“An absolute warrior even under the most challenging of circumstances” – Alex Rowe on Chris Todd
Alex Rowe is the latest to pick his TUFC Dream Team
I am delighted to be given this opportunity to follow in a line of illustrious contributors and select my personal Torquay United ‘Dream Team’.
I made my first visit to Plainmoor in January 1990 for the FA Cup 3rd Round victory over West Ham United and have been addicted ever since. I have been fortunate to witness many great players grace the turf since that day; but I am going to confine my selection to the years when I was privileged to serve as a Director of the Club: season 2007/08 to season 2013/14.
Although my role was very much as a bit part, I was lucky to be involved in or witness many discussions around recruitment, team tactics and individual player’s strengths and weaknesses – both as footballers and as people. I have drawn on this to put together my dream team.
Although I was a big fan of both Michael Poke and Scott Bevan who made great contributions to our success, the stand out ‘keeper of the period has to be Bobby Olejnik. He had the physical presence of Neville Southall and a fair chunk of his ability too. A dominant, powerful figure between the sticks, he made some unbelievable saves while making the routine look easy.
Tricky, because for most of this era we didn’t seem to have a specialist right back. Daniel Leadbitter at times looked the part during a disrupted spell with us and I had high hopes of Dale Tonge who was rated highly by Alan Knill but never really settled and took the worst penalty I’ve ever seen at Plainmoor which the ‘keeper saved 4 times before the ball reached him. This comes down to a straight fight between the converted midfielders – Mansell and Oastler – and the towering physical presence of Chris Robertson.
In the end, I’ve plumped for Manse: for his limitless energy, crucial goals, versatility and for being the ultimate professional. Also, for his contribution to the ‘Battle of Altrincham’ where he sprinted 60 yards to participate in the biggest fight I’ve ever seen in non-league football. To this day how we escaped a fine, a points deduction and imprisonment I’ll never know – but they started it and we won. The actual score was 0-0.
I cannot look beyond the incomparable Kevin Nicholson. The sweetest left foot since Mark Loram put to great use in delivering corners, free kicks and crosses; and a handy long throw when we needed another weapon in our arsenal. It was said – especially by Tim Sills – that Nicho lacked pace; but he was a highly intelligent defender who was rarely exposed by a speedy opponent.
That Nicho goal V Barnet..
I could name a team of centre halves who never let us down: Woods, Todd, Ellis, Robertson, Charnock, Branston, Saah, Downes, Pearce and MacDonald. What a group – and you wouldn’t want to mess with them either.
I loved the youthful petulance of MacDonald, the sheer presence and aggression of Downesy and Branno; and the understated menace of Brian Saah. But for all their qualities, I am going with the truly inspirational Chris Todd; and the granite like Mark Ellis, hewn out of a quarry near Kingsbridge.
Do not be fooled by Toddy’s friendly, pleasant, out-going personality and his obvious devotion to his family and his students. He is as hard as nails, horrible to play against – even in training – and an absolute warrior even under the most challenging of circumstances. Along with Chris Hargreaves, Toddy epitomised what it meant to represent Torquay United during this period; and set down a marker to his team mates as to what was expected of them.
Mark was very much a junior centre half in this era, although he clearly had potential to play at a higher level. In the early days he was often the unused member of the squad on away trips which could be a lonely existence and which he bore with great fortitude and character for a young player. He was as tough as teak; and I well remember him being on the receiving end of some spurious and unwarranted accusations from Histon players and them forming a reception committee to confront him as he emerged from the tunnel after a game. While Mark could have avoided them, he chose to walk right through the middle of them in magnificent defiance.
My midfield contains two of United’s Hall of Famers. Firstly, the exquisite Eunan O’Kane, a player who simply oozed class. He could play anywhere across the middle of the park or behind the striker, scored classic goals; and was not afraid to leave his foot in if the occasion demanded it.
Secondly, in the centre, Captain Fantastic Chris Hargreaves. An inspirational, charismatic leader with boundless energy, incredible attitude and insatiable appetite for the heat of the battle.
I would reunite Chris with Nicky Wroe who I thought was our key signing before the 2008/09 season. I noticed his craft and cleverness when he played against us for York City; and was delighted when Bucks was able to secure his services and inject some quality into a midfield more noted for it’s industry than creativity.
Looking for some width, my final selection is a toss-up between Danny Stevens, Young Player of the Season in the Conference 2008/09, and Wayne Carlisle. On balance, I’m plumping for Wayne, an intelligent footballer who probably possessed the better all-round game and could play as a No.10 or in the centre of midfield if required. He took a little while to win over the popside having defected from Exeter City and being instrumental in our 2008 Play-off semi-final defeat; but once he found his feet, he proved a consistent performer and went on to deliver the greatest cross of all time versus Cambridge United at Wembley. He gets the nod even though he spilt hot chocolate over me on the team coach back from Lewes. That’s a long trip to smell like a fat chocolate button.
For getting the juices flowing, my favourite forward line was Sills, Phillips and Zebroski – a handful by any measure. However, I only have two vacancies and one of them has to be filled by one of the most naturally talented players ever to play for Torquay United, Rene Howe. He came to us after a loan spell at Bristol Rovers and ‘sources close to Rovers’ told me he had all of the attributes of a Premier League footballer but with none of the necessary dedication or discipline. Perhaps he could have worked harder on his fitness; and helping defend corners would have been nice – but what a player! As strong as an ox, shielding the ball like a lion protecting his supper; and who would explode into life unleashing thunderous shots. Seemingly he could combine the deft with the spectacular in the same movement.
Selecting Rene’s partner presents a challenge. To provide a foil for Howe, I ought to select one of the two Billys – Bodin or Kee – both of whom provided tantalising glimpses of their true potential which they went on to fulfil at other clubs. However, instead I’m picking the ever reliable Tim Sills: consistent goalscorer, brilliant in the air, willing to help out his defence; and to take a battering in the cause of the team.
That said, the fact that he and Nicho make the team at all is testimony to my propensity for forgiveness. My daughter and I were playing golf against them in a ‘friendly’ fourball when we arrived on the 18th green with the match level and my daughter faced with a three footer to secure a half. Now you would have thought nice chaps like Tim and Kevin would have put their careers first and conceded the match to the chairman and his daughter. Not a bit of it! Sophie was made to putt, missed and with confidence in tatters, her dreams of being a County golfer were shattered. My faith in professional footballers was restored a couple of years later when Kee and O’Kane had the good grace to lose!
Scott Bevan: a colossus.
Lee Hodges: the consummate professional.
Danny Stevens: rarely failed to make an impact either when starting or from off the bench.
Billy Kee: often played out wide to accommodate others but lethal in front of goal.
Billy Bodin: On his day, in a different class; but lacked consistency and serious injury brought his time at Plainmoor to a sad and premature end.
Ambitious, demanding, difficult, uplifting, challenging, ruthless and inspirational. I loved working with him; and I am sure he could still make an impact in English football if he chose to return to these shores.