Andy Charles – @capitalgull
“Were there really any star centre-backs of the decade?” should have been my question to Dom when he asked me to be a part of selecting a team from one of the most tumultuous 10-year spells in Torquay United’s history. All I could think of at the time was a series of has-beens and never would be youngsters; a whole raft of big uglies (no names, no pack drill) and the odd cultured youngster who might just go on to something bigger.
Of course none of this thinking was aided by current events at Plainmoor where, even though our current crop of defenders might prove to be talented down the line, they currently resemble quite a smelly Swiss cheese. But a closer look at the list shows something strange – a series of really quite good defenders, plenty who could easily fit in to our current lineup and a good handful who I would trust to play for us at a higher level.
I was quite surprised to go through the stats and only find around 30 centre-halves have played for us in the last decade – compare that to what feels like at least 10 central midfielders who have featured in the TUFC first-team in the last month alone (damn you injury curse!).
The Absolute Nos
A few were fairly easily ruled out for lack of playing time – whatever happened to the likes of Kirtys McKenzie, O’Neil Odofin (I saw him play for Bedfont & Feltham a couple of years ago at step 10) and more recently Jakub “Sickalot”?
Exodus Geohaghon – no thanks, but great throw ins big fella. Jamie Richards, we never saw enough of you either, and Myles Anderson and Giancarlo Gallifuoco can also stop reading here – it’s not you despite the odd glorious goal scored.
Others passed by the wayside for the simple fact that they just weren’t very good and here I am sad to include a player – Conrad Balatoni – who I had such high hopes for when he joined the Gulls because I had seen him play in the Scottish Championship for my Ayr United and was massively impressed with his overall performance. Same disappointing sentiments applies to Robbie Cundy (this line may or may not have been added at around Midday on Sunday December 1st).
Safe to say there will also be no call-up from me, here at least, for one-time centre-half Courtney Richards, who proved such a bad selection in the back four at Alfreton I think I might have done a better job – or for the man who should have played that day, and is now Braintree Town player manager, Jake Hutchings. Such a promising youngster who was never really trusted to step up – hard to believe he is not even 24 yet!
Farewells also go to Jamie Sendles-White, Kieran Charnock, Tom Cruise and Olivier Gueguen (although I’d have loved to see more of the enigmatic bearded Frenchman who came to us through the US Collegiate system of all things).
The relegation/survival years in the National League do not read well – Axel Andresson, Josh (never on a 3G) Gowling, lump it Sean McGinty, Alex Davey and poor Aarran Racine, who managed about 35 seconds playing in front of me before completely buggering up his knee in ugly fashion.
I am also going to rule out last season’s crew, despite my admiration (until recent struggles) for Kyle Cameron, because I am not sure they could lace the boots of the players who made my final shortlist and are all proven at much higher levels than National League South – this season’s defensive record tells a sad tale I am afraid so it’s goodbye to Jean-Yves Koue Niate as well.
The Nearer Misses
There are some other near misses including current assistant manager Aaron Downes, who I would have loved to see play for us with two perfectly working knees, and (almost inexplicably) Ben Gerring who, despite being a bit of a tool, was a decent stopper on his day for the Gulls and, based on the times I have seen him at W*king, has improved significantly since (but thanks a lot for the red card last season big man!)
Two players who deserve a little more of a mention are Brian Saah and Krystian Pearce.
Saah was a (Sir Lord) Martin Ling (MBE, OBE, CBE) signing right back in the early years of the decade and was part of a good United side which reached the League Two playoffs. Sadly his second season with the club was not such a positive one and the last we would be able to enjoy as not being either completely useless or a non-league club.
Pearce arrived in the first of those years, being part of the defensive unit which saw us finish bottom of the Football League and drop into the abyss of Boreham Wood and Solihull Moors…but I honestly don’t think he was that bad and his career since backs that up, with five years as a regular in League Two for Mansfield. Pearce was also one goal away from being our joint top-scorer that season, maybe showing more the issues we had up top or through the lack of decent decision-making coming from a coaching staff which utilised 9,467 (possibly a few less) players.
That is slightly long-winded way of reminding readers of some players they have either forgotten, chosen to wipe from their memory banks, or wouldn’t spit on in the street if they were on fire…and leaves me with what I shall term as the Fantastic Five.
Close, but no cigar…
I love big Guy, and the picture of him demolishing his face and a football at the same time when heading clear is one I would love to find (HINT TO EDITOR) and have on my wall. It showed the commitment which saw Brano win Player of the Year at the end of the 2010-11 season and secure a place in the League Two Team of the Year. It was just a shame his final game for the club was such a disappointing one, coming as it did in the Play-Off Final defeat by Stevenage at Old Trafford.
A Devon lad, but one who came to the club from Bolton Wanderers first on loan but then on a permanent deal after impressing the locals. He was the youngest member of what was an impressive defensive corps at the time, often playing alongside other members of this list. Not particularly cultured as a defender but I’ve come to learn that is not the top skill I want in that position. I’ll take someone who can help the team keep a clean sheet any day of the week. His last season with the club came alongside Brian Saah in the Cheltenham play-off near-miss team and, to be honest, I think he might still have been with us now if we had gone up that year. He stayed in the Football League for the majority of his remaining career, with Crewe, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and most recently Tranmere in League One.
Although Robbo played at right-back at times for Torquay, there is no doubt centre-half was his position and a very effective one he was. His Plainmoor arrival came in the previous decade but probably the one-and-a-half best seasons came after 2010, being part of the clean sheet record set in 2010-11 in what turned out to be such an enjoyable but ultimately frustrating season (Stevenage, Old Trafford, agony, blag blah blah). Chris was even better in the first part of the next campaign but that would only mean a far earlier departure than any fan would have wanted, with former Stevenage boss Graham Westley snapping him up as one of his first Preston North End signings not long after taking over at Deepdale. More League One football would follow with Port Vale before a season in his native Scotland with Premiership side Ross County. Also played for AFC Wimbledon and Swindon before giving up the pro game joining Ilkeston Town this year to be near his family.
The Picks (well done for making it this far!)
When we signed Nathan Smith on loan from Port Vale in 2015 I was less than inspired. We were in the National League, we had money problems and the future was less than bright. Although the single season Smithy had at Plainmoor was not a successful one for the team, he stood out like a sore thumb and played way beyond his 19 years on this planet. We eventually managed to avoid the ignominy of relegation and a lot of that was down to Smith, who would end the season with the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in his back pocket before heading back to the Potteries. Not the archetypal centre-back, at less than six foot tall, he more than made up for his lack of size with skill and passion. And that has translated into a regular role with Vale, where he had a run of 110 consecutive starts at one point. He’s been their Young Player of the Year twice as well and would be more than welcome back at Plainmoor given our current defensive issues!
Gus was another to come to Torquay via the loan route, having two temporary spells at Plainmoor during his time with Reading. He would then come to the club on a permanent deal in 2014, coinciding with our departure from the Football League. Although his two years were not the most inspiring in the club’s history, he proved to be an astute signing and at least earned us some money when he left the club for Championship side Barnsley just before the start of the 2016-17 season. Gus definitely lives for football, and you could tell that in his play. Sometimes it spilled out into his reactions as well, making headlines for verbally abusing Torquay fans during the FA Trophy semi-final defeat against Wrexham in 2015…but all was soon forgiven and it wasn’t long before he was named club captain. Since his move to Oakwell, Angus has not played at a level lower than the Championship, although the last 14 months have been wrecked by illness – first a deep vein thrombosis and more recently when the sad news broke he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. All I can do here is wish him well in what is sure to be the fight of his life and hope we will get the chance to see him play football again.