Buckle’s Nearly Men of 2007/08 by Dom Roman

“In the end that City present and past rivalry would influence the season hugely, but as a supporter there was so much to enjoy “

The Ed blogs about the crazy season of Setanta, Sillsy, Blue Square, Buckle and Derby Days that was TUFC 2007-08

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Dom Roman – @DomRoman

Writing the blog about 2003-04 has given me a taste for it! This time come back with me 13 years to 2007 – another relatively quiet year on the news front (those were the days), and in May the disappearance of Madeleine McCann dominated the headlines (and would do for months on end). At Plainmoor the 2006-07 season finished with a grim and inevitable relegation to the Conference for the first time in our history, with a disastrous spell of calamitous ownership, poor management, loads of dreadful players and a copious amount of losses (mostly to nil) doing the damage. 

What future did Torquay United have as a football club after this catastrophic period of ineptitude? Well on the 17th May 2007 the life support machine arrived. The craziness of 2007-08 had already begun that day when Leroy Rosenior was re-hired by Mike Bateson (who had stepped back into save the club), before 10 minutes later a new 8 man consortium informed him it was Paul Buckle instead who would be taking United the reins. It was a shame (and bizarre) to see Leroy treated that way (and break an unfortunate record) after his previous efforts for the club, but the main thing was that Torquay United were back in business!  

Bucks was brought in by new Chief Executive Colin Lee and given the task of totally rebuilding a United squad bereft of…pretty much anything! Unsurprisingly Paul went back to Exeter City for reinforcements, coaxing in Chris Todd and Lee Phillips, whilst other senior ‘been there done it’ pros like Chris Hargreaves, Tim Sills and Kevin Nicholson made the trip down to the bay as the Gulls splashed the cash. Also arriving were youngsters such as Chris Zebroski, Mark Ellis and Elliot Benyon as the squad shaped up nicely and Tony Bedeau re-joined from Walsall. Still there from 2006-07? Woodsy, Hilly and Hockers…like Beds, stalwarts from the promotion squad of 2004, which seemed like an awful long time ago.

Tim Sills “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”

This was a rebooted club not just content to make up the numbers in the ‘Blue Square Premier’ (not to mention the FA Cup, FA Trophy and the illustrious 1st season of the Setanta Shield); the intent from the confident new gaffer was to compete in every competition. The Yellow Army felt revitalised and invigorated, and snapped up plenty of season tickets as anticipation built for the first game at Plainmoor – with Grays Athletic the opponents on Setanta…

12TH AUGUST – UNITED 0-0 GRAYS ATHLETIC – CONFERENCE

If you google the words ‘Torquay United anti-climax’ then this game should really pop up! Over 4k piled into Plainmoor expecting Buck’s new look Gulls to stamp all over little old Grays Athletic. Instead it was a game that never came to life, as the gaffer picked an experienced but somewhat one-paced XI and the 90 minutes remained goalless. I remember being disappointed at Tony Bedeau and realising that he was way past his best – sadly Beds didn’t prove me wrong. Frustration quickly filled the terraces (unnecessarily)…thankfully a lovely mid-week 3-0 win away at Aldershot confined this game to history very quickly. 

XI: Rayner, Nicholson, Woods, Robertson, Todd, Mansell, Hargreaves, Hill (Stevens), Bedeau (Stevens), Phillips, Sills (Benyon)

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18TH SEPTEMBER – HISTON 4-5 UNITED – CONFERENCE

By September United had established themselves as the entertainers of the Blue Square, with a ‘we’ll out-score you’ type approach that had the terraces bouncing once again! No games epitomised this more than a quite ridiculous and crazy away evening at Histon. United went 3-0 up through Sills, Mullings (no I don’t remember much about him either) and Zebs. Histon weren’t done though and scored two headers to make it 2-3, before Zebs notched a pen for 4-2. Game over? Not a bit of it! Mullings was sent off (what a player!) and then United contrived to hand the home team two pens of their own (both scored by Akurang). 4-4. Mitchell-King was sent off for Histon and then a Bedeau cross found Chris Todd to nod one in for a last gasp victory. Only 763 in attendance, it deserved more. 

