“The moment it left Wayne’s foot I knew it was mine and I wouldn’t even have to break stride”
“In the summer of 2007 Torquay United supporters desperately needed new heroes to revitalise their battered club, and new signing Tim Sills fitted the bill perfectly. Big goals in big games and a big player for the Gulls. Game after game the striker brought total heart and commitment to the Plainmoor table: a warrior for all occasions. We’ll always remember that iconic Wembley goal, but Sillsy gave us many more memories to treasure and I was delighted when he agreed to answer some questions. May I present a ‘A Catch Up With Tim Sills‘…
Hi Tim thanks for talking to us, so how’s the new managerial job at Hamworthy United going?
Having been out of the men’s game for 3 years it was a case of, if I didn’t take the plunge now then I probably never would, so having consulted my wife Hannah and got her blessing I had to give it a go. I am really enjoying the challenge still. It is so so different to playing and you spend your whole career judging the managers you work for so now I’m on the other side of the fence knowing that what I do has a direct impact on 15-20 men and under the pressure of needing to deliver results.
It can be frustrating, especially at this level as everyone is non-contract, so the minute someone feels hard done by they usually just leave so I have been trying to build a squad of the right quality but also the right characters. Results so far have been mixed and unsurprisingly my team is better going forwards than stopping goals! But I am enjoying the challenge that it creates every week and hopefully we will have a bit of success along the way as well.
How would you describe your managerial style and what did you learn from your old gaffers?
I have often said you learn more from bad experiences than good because as a player you know what you liked and didn’t like. So I have tried to take the positives from the good managers, but mainly do things differently than the managers I didn’t enjoy working with did. Mainly I try to be honest and open with my players. Man-management and recruitment are the two most important things; if that is in place then it makes the rest of your job so much easier. I try to talk to players as much as possible, especially those who miss out on the starting line-up, as mutual respect is crucial.
As well as that I like all my training sessions to be high-tempo with constant engagement as I’ve been involved in boring sessions where you switch off and wish you hadn’t turned up, and I don’t want that environment for my teams. Also I try to be philosophical. I don’t let a defeat ruin my weekend as life is too short, but I make sure I enjoy the victories as they are the feelings we want to retain more often.
In terms of old gaffers, Terry Brown at Aldershot was the best recruiter I played for. He picked the right players and although his tactical knowledge wasn’t great, because he had such a good squad, it almost took care of itself after that.
Steve Sedgley at Kingstonian and Paul Buckle were the best man-managers I played for. They could make you feel like a million dollars and be ready to run through a brick wall for them. I remember my debut for Kingstonian on loan from Basingstoke. We were playing top of the league, Canvey Island, at home and my confidence was at rock-bottom. I had joined on the Thursday and before the game Sedge pulled me into his office and told me not to be nervous. He bigged me up for about 5 minutes and then just as I was leaving he told me he’d put £5 on me being first goal-scorer. We won the game 2-1 and I scored the first goal!
Bucks was similar. Just at a point where my confidence was low after a previous disappointing 18 months, Bucks spent pre-season building me up so that when the season came I felt 10 feet tall, and the rest is history.
The worst two managers I played for were Graham Westley and Jim Smith for many reasons, but if I ever get round to publishing my book that I’ve written you can read why in there.
What attracted you to join the Gulls in 2007 and when did you know you’d made the right decision?
I didn’t see me coming down to Torquay to be fair. I had made a flippant comment to my agent at the time that I would only sign if they gave me a private jet and he actually went and told Bucks that!
Anyway Bucks managed to get me down to Torquay with the family to have a look around. We met at Babbacombe Beach where he knew a café owner, had a bacon sandwich and then I left Hannah and my daughter Imogen to have fun on the beach while Bucks took me to the ground for a tour and a chat. I was sold by Bucks and when we got back to the beach I could tell from the look on Hannah’s face that she was hook, line and sinker as well.
After moving down it took us a little while to settle in but by the time the season came, the club had done so much to help us as a young family, and I was so buzzing with my football that I knew we had made the right decision.
What was Paul Buckle like to play for and how did he get the best out of that team?
As said before, Bucks built me up at one of my lowest times of my career. He basically told me every day how much Lee Phillips and I were going to rip the league up and I believed him more and more. He helped to create a real family atmosphere around the players and we soon became good friends with most of the players and their families, which helped us all feel at home.
He got the balance between being a boss and a friend perfectly right and we even spent Christmas dinner with him and his family that year as he knew we were miles away from our own families that year.
As well as this positivity, training was good everyday. His coaching team of Sean North and Kenny Veysey, plus Damien Davey as physio and Andrew Ryan as club doctor, were brilliant and the fact that even the directors and chairman Alex Rowe, were so approachable, just made the whole experience another 10 times better. It also helped that we got a discount at Yum Sing through Alex Rowe, the best Chinese I have still ever been to!
