The first half of Torquay’s 15/16 campaign was riddled with stage fright for the Plainmoor faithful. With a host of players performing like pantomime villains week in, week out, we sunk further to a bleak prospect in the league – by the end of January we propped up the division, eleven points adrift.
In a hopeless situation, then Manager Kevin Nicholson fought doggedly to improve our lot and as February drew-in, the squad was awarded two new acquisitions that would coincide with a remarkable upheaval in fortune – Iffy Allen and Danny Racchi signed on the 1st February.
A week later, Danny made his debut in a 3-3 FA Trophy thriller against Macclesfield followed by a return leg replay that would provide the springboard to a momentous ten game unbeaten run propelling Torquay out of the bottom four and eventually on to survival.
In a season that saw our midfield stockpiled with lacklustre characters such as Simon Heslop and Louis Briscoe, the eventual inclusion of Danny Racchi brought some much needed grit with a classy ambiance; there was a buzz about him that personified the team’s never-say-die attitude in those closing months – pivotal ingredients to what would become ‘the great escape’.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Danny a few weeks ago, here’s what he had to say about everything from Icelandic football to life in the non-league circuit.
Danny Racchi would play a pivital role in the Club’s great escape
Hi Danny, thanks for taking the time to speak to TORQUAYTALK, we really appreciate it. You alerted me to your matter-of-fact style of communication before I started this, so I’m excited to get going – I’m not for censoring swearing but our self-proclaimed ‘family-man’ Editor will shout at me if I don’t, so watch out for those… I’m sure he already edits out my northern colloquialisms – tut.
DR – No holds barred for me, I like to be honest!
The best policy! You joined Torquay at a very difficult time, we were sliced eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table with time running out, was it possible to get pleasure from your time at the Club in such difficult circumstances?
DR – I really enjoyed my time at Torquay. I’d had a few horrible years with injuries and then an up and down spell at both Halifax & Tamworth, it was refreshing to come down and be back in full-time football.
I thought I hit the ground running, considering I’d had nearly 3 months sat at home with tendinitis. I feel if I was fitter you would have seen a lot more of my capabilities. I know at that level what I can offer, it was a bad time, as you say, the club were bottom but we showed what we were capable of towards the end of that season. The team went from having the worst form in the league to having the 2nd best record, only championship winning Cheltenham were better, that was all in the time I was there.
Your name has never really disappeared since your departure, for the majority, you’ve always been cited as ‘one that got away’ – were you as close to rejoining Kevin Nicholson for the following campaign as has been rumoured?
DR – Yes I was to be honest. My girlfriend at the time and I had agreed to move down – we had been discussing a 2 year deal but unfortunately it was a waiting game for the takeover, which never quite happened in time. Obviously I needed a bit of a wage increase, moving so far and with a family to provide for.
Gaming International’s takeover dragged on for an eternity that year, from the start of the year through the summer that you mention – did that activity off the field have any bearing on yours or the Club’s performance on it?
DR – Not in the time I was there to be honest. I’m very focused on what needs to be done on the pitch and I know that players can only affect that – often at times the fans probably saw me digging at players and demanding more as I saw what they were capable of in training and knew what we could deliver in games.
The supporters saw you as a leader and for a large majority of the season that’s exactly what that squad lacked. To throw a classic cliché in, we grew into a team towards those final months; it seemed a close unit – have you stayed in touch with any of the others?
DR – Yeah I’ve kept in contact with a few but I also know a lot disliked me, I have my set ways of doing things and I won’t change that for anyone. I demand high standards and when players don’t like getting told to ‘up it’, that’s their problem. I get paid to win football games, not to be friends with people. There were some great lads there that have progressed well, I wouldn’t say we were best friends but I’ll always keep In touch with them.
As a supporter, it is an amazing feeling staying up against the odds and we know that’s how this particular story ended, but I really, really, really doubted we’d do it, especially after a torrid performance at Tranmere in January – did you ever have an ounce of doubt in yourself or the team?
DR – Absolutely none at all. I remember the day I signed and I sat with the gaffer and Robbie. We had all the fixtures on the board and we went through our expectations I remember saying to the gaffer that no one up there was Real Madrid and we don’t have a problem.
For me it was a confidence thing and a lack of experience – you had a young team that wasn’t performing. I know what I did in that team but I was surrounded by players who equally upped their performances.
