Nice One Cyril – 1987/88 Review by Clive Hayward

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Clive Hayward recalls the 1987-88 season of Cyril, Cup runs, The Dude, Dave Caldwell and more…

 

Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse

1987/88 – NICE ONE CYRIL!

1986. The Pet Shop Boys were taking the charts by storm. Comic Relief’s first show took place and English clubs were still banned from Europe. That wasn’t a major concern for Torquay, and although our police dog-assisted Great Escape in May had reignited some interest locally and we had a reasonably well-known new manager in the old Spurs favourite Cyril Knowles it was, realistically, quite hard to drum up too much hope for the months to come. Torquay had, after all, finished 92nd, 92nd and 91st in the previous three seasons and mid table would probably have been accepted as a decent finish.

We couldn’t have dreamed that 1987/88 would be our best season since the halcyon days of the 1960s, featuring:

• A giant killing in the League Cup
• A decent run in the FA Cup
• Ten away wins in the league
• Dave bloody Caldwell!
Nice one, Cyril!

League Cup

Believe it or not, it seems as though someone had put some thought into the format of the competition in those days, with a view to helping lower division clubs. The first round was properly regionalised with plentiful two-legged local derbies. If you got through that, a seeding system guaranteed another two games against a higher division side.

Ties against Exeter or Plymouth would have been ideal, but more often than not we seemed to draw Hereford. There was a bit of variety this year though, and we came out of the hat with Swansea, who were struggling at the bottom of the pyramid, their glory days under John Toshack now far behind them. We built on our barnstorming start (we put 6 past Wrexham at Plainmoor in the first league game: pinch me!) with a home win in the first leg, and our trip to the dilapidated Vetch Field was rewarded with a 1-1 draw to see us safely through to the next round.

Then- joy of joys- we drew Tottenham in the second round! Older fans remembered previous encounters including the epic FA Cup tie in the 1960s when Robin Stubbs scored two late goals to secure a fantastic 3-3 draw at Plainmoor. Us youngsters (I was 19) were relishing the chance to watch such household names as Chris Waddle, Clive Allen and- er- Richard Gough.

The first leg was one of those all-your-dreams-come true- evenings under the Plainmoor lights. We held our own against David Pleat’s team of internationals before Derek “The Dude” Dawkins took the roof off the Pop Side when he smashed in a late winner.

The timing of the second leg wasn’t great for me because it was during my first week back at university, but there was no way I was going to miss it. I blew the first portion of my grant cheque on a bus ticket from Leeds to London and I joined a big Yellow following behind the goal at White Hart Lane. Goodness me, we played well that night. It took Spurs a long time to break us down and if Ray Clemence hadn’t pulled off a brilliant save half-way through the second half we might well have pulled off a real shock. It wasn’t to be: a classy little Belgian striker by the name of Nico Claesen popped in a couple and the final scoreline of 3-0 gave us a hardluck story to tell for years to come. It was a brilliant night, and the following day, trying to keep my eyes open during a Politics tutorial, I was very proud to be told that: “We heard your lot on the telly last night and you didn’t half make some noise!”

FA Cup

Spending term time in Leeds, I couldn’t really justify travelling to Bognor Regis for our first round tie in November, even though our league form was rather exciting. People who did go remember the match more for having to dodge missiles thrown by Portsmouth fans than the football, which produced a comfortable 3-0 win.
I was back on the National Express for Round Two though. We had been drawn away to Bristol City and the combination of a local derby, a few pints and getting my washing done was far too powerful to resist.

Best £25 I ever spent! Roared on by an increasingly confident away following, Dave Caldwell scored one of Torquay’s most memorable goals. There were at least 90 minutes on the watch and we were congratulating ourselves on getting a replay against our third division opponents, but Mark Loram had better ideas. He got to the line and pulled back a cross to be met by a diving header so good that Alan Shearer would have adopted it, taken it home, fed, clothed it and sent it to Eton. As I have said elsewhere, the limbs were unconfined: we went mental!

Dave remembers the day here:

Coventry City: a club that has had as many home grounds in recent seasons as relegations. They were a different kettle of fish in the late 1980s though. Well-established in the top flight, they had famously won the Cup in an epic final against Spurs in May. So it was that in January 1988 we travelled to the West Midlands for a Third Round tie against the Holders.

I remember balloons, a sandy pitch, Caldwell hitting the bar with an overhead kick and Cyrille Regis throwing himself on the deck to obtain an absolutely absurd penalty decision. Take it from me, we were the better side on the day and the eventual 2-0 scoreline was an absolute travesty. Still, not to worry: we were now free to concentrate on the league!

Division Four

With slightly better home form, we would have probably “pissed” promotion. Having started with a bang with those 6 goals on the opening day, we made steady early progress and an early highlight was a midweek win at Exeter, with the redoubtable Jim Mc Nichol silencing the Big Bank with a towering far post header.