The 2007-08 campaign was eventful to say the least! What were your main memories of that season?
My debut was on Setanta against Grays at home. It was a 0-0 bore draw and I remember getting some flack from some of our supporters during the game. A small part of me thought ‘here we go again’ with another bad experience, but the next game away at my old club Aldershot brought my first goal and I never looked back.
The other main memories from that season were the FA Trophy semi-final away at York. Getting through to Wembley for my first time and ringing home to tell them the news was very emotional. Scoring the Conference goal of the season at home to Histon with a bicycle kick and getting to go to the Setanta end of season awards with my wife at the Emirates Stadium was special too.
Playing in the 1st round of the FA Cup on BBC at home to Yeovil and stuffing them 4-1 was very special and my other best memory was New Year’s day at home to Exeter City. Having already become the focus of our biggest rivals fans hate in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day, I was determined to try and put the knife in and cement my status amongst our own fans. Popping up with the winner was the most satisfying moment of that season and sticking it to them. It was just so gutting not to finish them off in the play-offs that year, but then what happened the next season would never have happened if we had.
Which goals stood out for you during those promotion challenges (other than Wembley)?
Both play-off semi-final goals. Away at Exeter in a toxic atmosphere was special and then giving us the 2-0 cushion at home to Histon when I was on a bit of a drought was a great moment in the mask.
The bicycle kick winner at home to Histon in the first season.
My first goal away at my old club Aldershot was an amazing feeling.
Away at Crystal Palace in the League Cup. It was a decent header against Championhip defenders. Just a shame a bit more faith wasn’t put in me for that season.
But one of my favourites was a header away at Rushden in our promotion winning season. Steve Woods floated a free-kick to the edge of the box and I caught a header perfectly and watched it sail 20 yards into the far corner of the net in a victory against a big spending side. The best quality header I think I ever scored if not the most significant!!
After the Exeter heartbreak we battled our way to Wembley in 2009, how confident were you heading into the play-off final?
We had had a great season and got through one stage further than the previous year so had a quiet steely confidence that we would win the game. We didn’t let the occasion get to us as we had the previous year in the FA Trophy final against Ebbsfleet, so we knew we were 100% prepared and trusted in what we were doing. And so it proved.
The ‘Zorro’ mask and that Wembley net-buster are iconic moments to the Yellow Army. Talk us through that magic goal-scoring moment again?
After 44 minutes of the game I was done. I had ruptured all my ankle ligaments when I trod on a defender’s foot taking off for a header and was in a nauseating amount of pain at half-time. I owe that goal to Damo the physio and Andrew Ryan the club doctor. Most people in their right mind wouldn’t have allowed me anywhere near a football pitch but they knew I would risk the rest of my career for this opportunity, so they injected me, loaded me with tablets and strapped me up to within an inch of my life and got me back out there.
On 73 minutes I watched us clear a free-kick, whilst stood in line with our own penalty spot. I started jogging and then saw Wayne Carlisle bravely win a header just inside our half and so I increased my pace. As Elliott Benyon advanced with the ball and the space opened up I turned it into a full sprint as I hit the halfway line and saw the ball get passed perfectly out to Wayne as I was 35 yards from goal.
The moment it left Wayne’s foot I knew it was mine and I wouldn’t even have to break stride. The connection was perfect and I watched the ball just long enough to see it past the despairing goalkeeper’s hands, before taking off in celebration. I got rugby tackled by Elliott and the pain in my ankle flared, but I had to get up and celebrate ‘Zorro’ style in front of my family. It was a moment that I will never ever get bored of watching or talking about and no-one can ever take that away from me or Torquay’s history.
Chris Hargreaves also scored a beauty that day – just how good was the skipper?
Inspirational. Next! I had played with Greavsy at Oxford and loved him then. And he was no different at Torquay. Always leading by example on and off the pitch. A great family man who loved the game. There was no way you could not be inspired by the man and it was an honour for me to be in the same team as him for so long.
What were the keys to promotion success? How would that team do now?
Belief and togetherness. After the disappointment of the previous campaign and how it ended, it did take us a little while to get going again due to a bit of a hangover, but we never stopped believing ultimately.
Northwich at home was the turning point. We hadn’t been playing well and I had been dropped for the first time during my Torquay career. It was 1-1 in the 95th minute of injury time against a team at the bottom of the table and we got a penalty. I heard the shout from Bucks on the side-line that I was to take it and to be fair not many were stepping forwards to offer their services. I half scuffed the ball into the top corner and Bucks wife at the time, Michelle, told me in the bar afterwards that I had just saved his job.
From that moment on we never looked back and grew as a team and a family, having a great FA Cup run to the 4th Round and then gaining that incredible promotion at Wembley. In terms of how that team would do now, I believe we would still 100% compete at the top end of the National League. The character and quality we had in abundance, and the fact that so many went on to play much higher as well, shows that we had a bunch of lads who would take some stopping whatever the era.
