“It’ll be a fascinating summer of recruitment and confidence will be high for a top half of the table finish I am sure”.
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
‘We are the CHAMPIONS my friends”…and isn’t it sweet. But before we talk about that, let me take you back in time to 27th August 2018. It was the day that Torquay United pretty much hit rock bottom, an away trip to Gloucester City. A day when the Yellow Army turned up in numbers to the Jubilee Stadium, only to see their side barely have a shot on target in one of the dullest games I’ve seen us partake in…yes it was that bad. After-game shenanigans entailed, with Gary Owers exiting the field a lonely and withdrawn figure and then promptly showered with cold coffee. A thoroughly miserable and embarrassing afternoon all-round, which prompted numerous questions about where exactly we were heading as a football club – the answer appeared to be ‘non-league oblivion’ and it hurt.
Sometimes you have to look backwards just to assess how far you’ve come and nearly eight months on, the TUFC scenery has changed so dramatically since the Gloucester snooze-fest that it feels like a club reborn. Weeks later Gary Owers departed of course (thank goodness) and in came Gary Johnson (thank goodness), a man who most agreed would not touch the job with a proverbial barge-pole. Well it turns out he would.
Suddenly with his managerial magic Johnson set about altering the TUFC landscape, bringing all his knowhow to the fore and instantly improving results on the pitch. Out went the losing mentality that had blighted the Plainmoor scene for years; out when the dull and dreary ‘don’t lose’ philosophy that Owers brought to the table; out went players who were not up to scratch. In came fans engagement and an outgoing personality; entertaining and attacking football; encouragement for the players to express themselves and most importantly in came the fans – in their droves. The difference a top quality manager can make is often forgotten I think, in this case the upgrade from one Gary to another has been huge!
Gary had a clear plan from the start, breathe life into the squad and get the best out of players who had lost their way under Owers. Jamie Reid was told that he was ‘the man’ and that he could score the goals United required, whilst the likes of Kalvin Kalala and Saikou Janneh were brought in to to give the Gulls much-needed X-Factor. Squad players like Ruairi Keating were praised and rewarded for their work-ethic and the happiness surrounding Plainmoor was soon converted to success. Win after win has entailed, and I’m not sure Gary can even believe that the title has been wrapped so comfortably – actually he probably can!
Success has inevitably brought fans back to Plainmoor, but I’ve still been astounded by the attendances as the glorious season has gone on. Supporters have re-found their love for an afternoon of TUFC football and packed out the terraces once more. Young fans who have only dealt with a Gulls team struggling to fight off relegation, want to be a part of this exciting new era and share the new experience of not just winning games, but winning with style and panache. And then you have the die-hard fans who had turned up to every fixture, rain or shine. We deserve this success guys, we deserve it.
That brings me to last weekend, with a rather lethargic United team still too good for plucky Eastbourne and Woking losing yet again to hand us the NLS title. I had thought that Woking FC were made of sterner stuff this season, but the panicked incomings have not worked for Alan Dowson – giving him a much bigger squad than United, but a softer and inconsistent starting XI. Have they bottled it? Well I’ll pass judgement on that when the play-offs have finished! With home field advantage the Cards should still follow us up.
I am not complaining about the lack of drama as the title challenge curtain closed. End of season TUFC games have been fraught with huge desperation and anxiety for numerous seasons and I can sleep far easier knowing that our destination for 2019-20 is the National League. Did things have to get worse for them to get better, maybe – just tell me this season in the NLS is our only one and I’ll be happy! Regional football is just not what Torquay United should be about, however much fun this season’s journey has been.
Gary’s thoughts are already turning to next season and his next test; to mould United into National League challengers. A number of the building blocks are already in place as the likes of Shaun MacDonald, Kyle Cameron, Liam Davis and Asa Hall give the side a strength of character to take into the next division. We’ll need that character as the NL will bring with it fitter teams, teams better organised and more aggressive as they look to disrupt United’s flow. Woking provided that sort of test a few weeks back and the boys were lucky to escape with a point, GJ will be pinpointing areas that need improving and it’ll be a fascinating summer of recruitment. Confidence will be high for a top half of the table finish I am sure.
In the meantime there are still three matches left to finish on a high, almost like a 270 minute victory celebration – though let’s hope the lads take it slightly more seriously than that! Mid-table Chippenham Town await on Friday, in a game where most likely the travelling Yellow Army will once again out-number the home fans. The opposition Q&A is in the hands of Bluebirds supporter Nathan Green, whilst Matt Parkman will be reporting back for TT from a game that could in truth be played out like a pre-season friendly. Maybe, spurred on by vociferous support, the boys in yellow will give us one more 18-19 away day to remember.
Then it’s Hungerford (Ben Currie match verdict) and St Albans (Thomas Kelly match verdict) to finish and time to take a breath (and go to the cricket) as the summer draws closer. Covering every game at TT this season is not an easy task, and with an impending list of Northern games, the next campaign will present more tests to our admirable record. We’ve still got more irons in the fire for 18-19, as we summarise this brilliant title win, and the TT team will be picking out their favourite moments and players in the coming weeks.
FINAL WORD: This promotion has meant a lot to so many people, myself included. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of 2004 or 2009, promotions that were just that extra bit special, but seeing my club resuscitated into life just when hope was being lost is amazing. This could be the start of another golden period of TUFC life with GJ at the helm and I can’t wait…mind you if things go wrong I’ll be there too, with Torquay United (and Football) you never know!
PS – Here is the latest standings in the TT match prediction league, one contest that may go to the wire this season…
1. @samdruiff 9 pts
2. @RachelVillavox 8 pts
3. @samuellejones 6 pts
3. @DomRoman 6 pts
4. @Jonny___Jones 5 pts
4. @MattyHayward9 6 5 pts
4. @lukehunter8 5 pts
4. @karlstandeven 5 pts
5. @MarcusArscott 4 pts
6. @RichHeesem 3 pts