The TT Debate: Buckle or Leroy – Matty Orton V Ben Currie

TT DEBATE

In a new series created by Ben Currie, two contributors debate a TUFC subject. No.2 is a discussion on who is our best 2000s manager (so far) – Paul Buckle or Leroy Rosenior:

Matty Orton V Ben Currie

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Matty Orton – Pro-Buckle

Torquay United first lost their 80-year Football League status on 14 April 2007, following a draw at home to Peterborough. We had earned just 7 wins that season. The ground looked weary, the pitch was in tatters, the fans were drained and the club only had a few players on the books. For a long time we had been going, going, but we had finally gone.

Cue one of the most exciting eras of Torquay United’s modern history. Now, before we start here, we aren’t talking about a one season jolly in League 1 where it ended in predictable struggle and relegation.

The Paul Buckle ‘era’ at Plainmoor would last for 4 years. Not every moment was enjoyable, but I’m sure someone once said in a Netflix documentary, “there have been more downs than ups, but in a way, that makes the ups feel all the better”, or something like that.

The controversy surrounding Paul Buckle’s appointment at the time caused concern, with Leroy’s second tenure at the club lasting only 10 minutes, to be replaced by an assistant manager from Exeter City, was a rather hard pill to swallow. We were shown a light, for 700 seconds at-least, or so we thought.

Buckle had a whole club to resurrect, not just the personnel on the pitch to recruit. He had to facilitate an entire counter-culture away from an habituated sense of losing. Culture becomes rooted ingrained, it embodies itself over a long period of time and therefore it becomes hard to eradicate. The job at hand was massive.

As a consequence his recruitment would have to be significant. His recruitment turned out to be incredible. The record speaks for itself. In the summer of 2007 we had our first glimpse of his newly assembled squad, away at Dawlish Town in a PSF. Every player bar a few was his signing. Every player had not been heard of, players that became customary names of the Buckle era. Chris Hargreaves, Elliot Benyon, Danny Stevens, Chris Zebroski, Tim Sills – how long have you got?

Buckle demanded a positive approach to every single aspect of his game. His teams always played on the front foot. There was an exciting sense of urgency to our play. We were a side with grit and determination but were as equally as fierce and devastating on the break.

With it came some memorable games, in his recent Torquay Talk interview Buckle refers himself to Sills getting the winner in the derby game against Exeter on New Years Day. The comeback from 3-0 down against Oxford in front of the cameras also sticks in his mind.

Not only were we a force to reckon with in the league, we also had all the attributes for a great ‘cup’ winning side. Winning cup ties against bigger sides is as much in the mind as it is in the ability of the player, and Buckle had hammered this home.

Beating League 1 Yeovil 4-1 at home, live on BBC1. Danny Stevens slotting home the fourth to wrap it up. Championship Blackpool getting put to the sword at Plainmoor was another great day.

We were incredibly unlucky not to get a result against Coventry but everyone had enjoyed the day at least. That was another thing I loved about the Buckle era. No-one could deny the buzz that surrounded the club at that time. He had fired up the cylinders and everyone had responded.

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Paul Buckle – Photo courtesy of the Herald Express

Plainmoor had become a horrible place for opposition teams to come and play. They were often rattled before the warm-up had even finished. They looked like rabbits under the floodlights. For opposing sides it was aggressive and hostile, intimidating and frightening. Cold mid-week games, the ugly City Link tarpaulin draped over the Cow Shed and the huge flag that was pulled over those of us stood on the Pop. The air of excitement that the cameras brought all added to the imposing atmosphere that Plainmoor had become.

Buckle was phenomenally hard-working and nobody’s fool. If he needed to have that awkward conversation with a player he’d have it. There is no denying he had a decent budget, but at the same time, he understood the constraints and limitations of being Torquay United manger.

Within one season he’d resurrected an entire club from top to bottom and had got his side 15 from minutes from Wembley. As hard as it is for me to talk about it, and as hard as it was to come to terms with the trauma of that day, the play-off semis against Exeter taught the entire club a lesson. We were all the better for it.

So we did it again, and we succeeded this time. Carlisle looked for Benyon but instead he found Sills in one of the greatest days in Torquay United history. Buckle had got a club that was dead on its arse to reclaiming its Football League Status within 2 years.

Then of course came our first season back in the Football League. We had to adapt and consolidate (as is the case with most seasons when you move up a level) and along came the second wave of Paul Buckle players – Guy Branston, Nicky Wroe, Billy Kee and of course (note how far I’ve got without even mentioning him) Eunan O’Kane. The transition and the evolution was complete. We had the right blend for success in the division above and we once again became a dominant force.

Wycombe Wanderers away on a Tuesday night in November 2010 sticks in my mind. I’d ended up in the away end through a) being a poor student and b) getting some free tickets and a place to stay with a friend who was living there. Watching us tear them apart 3-1 whilst sitting on my hands gave me a very different perspective of the Paul Buckle side that we were watching.

It was insightful to hear the calm and entitled comments of the obligatory old boys sat behind me. “They’re too quick”, “They’re too strong”, “They’re too powerful”, as the likes of Zebroski, Stevens, Benyon and O’Kane all tore them a new one. It was the archetypal Paul Buckle performance, we were big and solid at the back and phenomenal in coming forward. To quote, “we became a team that dominated the ball and played through the thirds”.

