Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse
Ten away days to forget
In these difficult days it’s useful to look back to better times. Not always though. If you’re struggling today, please don’t read on.
Because sometimes they let you down, don’t they? We’ve spent many seasons of struggle, and statistically you do lose more than you win away from home. This is probably what makes three points away from home so joyous.
I asked fellow TT contributors for nominations, because I have to be honest and say that I lost heart so badly after our last relegation that my attendance record was, at times, poorer than a Jean-Pierre Simb first touch. Here are some absolute stinkers to make you grateful that watching the Yellows is optional!
Chelmsford (a) – 2018/19
Such a contrast here to the compelling mid-week win later in the season, ANDY CHARLES recalls a dispiriting start to life in village football in August 2018. Our first game in National League South, and a 6 hour bus journey was rewarded with a restricted view, warm lager and a signature Gary Owers performance that crushed the soul.
Gloucester (a) – 2018/19
A very similar experience, by the sound of it, as we still awaited the arrival of Gary Johnson. MATTHEW ROBERTS wanted this game to be mentioned. On this occasion, the travelling support were wound up beyond endurance and The Bisto Kid had coffee thrown at him in a field in Evesham. It reminds me of a slightly higher-profile episode years ago when the ever-popular Alan Ball, who had taken Stoke down into the third division before continuing his alchemy at St James Park, had to dodge tea thrown his way by aggrieved Potters. Rumour has it that he lived up to his “Squealer” nickname by protesting that there was no sugar in it!
Colchester (a) – 2004/05
This one is probably on most people’s list, including SAM DRUIFF who put it forward. As we remember, Leroy’s team were on the verge of pulling off a brilliant relegation escape at the end of a tough return to League One. Having won 4 or 5 games to haul ourselves out of the bottom four, a point at Layer Road against a team with nothing to play for would have ensured consecutive seasons in the third tier for the first time since 1972. On a hot afternoon a sizeable following were crammed into a claustrophobic away end to see Torquay produce an awful performance. Never in the game, we lost 2-1. Russell & Bayo understandably left and it was the start of a slide into non-league football for the first time in the club’s history.
MK Dons (a) – 2006/07
ANDY CHARLES is clearly a glutton for punishment and put forward several contenders. He travelled to this mid-week game at the home of concrete livestock and plastic supporters. This was such a strange and ultimately traumatic season, seeing a decent start under Ian Atkins undermined by the deluded new “owner” Chris Roberts. Relegation from the Football League was the outcome, and this game felt like a bit of a turning point.
Before Jamie Ward and Adam Murray were sold we had put together a good start to the season, and travelled to promotion favourites MKD in good heart. We started like a train, sailing into a two goal lead, but some woeful goalkeeping by Nathan “Buckfast” Abbey saw us throw it all away. This was our Stalingrad. The rest of that season, on and off the field was a nightmare which only ended when Roberts packed his carpet bag and moved on to his next Walter Mitty scheme and Mike Bateson was finally shown the door in the summer of 2007.
Accrington (a) – 2006/07
I have been to this friendly yet unlovely town several times and I am yet to see Torquay win. My highlight was an appalling 0-0 draw when the game over the way in a public park gave much more entertainment. LUKE HUNTER clearly remembers this earlier game as if it were yesterday.
We conceded a goal very late on from a free kick and Luke tells me he’s never felt more upset after a match. It brought relegation sharply into focus. Conditions had been horrible in wind and rain on the open away terrace and perhaps the only bright spot was that listening to a Man U game in the car afterwards Luke recalls that Gary Neville broke a leg.
I had had a lucky escape that day. I was going until the Friday, when my wife rather splendidly talked me out of it. She’d been unwell, our kids were still quite young and I got to watch the rain in Torquay rather than Lancashire. My mates weren’t so lucky. Arriving back in Manchester half-drowned they endured what by all accounts was a horrible overnight stay in a hostel!
My five least enjoyable games would probably go something like this, although there are- sad to say- many other contenders. Like Orient in 98, or our Wembley no-show against Colchester a few weeks later.
Hinckley (a) – 2004/05
There’s nothing like the FA Cup for highs and lows. We travelled to Leicestershire for this First Round tie hoping for a bit of light relief from a relegation battle. We narrowly avoided hospitalisation by Leicester City’s “Baby Squad” en-route.
The pub conversation went something like this. “I’m in the Baby Squad, I am. I’m banned from home games”. My esteemed colleague The Mechanic replied with: “Oh, so you’re one of those ****ts are you”. It was probably his age (late 50’s, looked 15 years older) and the fact that we were, after all, only Torquay, that saved us from a hiding. The real humiliation was to follow.