XI: Rayner, Robertson (Welsh 47), Woods (Hill 27), Todd, Nicholson, Bedeau, Hockley, Mullings, Zebroski, Sills, Phillips (Benyon 43). Subs Not Used: Wring, Rice

14TH OCTOBER – UNITED 4-2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH – CONFERENCE

Mid-October brought another Sunday game at Plainmoor, with on form Stevenage the visitors. By then the Gulls had scored 40 goals in only 15 league games and already played on every day of the week! Yet more goals followed from Buckle’s men, but it was Stevenage’s goalkeeper who became the centre of attention over the 90 minutes. First Alan Julian fumbled a shot into Zebs path for 1-0, then allowed a cross from the same man to sail right over his head for 2-1, and for his calamitous encore carried a Nicho corner over his own line for 3-1. It was a nightmarish display of goalkeeping that lingers in my memory even now! The Gulls went marching on and sailed back to the top of the Blue Square table. Happy days.

XI: Rayner, Bedeau, Woods, Todd, Nicholson, Zebroski, Mansell, Hargreaves, Welsh (Stevens 86), Sills (Benyon 90), Phillips. Subs Not Used: Rice, Hockley, Ellis.

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11TH NOVEMBER – UNITED 4-1 YEOVIL TOWN – FA CUP

This FA Cup tie has been talked about on a number of occasions on the site already, so I won’t go through the fine details too much! The Beeb were there (with Leroy), Yeovil scored first but two goals apiece from little Danny and Toddy brought home the Cup bacon, sending the very happy Yellow Army through to the 2nd round. It was a wonderful Sunday afternoon to be a United supporter, and I doubt there’s been a better Cup day since for the Gulls. Terrific stuff.

XI: Rice, Robertson, Ellis, Todd, Nicholson, Stevens, Hargreaves, Mansell, Zebroski, Sills, Benyon (Hill 88). Subs Not Used: Wring, Hockley, Welsh, Laird

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26TH DECEMBER – EXETER CITY 4-3 UNITED – CONFERENCE

The Exeter City derbies were highly anticipated that season and rightly so, with both teams pushing for the promotion places, not to mention the ex-Grecian contingent at Plainmoor adding to the spice. With 7,839 in attendance the match certainly didn’t disappoint. Goals from Mackie, Moxey, Carlisle and Moxey had the Gulls reeling, with only a Chris Todd reply to show for the first 70 minutes. Then Lee Phillips headed a reply and Nicho banged in a third. Comeback on. With Seabourne sent off for City, United pushed forward aggressively and had two efforts cleared off the line, but it wasn’t to be as it finished 4-3. Another corker of a match, but one that seemed to have a lasting affect on Paul Buckle, as the side’s approach became more pragmatic in 2008 – starting with a tasty 1-0 revenge victory over the Grecians at Plainmoor. 

XI: Rice, Robertson (Bedeau 66), Todd, Woods, Nicholson, Zebroski, Mansell, Hargreaves, Welsh (Stevens 54), Phillips, Sills. Subs Not Used: Rayner, Benyon, Hockley

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3RD MARCH – UNITED 1-2 ALDERSHOT – CONFERENCE

The Shots had begun to assert themselves at the top of the Conference and this was basically the last chance for the Gulls to close the gap. It was a tremendous evening of football; the Shots bringing hoards of fans who were amongst the loudest we’ve ever had at Plainmoor; both teams going toe to toe and pushing for a win; and a dramatic ending as Scott Davies scored an injury time volley to take all 3 points back to Aldershot. The unlucky Gulls deserved more on the evening, with Bull having a stormer in the Shots goal as United piled on the pressure without making it count. The gap at the top became 11 points and the play-offs beckoned.

