TEAM OF THE DECADE
The TT team of the decade feature continues. Up next is Rachel Malloch who discusses left backs:
Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
When any football related conversations begin of clubs we follow; their strengths, those prominent figures, the formations, the weaker links, the style of play the manager advocates, the bragging rights. First port of call is the centre forward; that heroic figure who grabs the headlines and most of the attention with every goal scored. It invariably veers towards the stand out centre half – the towering leader in defence, the warhorse, the blood, sweat and toil type who with aerial prowess and unyielding strength scythes in with firm but fair tackles. We all love those players.
Once the debate is done about that stunning goal against X Town or that game changing crunching tackle against Y Utd, we turn to the goalkeepers of the league. Those solitary figures who can command and frustrate, who dominate the 6 yard area, who stand sedentary on their lines. Those who are unbeatable in out-splayed one on ones, others who stumble and fall legs akimbo, the set piece shot stopper. The goal mouth custodian. And so on.
But what of the full backs? The all out support network in a back four; the wing players overlapping the midfield, involved in creating attacks whilst wading in with a goal or two. The left back more often than not is one of the more difficult positions to fill on a football pitch, with the law of football dexterity favouring the right foot. As a consequence the left back is the most sought after player, this despite all the praise and chat about the hero centre forward and the brutish blood and thunder battlers at the heart of the defence.
Torquay Utd have been blessed to have had some extremely good nee excellent left backs over the last 10 years. Players who have kept their position through exemplary levels of consistency, an unassuming work rate and a tidy left foot. Here are my favourites from the last decade.
KEVIN NICHOLSON – 2007-2014 & 2015-2017
What hasn’t been said about Nicho? Never mind I’ll say it all again! A leader with great strength of character, an excellent defender, an intelligent footballer with vision on the ball and with tireless energy to boot. In all the seasons that he turned out in the yellow and blue shirt – and he was a faithful man in a world of fickle, fanciful aspirations and the lure of bigger wages – he was ‘Mr Consistent’ personified.
There was an air of assured confidence with Nicho in the team, but what set him apart from your bog standard jobbing footballer was his ability to execute a decent set piece, often met with a thunderous left foot. He was an out and out classy footballer with an eye for a cross into the box as provider. The only surprise is he didn’t score more goals during his services with Torquay United. But those 13 or so he did score were beauties.
Nicho goes down in the Torquay United gallery of an illustrious alumnus of greats, a legend. Through both the good and not so good times, his unfailing quality and solid performances would bely the club’s poor results, lowly status and struggles.
The good times though, playing a huge part of the 2008/09 season and a Conference play-off winning medal, that glorious day at Wembley. A player who with his 350+ appearances and contribution to the club both as a terrific player and a respected coach, somehow leading us to safety twice. Those years forever known as ‘the great escape’ under weighty financial constraints, a nigh on impossible job of enticing half-decent players to come down to play for a struggling seaside club, a figurehead of pride against a backdrop of a wilting football club, in the days when this player/coach scout was also self appointed team bus driver!
The swiss army knife of Torquay United, Kevin Nicholson, forever a Gulls legend.
DAN BUTLER – 2015-2016
Dan was brought in by Paul Cox and was a strong pacey player who at the tender age of 21 had already had plenty first team league experience with Pompey and loan spells with Aldershot, where he had impressed before injury blighted his progress. Cox could see his potential and Dan started the 2015/16 season in the attacking wing back role, a role he excelled in, before settling in at left back under Nicho and becoming an ever-present during the 1st ‘Great Escape’ season. An exciting player who looked destined to make the grade.
Despite impressing greatly over the season, gaining invaluable experience and regular football plus the manager’s desire to keep him at Torquay Utd under his coaching tutelage, the appeal of League 2 football and Newport County who at that time were signing players for fun, was too great. Another season or maybe two more with the Gulls would have found Dan Butler firmly entrenched in the great left backs memory bank. Regardless, for one season, this player shone brightly in the yellow and blue.
LIAM DAVIS – 2017-PRESENT
It’s hard to believe that Liam has only been with Torquay Utd for 3 or so seasons now. His consistently high level of performances, his strength in defence, his pace, those attacking forward runs. A player who despite being a part of one of the lowest periods in Torquay history with relegation to the NLS, still maintained his own personal high standards of performance and while many supporters were resigned to losing this exceptionally skilful defender, were given a glimmer of hope when he signed a new contract.
Liam is versatile, skilful, poised and assured on the ball with great distribution, plus uncompromising and battling. To have a player of his calibre with the club is some honour. A player who we can say without argument is the finest left back in non-league football and would grace many a league side even at the age of 33 years. It was no coincidence that our results dipped when he was out with surgery at the latter stages of last season and again during this season, his quality is much missed.
It was hard to enjoy much (if anything) about those seasons under Gary Owers, but LD’s performances were still a shining light. Under Gary Johnson he has continued to be an invaluable part of the team and instrumental in Torquay’s march up the National League table. Cruel then that the fractured ankle he sustained in the cup game at Maidstone could curtail his contribution to this season (after his return from previous injury) and his absence has dented the balance of the team. No player is irreplaceable but in Liam Davis’ case, he is a very, very hard act to follow. The first name on the team sheet, no question.
Nicho spent many years with Torquay; a man of integrity and a player who could have been turning out for bigger more financially stable clubs, instead staying true to the yellow and blue. A terrific player, an intelligent coach and an all-round decent man, his appearances record sets him apart and puts him in that category of loyal footballers. Dan Butler had a meteoric career at Plainmoor; fantastic performances but one season and off to pastures new. Liam Davis though, quality and the envy of any Conference side. A player who goes about his craft beautifully and a wonderful footballer. He is my choice for the team of the decade.