Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse
TEAM OF THE NOUGHTIES: FOOTBALL LEAGUE 2000-2007
It’s Saturday afternoon. I can’t watch football, so I’m writing about it again. This is my pick of Yellows from a tumultuous decade, where you didn’t know from one season to the next what to expect. Just to jog the memory: this is what happened:
2000/01- Barnet. Crazy times: winning the last day battle of the bottom two felt like winning a championship at the time. Champagne on the train!
2001/02- A low key season where we ground out enough points under Roy McFarland to stay safe. I was gutted when Bateson engineered his departure.
2002/03- Building on some good McFarland recruitment a young manager called Leroy Rosenior had us sniffing around the play-offs.
2003/04- Oh my Lord! The only automatic promotion I have ever seen (village leagues excepted) and some of the very best football, culminating in all our dreams coming true at Southend on the final day.
2004/05- With a tiny budget we did brilliantly to come back from the dead to give ourselves a chance of staying up at Colchester. Another massive final day but it was a game too far and we were again relegated after only one year in the third tier.
2005/06- Perhaps our greatest escape: Leroy gone mid-season and we looked beyond help but Ian Atkins got a tune out of a poor side as we stunned what looked to be half the population of Cumbria to bring three points back home from Champions-Elect Carlisle.
2006/07- A Mike Bateson/Chris Roberts-engineered catastrophe as we pushed our luck once too often and disappeared through the trapdoor into who knows what.
2007/08- Paul & Thea Bristow put those lottery millions to good use. Buckle’s team featuring Greavesie, Sills, Nicho et al gave us the ride of our life as we bounced back so strongly. Heartbreak awaited, but then…
2008/09- “Here’s Benyon. Carlisle’s away to the right hand side again for Torquay, the break is on. Danny Stevens in the area if he stays onside. Carlisle checks instead, he’s looking for Benyon: SILLS!!” We were back. Wasn’t too difficult, was it?
2009/10- Buckle did an effective mid-term rebuild and after a good, consolidating season we were set for better things.
Obviously, Leroy’s team is going to be the basis of my selection here, but there’s room for a few others too:
Big Nev just about qualifies for selection, having made his last Torquay appearances after the turn of the Millennium. Giving much better value for money than the Dome, the big-hearted Welshman had legitimate claims to be the best goalie in the world at one stage, playing in that Merseyside rarity: an Everton team that won things. Even in his forties he had great reflexes and was a commanding presence behind a shaky defence: for him to get stuck into fourth division football in the way he did speaks volumes about his personality and professionalism.
“If you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.” There was, if I’m honest, the odd away game where this probably applied to me and try as I might I can’t recall too many decent right backs! I’m sure others with better memories will prove me wrong, but with no disrespect to this good, strong young pro I’ve not been able to think of a better one. He has also made my Non-League selection but having arrived at the club late in the ill-fated 2006-07 season Chris stayed with us until we sold him to Preston in 2012 so he definitely meets my criteria for selection here. He turned out 179 times for us. Probably better known as a centre half but I really liked him at Right Back, where he gave us solidity and a flash of ginger.
A tough decision this. For league football I have preferred Brian over the good manners, graceful hair loss and dead ball wizardry of Kevin Nicholson. One of the upsides of a successful Plymouth Argyle team (apart from a bonanza for the Tamar Bridge) is that Torquay can often benefit from some very decent players deemed surplus to requirements at Home Park. Brian came up the A38 to be a mainstay of Leroy’s wonderful 2003-04 team. Not particularly flashy but reliable and he knew his way out of the fourth tier, having been a big part of Argyle’s championship winning team in 2001-02. His Derry/Londonderry roots were perhaps a reason for his Plymouth nickname of “mad dog”. A real shame that injury curtailed his career aged only 28.
Racked up 249 appearances for us between 2001 and 2009. As I’ve said before, Steve played in some good Torquay sides and one or two awful ones. His performances seldom dropped to the sometimes abject levels around him though. I’m pretty sure he scored at Cheltenham in perhaps the most comprehensive away wins I’ve ever seen. In the run in to promotion in 2004 we arrived at Whaddon Road and played the Robins off the park. We non three-nil, in a performance even their manager eulogised. Cheltenham were fortunate to be that close to greatness and lucky to get nil! Steve was a massive part of that, and never less than a credit to his profession.