I know exactly what I’m capable of and to be honest I know I’m far better than the midfielders in this division – I had no doubts I’d dominate games in terms of possession and intelligence. I never reached the heights I know I could of in my career through injuries and misjudgments of my own. I am quite disappointed how my career has planned out, although I’ve memories that no one can ever take away from me.
This obviously all came under the stewardship of Kevin Nicholson. The terraces would often speculate there was a bit of a personality clash between you two, how was your relationship with KN and how did he compare to other managers you’ve worked with?
DR – I had a very good relationship with the gaffer and he speaks to me a lot even now. He was different in terms of everything, as have all my managers – they have ways they want to do things and you like and dislike some of it from time to time. The training was always sharp and enjoyable and what happened on the pitch while I was there all worked out very well.
The Torquay fans had a lot to endure that season and it wasn’t always easy – how did you see you perceive your relationship with the Yellow Army?
DR – I think it was just a case of they’d been watching a load of rubbish that season and when I came in things changed – but it wasn’t all down to me. The timing of me singing and the performances coincided with the results picking up, as well as my stand out long hair and never say die attitude maybe the fans felt a breath of fresh air with me, I certainly enjoyed playing in front of them let’s put it that way.
Your long hair drew comparisons with former manager and player, Chris Hargreaves who enjoyed some successful times with us, on the field anyway! He often spoke about the difficulties lower-league and non-league footballers face, how did you find the transition to non-league football?
DR – To be honest, very difficult, playing for Kilmarnock where there was a few internationals and players who moved on to much bigger clubs and playing in huge stadiums to the contrast of dropping to Halifax etc where players around you weren’t as good, it’s very difficult at times. I’m a player that likes to play football with my brain and when players around you are making simple mistakes consistently it becomes frustrating. I know if it wasn’t for my injuries I wouldn’t have returned to non-league football again after playing for York but I understood my situation of being out of the game a long time and just wanted to play football again.
Having predominantly plied your trade in northern England, how did you find re-locating to Torquay, albeit for that short time?
DR – Some of the journeys were tough. Probably more so for the other lads as the gaffer was very understanding of my situation and I’d travel up the day before on my own and spend some time with my family so it used to break my journeys up for me. I can imagine a straight run through to Gateshead could be a bit much for the lads though!
Even further away from Torquay, some people may not be aware, you played in Iceland for a spell – how was that?
DR – It was a strange one; I had actually agreed terms with Oldham after leaving Kilmarnock that summer and had Valur in Iceland on my case the whole off-season as they’d seen me playing in the SPL. The contract at Oldham didn’t go through but the manager was still adamant he wanted me so I went there for pre-season and there was no budget left for me to sign, so I was left in no man’s land a week before the season stared and Valur returned with a good offer and spoke to me about the possibility of a Champions League qualifier so I bought into that. It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, I lived in Reykjavik and the football was surprisingly good, a lot of ex-premier league players out there and obviously from the national team’s success the set up of the clubs was brilliant. It was just such a small population and there wasn’t much to do, if I’d of stayed any longer I’d of gone insane. But 7 games, 3 assists and 2 goals and player of the league for September – it didn’t go too bad!
Hlíðarendi, home of Valur in Reykjavik.
Off the field and following your time at Torquay you’ve been pursuing a career as a hairdresser, how has did the come about and has the transition from professional football been hard?
DR – It’s different, when I had my back injury after being in Iceland I was told I’d be lucky to play again so I had to have a real think about my future, I went over a year and a half with no income in my late 20’s as I’d only ever played football. I liked the creative side of barbering and pursued it and it’s taken off for me and it’s a skill I’ll have for the rest of my life now.
Do you think you’ll ever return to football in one capacity or another?
DR – I’d love too. At the moment I’m battling with a knee injury that keeps returning. So if I can keep on top of that and maintain the pain I’d love to come back and play again just so my son can see me play. But if not I’d like to come into it in management or coaching as I feel I know football and what it takes to be successful but if I’d ever get an opportunity is a different matter.
Danny Racchi has made over 150 appearances in three different countries, enjoying spells at Huddersfield, Bury, York, Kilmarnock, Valur, Hyde, Halifax, Tamworth and most recently, Torquay United.