GAMES OF THE DECADE
Luke Hunter – @lukehunter8
Additional contributions with thanks to: Dominic Roman, Rachel Malloch, Sam Druiff, Matty Hayward.
Apologies for this not quite landing before the changing of the decade, but I hope I can be forgiven whilst also squeezing in some wishes of a Happy New Year to all the readers and writers of TorquayTalk – at the time of writing it’s probably just about still okay to say it…
Our narrative arc was far from linear in the decade just departed.. Things started well, went bad, even worse, hit rock bottom and then pretty quickly improved. We can be disappointed we’ve finished the decade in a worse league than we started, but, in that, we’ve had some unique experiences in places we may not have expected. C’est la vie.
Pinpointing specific matches as ‘the best’ over a decade is not easy. The results in the highest league might be top, one could argue practically. Elsewhere, it is a struggle to avoid individual bias, particularly when those 90 minutes can unleash emotional turmoil relevant to the spectator. One certain is that not everybody will agree.
A decade is a strange marker in the world of football, neither the start or end of a season, nor a time of trophies or relegations but it is a point in time where we can unashamedly reflect. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in Cast Away, we must not commit the sin of turning our back on time.
Will we learn the lessons of this decade and find ourselves a league or two higher by 2029? Maybe, though I’m certain like the one just gone, we’ll have some unique experiences in places we may not have expected.
Without further ado, your Torquay United matches of the decade, as voted for by the writers of TorquayTalk.
*TT writers submitted five votes each anonymously. In the event of a tie, I have listed the match where Torquay scored the most goals first.
10) Bromley 0-2 Torquay United
Hayes Lane, April 16th 2016
At the beginning of February 2016, United had found themselves in dire straits, thousands of United fans from all walk(s) of life had resigned to National League South football and 12 points adrift, who could blame them? An unlikely FA Trophy victory away at Macclesfield two weeks later would spearhead a remarkable upheaval in form that culminated in the most unlikely survival celebrated at Bromley’s Hayes Lane in front of 526 raucous Gulls’ fans in South-East London.
The contingent of Yellows’ had just settled when Angus MacDonald thumped in a forceful header from a Luke Young corner inside the first 10 minutes – the iconic celebrations were a fitting precedent for what was to follow. It was a mature and disciplined away performance from United who took advantage of an extra man to secure the points – and survival – in the 85th minute. Courtney Richards dispatched a precise free-kick and the rest of the match remained a formality.
I vividly remember feeling quite emotional as the final whistle blew and the celebrations gradually erupted, it had been an exhausting campaign on and off the field. The reactions of Steve Breed and Kevin Nicholson are poignant memories of that moment. It was a wonderful end to a terrible season.
9) Bradford City 0-3 Torquay United
Valley Parade, April 9th 2011
Despite starting the month with a one point deduction for the fielding of an unregistered Jake Robinson, a resurgent Yellows headed into April 2011 with our League 2 play-off destiny in our own hands and a slim chance of even taking an automatic promotion slot. This was a Bradford City side in the midst of an existential crisis and with one eye on an unthinkable Football League relegation. The decade before had seen the Bantams boast Premier League Football with the likes of Lee Sharpe and Dean Saunders in the squad. The club remained and arguably remains, a sleeping giant – United would need to perform on the big stage.
And oh, how they performed. It was a truly vintage Torquay performance in front of nearly 11,000. Goals from Kevin Nicholson, Gavin Tomlin and Billy Kee demonstrated just how much quality this particular United team had across the park and despite an infamously dogged playing surface, we served a classy display that became synonymous with that campaign. Eunan O’Kane enjoyed a particularly glamorous day, claiming two of those assists. The season wouldn’t end as we hoped, but I do wonder if Buckle’s bigger club fawning had already settled in at this point:
“The players have done extremely well – three goals and a clean sheet at a big, big football club is testament to the players.”
8) Torquay United 5-0 Shrewsbury Town
Plainmoor, March 11th 2011
Jumping back a few weeks in 2011, and again Jake Robinson was front and centre. The notable news leading into a home game against Shrewsbury was that Graham Turner had allowed him to play for United against his parent club, and boy did he pay for that decision!