My subsidised student life in Yorkshire opened up some exciting away support opportunities, and me, my donkey jacket and my flat cap (honestly!) made many intrepid excursions through the post industrial wasteland that much of the North had become in the aftermath of the monetarist policies pursued by the government of the day.
There was no Google Maps in 1987, and believe it or not my normal method of finding grounds was to head to the Uni library to consult town centre maps in Yellow Pages! This enabled me, with varying degrees of accuracy, to locate the often sparsely populated away ends in Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Scarborough and Crewe.

Crewe was a favourite trip. On the way, I had mistaken the lights of a shunting yard for Gresty Road and walked a couple of miles before realising my mistake. It was a Friday night game. Goalkeeper Kenny Allen was disgruntled with the efforts of Paul Dobson up front, believing him not to be working hard enough to get the ball back. His memorable comment to us dozen or so travelling supporters was: “He wants f***ing horsewhipping!” The Crewe crowd were no fans of our timewasting in the second half after we had grabbed a goal (viva la backpass!) but it all came right in the end with a 1-0 win. How to get home though? The only way was the midnight mail train from Crewe, and it must have stopped at every lamppost in the Pennines before arriving back in Leeds in the early hours.

Our away form was truly formidable. Cyril had built a nasty, horrible defence featuring the likes of McNichol, John Impey, David Cole and Phil Lloyd, and it was very much a case of avoiding defeat first and entertaining second. Having said that, we did have the genuine flair of Loram & Caldwell, and a natural goalscorer in Paul Dobson. Loram was a genius at keeping the ball towards the end of matches. They call it game management now. We loved it: he would head for the corner flag and then hold off two or three opponents desperate to get it off him. He spent most of the second half doing it at Orient, where we got the New Year off to the best possible start with a hangover-dispersing 2-0 win.

As the season built towards its climax we were in and around the promotion spots, but an inability to finish teams off at Plainmoor was proving costly. There were frustrating draws against Exeter, Wolves (I know!!) and Colchester.

The Final Week:

But come the last week of the season and we still had it in our own hands. Easter Monday saw a long trip (for most) and a 30 pence train ride (for me) to Halifax. I’ve never seen more than 2000 turn up at the Shay, and whoever put the money up to turn it into what is now a very decent ground with big covered terraces and a nice main stand was either a major benefactor or a fool. In 1988 the place was a disgrace. It was basically an old speedway track with a couple of sheds down the sides. The Shaymen were, as ever, poor but nerves got to Torquay and with 10 minutes to go we were trailing 2-1 in a game we really needed to win.

Not to worry. John Impey had barely troubled the scorers all season, but he popped in an equaliser and then it was that man The Dude who controlled it, steadied himself and found the target from close range to send us into dreamland. The Pennine skies promptly emptied with a spectacular thunder & lightning cloudburst and a couple of hours later I found myself celebrating in Leeds with the son of one of the directors (I think the old boy ran the Livermead House Hotel: Mr Perry?).

One Point from Six: That’s all we need now…

I expect you know what happened next, or can guess anyway?

Yes, I’m afraid it didn’t happen. Over the next 5 days we threw away the platform that those 10 away wins had given us.

On the Wednesday I crossed the Pennines to Burnley. I had enough money in my pocket for a toasted sandwich in the Market before making my way to Turf Moor. In 1960, back in the days of the maximum wage (when smaller clubs had found it easier to keep their good players) Burnley had been champions of England. The 1980s were unkind to the town and the club though, and they had narrowly avoided dropping out of the league altogether on the same day Bryn the police dog did his stuff at Plainmoor. They had nowt to play for and we had a golden chance to seize promotion for the first time since 1966.

Sadly, the 0-0 draw [Darlo (a)] which had crowned that campaign eluded us, as a horrific Tom Kelly backpass surrendered Burnley an early lead which they were to keep all night. As I traipsed back to Leeds (bus to Todmorden, train from there…) I consoled myself that Saturday would see us have another great chance in front of a full house at Plainmoor.
The best laid plans aft gang awry. Unforgivably, I missed my Saturday morning train (too many beers on the way back from watching Leeds draw 0-0 at St Andrews the night before!). Worse, by the time I hopped off at Torre the boys were losing 2-0 to Scunny! Radio clapped to ear, I jogged up to Plainmoor. We got one back before I arrived, and I managed to get in for free to watch the last 10 minutes. We went close a couple of times but the Iron held on and a very deflated crowd wandered away with very mixed feelings about our first ever qualification for the playoffs.

Play-Offs

These were still a novelty. It was only the second season that play-offs had taken place (if we discount the “test matches” that were all the rage in the nineteenth century). Cruelly enough, our semi-final opponents were the very same Scunthorpe United, who had dashed our automatic promotion hopes.

By all accounts we were really good in the first leg, a 2-1 home win on a Sunday afternoon (Caldwell, Dobson- who else?). I was watching Yorkshire beat Worcestershire in the John Player League!

Video posted by Andrew Holland (westyorkshiregull) – RIP ANDY

I didn’t go to the Old Showground for the return match. I had been there on any icy evening in the winter to see a 3-2 win, but from memory it wasn’t possible to get there & back on the train. Poor, I know: especially since my kid brother made the trip there and back from Torquay on a double decker bus! Scunny were unable to get a win in their last ever game at their epic shithole former ground. Loram scored first, and Torquay shut up shop effectively for a 1-1 draw and an aggregate win.