Leroy’s signing of Craig in the summer of 2003 after a loan deal was, for me, pivotal and turned an attractive team into a promotion-winning one. The Plymothian did all the horrible stuff, putting his head in where it hurt every week and generally making life difficult for his opponents. It was the extra steel that we needed. Memory may not serve me well here (and if I’m honest I can’t be bothered to look it up) but I think he may have made his debut for us in a win at Cambridge. I would liken his impact to Chris Whyte at Leeds in 1991/92. Not blessed with huge ability and overall his was an unspectacular career, but Craig was the right man at the right time and he and Woodsie kept the back door locked for us. In the summer of 2004, still high as kites on automatic promotion, The Mechanic and I had a week in Portugal at Euro 2004. Wandering around Vila Nova de Gaia (the village over the bridge from Porto, famous for its Port warehouses) we had to choose which guided tour to go on. Crazily enough, two of the more famous producers bore the names of Leroy’s heroes: Graham and Taylor. We plumped for the latter, and I cannot offer more of a tribute than that!
He used to frustrate me a little bit, and he had a poor injury record. But good judges (Roy McFarland, Dave Thomas) rated Jason extremely highly and if you can play for as long as he did with arthritic hips you must have considerable ability & bravery. He was part of Leroy’s wonderfully creative midfield and given that Eunan O’Kane didn’t make his First Team debut until January 16th 2010 he will, I’m sure, be delighted to have made the cut. Picking him also gives me an opportunity to mention the Anglo-Italian Cup, a competition in which he made his debut (for hometown club Bristol City). I have always loved the idea of international competitions for teams lower down the pyramid. It would be brilliant to travel abroad to watch Torquay and I’m all for it! Let’s resuscitate Flybe and jet off to Latvia as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted! I’m sure they’ll remember Gary and offer us the warmest of Baltic welcomes (actually, thinking about it, Baltic means freezing doesn’t it?).
Another worldy-signing by Roy McFarlane. Alex was a massive part of the best Torquay team I’ve ever watched, slipping balls through to David Graham with a regularity that any Ex-Lax salesman would kill for. This Scouser was a thoroughbred and I can pay him no greater tribute than to say that I think he was the equal of Steve McCall in terms of ball players in the middle of the park. He had every right to move onto better things on the back of his magnificent performances for us, but he stayed after promotion and gave it a real go in our ultimately doomed attempt to stay up. He fully deserved his subsequent move to Bristol City and he played out most of the rest of his career at Exeter and Bath, so the traumatic defeat at Colchester clearly didn’t dim his clear affection for Roman cities!
The third player to make it into both my League and Non-League sides. We all loved Hilly, and like Steve Woods this Twitchin for the new Millennium never let the rubbish that was frequently all around him get him down. We voted him Player of the Year one season just for being Kevin Hill! He never gave up on a lost cause- he would run until he was sick and had a Zebedee-like spring that would often see him beat bemused defenders who were much taller than him. For his 417 games and more than a decade of service, Kev is in my team.
I think I’m going to play three up front.
Remember Jim Baxter? I never saw him play, but any Scot will tell you he had it all. I do know he was good enough to take the Mickey out of England, once sitting on the ball during a game at Wembley. DG, Baxter’s compatriot, is the finest striker likely to grace a Torquay shirt in my lifetime. With ridiculous natural ability, 2003-04 saw him harness it to deliver a tour de force. Home and away he was absolutely unplayable that season. He saw things so quickly: a subtle touch and he was in on goal. More often than not the net would bulge, we would go crazy and have to pinch ourselves that a lad this good was at our club. He left us to win promotion to the Premier League with Wigan, and he left a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. My first real memory of him was for that third goal just before half time at Barnet in 2001. He spied half a chance, reacted 3 weeks quicker than the Barnet defence and unleashed the sort of celebrations more often associated with 1970s European nights at Anfield or Istanbul derbies.
