Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse
TEAM OF THE NOUGHTIES: NON-LEAGUE 2007-09
“IT’S BLUE, IT’S SQUARE, YOU’RE GOING BACK DOWN THERE“.
Prophetic words, sadly. I don’t know about you but I’m never settling for non-league football at Plainmoor. This, however, is a love letter to the team that Paul Buckle built from scratch, and which encouraged us to believe that Conference football could be fun. Familiarity breeds contempt though, and what wouldn’t we give for some of the talent and skill available to us in 2007-9 now? (The money helped, too).
We were blessed with 3 very decent custodians. Scott was 6ft 7 and a formidable presence. He would often feature in the magnificent “Captain’s Log” originally penned by Chris Hargreaves for the Herald Express website (remember that?), where his -er- “dry spell” became legendary. Scott’s frustrations doubtless fuelled a quite aggressive persona: he was shaven-headed and massive between the sticks. He stayed with us after promotion and later joined Buckle at Bristol Rovers.
Michael Poke was a very fine keeper at this level too and will never be forgotten for his late promotion-preserving save at Histon (remember them?). I felt he had slightly more errors in him than Bevan. Simon Rayner also did very well when called upon in the first season, joining a small list of Canadian Gulls, a cohort currently of similar size to the Mike Ashley Fan Club.
What links Jute, Jam, Journalism, Winston Churchill and The Beano? Dundee, that’s what. I’ve never been there, and I’ve decided that when we’re allowed out again, I’m going to go up for a look around. Chris Robertson took his first steps there, the city of his birth, before his family moved south of the border. We were really lucky to sign him during our Football League death-throes in the Spring of 2007 and the tall redhead was good enough to hang around until we were well established (or so we thought) back in the promised land. Not always Buckle’s first choice, he was possibly best known as a centre half, but I always fancied him at right back. Solid rather than buccaneering, I thought he did a fantastic job for us.
In a team rarely on the backfoot for long, Nicho stood out as a class act down the left. His high quality set-pieces were a feature during an exciting time for the club. Perhaps his non-league highlight was a refusal to countenance anything other than smashing a hole in the roof of the Big Bank net when converting a point-blank indirect free kick in the 2007 Boxing Day classico.
Some excellent candidates, and none of the lads I mention here would have let us down. I really liked Lee Hodges, who upgraded to us after several very successful years at Plymouth. Mark Ellis learned a lot at Plainmoor after his early move to Premier League Bolton (remember them?) didn’t quite work out, but with some reservations I’ve narrowed it down to these two:
Played in some really good Torquay sides and one or two terrible ones. Steve’s standards very rarely slipped and he’s one of those in the “who would you want to bat for your life” category if this was a cricket blog. Which it’s not. Or he was a first class cricketer. Which he wasn’t. I can’t remember if he was injured a lot under Bucks. Perhaps so, because he was coming towards the end of an excellent career by now and I see that he only appeared in about half the league games. I don’t care. He’s playing for me.
Some years later there was a brilliant singalong during the second half of our FA Trophy win at St Albans. We paid homage to many players from better times (remember when we used to play Sheffield Wednesday? Steve scored against them). The first and longest-sung song was: “Stevie Woods my Lord, Stevie Woods”. Well deserved.
A warrior, a Swansea Jack and a cancer-survivor. He was at the beating heart of the 2007/08 team that deserved to go up as champions. Brilliant in the air, destructive on the deck, Toddy was another one you would be proud to go into the trenches with.
Tell you what kids. If you like Asa Hall, you’d have sold your Granny to have this bloke captaining your team. The hirsute mobile home-seeker was an absolute inspiration: a positive influence whatever the company, whatever the task. If you haven’t read his books: “Where’s your Caravan” and the Torquay-specific “Captain’s Blog: Football, Fatherhood and the Fight for Promotion” I implore you to get them, read them cover to cover and then start writing yourself. You’ll be amazed what you can do if you write about what you know.
As a footballer, he never gave up and it was sheer force of will that propelled him forward to get a crucial, fist-pumping, get-in-there equaliser at Barrow and the glorious, this-is-our-day-Cambridge, wait-your-turn opener at Wembley a few weeks later. Chris was verging on “grizzled” by the time he arrived at Plainmoor in the summer of 2007, but he was by then a leader to his bootlaces. The goals he did get for us on his occasional forays forward were a reminder that he started out as a striker with his home-town club of Grimsby, and that as a youngster he was good enough to play Championship football with West Brom.
His flowing locks prompted the ever-entertaining Bristol Rovers away support to pipe up with: “Chris Hargreaves is the Son of God” during a pre-season friendly (when Chris was playing at centre back in an experiment about as successful as Albert Einstein’s attempts to win the 400 metre hurdles at the 1948 Olympics). I’m not religious, and he’s not the Messiah: but in his youth he was a very naughty boy. By the time he reached his thirties, he was a bona fide Torquay legend.