The Gulls were up for the game from the off and with over 2800 in attendance, Gavin Tomlin gave us all the perfect start with a smart finish on 5 minutes. Then Grandison was sent-off for a hefty two-footed lunge on…Jake Robinson, no love lost there! After that it was a matter of how many goals that United would score, with Jake Robinson a livewire, Chris Zebroski a constant menace and the likes of Craig Stanley and Guy Branston pushing the team forward.
A second goal took a little while to arrive; Cansdell-Sherriff was adjudged to have handled in the box early in the second half and who else but Jake Robinson stepped up to despatch the penalty into the top left corner. Two minutes later Jake’s cheeky smile got even wider. The little winger cut in from the left and banged in a beauty of a goal into the corner to punish his club even further. The Gulls were going up….maybe! A little later in the half Zebs met Craig Stanley’s cross to grab United’s fourth, before Robinson was substituted to a rousing applause from most of Plainmoor. There was time for one more goal to savour, Craig Stanley again involved, as his cross-shot was diverted into his own net by Sharps. 5-0 and happy days.
All in all it was a brilliant performance by United full of high-tempo, aggression and energy, against a Shrewsbury team who were also in play-off contention. The two teams would meet again in the play-offs two months later and United would triumph again, the less said about the final at Old Trafford the better!
7) Crewe Alexandra 0-3 Torquay United
Gresty Road, November 11th 2011
Evidently 2011 is an epoch that we look back on fondly, but this match represented a completely different era in Torquay United’s potted history. The Buckle brigade featured heavily in the past two entries had in the most part long since departed and I don’t think anybody truly expected Martin Ling to create something that would match that framework – in the end, he very nearly went one better.
We started the 11/12 campaign patchy and it took Ling a little bit of time to get going, but even now, examining our improving results and league trajectory, it is staggering that we didn’t go up. Our mid-season form saw just four defeats in 24, with Crewe (a) one of the pillars that illustrated this squad had something special about it.
Crewe were vulnerable and it didn’t take long for the Gresty Road faithful to get on their backs, it was probably one of the most dominant halves I have ever seen by a Torquay eleven and how we went in only 1-0 up at half-time still remains a mystery to me. Rene Howe blasted home early, before I recall Billy Bodin hitting the post twice and O’Kane rattling the bar. The second half was much the same, Lee Mansell scored early before Bodin reaped the rewards after some characteristic wing-play and a tidy finish. The Yellow Army travelled well that day, and it was an exceptional performance that warmed our winter chills. Lingy summarised our new-found quality beautifully:
“We went eight games without a win and now we’ve got three wins, nine points, nine goals and none against (…) we look like a good team again now”
6) Torquay United 2-0 North Ferriby
Plainmoor, April 29th 2017
In a similar vein to the season prior, 2016/17 became a catastrophic mess with the situation looking particularly perilous as we headed through February and March. In familiar circumstances, under the stewardship of Kevin Nicholson, the club rallied and a late Ruairi Keating winner away to Southport sparked a battle that lasted for the remaining six weeks as we grappled to save our National League status. Defeat at Chester and a truly heartbreaking loss away to Lincoln looked to confirm the worst, before remarkable wins at Braintree and Dover respectively, provided the opportunity for survival on the final day at home to already relegated North Ferriby. In truth, the odds sat favourably at kick-off but there was still a degree of nervousness in Boots pre-match – this is Torquay United, after all.
United gradually grew into the game, attacking a Babbacombe end open to home fans on a gloriously sunny Devon day. A rejuvenated Brett Williams struck the post early on, before Luke Young troubled the North Ferriby goalkeeper with a couple of challenging efforts. We hadn’t found a first-half breakthrough, but results began to fall as we had hoped and the day quickly became more enjoyable.
The Yellows hit the ground running in the second-half and it didn’t take long to draw first blood. North Ferriby failed to deal with a perfect Young delivery, and a well placed Aman Verma headed home to send Plainmoor into raptures. 1-0. Two minutes from time, Myles Anderson met yet another pinpoint Luke Young delivery and confirmed our survival. The 4,000+ at Plainmoor erupted and another unlikely survival was confirmed.
Sadly, just four competitive games later, Kevin Nicholson would be clinically dispatched and a seemingly endless downward spiral eventually pushed the club into regional football. The paradox of a goal from Myles Anderson must have inflicted some sort of voodoo on the club, is my only logical explanation for the drastic events that followed.
