“He had everything – pace, power, physique, personality and a shot in either foot” Dave on Robin Stubbs
Herald Express writer, commentator and die-hard United supporter Dave Thomas has seen it all at Plainmoor! Now he faces up to the difficult challenge of picking his TUFC Dream Team:
“WITH any ‘Best Ever XI’, surely it’s a good idea to decide what ‘sort’ of team you’re looking for, and my colleague Guy Henderson has come up with a side that he would pay to watch on a wet Tuesday night at Plainmoor. Excellent idea – we all know what he means”.
“For the sake of variety, I’ve tried to go for ‘A UNITED TEAM TO PLAY FOR MY LIFE’. So, it’s got to have plenty of guts in important areas, maybe a streak of ruthlessness, some pace and, of course, enough quality to finish off the hard graft”.
“Before we go any further – a big apology to all the many wonderful players who might not even make the shortlist (they’d still probably walk into anyone else’s team) and, of course, to the era before I started watching in 1965. Many older fans will insist that men like Sammy Collins, Ronnie Shaw, Don Mills, Tommy Northcott and manager Eric Webber are ‘musts’ and, who knows, they are probably right. But you can only speak as you find”.
“With real trepidation, here goes..”
His arrival from Weymouth in 1965, straight after the FA Cup heroics against Spurs under the popular Eric Webber, was hardly greeted with great enthusiasm, but O’Farrell not only won promotion in his first season, but over three-and-a-half extraordinary years he more than doubled attendances and turned United into one of the best-run and feared clubs outside the top-two divisions of the Football League, punching far above their weight. Driven, disciplined and a clever man-manager, he moved on to bigger things at Leicester City, Manchester United, Iran (where he built the team which knocked Scotland out of the 1978 World Cup) and Cardiff City before returning to Plainmoor in the mid-1970s.
(Shortlist: Mike Green, Bruce Rioch, Neil Warnock, Don O’Riordan, Cyril Knowles, Roy McFarland, Leroy Rosenior, Ian Atkins, Paul Buckle, Gary Johnson).
I’m almost embarrassed to leave out the likes of Mike Mahoney (I was working away when he was keeping United in the old Third Division almost single-handed), Neville Southall and Bobby Olejnik, but Mike Green summed Turner up best of all when, after he had failed to hold a bobbling shot which led to a goal after his arrival from Reading in 1978, Turner looked up at his player-manager, who said: “Bloody ‘ell, John – you are human after all!” Superbly fit, agile and brave, Turner had a personality to match, and he was just as good for Chesterfield, who paid £80,000 for him, and later at Peterborough United, where he broke his leg but they reckoned he was better than future England star David Seaman.
(Shortlist: Mike Mahoney, Kenny Veysey, Neville Southall, Kevin Dearden, Bobby Olejnik).
Charismatic, confident and with quality to match, Bond was a massive hit at Plainmoor when he joined O’Farrell’s Plainmoor ‘crusade’ in January 1966, less than two years after winning the FA Cup with West Ham. He often played as a goalscoring ‘wing-back’, long before that role had been invented.
(Shortlist: Ian Twitchin, Jim McNichol, Paul Holmes, Andy Gurney)
He could play in midfield too, which he often did with conspicuous success, but Dunne was perfectly gifted to play as an attacking centre-back – strong in the air and on the ground, and blessed with bottomless stamina. He played 274 games in two spells (1967-69/1975-78) at Plainmoor, as well as winning further honours with Fulham and the Republic of Ireland, and he would be an ideal partner for an orthodox centre-half.
Maybe one from ‘left field’ here – I want someone who would head it and kick it, but could still start a move out of defence – Taylor was outstanding at the back in the 2004 promotion team and his standards never dropped in League One or in a League Two relegation scrap two years later. His display alongside the equally good Steve Woods in a vital 2-1 win at champions-elect Carlisle in April 2006 was phenomenal. He was brave, his teammates held him in the highest regard and he also had a good left foot – spot on.
(Shortlist: How long have you got?…John Benson, Ken Brown, Dick Edwards, Clint Boulton, Mike Green, John Impey, Phil Lloyd, Matt Elliott, Wes Saunders, Darren Moore, Alex Watson, Jon Gittens, Steve Woods).