What were your most memorable games for United apart from Wembley play-off final?
Obviously the New Year’s day at home to Exeter as previously mentioned.
The FA Trophy final was an amazing experience even if the result was disappointing. I still took a lot of positives from the day though, as it was a proper boyhood dream fulfilled. Little did I know it would happen again in much happier circumstances but I still felt blessed at the time.
And the most bonkers game we had was away at Histon during the first season. Having gone 3-0 up at half-time, the second half was full of drama including some horrendous refereeing that meant that in stoppage time we were level pegging at 4-4 and down to 10 men. Then from a free-kick, up pops Chris Todd with the unlikeliest of winners and we went absolutely crazy, including celebrating right in front of the referee. Absolute scenes but again cemented our togetherness even more.
Do you keep an eye out for Torquay scores and what do you make out of the current squad?
I always look for the Torquay result on a Saturday or Tuesday. During my time as a player I couldn’t help but become a fan of the club and so they are one of the first I look for. It has been a mixed season but in a league where everyone beats everyone else, they just need to stay positive and start to build another run akin to the start of the season and who knows where that could take them? Another Wembley appearance maybe?
In terms of the current squad, Gary seems to have that good mix of youth and experience which was maybe lacking in previous National League campaigns and it’s great to see Jamie Reid doing well at this level. I remember him coming on loan to Weymouth from Exeter as a young Torquay fan, but his attitude was all wrong. I did fear for him but he has grown up superbly and I know he must be loving producing so many goals for his boyhood club.
Give us your TUFC Dream Team?
So tough from my time there but here goes:
GK – Scott Bevan. Colossus of a man, technically brilliant and lovely bloke too.
RB – Lee Mansell. Never say die attitude. Never beaten in a 1 v 1 and could literally run all day.
LB – Kev Nicholson. Mainly because he was the only LB I really played with. Also because he had a wand of a left foot and is my best mate from football days!!!
CB – Chris Robertson. Played against him once and hated it. So strong and good quality. Mature for a young head as well.
CB – Chris Todd. Tough to leave out Steve Woods who was class, but if you went to war you’d take Toddy with you every time. All-action man who beats any challenge including life-threatening illness.
CM – Chris Hargreaves. Leader, man mountain, inspiration. Enough said.
CM – Nicky Wroe. Never really clicked with Wroey off the pitch but he complimented Greavsy perfectly, as he was the bit of class alongside the beast.
RW – Wayne Carlisle. So much quality. Worked his nuts off and then could produce a cross more sublime than any others I have been on the end of.
LW – Chris Zebroski. Tough to leave out Danny Stevens who was a pocket rocket, but Zebs was a powerhouse who scored so many goals from this position. Not the best provider but I loved playing with him.
CF – Matt Green. Loved playing with Greeny. Raw but pace and power aplenty and still having a great career.
CF – Elliott Benyon. I would obviously include myself as I would love to be back playing in this team, but Benners was a great foil for me as he did so much leg work running the channels and naturally he was the best finisher at the club.
Unfortunate to miss out – Steve Woods, Lee Hodges, Kevin Hill, Lee Phillips, Michael Poke, Mustapha Carayol.
You appeared on ‘Wogan’s Recall’ a while ago, any current quiz shows you’d like to tackle? Dom Roman
I love game shows and going on one was a bucket list item ticked off. When I appeared on ‘Wogan’s Perfect Recall’ I was actually trying to get on a show called ‘Don’t forget the Lyrics’ hosted by Shane Richie. I actually had the audition in Bristol on a Friday before we were due to play Wrexham away. Amazingly, Bucks let me travel up with Sean North while the other lads went on the coach and Northie dropped me off at the venue so I could go in for the audition.
I got all the way through, but as they filmed on a Saturday I couldn’t quite get over the line so they invited me to go straight onto ‘Wogan’s Perfect Recall’ instead. I scored at Wrexham by the way in what was another good victory!
In terms of current game shows I would love to have a go at ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and ‘Catchphrase’ as Stephen Mulhern is hilarious. I also love ‘Pointless’ but the money is just always a bit pants for all that effort.
Do you discuss your football career with your students and how do they react? Luke Hunter
I don’t throw it in their faces even though I love talking about it, as you always get the eye-rollers, but for those who ask I am happy to discuss it all with them. Often it is the fact that I have appeared on three FIFA versions of the video game that gets me more kudos. They always snigger when they find out my rating but I ask them what their rating is and then walk off. I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved in my football career and the legacies I left at some of my clubs and will always be happy to discuss any aspect of it to either help younger people or warm someone’s day who wants to reminisce.
Up the Gulls – Sillsy