TEAM OF THE DECADE
Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
Wingers, ey. Fascinating creatures of the footballing world. Possibly the most transient. We seem to have spent the past decade loaning in one flimsy, quick but final-delivery-lacking winger per month. By my maths (and with thanks to torquayfanstats.com and Wikipedia), of the 35 out-and-out wingers we’ve had this decade, 22 of them have made fewer than 20 appearances. That’s about two thirds.
Another thing about wingers is that Torquay managers of late have had an obsession with picking non-wingers in wide roles. Thankfully, especially for you the reader, I’m not here to write about two wasted seasons of Reidy greatness (or the mistreatment of Nathan Craig, who I maintain had serious talent).
Instead, my focus is on the proper wingers this decade has given us. I’ll throw in some properly awful ones for a laugh too (if your name is Andy Haworth or Jason Banton, maybe read a different TT article?).
I won’t name every single winger we’ve had in the 2010s (what are we calling this decade? The Teenies? The Twenty Tens? Answers on a postcard please) because we’ve all got lives to lead without wanting to read about Will Hancox. So if you think of a winger who I’ve missed out, it’s probably because they were too forgettable to mention; they played elsewhere and I deemed them not winger-y enough; or I’ve forgotten they exist.
We start with those who I simply couldn’t help but write about.
Lloyd Macklin. Cor. He was quick wasn’t he? That’s it. That may become a theme. Ashley Hemmings showed glimpses of talent, made a goal for Billy Kee at Walsall in the FA Cup. Quick but not that good. There’s no place in the team of the decade for Niall Thompson, Shepherd Murombedzi or Jason Banton either. Flashes of ability were overwhelmingly drowned out by crosses into the stand.
Jake Gosling wasn’t good enough, nor were Bobson Bawling or Reece “who?” Mitchell. Gianni Crichlow didn’t even make an appearance. Saul Halpin and Andy Haworth made too many. #OwersRecruitment perhaps reached its peak when Jennison Myrie-Williams came in. My word, we all thought, what a signing. We were so very wrong.
I got abuse on Facebook by Courtney Cameron’s mum for a rant about how poor he was. I probably deserved the abuse as much as he deserved the rant. There’s nobody who epitomises the rank averageness of Torquay United wingers in my lifetime more than him.
Toby Ajala was talented, and in his first spell was a very good player, underpinned by some very hard work. Upon his return, though, he seemed to have lost all that hard work and replaced it with complete ineptitude.
The Alrighty Ones
Before I get to my honourable mentions, I have to rule some players out who fall in that enormous gap between “best wingers of the decade” and “Jason Banton”. We start with Iffy Allen, who was rapid but also had some actual talent, I thought. As wingers should be, he was a menace for tired defenders on his day and scored a couple of important goals, most memorably at home to Welling. In a similar category is oft-injured Opi Edwards. Loads of talent there. Loads of pace too. If he can stay fit for more than five minutes I’m sure he’ll tear defences apart at this level and above.
Some important Gulls wingers made their biggest impact last decade but still deserve a mention. Wayne Carlisle is, to me, a modern Yellows legend. His involvement in that goal at Wembley cements that. A proper winger whose lack of pace was made up for by a wand of a right foot and a brilliant eye for a cross. Just ask Sillsy. Unfortunately, most of his Yellows career was under a Gordon Brown government: he is thus out of contention for this decade’s team. Muzzy Carayol made his biggest impression pre-Tory-Lib Dem coalition, too. The definition of a flashy winger, but he makes it into this section because a) he was great fun and b) he’s gone on to play in the Europa League so he can’t have been that bad.
Jordan Chapell was our top scorer one season! Admittedly it was the second-worst season of my Torquay-supporting life, but we can’t be too picky here. My then girlfriend fancied the pants off him too. He was quite a good winger but flattered to deceive a little. Ian Morris, the now manager of Irish side Shelbourne, is too tall to be a winger. He wasn’t bad, but I never really warmed to him. Most memorable to me for being through on goal and chipping the ball at waist height into the opposition goalkeeper’s hands for no discernible reason.
David Fitzpatrick was the best player on the pitch in the best game of football I’ve ever seen. I think I’m right in saying he got four assists and a goal at Forest Green on New Year’s Day 2017. He was genuinely pretty good, but he misses out on the top rungs because he didn’t do it often enough.
We’ve got some decent wingers in the current squad, too. Kalvin Kalala is really really good at football, I won’t have anyone disagreeing with me on that. Unfortunately, he turns up way too infrequently to cement himself as a great – arguably the most frustrating player in a position that attracts frustrating players. Jake Andrews, too, is good. I haven’t worked out if he’s better wide or central, but he’s decent in both positions. His goal and assist tally probably goes slightly under the radar. He and Kalala were superb in our promotion campaign last season, but neither have reached those heights this term (especially Kalvin). You ain’t getting in my team if you can only perform in a village league.
The Honourable Mentions
By my reckoning there are four left. One of them is in our current squad. I genuinely reckon Ben Whitfield is in our top four wingers this decade. He’s only played 19 games for Torquay (sometimes as a number ten, sometimes wide) but he really is bloody good. Whits has scored a couple of worldies already, and his work rate has certainly won my heart. Even in recent weeks when the team has been pretty woeful, Ben tends to come out as one of the few shining lights: his second-half performance at Harrogate is testament to that. Whisper it quietly, he’s probably a Football League player. I hope he stays with the Gulls for ages and gets in the 2020s team of the decade.
The other winger who misses out by a whisker is Billy Bodin. He’s in the Kalvin Kalala Kamp (probably don’t abbreviate that) of frustrating wingers. Difference with Billy is he was bloody wicked for a time (in League Two!) scoring 5 times in 2010/11 and earning him a (pricey) permanent deal in 2012. The moment from his loan spell that sticks in my mind is his brilliant goal at Crewe. That’s one of the first times I remember watching the Gulls absolutely batter a team away from home, topped off by some silky footwork and a tidy finish from the Welshman. Let’s be fair, Bodin disappointed in the 70 games he played after joining from Swindon but the flashes of talent were plain to see and his role in that wonderful season under Lingy gets him very close to my top two Yellows wingers this decade.
The Chosen Two
Danny Stevens was instrumental in the late noughties: memorably scoring twice against Yeovil in the FA Cup and a screamer at Burton. Those performances don’t count here. In two spells, the shortest adult in the Western world made 100 appearances for the Gulls between 2010/11 and 2013/14 and a few others on the right side of the 2009/10 season. His return under Chris Hargreaves was bleak, but I’m willing to overlook that because he’s sort of a cult hero in my eyes. He featured heavily in Buckle’s playoff final team and Lingy’s strong side the following year. With such a low centre of gravity, Danny was a dangerously nippy wide-man with an eye for goal: netting 28 times for the Yellows in his career. Also a laugh when he won a header. He plays on the right.
All that remains is the left winger. This guy is a proper, unapologetic, old-school left winger. Insert Jeremy Corbyn jokes here. Dan Sparkes was a bit like the left-sided equivalent of Wayne Carlisle. He didn’t have much pace to speak of, but his crossing ability was unparalleled. A season of him floating balls in for Brett Williams, Nathan Blissett and (to a lesser extent) Kieffer Moore, Ruairi Keating and Shaun Harrad pretty much kept us up. He accumulated sixteen assists and six goals from just 36 appearances that year (in a rubbish team), including crucially notching late on a cold evening at Solihull. Sparkes understandably fled the sinking ship in the summer of 2017. If he didn’t win player of the season then he really should’ve done. He adds balance, experience and a dangerous set piece taker to this Team Of The Decade – I’d love to re-sign him.