable advice in those early playing days:

“If you want to make it in the first team or higher you have to get amongst these farmers and kick them about a bit.”

Stokes is proud of his Sturminster Marshall roots and the football team were at the heart of the village. “We fielded a team that was made up from lads playing football in the village,” stated Stokes.

From talking to people about football in these days it is noticeable that you played for your local team which enhanced community spirit. You were not just playing for your team but also the local community. With freedom of movement easier these days it can be questioned if such loyalty still exists in the local county football leagues up and down the country?

Stokes made his first team debut at the age of sixteen and a half away at Sherborne. Copeland, the captain knocked on his back door the night before and informed him that he would be playing at right back on the Saturday afternoon.

For away matches to places deep into the county such as Portland, Gillingham or Sherborne coaches would be provided for the villagers to support their team. These coaches would be full to capacity with excited football supporters which demonstrated the community spirit.

In those days you had to pay fifty pence to play and help set up the nets. You were all in it together and the players had to contribute to helping out.

The Sturminster Marshall Village team grew old together and many players retired by the time Stokes stopped playing with the side in 1976. The team were thread bare and unfortunately being hammered each week. As enjoyable sport is on a social level, you need to have the opportunities to win. Getting heavily defeated can surely dampen the spirits and make the experience seem more of a chore at times.

Money was involved in those days and it was rumoured that some of the clubs in the Dorset Combination League were enticing players in a variety of ways. Houses being built for players was one such example. Some clubs were able to offer more rewards to players than the local professional club, AFC Bournemouth. Therefore, this meant that the Dorset Combination League was extremely competitive.

Sturminster Marshall withdrew from the Dorset Combination League but kept another team going in the lower Dorset leagues. Stokes was keen to still play at Dorset Combination level and decided to leave, much to the dismay of his father. He had played at Dorset County under 18 Level and went to play for Sturminster Newton. This was a decent team with players that Stokes knew from the county side. He spent a couple of seasons there and then went to play for Blandford for a season.

During this time Sturminster Marshall were rebuilding and reached Dorset Division One and Stokes returned to play there. He played there until his late twenty’s and the team returned to the Dorset Combination.

Stokes stepped away from first team action due to a knee injury and took on the role as player manager for their reserves. He did not play every week but stepped in if the team needed him.

Having stepped away from football for a bit but football management soon returned. He got called from Steve Norman, the manager of the Holt team and was offered the chance to run their reserves. A respectable little team was built up and they won one of the Dorset Minor Leagues.

At Holt he drafted in the ex-Salisbury player, Pete Loveridge to help guide the youngsters on the pitch. Loveridge had played Southern League football and Stokes was keen to nurture his youngsters. They needed an experienced head on the pitch and Loveridge fitted the bill. It worked a treat as they walked away with three trophies in one season.

At any level you sometimes need an old head. This is something that is mentioned all of the time in teams at the professional level needing some experience to guide them through. Certainly in Dorset football you need someone to help you through the dodgy tackles and abundance of elbows.

Stokes also managed Witchamptpn, another Dorset Village team. What is great about all of these teams is that they are the hub of the local village community and football in Dorset is a small place and you soon get to meet all of the characters each village has to offer.

You only play at each ground once a season but you get to know all of the characters spectating and playing. Afterwards a beer will be shared and footballing friendships are formed. This adds to the charm of grassroots county football around the country.

“I was in and around Dorset football for many years, got to know a lot of people and had a good time with it.”

Stokes recalled all of the different teams that played in The Dorset Combination. Corfe Mullen, Shapwick and Trinidad Old Boys were recalled. Trinidad Old Boys came from the Boys Club on Herbert Avenue and played at Uddens Industrial Estate. The pitch here was lovely and boasted facilities like changing rooms for the players to enjoy.  Trinidad Old Boys merged with Hamworthy to form Hamworthy United in 1970.

Bournemouth Water Company played in the Combination and they had a fantastic playing surface too. Stokes emphasised the quality of these surfaces and it seemed like it was a treat to be able to play football on these pitches.

Other teams mentioned were Lytchett Red Triangle, Allendale and Yeovil St John. Stokes is clearly proud of his time with Dorset Football and enjoyed reminiscing on the teams that once graced the top division in Dorset.

The Dorset Combination is recalled as a prestigious and competitive league that produced many fine teams through the years. Parley Sports were fondly mentioned as the team to beat where they won the title four times out of five years in the early 70’s.

“I used to love playing at Parley where they had a great team to challenge you. It was great in the bar afterwards where they had a unicycle. Having a go on that after a few beers was fun.”

