The Gulls’ Non League Paper reporter and author of ‘Torquay United: A History in 50 Matches’ (see link below) Steve Harris selects his Gulls’ Dream Team from his first match in 1991 onwards:
Steve Harris – @steveharris84
The bulk of this team is drawn from my first season following the Gulls’ fortunes in the 1991-92 season, Kevin Hodges play-off final side of the 1997-98 campaign and Leroy Rosenior’s promotion winning campaign. I’ve also gone with a 3-5-2 formation, as a nod to Hodges’ side and to incorporate three outstanding centre backs.
Not only a Torquay United legend, but a footballing legend. Big Nev had won the 1995 FA Cup with Everton – three and a half years before arriving at Plainmoor – and displayed many of characteristics which saw him regarded as the world’s best in his position. Personal highlights for me included QPR away in the FA Cup third round in the 1999-00 season, when he well and truly rolled back the years.
Best remembered now as manager of West Bromwich Albion and for chalking up impressive results against Mourinho, Klopp et al, but it all began for Bruno (not Big Dave!) as a raw young centre back at Plainmoor. He went from being a young hopeful to a regular first teamer and he remained until 1995 when he – perhaps surprisingly – joined Doncaster Rovers.
One of my personal favourites from my early years of following the Gulls. Elliott was a key player in a side that had just won promotion and went on to enjoy a fine career that saw him score twice for Leicester in the 2000 League Cup final and represent Scotland.
Another player from my earlier years of support, Saunders was something of a cult hero following the 1991 play-off final success against Blackpool by that point. One game sticks in the memory bank against Stoke City when he helped to keep an attack that included future Chelsea striker Mark Stein quiet. Sadly his tenure as manager didn’t prove to be as success as his playing spell with the Gulls.
One half of an iconic goal scoring wing back combination, Gurney was instrumental in helping Kevin Hodges’ team of the 1997-98 campaign reach the play-offs. The right back slot in this team isn’t quite as heavily contested as the left-back position (more on that later) but Gurney gets the nod.
The left-back position is probably the most hotly contested slot in this team, but as I’m going with wing-backs Paul Gibbs edges out Brian McGlinchey, Robbie Herrera, John Uzzell and Kevin Nicholson. Like Andy Gurney, Gibbs chipped in with a number of important goals during the 1997-98 campaign – his only season at Plainmoor – as United reached Wembley where they faced his old club Colchester United.
With a great eye for a pass, Alex Russell was a vital cog in Leroy Rosenior’s automatic promotion winning side in the 2003-04 season after initially being brought to Plainmoor by Leroy’s predecessor Roy McFarland. He provided tremendous service for David Graham, Martin Gritton, Jo Kuffour and Bayo Akinfenwa amongst others during his four years at Plainmoor between 2001 and 2005. During this time he made the PFA Division Three team of the season twice in 2002-03 and 2003-04 (the only Torquay United player ever to achieve this feat) and also made those who played next to him look better as well.
A tenacious tackler who was signed by Eddie May midway through the disastrous 1995-96 season and ended up winning the club’s Player of the Year award. He would remain at Plainmoor until the early part of the 1997-98 campaign when he was reunited with May at Brentford, which prevented him from being part of the side that would reach Wembley at the end of the season.
Where do you begin with Kevin Hill? The club’s all record appearance holder – a record which may never be beaten – who gave United good value for every single one of those 474 appearances in terms of effort and commitment. A fantastic header of the ball who regularly outjumped players far taller than his five feet nine inch frame; he was also a better footballer than he was possibly given credit for, as evidenced by the overhead kick from which he scored against Macclesfield Town in January 2004.
Scorer of two of the most important goals in the history of Torquay United – the third against Barnet in 2001 and the second against Southend United in 2004 – David Graham’s part in United folklore will be discussed until the end of time. After being in and out of the side under Roy McFarland, the appointment of Leroy Rosenior as manager in 2002 saw his game rise to a completely different level. He found the back of the net 23 times in the 2003-04 promotion season – a tally that included no penalties – and his touch and movement were so good he often played the role of target man alongside Jo Kuffour at times.
Rodney Jack’s blistering pace tormented many a Division Three defender and helped him to earn a £650,000 club record sale to Crewe Alexandra. It could be argued that he saved his best in a Gulls’ shirt for last in the second leg of United’s play-off semi-final with Scarborough with two goals in the opening seven minutes. With Graham’s touch and movement and Jack’s speed, this is a strike partnership that many lower league defences would struggle to live with.
During my time as a Gulls fan several managers have led United to the play-offs, including Don O’Riordan, Kevin Hodges, Paul Buckle and Martin Ling, but only Leroy Rosenior can claim to have led the club to automatic promotion. O’Riordan and Hodges did phenomenally well on small budgets, Buckle guided the club back into the Football League and then on to the brink of League One.
Ling deserves a special mention as he rebuilt the side following Buckle’s departure to Bristol Rovers and assembled a team greater than the sum of its parts which came within a whisker of automatic promotion, but Leroy gets the nod narrowly ahead of Ling.
As well as getting the likes of David Graham, Alex Russell, Jason Fowler to play an exciting brand of football, the 2003-04 side also outperformed and outplayed a number of sides with far bigger budgets and many players who played under Leroy speak highly of his man-management and coaching ability.
Truly flourished under Martin Ling and his brace against Plymouth will live long in the memory.
Another player who excelled under Leroy and more than worthy of a place on the bench.
The big Austrian would be an excellent understudy to Big Nev and could save a penalty too.
The perfect player to bring if plan A isn’t working. ‘Lors’ was heading towards the end of his time with the Gulls when I saw him but he could still produce a moment or two of magic.
Now known as the ‘Beast’ and the strongest player in the FIFA computer game series, but Akinfenwa made his name during his one and only season with the Gulls in the 2004-05 season, with 16 goals that nearly helped keep United in League One.
Another fine left-back, only misses out by virtue of the formation choice.