Matthew Roberts – @MatthewVA438
The summer of 2018 was one of varying expectations and emotions. On the one hand we found ourselves at our lowest level ever as a club after a disastrous season ended in relegation. On the other hand, we had managed to re-sign players who I thought would be able to thrive at this lower tier: Brett Williams, Ruari Keating, Liam Davis all signing new contracts gave me a glimmer of optimism. Then again, Gary Owers was still in charge, which very much checked any sense of excitement.
Going the other way were Luke Young and Ryan Clarke, but to cheer us up it was announced that future captain Brett Williams and Jakub Sokolik had re-signed! Owers described Sokolik as someone “of real quality who we’re lucky to get” and whose health problems were “all cleared up now”. Spoiler alert, neither of those statements turned out to be true.
This was also the summer that Clarke Osborne made the massively ill-advised decision to show his “vision” of a new stadium to the council. The back of a fag packet proposals didn’t impress anyone, especially when it became clear we’d just stolen some CGI imagery from Grimsby Town.
Unfortunately, we started off exactly where we’d left off in May, except we’d swapped not scoring against proper teams like Wrexham to not scoring against clubs that play in fields like Gloucester.
Writing this article made me realise that actually quite a few of Owers’ signings were good and that he could spot talent, sometimes anyway. The problem was that he had no idea how to manage or coach them. Here I’ll recap and review that summer covering every signing made by Gary Owers up until the end of August.
“Bobson!” shouted Owers repeatedly from the Gloucester dugout. That afternoon was dreadful but at least there was some comedic value in Owers remonstrating with the bench and asking why Bobson (or any of the other players) weren’t listening to him. Once Johnson came in, Bawling was quickly out the door.
George Essuman is a bit of an enigma amongst our signings that summer. He wasn’t great like Wynter and Hall, but he wasn’t apocalyptically bad like Banton or Regis. I remember him as being ok for a good while that season, although in the end he was shipped out on loan to Dulwich Hamlet to get games.
Supposedly turning down offers from National League and even League 2 clubs because he so wanted to play under Gary Owers, Jason Banton was one of our earliest signings that summer and in a sea of mostly dross, failed to stand out. He made just six appearances before Johnson quickly moved him on.
In an interview he gave to the Herald Express soon after joining, he said, “it is not a level I really want to be playing at”. He really meant it as well as he’d soon find himself much lower down the pyramid before too long eventually joining Glenn Tamplin’s ‘wizards’ at Romford last year.
From a 1/10 to a 10/10, Asa joined having been lured by Gary Owers’ talk of promotion. In the end, Asa got what he came for, just with a different Gary as manager. One of our best players over the last two seasons and providing an experienced head amongst a mostly young squad was invaluable as we stormed the league last season. As the podcast lads have said before, even when he’s not playing, he’s still essential to have around.
“That right sided position was filled by a number of players last season so I’m looking for someone to nail down that position for themselves”, said Owers. His hopes were fulfilled! Gary Johnson recently described Wynter as the best right back in the league and how many of us would argue with him? Once thinking he was going to follow the likes of Bawling, Banton and Regis out the door, as he looked unsure and without confidence. There’s been a few players who’ve really kicked on in the last year, perhaps none more so than Wynter, the way he continues to improve is so impressive and it surely won’t be long before he’s in the Football League, hopefully with us.
Signed at the same time as Wynter, Owers made a prediction of Samir Nabi, “I think they’ll [the fans] like him, he’s a really good footballer. He can get on the ball and hopefully create. I think he’ll turn out to be a really good signing for us.” He had more in him than some of the other Owers signings but unfortunately, he never showed what he was capable of and in his final game for the club got sent off at Weston-super-Mare, what a way to go.
Originally intended, one would think, to be the first choice throughout the season after signing on loan from Portsmouth, Bass proved to be very good keeper at NLS level. Too bad that injuries curtailed his season for us although this gave Owers’ next signing an opportunity he gladly took.
One of the most likeable players at the club, MacDonald drove seven hours from Tyneside to Torquay for a shot at a contract, what a bloke. Despite Bass leaving due to injury, he never got complacent and was reliable between the sticks throughout the season. Given that he’s probably six or seven years away from his peak, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the years to come.
Jean-Yves Koue Niate
The fourth centre back to sign that summer, Niate batted away competition from George Essuman, the absentee Josh Gowling and the perennially injured Jakub Sokolik to carve out a regular first-team place at the centre of defence in the promotion season. He has everything you need at that level: tall, can head well, and is absolutely jacked. He also comes across as a proper nice bloke, and turned up for his first interview with us in a stylish formal shirt.
I’ll give Owers credit, his first few signings in July were really good. Cameron was the only constant at centre back that season, and bar a few hiccups he’s made the step up to the NL well. I always seem to forget that he’s still in his early 20s. Being captain for us when Hall is out and playing week in week out, he’s got an older head on young shoulders.
Brought in as a central midfielder, Dickson was clearly capable at NLS level, although thanks to injury he never got any sort of consistent opportunity. His departure to Truro on loan this season polarised the TUFC fanbase. Given all the injuries we had, should he have stayed?
There’s a lot of players you think of as ‘Owers signings’ but maybe none had the kind of delusion, lack of ability and poor attitude than Chris Regis. Another player who came because Owers told him he wanted promotion and that the club played good football (how did he keep a straight face when saying that?).
“I need to get myself out there and show people what I can do” said Regis. He certainly did, but not in the way he imagined. My abiding memory of him will be getting subbed off before half time against Woking. Keating ran off like a pro, Regis ambled to the touchline and had a strop. That was it for him.
Who wasn’t pleased when Andre Wright signed again for us? He was pretty good in the first great escape under Nicho. Our expectations should have been tempered when Owers said that he might not feature straight away as he was behind the rest of the team in terms of fitness. That turned out to be one hell of an understatement, as Wright barely played at all. To be fair to him, he’s gone and resurrected his career in Northern Ireland with Bohemians, scoring a tidy 4 million goals in 14 appearances according to his Wikipedia page.
In an act of desperation as our promotion hopes seemed to be fading fast even in August, Owers made two brilliant (as it turned out) loan signings. Andrews is one of the most consistent performers at the club and the idea of him along with Little, Hall and Whitfield makes me so excited.
Such a good player….when he’s fit, which is never. If he found fitness, he’d be a Football League player but unfortunately even a slight breeze seems to set him back weeks when injured. Seeing him tear apart the Boreham Wood left back on the opening day of last season was great to watch.