Stokes recalled the time of travelling to Portland in the freezing snow. He joked with the referee to call the game off but he was adamant that the game would go ahead as they had travelled all the way from Sturminster Marshall. It was so cold that the pre match coin toss on the centre circle had to be completed in the referee’s room. Stokes recalled:

“I remember how cold it was to this very day. We went out and did two laps of the pitch a warm up and we played with an orange ball. The score was 3-3 and it was the coldest I had ever felt in my life.

“My Dad had to put a heater on for him to warm up his hands to hang up the shirts and do his shoe laces up.

“It was that cold. It was played on the old Portland pitch that was a bit further down the hill. It is used for houses I think now and when building them they dug up a bomb. All those years I played on that pitch there was a bomb underneath.”

Wareham Rangers were the bogey team for Stokes during his time at Sturminster Marshall. He mentioned that he did not think they ever won there and got beat pretty much on every occasion. Stokes acknowledged that Wareham Rangers were a solid team that may well have been one of the original members of the Dorset Combination League.

The best player Stokes played with was Paul ‘Shady’ Miller, the goalkeeper of Sturminster Marshall. He was emphatic with his response and did not have to think twice. Stokes reiterated that he was five foot seven a couple of times to highlight what a great goalkeeper Miller was. He also said that if he was five foot ten he would have been a professional footballer.

“He was absolutely brilliant. On my debut at Sherborne he came up to me and asked if I was alright and informed me that anything from the penalty spot and back is mine.

“I will come for it [the ball] and will get it. This is how it is. I will clear out the forwards and if you drop back you will get cleared out as well.

“He was a great shot stopper and was absolutely brilliant. His nickname was Shady because whether winter or summer he wore a peak cap.”

The best player Stokes played against was the centre forward, Terry ‘Scampi’ Mitchell. “He was mustard…on one occasion I marked ‘Scampi’ out of the game and he scored eight,” joked Stokes.

Stokes was a defender and was confident playing anywhere across the back four. He cannot understand why highly paid professional players of today get caught out on their wrong foot. As a child he would practice non-stop with his weaker left foot in his garden.

“You could chuck me a shirt and say I am left back and I would be fine with that,” Stokes confirmed. The discussion moved onto midfield players and his Dad used to say that midfield players should be, “box to box with lungs like forty gallon drums.”

Football is made up with millions of people like Stokes that have played the game at any level and this gives all of these players the right to make informed judgements about the game. A majority of these millions have never been lucky enough to be a professional but these millions are the ones that spark football debates everywhere. The beauty is everyone has an opinion and everyone sees the game in their own way.

Talking of watching football, non are bigger than the 1966 World Cup Final where England beat West Germany 4-2. Stokes was ten and half and had watched all of the matches at home with his father in their council home. There was a wealthy man in his road and invited him, his father and his uncle to watch the final on his newly purchased colour television.

“I remember him opening up his sideboard cabinet and appeared a fourteen or fifteen inch colour television and I watched the 1966 World Cup Final in colour. He even let me sit in his rocking chair and it was absolutely brilliant”

The final was played on 30 July 1966 and Stokes got married on 30 July 1977. He has the LP of the commentary from the final and with his love of football I wouldn’t have been surprised if he tried to play this at his wedding reception.

Stokes is a Southampton fan and enjoyed sharing when they won The FA Cup in 1976. “A Stokes scored the winning goal but he is no relation I think,” said Stokes.

Football is in the blood of Ian Stakes and once he stopped playing he set up a youth football team that included his ten year old son in Wimborne, Dorset. There were lots of children that lived in the local area that were not getting a game and he strongly believed that these youngsters had to play football at their own level.

People like Ian Stokes are what make football great because they allow opportunities for youngsters to go and play through volunteering their own time. There is always the emphasis of winning and youngsters will always try and seek the local team that wins all of the cups and leagues. It can be argued there is the need to enjoy playing at times with your friends and for the fun of the game which Stokes provided.

Stokes continued running Cannon Colts until his son got too old to play and passed it on to another parent. His footballing life with his son was not over as they played in the same five aside team for a few seasons. As a fifty year old he was extremely proud to have had the opportunity to play on the same pitch as his son. It was also an excuse to maintain the fitness levels.

It is evident that Stokes has such a fondness of recalling his time playing football across Dorset and what is clear is that he has a respect for all of the team and players he came across. He mentions many times that these were happy memories and people like Ian Stokes is what Dorset football is all about. Someone who loved the battle against those around him and win or lose friendships were forged.

These memories are medals that are placed proudly on the mantelpiece inside your head and are cherished for all of those around them. Friends and Family of Ian Stokes have surely had many a footballing story told to them around their dinner table and they are extremely lucky to have heard these memories.

Ian Stokes simply loves his football and it is a language that he has become fluent in:

“Football is a language that travels all around the world. You do not need to speak. All you need is a small leather thing and a couple of goalposts.”