How blessed United have been with left-backs over the years! When McGlinchey (Man City, Port Vale, Gillingham, Northern Ireland) arrived from Plymouth in the autumn of 2003, it was as if the final piece of the promotion-winning jigsaw had fallen into place – he was skilful, consistent, cool and his decision-making was uncanny. When United were defending a 2-1 lead under heavy late pressure at Swansea during the promotion run-in, McGlinchey, who would always rather pass than lump it, came up with one of the best goalmouth clearances you will ever see – the ball was still rising as it cleared the roof of the old Vetch Field’s cavernous North terrace…did they ever get it back?! He was just as good, if not better, in League One.
(Shortlist: Bobby Baxter, Phil Sandercock, Jimmy Holmes, Tom Kelly, Paul Gibbs, Kevin Nicholson).
Jack wasn’t just blazingly quick, it was his change of pace which made him such a menace. The little jewel from St Vincent was unplayable in the 1997-98 Play-Off season, especially in tandem with loan striker Jason Roberts. He could play up front, of course, but we’ll just let him loose on any unfortunate left-back and wait for the carnage to unfold..!
(Shortlist: Doug Clarke, Ronnie Barnes, Donal Murphy, Paul Smith, Paul Hall, Wayne Carlisle)
Gulls fanatic Paul Bastard always says that any decent midfield needs what he calls a ‘gangster’ in it and, without implying any criminality, little Cockney ‘pocket battleship’ Smith fits the bill perfectly. He and his manager Frank O’Farrell seldom exchanged Christmas cards, but Smith was one of the first names on his team sheet – and with good reason. In an era when tackling was serious business, the former West Ham and Orient playmaker was a terror, a winner and he could play too.
He wasn’t quick by any means and only average in the tackle, but Russell was living proof that football is a simple game if you’re good enough to do it. His range of passing was top-drawer, he was always available for the ball and 2004 promotion-winning teammate Brian McGlinchey, who was pretty good himself, said once: “‘Aggie’ makes the rest of us look better than we really are.” After playing his heart out to try and keep United in League One, he went on to prove himself a winner in that division too, helping Bristol City into the Championship.
(Shortlist: Tommy Mitchinson, Bruce Rioch, Alan Little, Sean Haslegrave, Sean Joyce, Steve McCall, Jason Fowler, Chris Hargreaves, Eunan O’Kane).
Outrageously talented, there was no limit to the heights that Loram might have attained if he’d wanted more than simply to play football, happily for United, and go out with his mates. When future England star Lee Sharpe moved from Plainmoor and made Manchester United’s first team at 17 in 1988, he told them that he’d left behind a player whose boots he was barely fit to lace. They didn’t believe him, but Sharpe was right. A flawed genius, maybe, but 332 Torquay games, 63 goals and countless moments of jaw-dropping brilliance were more than enough to counter the critics.
(Shortlist: Tony Scott, Bruce Stuckey, Lee Sharpe, Gregory Goodridge, Garry Nelson, Kevin Hill).
A good 40 minutes after the final whistle of Sheffield Wednesday’s see-saw 3-2 FA Cup Fourth Round win at Plainmoor in 1983, your correspondent knocked on the Away dressing-room door and saw former Everton centre-half Mick Lyons sitting on his own with his socks still round his ankles and a blinding headache. “If I never see that No.9 of yours again, it won’t be a day too soon,” he said, or words to that effect. Cooper could leap like Nureyev, head it when he got up there, was suicidally brave and often beat quicker men to the ball. Defenders hated playing against him – enough said.
The ‘target-man’ is on board and Stubbs will be the perfect foil for Cooper. He had everything – pace, power, physique, personality and a shot in either foot. He bridged the free-scoring days of Webber and the more pragmatic but successful era under O’Farrell, and the sheer weight of goals speak for themselves (133 in 263 games). He could have returned to much higher levels several times, but he fell in love with Torquay when he got off the train from Birmingham in 1963, saw the palm trees waving in the breeze and a bevy of girls sunning themselves on Abbey Sands. The Swinging Sixties were in full swing, United fans loved him too (“We All Live In A Robin Stubbs-Marine!”), and the affair never ended.
(Shortlist: John Rudge, Willie Brown, Les Lawrence, Dave Caldwell, David Graham, Tim Sills).