TOP 5 TUFC PRE-SEASON FRIENDLIES
With TUFC heading back into action this week, Steve Harris takes a look at five of the best pre-season friendlies from the club’s history (spoiler alert – Tiverton away is not included!):
Steve Harris – @steveharris84
1. Torquay United 0 Manchester United 0, 29th July 1972
The first friendly of this selection took place in 1972 and saw former Gulls’ manager Frank O’Farrell bring his Manchester United side to visit Plainmoor ahead of the 1972-73 season.
At this time, both Uniteds were going through periods of transition as the Gulls had just been relegated from the ‘old’ Third Division – which ended their six-year run in the division which began in 1966 after winning promotion under O’Farrell. The United of Manchester on the other hand were still adjusting to life post Sir Matt Busby, and O’Farrell had become the latest manager to take on the challenge of delivering a first league title since 1967.
The Red Devils side on the night was captained by Bobby Charlton and featured the likes of Denis Law, George Best, Alex Stepney and Brian Kidd. They also included younger players like Martin Buchan, signed from Aberdeen, and Sammy McIlroy who had been given their debuts by O’Farrell.
The Gulls also featured new summer signing Mike Trebilcock, from Portsmouth, who famously netted twice for Everton in the 1966 FA Cup final.
A crowd of over 15,000 poured into Plainmoor to watch a game that ended goalless in what would be the first of three meetings between the United’s of Torquay and Manchester. They would next meet in December 1981 in Tony Brown’s testimonial, which the Gulls won 4-2, and again in September 1989, as part of the deal that took Lee Sharpe to Old Trafford, when the Red Devils won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Mike Duxbury.
2. Torquay United 1 Aberdeen 1, 24th July 1987
In one of Cyril Knowles’ first games as United manager after succeeding Stuart Morgan, United played out an entertaining draw with Scottish side Aberdeen.
The Dons were undertaking a five-match pre-season tour of the West Country and were managed by Ian Porterfield, who had replaced the Manchester United bound Alex Ferguson less than a year earlier. Their side included many of the mainstays of their success under Ferguson, which saw them challenge the Old Firm dominance of the Scottish domestic scene and win the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Real Madrid in Gothenberg, including Jim Leighton, Alex McLeish and Willie Miller.
Aberdeen were in front as early as the sixth minute when John Hewitt, scorer of the Dons winning goal in Gothenberg in 1983, converted from the penalty spot after John Impey was adjudged to have fouled Davie Dodds.
Fortunately for United they had a not so secret weapon in their armoury in the form of Mark Loram, who had recently returned to Plainmoor from Queens Park Rangers on a permanent basis. In the 31st minute, Loram fired wide with a difficult first time shot following good work from Tom Kelly and Paul Dobson.
Early in the second half, he set up Derek Dawkins for a chance which Dawkins fired straight at Leighton. It was on the hour mark that United finally level matters when Gerry Nardiello seized on a blocked shot by Dobson from the right, and produced a cross which was swept home by Loram. The game also featured a late cameo from a first-year YTS from the West Midlands by the name of Lee Sharpe.
At the time of this game, Aberdeen were the last team from outside the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers to win the Scottish title – which they did so in 1986 – and the last side from Scotland to win a European trophy (the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup) – records which they still hold to the this day.
3. Torquay United 1 Red Star Belgrade 2, July 21st 1990
As English football basked in the glory of England’s run to the semi-finals of Italia 90 and the nation’s perception of the game changed – Torquay United were also starting a new era.
Following Mike Bateson’s takeover of the club earlier in the year, funds were made available to then manager Dave Smith who returned to two of his former clubs to sign Wes Saunders for a club record £60,000 from Dundee, and to Plymouth Argyle to capture the signature of the Pilgrims’ legendary goal scorer Tommy Tynan.
Amongst the earliest opportunities to see Smith’s marquee signings in action were two friendlies against FC Pumas of Mexico and Yugoslav champions Red Star Belgrade.
