THE unfinished cribbage pairs final of 1990 sparked a supreme act of sportsmanship.

And, rather spookily, no club has since produced more finalists than the two involved that day. Dick Thatcher and George Hendy (General Hospital Sports & Social Club) were trailing 3-2 to Brian Smith and Ray Turner (Shirley Warren).

Barry Cutler, the Hospital skipper, witnessed the drama unfold at the old Civil Service Club in Shirley.

“Dick laid the last card to make it 3-3,” he recalled. “Then he collapsed – with excitement.”

The match was abandoned and Thatcher later died in hospital.

Smith and Turner refused to accept the Mew Langton Cup by default and the title was shared.

Warren players have since won the cup twice and been runners-up three times. And the Hospital team, which moved to Nursling & Rownhams Social Club as the B side in 2011, still fields the pair to have reached the most finals.

Cutler, the longest-serving team member and skipper for 30 years, rescued his “good mate” Ray Ferguson after his wife died.

Finalists in 2003 and 2006, they clinched the title in 2008.

(Former teammates Tina and Steve Allenby won in 1993.) Cutler, 69, said: “It’s just how it goes. You go out with the intention of trying to win something – for your partner more than you do for yourself sometimes.”

Ferguson learnt to play cribbage in a van stuck in a traffic jam waiting to get on the ferry at Swanage.

And the game helped him come to terms with the death of his wife, Joan, in 1995.

“The first three months, you couldn’t get me out of the pub,” recalled the 71-year-old. “It was my way of dealing with it.”

Soon after he stopped drinking, Ferguson was recruited by old friend Cutler for the now shut Bridge Tavern team and the Hospital side.

“He’s a good mate,” said Ferguson. “We haven’t done too bad. We just clicked.

“It’s given me a lot of pleasure. You meet some lovely people.”

Remarkably, the duo are in the pairs quarter-finals again this year.

Cutler was taught by dad, and later teammate, Cyril on family holidays in the Channel Islands.

He was signed for the Bridge Tavern in Coxford Rd and the General Hospital more than 30 years ago by Ron Lovett – despite getting up at 1.30am to deliver fruit and vegetables (“you got used to it”). He also played for The Freemantle Hotel in Paynes Rd but has never competed in Division 1 of the Southampton & District Social Clubs League.

“If we get there, we get there,” he said. “As long as everyone’s happy playing.

“When we were down the Bridge Tavern, we were winning virtually every year. That’s why I’m not worried about winning trophies.”

Although he did admit he was delighted with his first silverware in the social clubs league when the Hospital were crowned Division 4 champions in 1987.

However, the team finished bottom of Division 3 the following year and Cutler collected the wooden spoon (a practice since discontinued) at the presentation evening at Southampton Guildhall.

As memories of all his teammates over the past 30 years came flooding back, Cutler added: “A lot of them have passed away, all the old crowd…”

Social Clubs spotlight in today's Daily Echo