Friends and team-mates of Elmore Football Club player, Steve Harris, thought he was having a laugh when he pulled out of the Elmore squad last week because of a spider bite.
The 22-year-old defender from Dawlish, who plays for the Tiverton-based side in the South West Peninsula Premier League, was deadly serious.
For Harris had been bitten by Britain’s most venomous spider – the false black widow – and had to undergo an emergency operation at Torbay Hospital.
He currently has an open wound where surgeons had to cut away the poison and has been told he cannot play football for at least three weeks.
Harris, who in his teens had spells at Plymouth Argyle, Norwich City, Yeovil Town and Salisbury, and joined Elmore two years ago from another local side, Cullompton Rangers, was bitten in his sleep.
He said: “When I work up I had a pain in my side – a stinging feeling. I didn’t take that much notice until it started swelling and the pain got worse.
“It looked like a bite, although I didn’t know it was from a spider at the time. The area around the bite mark just ballooned and grew and grew. It was only when the area started to turn black, some four days after I first noticed the bite that I decided I ought to go to hospital.
“I went to Torbay Hospital and they instantly said I had been bitten by a spider – they said they had seen six other people attending with similar bites within the previous week. They told me the false black widow spider was the culprit.”
“They operated on me immediately and it took half an hour to cut away the area around the bite to get at the poison. I now have an open wound and have to wait for it to heal over.
“I was in agony. I have never had pain like that before in my life. It’s still very painful now. I still can’t sleep properly and find it virtually impossible to get in and out of a car.”
His mates still thought he was pulling their leg and it was only when he showed them a photo of his open wound that they believed him.
The false black widow spider (steatoda nobilis) is the most dangerous of the 12 species of biting spider known in Britain.
It is thought to have arrived in Britain in crates of fruit from the Canary Islands at the end of the 1870s and early 1880. It was first reported in Torquay in 1879.
They have been established in Devon for a long time and recent climate change has seen the population spread across the South East of England.
The spider belongs to the same family as the infamous Black Widow spider, although nowhere near as toxic.
It is quite commonly mistaken for its famous cousin, hence the name false black widow spider.
About the size of a 50p piece, it has a dark, shiny bulbous body with a creamy coloured band all around the front.
They do have a reputation for biting, although it is considered quite a rare occurrence.
People bitten by the spider say they experienced acute burning pain, swelling and a general sick feeling.
The bite mark area usually turns black and yellow. Recently there have been a couple of instances of people being bitten by the spider in the London and Kent area.