The Red Star side were embarking on a pre-season tour of the UK and fielded the likes of Robert Prosinecki, Dejan Savicevic and Darko Pancev, who had all helped the Yugoslavian national side reach the quarter finals of Italia 90 where they were beaten by Argentina. By contrast the Gulls fielded Tynan and skipper John Uzzell, two veterans of Plymouth Argyle’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1984.
It was the hosts who took the lead through Prosinecki, who was attracting interest from Real Madrid at the time, before Tynan equalised for the Gulls. Mitar Mkerla then scored the winner for the visitors in the 75th minute to secure a win on what was a swelteringly hot day.
It also proved to be a challenging afternoon for PA announcer Pete Wiley when it came to pronouncing the names of the Red Star side, but it was one that he came through with flying colours.
The 1990-91 season would prove to be a successful one for both sides, as United beat Blackpool on penalties in the Division Four play-off final to seal a first promotion since 1966. Red Star would go on to win the European Cup, which they clinched after beating a Marseille side that featured Chris Waddle, who would appear for the Gulls briefly in the 1998-99 season, on penalties.
They would later follow up this feat by beating Colo Colo of Chile to win the Intercontinental Cup, a one-off match which was contested between the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores. Sadly the Balkans conflict of the early 1990’s, that would see Yugoslavia withdraw from Euro 92 and replaced by Denmark, would lead to break up of the country of Yugoslavia and also of the Red Star team.
4. Torquay United 0 Chelsea 5, 1st August 1995
Since the establishment of the Premier League in 1992, the new money from Sky TV made enabled top flight clubs to attract a number of high profile foreign players to the UK.
Amongst the first wave of these players to arrive in English football was Dutch international Ruud Gullit, who was the star attraction when Chelsea visited Plainmoor to face the Gulls.
Gullit had enjoyed a glittering career in Italy, winning three Serie A titles with AC Milan as well as two European Cups. He had also won the Ballon O’Dor award in 1987 and helped Holland to win Euro 88.
On the night, Gullit displayed his undoubted quality as Chelsea ran out as 5-0 winners, with Gavin Peacock netting a brace.
5. Torquay United 1 Plymouth Argyle 0, 14th July 2007
In 2007, long serving United midfielder Kevin Hill celebrated his tenth season at Plainmoor with a richly deserved testimonial against Plymouth Argyle.
During his decade of service for the Gulls, ‘Hilly’ had witnessed many highs and lows – from automatic promotion under Leroy Rosenior in the 2003-2004 campaign to relegation from the Football League in the previous 2006-07 season. He had also been a mainstay for the Gulls under a list of different managers which read: Kevin Hodges, Wes Saunders, Colin Lee (caretaker), Roy McFarland, Leroy, John Cornforth, Ian Atkins, Lubos Kubik and Keith Curle.
As a result of their relegation from the Football League, and subsequent takeover by a local consortium which was headed by Alex Rowe, United were undergoing a transformation as they aimed to win promotion from the Conference as quickly as possible.
Paul Buckle was appointed as manager and he set about building a brand new squad ahead of United’s maiden campaign as a Conference club, as he drafted in players such as Chris Todd, Chris Hargreaves, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Sills. This meant that as well as being a celebration of the old, Hill’s testimonial also gave Gulls’ faithful a first glimpse of a number of players who would become heroes over the coming years.
Argyle, at the time, were managed by Ian Holloway and were embarking on a fourth season in the Championship after winning the Division Two title in the 2003-2004 campaign.
On the day, the Gulls ran out as 1-0 winners with Tony Bedeau, who returned to the United fold following a season at Walsall, scored the game’s decisive goal.
The 2007-08 season would prove to be Hill’s last with the Gulls, as he joined Dorchester Town after successfully overhauling Dennis Lewis’ all-time club appearance record of 473 games in all competitions.
While games against the Pilgrims have become a regular staple of pre-season programmes in recent years, Hill remains the last player to date to be awarded a testimonial by the club. The question remains whether they could become a thing of the past in the current climate where players rarely spend ten years at the same club?