Another Scot. There was a bit of irony in the “Yellow Goal Machine” song, but he was another darned good player for us. Worked his socks off, decent in the air and scored the winner at Hull City in a promotion 6 pointer. Cue more away end scenes. Martin now manages to stay cheerful as a co-commentator on Radio Devon, which is no mean feat.
Despite being born in the Spurs stronghold of Edmonton Jo started his career at Arsenal. I haven’t watched a lot of top-flight football live, but I was at Euro 2000 where I was lucky enough to see a quite magnificent France team twice. Contrary to our sung assertions, Jo was rather taller than 4 ft 3 and given that he never made the first team at Arsenal and based on what I saw in Belgium he definitely wasn’t as good as Thierry Henri. Not many are though: the Frenchman was quicker than shit off a shovel!! Jo made his name at Plainmoor and by the time he retired he had over 100 professional goals to his name from 460 appearances. A really good, nippy little striker who formed a brilliant partnership with David Graham, often nipping through defenders’ legs to slot the ball home.
Kevin Dearden- A good pro, who very rarely let us down. Another member of the 400 club who was at Brentford for most of the 1990s. He was a solid presence between the sticks for us between 2001 and 2005.
Mark Ellis- I stand to be corrected of course, but “Professional footballers born in Kingsbridge” must be a fairly select group. Mark is definitely the only one I have ever encountered in Harbertonford! Torquay gave him a springboard into a very decent career in the league after he didn’t quite make the grade at Bolton, who had cradle-snatched him from Exeter. He learned a lot at Plainmoor under Buckle and Martin Ling and made the transition from a talented kid to a good quality centre back.
Danny Stevens- He has his detractors. I believe he may have been closer to 4 ft 3 than Jo, although Danny’s song focused on his name rather than his stature. I really liked him. He was a versatile midfielder-cum-winger who may be one of those players who is more lethal coming off the bench than starting. My favourite goal of his was a dinked late winner at Barnet (which may or may not have been in this decade).
Elliott Benyon- More or less one of our own. Another diminutive striker, he came to us from Bristol City’s youth team. Getting stronger by the week he became an invaluable member of the Blue Square promotion winning team and really hit his stride over the next couple of seasons for us in league football. A really decent finisher on his day, he never really made the grade at the bigger clubs (Swindon, Wycombe) and his return to Plainmoor was probably as much of an ordeal for him as it was for us, as we watched his partnership with Karl Hawley with growing despair. Never mind: he won us a lot of games in his first spell.
Tony Bedeau- His Pink Panther- inspired theme tune was a tribute to a popular, pacy winger-cum-striker who really hit his stride for us after a mediocre start to his professional career. He played over 300 games in his first spell between 1996 and 2006 (58 goals) and was a big loss when Walsall persuaded him to leave Plainmoor. My favourite Anthony Charles Osmond Bedeau memory is from 1997, when he darted down the left hand side of the Luton penalty area and may or may not have been fouled to win us a penalty which Paul Gibbs converted to cause absolute bedlam amongst us travelling idiots. One of our best FA Cup days, that.
I’m still curious about how far Roy McFarland might have taken his Torquay team, but it an only really be…
This popular Londoner came into management after a really good playing career in and around the top flight with Fulham, QPR, West Ham, Bristol City and the likes, where he battled a knee injury and some shameful 1980s racism to score 75 goals from 272 games. Mike Bateson must have seen something in him apart from a willingness to work for peanuts when he appointed him manager in 2002. Leroy, having learned his trade at Gloucester, knew how he wanted to play and clearly put a smile on players’ faces. He delivered the impossible dream as we went neck and neck with the likes of Hull City and Huddersfield to swashbuckle our way out of the basement division. In football as in politics: “You always get sacked in the end” and it went wrong for Leroy eventually. I also think it was probably for the best that the incoming regime didn’t fancy him in the Summer of 2007, but he will always have a special place in our hearts for the success he brought us first time around.