SATURDAY APRIL 13 1963. Sutton United had just trounced Hitchin Town 4-0 in the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup. As the victors walked off, the vanquished stood and applauded their opponents. Bruce Spavins, Hitchin’s skipper, led his team in acknowledging Sutton’ achievement.
It was a different age, and Bruce Spavins epitomised the ideals of the age – the Corinthian spirit if you like. Spavins represented an era that would shortly come to an end. Competitive, without a doubt – he always said, “whatever the game, I play to win”, while also displaying a high degree of sportsmanship.
Spavins, who died over the Christmas period, was one of the rocks on which Laurie Scott built a Hitchin team that flirted with major success. The side that reached two FA Amateur Cup semi-finals will always be considered one of the club’s greatest and Spavins was the captain and one of the key players in the heart of the team.
“We had a great bunch of lads that played for each other,” said Spavins when asked about the Canaries team that delighted so many people and left an indelible mark on the club’s followers down the years. “And Laurie was a fantastic manager, he changed the way we approached the game.”
He joined the club from Luton Amateurs in the 1953-54 season and made his debut on March 27 1954 against Hendon. But it wasn’t until Scott came on the scene that Spavins became a regular and it stayed that way until he was force to retire through ill health in the club’s first Isthmian League campaign in 1963-64.
Many felt that Spavins was unlucky not to have won an England international cap, such was his consistency across many seasons. He played almost 250 games for Hitchin Town, but never scored a single goal. But it was not just his ability that won Bruce Spavins many friends. Most people who came across him recognised his exemplary attitude.
In 2006, Spavins travelled up from Dorset to Top Field for a players reunion that brought together the 1961 team for the first time in years. He spoke of the wonderful spirit at the club in those days and wondered if today’s players enjoyed such a bond. He informed me that he was having problems with his memory, but wanted to see the painting from the Hitchin Town v Arsenal game from 1962 which depicts Bruce shaking hands with Arsenal captain Vic Groves. “Do you know, I have never seen the picture,” he commented. “The players didn’t often go into the boardroom.”
I took Bruce and his wife, Mavis, to see the work in the shaky old boardroom at top end of the ground. They sighed and were clearly moved by seeing this slice of club history. It was quite an emotional moment.
People have described Bruce as a great clubman, a sportsman, “one helluva player” and a steady influence on the team. One might suggest he was also Hitchin Town’s greatest ever captain. “Simply a nice guy and an outstanding defender,” was how team-mate Dennis Randall described him. Bruce Spavins left an impression on many people and his passing is another reminder that the age of the gifted amateur has long gone.