People who know South Wales well always tell you that Swansea is a football town, even though the rugby club is more famous. We certainly had our work cut out after the Swans had despatched Rotherham in the other semi. I had managed to bag a seat on the supporters bus home after arriving from Leeds by train. The Vetch was still falling down, but for a big game it was still very atmospheric and the locals turned out in their thousands on a balmy May evening. As so often in the really big games, we got caught cold and went 2-0 down. McNichol popped in a late goal to give us hope for the second leg, but it was very definitely Advantage Swans at 90 minutes.

So it all boiled down to Plainmoor: Saturday May 28th. Having started the season 60 games earlier with a win against Welsh opposition, we needed to do it one more time. It was, by a distance, the biggest Torquay game I had ever seen and The York was the pre-match hostelry of choice for us young bucks.

Sad to say, Swansea just had enough left in the tank to ruin our day. It was a hell of a game, and the Pop Side was absolutely heaving. With 20 minutes to go though, the tie looked over. We’d been caught out at the back and were 3-1 down on the day (5-2 on agg). Dave Caldwell put himself about as only he could though, and we grabbed 2 late goals to set up a heart-stopping finish. But it wasn’t to be. Again. A 3-3 draw wasn’t good enough and walking down through town afterwards I felt that sick, pit of the stomach feeling that we all know so well.

What a season though! I love Leeds and if they do manage to get back up where they belong next season I will be celebrating for weeks, but this was the year I realised that I was never going to stop watching Torquay (I mean, nobody could have anticipated how poor Gary Owers’ team would be, could they?). We were seldom pretty, and Cyril demanded organisation and commitment over all other qualities. But I value those things too. It was wonderful that having for years been a soft touch for tougher teams we were now sticking it to them: this was, let’s not forget, a season where we won 10 league games on the road, including- almost incredibly- at Bolton & Wolves.

Dramatis Personae

It was a team of heroes, but these 5 probably stood out for me:

Kenny Allen – Mad as a box of frogs, and twice as scary! Kenny was as popular in local cricket circles as he was for his goalkeeping exploits. If half the stories about him are true…but I believe this one, because Dave Thomas tells it and I’ve heard it from 2 other people too.

Our heroes are doing their pre-match warm-up at Rochdale. One of their ball boys gives Kenny a bit of lip (brave lad). It was probably something to do with his appearance, which was more “vagrant” than “athlete”. Anyway, the lads get back into the away dressing room. Cyril & Sean Haslegrave impart some words of wisdom and they run out to start the game. After a minute or so the ref starts getting a bit antsy: “Where’s your keeper lads?” “Dunno”, says John Impey. I’ll tell you where he was. Kenny was chasing the terrified ball-boy to all four corners of the car park, trying to knock seven shades out of the lad!

Jim McNichol – Anyone that can survive being bitten by a police dog and 20 years in the licensed trade in Ashburton must be hard as nails. Jim was good enough to play for Scotland under 21s in the late 70’s (when they were still a respectable football nation). Although he actually played more games for Exeter City than he did for us, he forever redeemed himself with that towering late winner at St James Park. That broke a spell of several defeats to the old enemy and sent me off to University with a song in my heart.

Derek Dawkins – The Dude. One of Torquay’s first black players, his nickname apparently came from his sharp clothes. He seems to have been really popular with his teammates, and most fans loved him. Born in Edmonton (Tottenham territory), he came to us via Leicester, Mansfield and Bournemouth (although we actually signed him from Weymouth). He was one of those players (think Hilly, think Hockley) who tried to cover every blade of grass and got stuck in to the midfield battle. Not, I don’t think, blessed with huge natural ability, but tried his heart out and got his reward with that never-to-be-forgotten Spurs-slaying strike. Nowadays he is a keen tweeter, initially surprising me with some extremely forthright opinions of the Brexiteer persuasion. Makes me look like a bit of a federalist!

Derek Dawkins
The Dude – Photo courtesy of the Herald Express

Mark Loram – Brixham’s favourite son. He was always supposed to be more interested in beer than football (a man after my own heart!), and he would have been plenty good enough to play in the top division with QPR but he got homesick…and thank goodness for that! He played 262 of his 269 pro games in a Torquay shirt and had skill to burn. His close control was incredible, and many was the time we would be holding on for three points away from home and Loz would just keep the ball by the corner flag with ease. Scored his share too, including the never-to-be-forgotten screamer at Molyneux in the Sherpa Van semi-final to secure our first trip to Wembley in 1989.

Dave Caldwell – DC was ridiculously good value. At one stage he was as likely to get sent off as to score: both these things happened a lot! He was a warrior for us. That late & limbs-inducing winner at Ashton Gate will never be forgotten by any of us who were yards away from it. He also had a fantastic battle with “Killer” Kilcline in the next round at Coventry. He terrorised Swansea and he’s good enough nowadays often to relive his Torquay days with those of us who still wax lyrical about his barnstorming style.

COYY – Clive

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