I’m told that this selection will cause wails of disbelief. Certainly I know Chris will be unhappy not to have his good friend Lee Mansell (Britain’s Most Relegated Man?) alongside him. The thing is, I’m picking this team and I thought Nicky Wroe was a decent ball-player. Joining for our promotion season, this Yorkshireman did really well for us, with good vision and the ability to chip in with valuable goals (18 in 105 games in all). He played twice for the mighty “England C” whilst with us. It was also very decent of him to be quite anonymous for Shrewsbury against us in League Two playoffs a couple of years later.
SPOT PRIZE- Anybody who can tell me what the “C” stands for in “England C” wins a month’s subscription to Clarke Osborne’s Log.
In a parallel universe, Hilly’s winner at home to Exeter in the second leg of the Play-Off Semi Final would have propelled us to Wembley, where we would have beaten Cambridge a year early, went on to destroy a pitiful Ebbsfleet in the Trophy Final and storm our way to Championship football. Buckle would have been tempted away by Blackburn Rovers (taking them back into Europe) and Gary Johnson, his replacement, would just have completed a glorious decade at the Plainmoor helm.
It never worked out like that though: the gut-wrenching play-off defeat was Hilly’s swansong for the -er- Gulls , and if we’re honest he was never really a Hollywood-type player either. What he was, however, was a local lad who got every ounce out of his ability. He out-jumped centre halves for fun, ran until he was sick and played more games in a Torquay shirt than anyone else. An Ian Twitchin for the new millennium, he played in those heart-stopping finales at Barnet and Southend. He was truly, as the song went, here, there and every flipping where (before Bucks moved him on to Dorchester).
He had his own song too. As we know, it documented his rapid improvement after moving down the A380. Actually, he was far from “shite” for Exeter, tearing Nicho a new one in that Boxing Day epic. A class act on his day, he is of course remembered for the pause, the reconnaissance and the inch-perfect delivery for Zorro to deliver the coup de grace at Wembley in 2009. I also remember an absolute belter from him against the same opposition at the Abbey Stadium: right in front of us, he picked the ball up on the right wing, cut in and curled a last minute top corner belter into the top corner. Definitely alright, was Wayne.
A voracious centre forward. We fed him. He scored. Simple as that, really. Had surely the best two seasons of his career for us. Better in the air than Covid-19, and almost as deadly. Now managing the mighty Hamworthy United, Sillsy was the man in the mask who made our dreams come true. He never quite cracked it in the Football League, but I’ve never really got the hang of particle physics either. I don’t care, and neither should he. Thanks, big man.
This might be a bit of a surprising choice. I feel sure that Matt Green, Chris Zebroski and Elliott Benyon will all feel they had stronger claims. I’ve gone with horses for courses though: Lee was a battering ram and a brilliant partner for Sillsy in the early days of our odyssey when we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to hack non-league football. Phillips hit the ground running, banged em in and gave the appearance of loving every minute. The Penzance native dabbled in league football with the Duchy’s Green Army before settling into regular goal scoring at sunny, sunny Weymouth and the Greeks. In two decades up to the end of 2015-16 he scored a total of 140 goals from 562 games. A very decent ratio, which he slightly bettered with 12 from 41 for us.
Subs (okay, I’ll name 5 this time)
Michael Poke (see goalies, above)
Lee Hodges (see centre backs)
Danny Stevens: A better player, I think, than he is sometimes given credit for. Most famous for his lack of height, Danny was a versatile winger-cum-midfielder who was in and around some good Torquay sides over the years. He produced some memorable finishes, such as a brace in the televised FA Cup win over Yeovil, the third in “Eunan’s match” against Argyle and- a personal favourite- the coolest of lobs to pinch a one-nil win in a night match at Barnet. I know we often win there, but it was a big three points at the time.
Chris Zebroski: “Zebs” has more baggage than FlyBe has aeroplanes. A man with a chequered past, present and future, but he could certainly play. Scored lots of valuable goals for us and is a member of the Late Winners at St James Park Club (see also Jim McNicholl and Don O’Riordan).
Lee Mansell: Poor midfielder. Very serviceable right back, I thought. There: happy now??
Not, perhaps, everybody’s cup of tea. Many will never forgive him for abandoning us for Bristol Rovers. I didn’t really blame him though. I reckon he was entitled to say he’d done his bit for us. Three play-off seasons out of four, a Wembley final and a run to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup as a Non-League club? That is a stellar performance for a Torquay manager. It also made our opening day win at Eastville in his first Rovers home game a sweet, sweet August afternoon for all of us there to see it!
Although admittedly he was well-backed by the new Board when he arrived in 2007 the club was on its knees after being run into the ground by a hacked off Paul Buckle and the fantasist Chris Roberts (remember him?). Buckle made some brilliant signings, the top three probably being Sills, Hargreaves and Nicholson. He plucked Elliott Benyon from Bristol City’s under-11s and off we went.
“Bucks” had been a good player for us in the 1990s, briefly gaining a Reidy-like off-field reputation and curling in a lovely free kick at Layer Road (remember that?) in a memorable 3-1 win over Colchester.
He was also part of one of the worst Torquay transfer deals in history when Eddie May (remember him?) swapped him for Russell Coughlin (whose sad early death may in part have resulted from embarrassment at being part of perhaps the worst Torquay team of the 20th century).