I had a nomadic childhood, never being able to settle anywhere for too long. Every few years my Dad’s job would move, and my entire life would uproot and shift to some new and exciting location. I was very lucky to have this sort of life, as it gave me new experiences and opportunities others could only dream of. From the stunning fjords of Norway to the tropical storms of Venezuela, I saw and experienced it all. But one thing never changed, my incredible love/hate relationship with Torquay United.
In 2005, my parents decided to buy a house in the UK, so we had a permanent base here and the South-West seemed like the best bet. We had been renting a place in Cornwall every year for our annual family get together, and for three weeks a year we’d find ourselves back in Blighty, so we knew the area. After much toing and froing, in a decision that involved serious consideration of a place in Weston Super Mare (up The Seagulls!) we settled on a beautiful Victorian villa in a small seaside town known as Torquay, more famous for John Cleese bashing a car with a branch than football. At this point I was living in Houston, Texas – so the concept of lower league English football was incredibly alien.
My first game came on Boxing Day, 2005. My parents had told my brother and I that we were going to the panto (oh no we weren’t) which as an 11 year old I was quite excited about. They told me to wrap up warm as the Princess Theatre heating was broken, and the actors performed better in the cold, which I believed of course. But instead of going to the Princess Theatre, the taxi pulled up outside Plainmoor. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d seen the top teams play on the TV, but I had no idea what was to come from my first ever experience of League 2.
The game was a 2-2 draw with top of the table Wycombe Wanderers where we blew a two-goal half time lead. I was transfixed. It was my first live English football game, and only my fifth or sixth live game (others included Venezuela vs Ecuador, Venezuela vs Colombia and Everton vs Club America in a friendly in the States). This was the start of a lifelong devotion and even when I’ve moved around the world, I’ve supported the Gulls from whichever far flung corner of the world I found myself in.
So, what’s it like supporting Torquay United from afar?
It’s not as hard as it sounds, but initially it was not easy. Back in 2005, there was no Twitter, Facebook was in early infancy and I was about 7000 kilometres away from Torquay. It was the BBC Sport website where I used to avidly follow the live text updates at 9am on a Saturday to see if we had actually managed to win. At that age a lot of the intricacies of the English Football pyramid went way over my head and it wasn’t until much later I realised how big relegation from the Football league was.
Following on the BBC was fine, as the text commentary was relatively up to date, if lacking description at times. It was often hard to get an idea of how the game was going, sure there were stats but the text updates were simplistic and slightly robotic. For example, the updates were along the lines of “Shot by Hill (Torquay), missed wide right from outside the box” and that’s all the information we got. Well, that and the fact the other team had scored! I’m not sure this feature still exists anymore, especially at the Conference level, but it was a Godsend at the time.
The one game that does stand out from this era was the 2-1 win away to Carlisle, who won the League that season. Goals from Kevin Hill and Jo Kuffour pretty much secured our safety that season. Sitting with my Dad in the front room frantically pressing F5 on the keyboard to find out if we had managed to close the game out is a treasured memory. Looking back it feels quite rudimentary but it worked – even when we went down the next season and I left Houston.
Then I moved to Norway and things became a whole lot easier. We had managed to get a working Sky Box with all the Sports channels, which meant one thing. We had Gillette Soccer Saturday. Jeff Stelling and his band of Merry Men keeping us up to date in the most enjoyable fashion possible. As Richard Wilson (no, not that one) described him Jeff is “the only man in the world that could tell you that Arbroath’s left back has scored three years in a row on his wedding anniversary”. It was fun, and informative! Jeff was not the main attraction of this though, what really helped was that they even talked about the conference! This meant it was a bit easier, as the scores would appear in real time on the vidiprinter at the bottom of the screen showing us exactly how many goals Sills had scored that day.
However, on 11th of November 2007 the big one came. The moment where I could finally watch the Gulls while overseas. Torquay United vs Yeovil Town. FA Cup 1st Round. For some unknown reason it was broadcast live on the BBC for the whole country to watch. We won 4-1 with Chris Todd and Danny Stevens both scoring twice to provide a major “Cupset” that rocked the whole South-West. FA Cup wins have not come easy for us lately, so this is one I savour. I found some highlights of the game recently and it started with an incredibly patronizing Fawlty Towers themed introduction to Torquay. But hey, at least we’re known for something. The other games I remember watching on the telly were the 2008 FA Trophy final and our humiliating 3rd round FA Cup defeat to Crawley Town, but let’s not talk about those.