We kicked on to the League Two play-off final (that will be forever be tainted for the circumstance in which Buckle left) but despite the result, he had taken a club on its knees in the division below to brink of League One football in just 4 years. He hadn’t inherited that side, he hadn’t been handed a League 2 team and got them up a level. There was so much more to the Paul Buckle ‘era’ than just one season. The journey was bumpy but the trajectory was up. The cup runs, the playoffs, the Wembley finals. The wins AND the losses all played their part in was an incredible time at Torquay United.

I wouldn’t deny the promotion of 2004 being ‘special’, but the promotion of 2009 was all the more ‘important’. Combine that with a manager who brought some of the most amazing games, times and memories I have ever had at Plainmoor, in such a short period of time, then for me, it has to be Paul Buckle.

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Ben Currie – Pro-Leroy

Paul Buckle was a fine manager for us with an impressive record and formidable win ratio, but for pure enjoyment, which, let’s face it; is what going to the football is all about, Leroy Rosenior is the clear winner.

Many say that Rosenior inherited a talented group of players: that’s true, he did, but were those players showing their true potential under the previous, more experienced manager? No.

Under Leroy, the likes of Russell and Fowler transformed from frustrated and workman-like midfielders into expressive, innovative visionaries. David Graham – on the cusp of being released under a dark cloud – reinvigorated into one of the league’s most feared sharpshooters, the ‘nearly men’ local boys Kevin Hill, Matt Hockley and Tony Bedeau consistently turning in high-quality performances. That team was a joy to watch. The best.

You would turn up to Plainmoor expecting to win, expecting to be entertained and in 90% of cases the opposition would be dispatched in grand style, with ruthless efficiency: many teams were simply played off the park. Good teams too, Swansea, Bournemouth, Hull and Huddersfield – all of whom have since appeared in the Premier League – were the sort of teams we were not only competing against but overcoming.

I’ve seen Torquay produce good football since, but nothing as fluent, as expansive, imaginative nor penetrating as those two seasons, not on a consistent basis week after week either and certainly not at that high a level. It’s what sets it apart. Each match felt like a proper occasion and each goal a work of art.

Who can forget Kuffour’s back-heel at Huish, Kevin Hill’s bicycle kick, Gritton sealing a league double over Exeter, Woodsy trying his luck from the half-way line, Russell effortlessly landing it on a sixpence or bending free-kicks in off the post, Fowler threading the eye of a needle with his left or his right, Canoville and Bedeau overlapping down the right, Davey G smacking them in left, right and centre, the Pop serenading the manager before, during and after the match. Come on you Yellows!

There was not a massive turnover of players. Leroy’s signings, Gritton, McGlinchey, Kuffour, Taylor all improved the team and gave multiple season’s worth of value, even the likes of Joe Broad, Kevin Wills and his own son Liam contributed to the success: in the main our glorious promotion was built on a very settled squad.

And what a promotion. Other Torquay managers have come desperately close to taking the Yellows up to the third tier during my time as a fan, but Leroy is the only one who has ‘completed it mate.’ That day at Southend is still the ultimate, the absolute peak of Torquay United in my lifetime and the greatest achievement of any manager.

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Leroy Rosenior – Photo courtesy of the Herald Express

That would have been usurped by staying in League One, and Leroy came despairingly close to securing that too until a 96th minute winner on the last day of the season broke our hearts. Under Rosenior Torquay were always the underdogs but still we dared to dream bigger than ever before.

Paul Buckle did a magnificent job during his time at Plainmoor, and I am certainly not one to underplay it, but not only was he helped early on by the experienced Colin Lee, but also bankrolled by a benevolent group of life-long fans who offered carte-blanche to build a promotion capable squad with extra funds often on hand when plan A had either ran its course or simply not worked at all. Leroy was afforded no such luxury.

Under the famously impecunious Mike Bateson, a seasoned businessman, there was a much tighter control on the purse-strings. With a mantra of ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ things were very often done on the cheap. Leroy’s entire coaching staff consisted of himself, his first team goalkeeper and general Plainmoor dogsbody-come-stadium manager Richard Hancox.

It’s a well worn theory that Mike Bateson was sceptical about Torquay United playing in League One, that such a level was unsustainable for a ‘little club’ like ours, if anything, the underdog tag was created by him – which is not an ideal environment for any manager to work in. No sooner had David Graham top-scored in League Two had the Chairman got the pound-signs in his eyes, that he left for a fraction of his worth was a further kick in the teeth. Leroy took these underdogs as far as any Torquay United team had ever gone.

I think Leroy stayed on for a season longer than he should, I know that his fourth season tarnished his achievements in the eyes of many. Quite simply it’s difficult to change an entire starting 11 on a shoestring budget, that’s true of any level but at a sleepy outpost like Torquay? He always had his work cut out.

Leroy still tried to play his attractive brand of football, but with limited funds and inferior players it always felt like he was fighting a losing battle especially at a time when Mike Bateson was actively starting to try to sell the club. For me, Leroy got out with his reputation still in tact, before the damage was done. He is still hugely revered by Torquay fans, it’s the automatic promotion that is always remembered. That is his true legacy.

A massive part of being a football fan is pride, travelling around the country to see your club being represented in different towns across the land, I will never forget playing Yeovil off the park on their own patch. I will never forget taking over Cheltenham town centre for the day and then giving them a complete football lesson. I will never forget walking out of Whaddon Road that day feeling 100% convinced that we were going to do it and I will never forget the noise in the Roots Hall away end, the day of all days. Even on that day, we were underdogs.

When the final whistle blew, Leroy sprinted onto the pitch to join in the celebrations, grinning from ear to ear, the proudest guy in that stadium. It’s the image I always remember, the image of the best Torquay manager in my time.

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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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