5) Plymouth Argyle 1-2 Torquay United
Home Park, January 2nd 2012
Torquay hadn’t beaten Argyle for donkeys years, but earlier in the 11-12 season an amazing Eunan O’Kane double had given us 3 points at Plainmoor, so heading into this New Year’s fixture the Yellow Army could smell a double over the Green Army. So much so that well over 2k (basically our average home attendance) turned up at Home Park ready to cheer Martin Ling’s in-form team on. It made for a tremendous atmosphere.
The first half was a scrappy affair with Plymouth enthusiastic and coming close on a few occasions, but with Robbo and Ellis standing firm in front of the formidable Bobby O – the match remained goalless. The Yellow Army were in full voice and could sense a big 2nd half. We were to be proved right as Billy Bodin bundled in to make it 0-1 on 58 minutes right in front of us. It wasn’t pretty but we did not care a jot and the majority of Home Park 12,836 crowd fell silent expecting the worst. 6 minutes later Danny Stevens found Lee Mansell in the box and the skipper made no mistake from close range to make it 0-2, yesssssssssssss! It couldn’t be that simple though, and a Luke Young header (yes a header!) made it 1-2 on 72 mins. Nerves started to jangle in the final 20 minutes, and United had to defend bravely as the clock ticked away.
But then a very welcome final whistle and a very Happy New Year to all yellows. It may have eventually been a season of ‘if onlys’ at Plainmoor, but Martin Ling and his squad had given us numerous magic moments to remember and away days do not get much better than beating the Greens.
4) Torquay United 3-1 Plymouth Argyle
Plainmoor, November 19th 2011
A little under ten years since the last competitive match between United and Argyle, and this lived up to all expectations. Plymouth, in their first season in League 2, under the stewardship of Carl Fletcher came to Plainmoor with a very young side, albeit with some talent!
Martin Ling’s side were starting to get results together and went into the game as favourites. A cagy affair in the first half in front of the three stands of Plainmoor. Martin Ling’s half time team talk must have been inspiring, as only minutes into the second half, Rene Howe was fed the ball from Billy Bodin, his cross was poorly cleared to Eunan O’Kane who drilled a half volley into the bottom right past veteran Romain Larrieu to put United one up. Buoyed by his opener, O’Kane found the ball just outside the centre circle, a clever turn gave him the yard of space he needed and from some 35 yards hit a lobbed ball into the roof of the Argyle net to score one of the goals of a lifetime. 2-0.
Twenty minutes later Danny Stevens, who was to enjoy his best goals return in a Torquay shirt that season, got in on the act. Picking the ball up in almost the same spot his Irish teammate did, he tricked his way past the Argyle back-line to coolly fire past Larrieu and put Torquay firmly in the driving seat.
Argyle did get themselves a consolation goal twelve minutes from time, a clever run from Craig Sutherland set up Will Atkinson to poke home past Olejnic. It wasn’t enough for the Green Army as The Yellows got a first league win over their Cornish neighbours for 39 years.
3) Forest Green Rovers 5-5 Torquay United
The New Lawn, January 1st 2017
This listicle may be slightly different if TT asked a neutral to compile it but I would be willing to wager that this match would probably top it, deservedly so as well. 90 minutes rarely render you speechless but it was just that. Pure, unfiltered entertainment for 90 minutes. BTTS backers would have pinpointed our New Year’s day meeting with FGR as a given, we’d just shared a seven goal thriller at Plainmoor and United looked to the double at The New Lawn.
The scoring started early, and United found themselves a goal down after just four minutes. Not deterred, two quick responses from Dan Sparkes, both assisted by David Fitzpatrick, propelled United into an early lead. Rovers equalized, before two more Fitzpatrick crosses found their way to Aman Verma and an FGR defender. Rovers again hit back and at 4-3, I feared the worst, before a delightful (…he really did have a game deserving of a win)… Fitzpatrick free-kick. 3-5… surely… 3-5 with ten minutes to go… SURELY. Nope, Rovers struck in the 82nd minute before Brendan Moore flapped a goal into his own net as the clock reached 88′. We did our best to lose it, actually, with FGR rattling the bar with the last touch of the game.
I felt like crying, but my word, what a match.