We stood in the freezing cold at a ground which reminded me more of the Recreation Ground in Newton Abbot than the Nou Camp and, on a bobbly pitch, saw a Hinckley side that wanted it more than we did record a comfortable 2-0 victory. They laughed at the 3 division gap between clubs, scored – to be fair – an absolute screamer of a second goal and sent us home with our tails well and truly between our legs.
Yeovil (a) – Boxing Day 2019-20
Seldom has a non-league football club been less deserving of the level of support on show that day. Close to 1000 idiots followed a depleted Torquay team to Somerset. Most of us had coats. MARCUS ARSCOTT tells me he didn’t. It took about 15 minutes for the rain to really get it’s act together. By the time the heavens opened we were thoroughly pissed off anyway.
A woeful start had seen us concede three quick ones and the game was over as a contest. An Asa Hall consolation gave us about as much hope for the second half as Frank Bruno’s haymaker must have given him when he was in with Mike Tyson. A punch-drunk United treated the pissed off, pissed wet through Yellow Army to a defensive display which would have embarrassed the Low Countries in 1940.
Sometimes when you let in 6 it’s just a game that got away from you a little bit. Maybe you’re 3-2 down, get caught pushing for an equaliser and then ship a couple more in the last 10 minutes. This time, six was embarrassing for Yeovil, who missed a hatful of chances. Double figures would not have been undeserved and we will doubtless be reminded of our ineptitude whenever the Glovers come calling over the next decade or so. They made a good start to this ritual humiliation by beating us with 10 men at Plainmoor only a week later!
Carlisle (a) – 2000-01
As the Foot & Mouth epidemic gathered pace (oh for the days when it was only cows getting slaughtered), we set out for our annual jaunt to Cumbria. Such a distance is as good an excuse for an overnight stay as any, especially on a Friday night. There were about a dozen of us, but with Wes Saunders’ managerial days numbered we were travelling more in hope than expectation.
Sure enough we got beat, barely registering a shot on goal all night. It’s a game I best remember for a fabulous point blank save from a header by our on loan keeper (***) but a 1-0 defeat left that old trapdoor yawning. Post match events took a turn for the bizarre.
We decided we’d had enough of the team and, with nothing better to do in Carlisle on a Friday night, we decided to go and have a word with the lads by the team bus. The mood was ugly, to tell the truth. Khalid Chalqui, to his great credit, gave a broken-English apology (“Sorry: we play bad. We play bad”). Wes was tight-lipped when we asked him if he was going to resign (thankfully, this did turn out to be his last game in charge, ushering in Colin Lee and that never to be forgotten final day at Barnet).
John Gayle was having none of it. After refusing to sign an autograph for a Dad and his young son, he offered to fight all-comers. At one point, I vividly remember standing well within range and eyeballing the big man. Luckily he thought better of it. Talk about Great Escapes….Rumour has it he got a lift home to Birmingham with the then-Carlisle manager Ian Atkins. It was probably more fun than that bus, to be fair!
Basingstoke (a) – 2015-16
Christ. I’m still quite embarrassed about this, for two reasons. Firstly, this was another absolute shocker of an FA Cup performance. We were supposed to win this game. Basingstoke were adrift at the bottom of National League South. They got relegated by Easter, and they were dreadful. We were still kidding ourselves that we were a Football League club. We lost 3-0.
After a reasonable start, we folded once the home team had scored with their first attack. I have never been as angry as a football fan. Looking back at the reports, I see that Shepherd Morombedzi was subbed for Will Hancox. Which probably says it all. I’m not proud of events after the final whistle. I went to the tunnel and told every one of the Torquay players what I thought of them. I was not articulate. I was abusive. Durrell Berry told me to fuck off. I reciprocated. Oh dear, oh dear.
Braintree (a) – 2014-15
Which brings us to what may have been the worst of all. This probably wasn’t any worse than most of those games when we just don’t really turn up. We only lost two-nil. But we were lucky to get nil. I wouldn’t have been able to point to Braintree on a map before I went there. I knew it was in Essex, but I was expecting somewhere busier. Suburban. A little bit edgy. Like Dagenham. Or even Billericay. Braintree isn’t like that. It’s a hell of a long train ride from Liverpool Street. Or Fenchurch Street. I don’t remember. I don’t care. You sort of go past Stanstead and almost dip your toe in the North Sea. It’s a quiet little town.
The day we went, it was Baltic. A lazy East wind that goes straight through you rather than around you was blowing, and we got chilled to the bone. Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation I felt when a Torquay team that, with better management and just a bit more heart, could have bettered a very limited, newly-promoted Braintree side. But we cocked it up, good and proper. I remember our keeper had a mare. Braintree chalked up one of the best results in their modest history and my faith in Chris Hargreaves’ managerial acumen died. There are no redeeming features from that day in December 2014, or that season and sometimes I really just wish (in Torquay terms) it was 2009 again.
Sorry folks: the next thing I write will be more uplifting. Promise! – Clive