By CONRAD SUTCLIFFE
A REMARKABLE sporting life that spanned more than six decades had drawn to a close following the death of former Sidmouth and Devon cricketer Bryan Lang at the age 88.
Bryan Lang played football as a youngster then switched to rugby, as it offered a better social life, and was a keen swimmer and cricketer good enough to play for Devon in the 1950s.
When Lang’s playing days ended – prematurely in the case of his rugby career – he switched to off-pitch roles as a rugby administrator.
Lang was associated with Torquay Athletic for more than 40 years and for two decades served as an officer of the club. He was secretary in 1977-78, chairman between 1980-87 and president from 1988-1998
Long after Lang retired from an official role with the Tics, he continued helping around the club doing various jobs on match days and wielding a paint brush on weekdays between games.
Barney Bettesworth, who succeeded Lang as chairman of the Tics, said Lang brought his professional expertise as a bank manager to the job of running the rugby club.
“Bryan was excellent administrator and the Tics committee was in good hands under his leadership,” said Bettesworth, who played cricket for Torquay CC against Lang .
“For nearly all the time Bryan was in the chair I was a member of the committee as chairman of the fund-raising sub-committee.
“When I became chairman of the club (1989-95), Bryan was a most supportive and generous president and a very good friend. He was greatly respected by players, the committee and the supporters.
“I and many others will miss Bryan. He was a great supporter and benefactor to the club. He was also a very good friend.”
Another of Lang’s roles was as treasurer of the Pilgrim Fathers RFC, which was an invitation team started by Bettesworth, Peter Woodhead and the late Peter Gratton-Davey that went on overseas tours every two years between 1979 and 1987.
“We toured some exotic places – British Columbia & Washington State, Cayman Islands, Florida & New Orleans, Barbados and California – and Brian went on every one,” said Bettesworth.
“With more than 30 tourists on each trip the role of treasurer was an important one.”
Lang’s commitment to the rugby club was acknowledged in a history of the club written by the late Ray Batten in the early 2000s.
“It would take a booklet to describe all the work Bryan Lang has put into the club and the hours given with his officers' duties.”
Sally Thomas, one of Bryan’s two daughters, said Batten’s remarks were a suitable epitaph for her father.
“He didn't need many friends,” said Sally. “He was just a clubman through and through, happy to be part of the bigger picture and he certainly worked harder and for longer than most.”
Bryan George Lang was born in Stirling, Scotland in March 1933. He was the second son of Tom, a regimental sergeant major in the Military Police, and Grace. Both parents were proud Devonians from the South Hams.
Mum Grace died when Bryan was an infant. Tom subsequently married Kathleen, who was Grace’s younger sister. She raised Bryan and brother David as her own.
The Lang family followed a nomadic existence during the 1930s and 1940s. At various times they lived in Malta (1936), Cairo (1938) and Durban, South Africa (1940).
By the time Bryan returned to the United Kingdom aged 10 in 1943 he had sailed through the Suez Canal, seen in the New Year by riding around Durban in a Rickshaw and had sat astride a camel sightseeing the pyramids and the sphynx on the outskirts of Cairo.
Young Bryan was billeted with relatives in Kingsbridge until the war ended. He attended Torquay Boys’ Grammar School at first before transferring to Kingsbridge Grammar School, where he was a border, then head boy and captain of the cricket and football teams.
When Tom and Kathleen returned from Germany after the war the family, which now included Peter as a third son, settled in Paignton. Bryan and David soon joined the Paignton Swimming Club, reviving a sporting interest they had shared while living in South Africa.
Lang played centre-forward for Paignton Town, and the YMCA team, and was promising enough to be offered a trial with Torquay United.
“He decided to swap soccer for rugby because he was aware there was a better social life to be had playing rugby for Paignton,” said daughter Sally.
Lang’s rugby career in Paignton’s second row ended early due to a knee injury, but he was able to carry on playing non-contact sport and concentrated on club cricket with Paignton at first and later with Sidmouth. He also played for Plymouth between 1967-69.
The Devon team management took note of Lang’s run-scoring form at the top of the batting order and picked him to play against Dorset on the North Devon ground at Instow in 1956. He made 48 in the first innings of a drawn game… and was never selected again!
“I think the restraints of the bank meant he had to focus on club cricket – weekends and evenings – rather than try and pursue county cricket,” said Sally.
Bryan Lang left school aged 16 and joined Barclays Bank in Totnes. Apart from two years’ National Service in the RAF Police, he remained with the company until he retired in 1988. Lang’s career with the bank took him to Taunton, Newton Abbot, Sidmouth, Exeter, Plymouth, Bridgwater, Castle Cary in Somerset, Torquay and back to Totnes in 1980 as manager.
It was while working for Barclays in Sidmouth in the late 1950s that Lang met his future wife Hilary at a Saturday night dance in the town. He had gone dancing after playing cricket for Sidmouth.
The husband-to-be later recalled: “Standing on the edge of the floor looking at the 'talent' available I spotted Hilary on the other side of the room. She looked across when I was doing likewise – our eyes met and that was it!”
The couple married in May 1960 and were together for 52 years. They had two daughters: Dawn and Sally.
Retirement allowed Bryan and Hilary to travel – cruises with P&O were top of the list – although Hilary did not always go along when her husband followed the British Lions rugby team to New Zealand, South Africa or Australia. Bryan also toured the West Indies with the England cricket team.
Following Hilary’s death in 2012, Bryan went on a ‘memory lane’ cruise around the Mediterranean, during which he suffered a mild heart attack while the ship was berthed in Valencia, Spain and had to fly home early.
Bryan Lang died the week before Christmas after a long battle against bowel cancer. He is survived by his two daughters, son-in-law Mike Thomas, who shared his father-in-law’s love of sport, and two step-granddaughters.
At Lang’s own request there will be no funeral service. When Covid-19 concerns have eased the family plan to arrange a reception to celebrate his life.