My time in Norway created one of the strangest coincidences I’ve ever seen. One winter we had come back for Christmas, and had gone to a Boxing Day game at Plainmoor. My Dad had bought a programme and was flicking through it when something stood out on the player sponsorship page. One of the players had the words “Norway Gulls” by them. My Dad showed me, and much to our surprise there was a Torquay United Supporters Club based in Stavanger, Norway. So I got in contact and our family joined as honorary members. After talking to the organiser, I found out that had started supporting the Gulls as they were tired of the big leagues and wanted something different. They are still active today on Facebook, with members still sometimes going to games.
The connection with Stavanger doesn’t end there either. The much loved Kieffer Moore played 11 games for the local top division team Viking FK before moving back to England in 2016. He didn’t score for them; I think he saved all of his goals for us against Solihull. If you ever read this Kieffer, just to let you know, you’re welcome back at any time. And thanks for missing the open goal.
In 2009 I moved to Dubai, and we moved back into League 2. Once again, back to the BBC Sport website and nervously refreshing the page to see if we had clinched promotion back to the hallowed turf of the Football League. I hadn’t actually been paying attention to the game as I had just got back from school, and was more interested in playing video games than following us at Wembley in our biggest game in years. That would never happen now that I’m older, the Wembley bit I mean, not the video games bit.
For the next two years I had to make do with the BBC Sport page, and then I joined Twitter and life got a whole lot easier. The one thing Twitter is perfect for (apart from voicing opinions no one wants to hear) is following lower league football. I’m not sure exactly when I started following Torquay United on Twitter, but I do remember how much easier it made it. Crucially, being able to keep up to date and get more insight into the flow of the game. There was one opportunity to watch the Gulls on TV while in Dubai. The League 2 Playoff Final 2011 v Stevenage at Old Trafford was shown. So I watched it, and we lost, and everything went wrong from there.
Twitter had been a watershed moment, but in 2012 I moved to Cardiff for university and life supporting Torquay United became a whole lot easier. No longer having to deal with weird time zones, I could follow the Gulls at normal times, and go to the odd game if I wanted too. Through my first and second year at uni I went to a handful of games, including my first away game where we lost 2-1 to Newport County at Newport. I’m not sure which was worse, the game, the town or the fact that Alan Knill was manager.
Then my Mum and brother moved to Torquay so I could go back home more often and watch the Gulls, using the excuse that I wanted to see the family (worked every time). Chris Hargreaves came and went with such memorable performances as the 3-0 loss at home to Wrexham in the FA Trophy (the only Torquay game where I have left early) meant that I had timed my more regular visits to Plainmoor at a very bad time.
Paul Cox arrived with Exodus and I moved to Barcelona for a Master’s degree (unrelated, I assure you). It was here that I discovered something wonderful. I had discovered a way to support Torquay that changed my entire life that made me question all of my foolish attempts to follow the Gulls from afar previously. I realised that BBC Radio Devon could be accessed from overseas and I could follow the Gulls in real time. Cox left, and we lost 7-3 to Bromley in a game I would never forget for the raging hangover I had that day, made worse by the utter humiliation Dean Edwards caused us. But at least I could actually listen to our defeats.
The rest of the season carried on in typical Torquay United fashion and I started a routine where every Saturday at 4pm I would drop whatever I was doing and tune into the radio to hear us pull off the magic that season. The only game I got to that season after August was the 4-1 thrashing of Forest Green Rovers on Boxing Day, which was not a bad place to be. As the season drew to a close, I realised that we might do it, that we actually might stay up.
Saturday’s were no longer relaxing as I waited nervously for the game to start and to find out whether Nicho had managed to do the impossible. The 2-0 win at Bromley confirmed it, and as soon as the game I finished I burst into tears with relief, grabbed a beer and sacked the rest of the day off from any work I had to do. Listening to Radio Devon was always good fun as the completely biased commentary and vivid description of the torrid whether at some tiny ground up north always put me on edge, and it’s something I still do now.
Since then I’ve spent a year in Torquay and have moved to London, so I can watch the Gulls a lot more, and even start going to away games as well, which I love. Especially when the much maligned Jamie Reid curls one in the top corner right in front of you. And you go crazy. And you get home late. And you can’t sleep because you’re still buzzing (just me?). But I always enjoyed supporting the Gulls overseas, there was something raw and honest about it.