XI: Andersen, Mansell, Todd, Ellis, Nicholson, Mohamed (Stevens 61), Hargreaves, Hockley, Zebroski (Banim 81), Sills, Phillips (D’Sane 78). Subs Not Used: Robertson, Rice

5TH MAY – UNITED 1-4 EXETER CITY – PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINAL 2ND LEG

Oh Jesus do I have to talk about this one!! We’d scraped out a 2-1 win at St James Park in the 1st leg but to be honest that had flattered us, so nobody was counting chickens before the return at Plainmoor. The 1st half was scoreless and cagey, no indication of what was going to eventually transpire.. After an hour a lovely move orchestrated by Sillsy and Zebs found Hilly who slotted home, raptures in the Grandstand (even from the pensioners!), surely we were on our way (on our way)…where’s those chickens! Then nightmare after nightmare as Tisdale’s Exeter City threw caution to the wind, Harley, then Watson (pen), Logan and finally (soon to be Gull) Carlisle netting for the Grecians. Simon Rayner completely losing his cool in goal and the defence parting like the proverbial Red Sea. Absolute agony. Conference season over, a trip to Wembley still awaited in the Trophy…but the Grecian hangover would linger for a while. 

XI – Rayner, Woods, Todd, Robertson, Mansell, Nicholson, Adams, Hargreaves, Hill, Zebroski, Sills. Subs: Rice, Hockley, Stevens, Phillips, D’Sane

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Paul Buckle “The rollercoaster of emotions in the two legs of the play-off semis against Exeter was the best thing that happened to me, as it tested my resolve to the full”

THE MAIN SQUAD

Goalkeepers

Simon Rayner

Rayner looked the part, a great big lad who on his day commanded the penalty box. Unfortunately mentally he wasn’t always there and the calamitous play-off loss was his last outing under the somewhat ruthless management of Mr Buckle.

Martin Rice

Ahh Martin, nice chap but not very good as a goalkeeper. To be fair to him we’ve had worse deputy keepers and he did save a penalty at Wembley from McPhee – so not all bad. 

Defence

Mark Ellis

Mark spent a large proportion of the Conference years as a squad member, but he contributed well when called upon in 07-08. The potential was there and the defender kept his head up, reaping the proper rewards a couple of years later.

Paul Hinshelwood

I won’t lie, Paul’s spell at the club that season does not live well in the memory. He did score in a 5-2 away win at Kiddy – that’s all I’ve got.

Kevin Nicholson

Nicho was not well known when he joined United in 2007 from Forest Green, but he soon made an impact with his defensive resilience, sweet left foot and a long throw that was a big part of the United ammo. One of the terrific characters that Bucks brought to the club that summer.

Chris Robertson

Robbo had played well alongside Woodsy at the end of 06-07, so we were glad to have him back onboard. A centre back by trade, Chris had spells at right back which didn’t suit him, but he was a tough competitor who stuck to the task and rarely let the team down.

Chris Todd

Toddy made the trip down with Buckle and soon became a fans favourite, throwing himself into challenges and scoring some memorable goals along the way. Another strong character in a squad full of them.

Steve Woods

Woodsy started as a regular first choice, but with fierce competition for places found his opportunities more limited in the second half of the season. He would never really establish himself back into Buckle’s line-up.

Midfield

Steve Adams

Ex-Argyle stalwart Adams was signed in January to add a bit of calm to the United midfield. He never made much impact at Plainmoor, not fitting into the hustle and bustle of United’s play and also being particularly slow!

Tony Bedeau

Tony’s return to Plainmoor in 2007 was a good news story for the Yellow Army, but he struggled to make any impression on his return and even got loaned out to Weymouth in March – best to remember Beds from his first spell.

Chris Hargreaves

“Who’s this old looking chap with the long hair?

“He’s your new skipper that’s who, and ignore his age, he’ll run box to box making challenges, winning headers, scoring goals and being bloody marvellous”.

Our deserved Player of the Year for 07-08 and simply inspirational. 

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Kevin Hill

Hilly much like Beds had reached the final years of their time as a footballing professional. Kevin still had his moments and broke the appearance record as a sub Wembley, so that’s not bad. A club legend who is welcome back at Plainmoor any time.

Matt Hockley

Matt was re-signed by Bucks as a useful squad player and gave his usual committed approach when called upon. An un-used sub at Wembley, he left the club days later after playing over 250 times for United.  

