In a new series created by Ben Currie, two contributors debate a TUFC subject. No.1 is the merits of Ex-Gulls captain Lee Mansell:
Sam Druiff V Matty Hayward
“Natural leaders on a football pitch are rare beasts”
Lee Mansell was key to Torquay United in his time with the club.
Many of you will know I was a huge admirer of Lee Mansell, and wrote a ‘Gullactico’ piece on him. Unfortunately, it seems I don’t share this view with everyone. I’m going to debate with Matty Hayward here as he is on the side of not particularly rating Lee Mansell’s time with us.
Natural leaders on a football pitch are rare beasts. Lee spent eight years with Torquay, made 389 appearances and was a leader in every single game, armband, or no armband. Signing from Oxford where he spent a single season that ended in relegation, he was employed by Ian Atkins for a supposed undisclosed fee.
Unfortunately, a second relegation in as many seasons followed, but it was a season of turmoil on and off the pitch. A change in ownership, numerous managers, and a huge turnover of playing staff, so to have played nigh on every game was impressive under three managers.
Into non-league, in came Buckle, and another manager to have Lee in the first team. Manse played an important role over the two Conference seasons playing in central midfield, right midfield and predominantly filling in at right back.
Back in the league, and following Chris Hargreaves and Nicky Wroe moving on, Lee took the armband and led the Gulls to a play-off final in Buckle’s final season.
After Buckle left for local rivals Bristol Rovers, with several first team members. Manse, again captain, was the front man in Martin Ling’s debut season. This was to be Lee’s best individual season for the Gulls, 12 goals, a play-off campaign, and a place in the PFA team of the season.
The next season was a tough one for Torquay as three key players were moved on, and Martin Ling sadly on leave with health issues. Alan Knill came in and Torquay managed to avoid relegation.
The 2013/14 season was his last, poor recruitment from Alan Knill led to a poor run that saw him sacked, and former captain Chris Hargreaves take the reins. Unfortunately, a season of bad recruitment and inconsistency saw Torquay relegated back to the conference, and Lee’s third time as a player. Mansell moved onto Bristol Rovers after Chris Hargreaves opted against a one year deal at Torquay.
Lee was always an easy scapegoat, an ever present, and easy to criticise. When he left the Gulls, he led Bristol Rovers to back to back promotions. It really says something that the first proper leader in midfield that has shown consistency since Mansell is Asa Hall, some five years after his exit.
“Good footballers don’t fail as much as Lee Mansell did”
My first memory of playing against Plymouth was our fantastic 3-1 win in 2011. Throughout that game, despite their team’s weak performance, the away fans defiantly sung “Torquay United, you’ll always be shit.” They were right. The reason they can get away with singing that, is because we venerate footballers with as little talent and as meagre a record as Lee Mansell.
To call Mansell a club legend is to enthusiastically inhale the dust of failure that has surrounded Torquay United in the past fifteen years. I’m happy to embrace our shitness, to celebrate our small victories as if they’re enormous, but forgive me for not worshipping the man at the centre of this serial disappointment.
I want to start by giving the man credit where it’s undoubtedly true, though. He was a very decent, functional right back for us in the Conference: a whiter, weaker, less injured Durrell Berry, if you will. More importantly, he was a stalwart in some of the most impressive and exciting Gulls teams in recent memory – reaching the play-offs in two consecutive years. He was particularly effective in the 2011-12 campaign, where defences – occupied by a talented attacking force of Howe, O’Kane and two of Stevens, Morris and Bodin – struggled to cope with Manse’s runs from deep. He notched a superb thirteen goals that season. Brilliant.
So he was a goalscoring midfielder? Lamps of League Two? Well, no. He scored twenty-four goals for us across eight seasons, so even with that great anomalous season, he averaged three a year. So was he a great playmaker? Torquay’s Totti? Not at all. At best, a mostly competent short-passer. A gritty ball-winner then? Mediocre Makelele? Not really, he was just a bit dirty. What did he actually add…?
Lee Mansell has been relegated out of the Football League more times than any other player, including twice with Torquay (once as captain). Any other club in the country who had been relegated from the same league twice in a decade (a league from which they had previously never been relegated) would surely not hold a player who made 96 appearances across those two seasons in particularly high esteem, let alone a skipper. But because of Torquay United’s eternal ineptitude, Lee Mansell is considered a “Gullactico” by virtue of being a nice chap, playing lots of games and having one good season in midfield and a couple at right back.
Not for me. My strongest memories of Manse are him shuttling up and down the pitch with his peculiar running style, trying hard, but being roundly ineffective. Good footballers don’t just try hard. Good footballers have recognisable talents. Good footballers don’t fail as much as Lee Mansell did. Three play-off defeats and three relegations in eight seasons is not the performance of a legend, it’s the performance of a man who only achieved promotion at the club when he was taken out of the engine room. Competent midfielder? Sometimes. Legend? Have a day off.
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