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Match of the Week: Footballer Andy Stevens has had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: May 02, 2013

HOME FROM HOME: Andy Stevens, back at Torrington's Vicarage Field but in Torridgeside's colours. Picture: Mike Southon. To order this photo call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20130424A-006_C

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AFTER five spells in Torrington colours, it would have been an easy mistake to make had Andy Stevens walked into the home team's dressing room, just like Robin Van Persie did at Arsenal on Sunday.

That is five periods of service totalling a dozen years in more than a quarter of a century playing senior local football.

In between he has had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus – an appropriate adage given Stevens is a keen golfer.

He has played for Torrington, Bideford, Barnstaple Town, Taunton Town, Ilfracombe Town, Dolton and Torridgeside. Throw in the odd game for Holsworthy and Shamwickshire Rovers and that is nine clubs.

It was with Torridgeside that he went back to Torrington's Vicarage Field for a derby between clubs whose homes are only a mile apart

The passion still burns, the outcome still matters, never mind that Stevens has dropped into reserve-team football in North Devon League intermediate one when, at his peak, he was among the elite in the Western League.

Never mind either that, at 43, he pays a £3 match fee whereas in his Western League days he could earn up to £100 a week.

It was ten years ago to the month he celebrated with Torrington as they clinched the Western League first division title. A defender turned striker, Stevens scored 48 goals, 35 in the league.

He wore the green and white hoops with pride but now, in the away dressing room, he was donning Torridgeside claret and blue, with the more modest aim of promotion to the North Devon League second tier.

Torrington, with a club history going back more than 100 years, have fallen into the shadow of Torridgeside, in only their tenth season of adult football. New kids on the block and noisy neighbours.

The first team's superiority is mirrored in intermediate one, where Torridgeside Reserves and Hartland are contesting the second promotion place behind champions elect Barnstaple FC, while Torrington are near the bottom.

Yet going into the derby it was Torrington whose heads were up and Torridgeside wondering what had just hit them.

Torrington were fresh from ending Barnstaple FC's 48-match unbeaten run while Torridgeside were stunned by defeat against lowly Equalizers.

Torridgeside manager Mike Gilbert brought in first-teamers Matt Bolton and Martin Boundy. It made a difference but not enough as the visitors were held to a goalless draw.

"We competed more than we did against Equalizers," said Gilbert. "We had too young a side whereas all we lacked was the finish tonight."

The type of finish that netted Stevens ten goals in a 22-0 win for Torridgeside over South Molton last season when, according to Stevens, "everything went in".

Against Torrington, nothing would go in, although it could hardly be said Torridgeside created a string of chances.

Stevens, playing in midfield, had only the one, a 15-yard 54th-minute drive pushed away by goalkeeper Devon Brown.

Jethro Kimber had the best chance of a largely chanceless first half, skewing wide in front of an open goal.

After matching Torridgeside in the first half, Torrington were mainly on the back foot.

Boundy headed a presentable chance wide, a Rory Paine free kick was saved by Brown and a Bolton header was stopped by the home keeper.

For Torrington, Tom Frost rose unchallenged to meet a corner but headed over.

Stevens got up and down well, conceding little to age, but it was a night to forget. Had he enjoyed it?

"Not really," he said. When you have spent much of your career alongside better players it is hard to adjust.

"I get frustrated when the ball is given away a lot and people don't keep it simple, when they try to do things they can't do," said Stevens.

"I just get the ball, pass it and don't overcomplicate it.

"I think we might have blown it now but you never know – Hartland could slip up."

And slip up they did three days later, held 2-2 by Braunton Thirds, while Torridgeside won 3-0 at Northam Lions to reduce the gap to seven points with two games in hand.

Stevens, a builder, laid the foundations of his nine-storey apartment block – one club on each floor – at Torrington.

First playing youth football for them at 9, he began in the reserves at 16. "That was when I left school in 1986," he said.

He moved into the first team as a defender in 1988-89 and, at just 19, won all three of the club's player of the season trophies – players', manager's and supporters'. He left for Bideford after two seasons.

Back at Torrington in 1990, Stevens stayed for three years, helping the club to the high point in their history.

Under former Plymouth Argyle manager John Hore, they finished runners-up in the Western League premier division in 1990-91.

"The stupid thing was I could not get in the Bideford side and they were struggling," said Stevens.

"Torrington were flying and I could get in their team, which didn't make sense."

In 1994 he returned to Bideford but only for a season before he was back for a third spell at Torrington.

He stayed for three seasons before joining Barnstaple for the 1997-98 Western League campaign, although his two terms there were broken by a month at Taunton.

"Although I was playing all right I didn't really enjoy it at Taunton, which was a bit odd because they were one of the top sides," said Stevens.

By the 1999-2000 season he wanted a break from the Western League and joined North Devon League premier division Dolton.

"I got fed up with the travelling and wanted a season out," said Stevens.

"We should have won the league but finished runners-up to Ilfracombe (Reserves)."

In 2001-02, Stevens was back at Taunton. He had left the first time because by now he preferred playing up front.

It was while he was at Barnstaple in the 1997-98 season that he had switched from defence to attack.

"I left Taunton because I was playing at the back," he said. "I'd had a couple of seasons up front and I was missing that."

Yet now he returned as a defender once more.

"I realised I should not have left if I wanted to win things," he said.

"When they came in again I thought, 'This time I will stay and give it a good go'."

His reward was a 2001-02 Western League runners-up medal, 11 years after his first with Torrington.

The following season he went back to Torrington, playing up front in their 2002-03 Western League first division championship team. He had two more seasons there then returned to Bideford, then Barnstaple before arriving back at Torrington for a fifth spell.

From there, aged 35 and living in Torrington, he joined Torridgeside for the first time. Why?

"There were a lot of local players I got on with whereas Torrington were mainly Bideford based," he said.

After three seasons helping the first team's rise to the premier division, he was tempted once more, at 38, by the Western League, joining Ilfracombe.

But he broke a leg and was out for 18 months before returning with Torridgeside in 2010-11.

How much longer can he go on? "I've got two boys, Alfie coming up 12 and Harry 16," said Stevens. "Harry has played a couple of games for us and I would like to stay (to bring him on).

"But we all play golf so whether that will take preference is the question."

Against Torrington, manager Gilbert, 47, went on as a substitute.

"If I can come on at that age so can he," he said of Stevens.

But will it be for Torridgeside? Or will Jack Nicklaus syndrome strike one last time?

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