Lee Mansell

Midfielder Manse spent much of the season at right back, a role where he’d often frustrate (Lee’s crossing never matched his good mate Nicho), but he never gave less than 100% – always running, always working for the team and always on Buckle’s team sheet. Tireless.

Danny Stevens

Initially Stevens looked like one of the mascots to the Yellow Army and his size inspired little confidence. But the ex-Spurs lad could play, and either as a starter or sub could produce some magic (see Yeovil cup tie) – plus you could always enjoy an ironic cheer when he won a header!

Attack

Elliott Benyon

Elliot was a young rough diamond brought down from Bristol City, and another one who would prosper at Plainmoor. In 07-08 he spent much of his time sitting on the bench, but showed great appetite for action when called upon,

Roscoe D’Sane

Roscoe joined for an undisclosed fee in January, in the hope that he would rekindle his old strike partnership with Sillsy. The move didn’t exactly pay off, Roscoe infuriating supporters and presumably Buckle in equal measures.

Lee Phillips

The Phillips/Zebs/Sills trio was on fire during the 07-08 and the sizzling aggression from ex-City man was there for all to see. However, towards the end of the campaign the striker struggled for form when we needed a spark and left for Rushden soon after.

Tim Sills

The United supporters needed new heroes, players who they could really believe in and players who would bring it week in week out – Sillsy ticked all those boxes. The striker was a key man, especially considering the direct tactics preferred by the new gaffer. Sillsy never flinched from a physical challenge, battling every centre back and also scoring some magnificent goals – with 20 in total. Top man.

Chris Zebroski

The omens didn’t look promising when Zebs signed, with reports of him glassing former Argyle team-mate Paul Wotton not filling us with confidence! But that was soon forgotten as the skilful young attacker set to work at Plainmoor, gliding past opponents with ease and notching 19 goals that season (in a variety of ways). A joy to watch.

FINAL WORD

In the end ‘Torquay United 07-08’ just ran out of steam when it mattered most, and the ambitious surge to win both the league and the trophy (not to mention the FA Cup run) ended in disappointment on both fronts. A tired United team limping to defeat at the new Wembley to Ebbsfleet, with the only highlight being Kevin Hill’s record-breaking appearance as sub. Paul Buckle perhaps illustrating his inexperience by pushing his players too hard, bringing in too many squad players over the season and not saving enough for the final few furlongs (mistakes he would learn from the next year).

However! For some perverse reason this remains one of my favourite TUFC campaigns of over 30 years at Plainmoor. The club felt like it re-gathered their identity with a board full of supporters pushing us forward – they knew how much Torquay United meant to the Yellow Army and celebrated each goal in unison. The squad contained numerous guys who just loved pulling on that yellow shirt and giving their all, something that can be taken for granted, but shouldn’t. Meanwhile in one of our busiest ever years the games came thick and fast, so did the net-busters, and we entered the turnstiles with anticipation for each fixture to see what mischief the likes of Sills, Zebroski, Stevens, Benyon and Phillips could create. Attack, attack, attack!

Unfortunately the biggest memory from the season has to be that Exeter City loss. I have rarely trudged out of a ground so dejected. Nothing is worse in football than when you are riding high and then an unexpected change of momentum rips your football heart out. That play-off had all that and more, with Paul Tisdale’s calm approach triumphing over Buck’s busy bluster. In the end that City present and past rivalry would influence the season hugely, but as a supporter there was so much to enjoy.

Conference life (facing teams we had never played before and some we had barely heard of) wouldn’t be so bad after all, and with a strong spine in place our expectations remained high for 2008-09, when the nearly men eventually found a way to make Torquay United a league outfit once more on another sunny day at Wembley…

Paul Buckle – “I still wouldn’t swap that season for the world because that team gave us all so much pleasure, not to mention becoming the first team to reach 50 goals in English football.

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I simply live and breathe Football and have supported Torquay United since 1989. I am a season ticket holder on Bristows and a Trust member. I set up TorquayTalk in 2017 to give true supporters a voice and honest opinions on their club.

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