2) Torquay United 4-3 Aldershot Town
Plaimoor, October 2nd 2012
The game started brightly, Billy Bodin looking lively, Rene Howe winning a lot of first balls, the midfield ticking over nicely, defence dealing with any counters. Then on the half hour mark a goal down 0-1. Their lad Craig Reid steering the ball home. No panic, Torquay were still getting much of the play, Bodin had then just had a great effort saved, we’re looking good. Danny Stevens had caught the eye of my niece “the impish lad on the wing looks good!”.
Then despair. Penalty to Aldershot. Lots of remonstrating from the Pop with me showing the type of semaphores my niece had only ever seen at family Christmas gatherings playing charades. Aldershot now 2 up with Reid converting and with it the grumblings were setting in. The age old we don’t deserve to be losing this game featured. Half time came, chatter and discussions of how it was a penalty even if at the time I was impartially convinced it wasn’t.
Second half commenced and before you could say ‘Martin Ling’s yellow army’, Torquay were 3 down. That lad Craig Reid again to hit his hat trick. The gloom of the night’s rainy mizzle was now setting the scene for an inevitable home loss, ending an unbeaten record so proudly held.
Torquay though, this was a side who had a good mix of experience and youth and with the introduction of substitutes Ashley Yeomans and then Ryan Jarvis at the expense of Danny Stevens and Niall Thompson replied almost immediately. A goal back thanks to the tirelessly persistent Bodin and some bagatelle between Howe, Aldershot’s keeper and Bodin a mere consolation? The minutes seeped away, Torquay were pressing and pushing, then some neat play finding Rene Howe with an inch perfect cross finding Torquay’s Jarvis to slot home.
The rain was lashing down at this stage and suddenly the gloom was ever so slightly lifting. The dare to believe moment that so often leaves you deflated was setting in. Then ode to joy, a glorious ball into the box found the head of Ashley Yeoman and the recovery was complete with just 6 minutes left on the clock. Pogo-a-go-go on the Pop! The eloquence poured out of us now, “bloody hell. Brilliant!” yelled my oft demure niece.
But more, so much more, and Howe! was to come. MOTM Billy Bodin with ball at feet, a strong run forward finding Howe, a pass back to Bodin, who returned the ball to Howe and with sheer, unadulterated glorious aplomb fired the ball in from 12 yards past the goalkeeper’s fingertips to produce one of the greatest come backs that I had seen at Plainmoor. Super Rene Howe swung round towards the supporters, niece and auntie celebrated like wild, whirling dervishes, an almost spiritual experience came over me, almost as if I was levitating above the crowds and hovering on high. It was only when my senses had finally re-focused that I realised I was indeed being lifted, by the bloke behind me who as it happens turned out to be the drummer in local band The Humanitarians! If he’d attempted it now it would be chronicles of hernia but those were lighter days and Tuesday 2nd October 2012, with Lingy and Rene, Nicho and Billy, Mansell, Yeoman, Mickey Poke et al we had euphoria reigning supreme.
1) Woking 3-3 Torquay United
The Laithwaite Community Stadium, April 6th 2019
The English language is brilliant, rich and diverse. But there are some things that its words are incapable of describing. Much like the Greeks have several words for “love”, while we have one; and the Eskimos supposedly have fifty words for “snow”; there are no English words to describe the euphoria of Ben Wynter twatting a half-volley into the net in front of that grotesquely oversized stand at the Kingfield Stadium to all but secure a title for The Gulls.
Of course, this game was fraught with action. Three well-taken goals for the home side put them in the driving seat, their lead thwarted only by an early pyro-inducing equaliser from Reidy after a pornographic Keating through ball. With 15 minutes to go, Johnson had lost Ruairi (in wonderful form at the time) and captain Asa Hall to injury. Cards fans were jubilant. But then, a sharp header from Our Gambian King closed the deficit to one…
Vincent has the ball in the left back position. He floats a pass into the channel. Jamie Reid nips in front of Woking’s [insert your own word here]. Reid is fouled. Gerring is off. Within minutes, a succession of long throws results in that knock back, that strike, that celebration. Yellows moment of the decade? Try Yellows moment of a lifetime.
If you made it this far, thank you. However, I do recognise you were potentially looking for other results. Other nominations included:
Bristol Rovers 1-2 Torquay, Torquay 1-0 Swindon, Torquay 4-3 Forest Green Rovers, Torquay 4-1 Forest Green Rovers, Torquay 2-0 Eastbourne, Shrewsbury 0-0 Torquay and Torquay 5-0 Rochdale.