Ask longer serving (and suffering!) Torquay United fans about the late 1980s at Plainmoor and the name ‘Dave Caldwell’ will often pop up in conversation. The Scottish striker didn’t stay long at United, but boy did he make impact! Inspiring a perennially struggling team to a promotion challenge under the wise management of Cyril Knowles, Caldwell’s swashbuckling style made him an instant hit with the Yellow Army and created memories that still linger fondly in 2018.
TT caught up with Dave to talk about his time at the club and ask him for his thoughts on the present…
Hi Dave – before we discuss your time at United can you tell us what you are up to at the moment – are you still involved in football?
Yes still involved in football, have worked for a few professional clubs and been working on a football player development research program with Stirling University for the last 3 years. Last year had a director of football role at Albion Rovers, but left due to the clubs lack of ambition.
What persuaded you to move down to Torquay in 1987 and what were your first impressions of the club and the area at the time?
After being sent off 3 times the Chesterfield manager at the time was under pressure not to play me and Cyril Knowles had enquired if I was for sale. I traveled down to discuss terms, incognito in my convertible yellow jag (lol) and met Cyril in the Livermead Cliff Hotel.
The meeting started with Cyril selling the sun, sea, nightclubs, then after I signed the contract, it ended up with him lecturing me on under achieving in my career, the fact I wasn’t fit and training started tomorrow, so he hoped I brought gear with me.
You announced your arrival with a spectacular overhead kick on your debut against Hereford, what do you remember about that game?
I remember how passionate and noisy the fans were. I practiced overhead kicks in many training sessions, so it wasn’t a fluke. I also remember the how hard the team worked and the attitude which was very determined and positive.
Your all-action performances upfront quickly made you a fans favourite; how would you describe your style of play for those who didn’t see you in action?
I was timed at Chesterfield running the 100 metres in 11 seconds, so I was very fast, I was very committed, direct and scored goals, what you would want from a striker. Some managers said I was at my best when I ran the fine line of being too physical.
The late great Cyril Knowles was in charge when you joined, what are your memories of him and how did he galvanise the team into a battle for promotion?
Cyril had a dominant presence and expected 110% in matches and training. His regime was tough but fair, he was a great motivator. He would also protect you if you worked hard for him, his door was always open.
The fact the team was not one of costly acquisitions showed he got the best out of players. While he told me many times I had under achieved in my career, there was one moment after the Bristol City FA Cup win where I scored a diving header winner, Cyril in a quiet moment on the way out of the ground said “that was the best striker performance I’ve seen in my career” he wasn’t one to compliment, so it was richly respected.
The team came so close to winning a Play-Off final against Swansea over a thrilling two legs (losing 4-5 on aggregate) – what are your memories of those matches?
Another testimony to the endeavours of that team was after the massive disappointment of not going up in the final game against Scunthorpe, we picked ourselves up to win through to the final.
Swansea were a costly star-studded team, the fact we just missed out show that team was something special and punched well above its weight. It was one of the most disappointing moments of my career just to miss out in the final, but like we always did, we battled right to the final whistle.
Which players stand out for you from your time with the Gulls?
While I would say the strength in the team was its variable components of personalities, traits and abilities. There were a couple of players who stood out, Lee Sharpe, the potential was there from his first few games, the enigma of Mark Loram who was amazing to play with, his cross for the Bristol City goal was something only a few players could execute with the outside of the foot and with pin point accuracy.
But in fairness too all, every player in that team deserved credit for their contributions to which was a fantastic season for all involved.
After making such an impact, what made you leave United for KVV Overpelt at the end of the 1987-88 season (before returning on loan in 1989)?
A looming next season 8 match ban for 5 sending offs that season was the main reason. On hindsight the move was not a positive one, ending up with a broken ankle and not being paid by the team.
Got caught in the Bosman situation, which was when players registrations could be held without paying them. The only option when fit was to move to South Africa, who at the time were not a FIFA regulated country.
What your favourite memories/stories from your two spells at the club – life was surely never dull at Plainmoor?!
It’s in Lee Sharpe’s book about when Man United turned up to sign him and I answered the door, Cyril and the contingent from Man United went into the kitchen with Lee, when they left he said “Man United have just offered me a contract” as a good pro I then reeled off everything he should ask for, “appearance money, sell on clause, wages” then said ” it’s Man United just f***** sign”.
While playing in Yorkshire we stayed in a hotel and trained down at a bit of grass next to a farm, when the ball went over the small wire fence Paul Dobson stepped on the wall jumped the fence and threw the ball back, on return the wall was on the other side of the fence so Dobbo put his hand on the ” electric fence” to hurdle back and went about 5 foot in the air, we had to stop training as we were wetting ourselves.
Have 100s more stories for another time.
Do you still follow the Gulls results with great interest and what do you make of the current ownership and management of the club?
Must admit always had a soft spot for the club and have been down a few times. I watch with interest, annoyance and frustration, also offered help and support which was never taken up.
I briefly communicated with Clark Osborne last year and he seems a decent chap with the clubs best interest at heart. Any strategic plan is dependent on creating the correct culture and philosophy for the plan to positively flourish.
It’s not worked at the club so far and it’s not always down to money. I watch with interest this season, but do expect a dramatic turnaround based on the investment, time and planning that’s has gone in so far.
What does the club need to do to turn our fortunes round and how do you think we’ll do in the National League South this season?
If the club does not do well, a different approach should be considered. We left too much to chance last season, ‘hope’ seemed to be the only strategy. Mr Osborne has put his faith in the manager and only time will tell, but I wish Gary and the club much success.
It’s an easier task when you get many things right, that’s the challenge of management and comes with its consequences when you don’t.