Matt Roberts – @MattewVA468
It’s the summer of 2017 and I’m feeling hopeful. Despite a second season in a row of grappling with relegation, we ended proceedings on a real high. The atmosphere at the Braintree and North Ferriby games was fantastic and it was great to see Plainmoor busier than I’d seen it in years on the last day of the season.
What’s happening off the pitch you ask. This is the summer of Clarke Osborne’s fabled five-year plan! Osborne talked of bringing a “fresh approach” to the club (I wouldn’t call the Owers era fresh), a new multi-purpose stadium by 2020 (what planet was he on?), and a local board of directors appointed by September 2017 (still waiting for that one).
Surely in 2017/18 we’d kick on and ride a wave of optimism as we power up the league, no? I was quietly impressed at Nicho’s transfer activity early on. However, it quickly became clear that many of those signed were available due in part to their terrible injury records. I suppose without much money to play with Nicho had to gamble and hope that any injuries had cleared up. We all know how that worked out.
16 players were signed that summer, by two managers, although what seemed like a never-ending stream of players would arrive during the course of the season, most of them mediocre, some laughably abysmal, as we trudged towards relegation.
One of the best signings Nicho made that summer in my opinion, I thought we always looked stronger when he played. The trouble being of course that with knees made of papier mache so he didn’t play much. Gowling played the first game against Tranmere but didn’t play again until 9th September in another 0-0 against Wrexham.
Coming down to Devon at the same time as Gowling was Jon-Paul Pittman. The two of them had played for Grimsby the previous season. Described by Nicho as a striker who would “give us some real thrust going forward”, unfortunately he found the net only three times and spent most of the season out injured. This is going to get familiar very quickly.
Now we’re getting into exciting territory, a young midfielder with real international pedigree. At the time of signing Jake Gosling was Gibraltar’s joint all-time goalscorer with two goals from 11 caps. Could he bring that international experience to bear for Torquay? No. Gosling was injured (this might become a recurring theme in this article) at the end of August and was farmed out on loan under Owers in December. He made only seven more appearances after Christmas before being released at the end of the season.
The fourth signing of the season, Ryan Higgins was one of few defenders who were not immediately ruled out with injury by the end of August. However, when the injury did hit, it hit very hard. His last game was in November and was then out with what in the end, was revealed to be a heart condition, forcing hit retirement at just 26.
“A proven goalkeeper at this level and above”, said Nicho upon signing Ryan Clarke. He was right, but it was a risky signing. Clarke had spent long periods out injured the previous season and it was a gamble Nicho hoped would pay off. It didn’t. Injured after only five (unimpressive) games, Clarke would play only twice more during the season. Despite being brought in as a new number one, his was the one position we filled relatively comfortably when Vincent Dorel joined.
The best signing of the pre-season? In hindsight almost certainly. Easily one of the best players that season making 33 appearances and bringing some much-needed consistency to a team that was almost constantly rotating players in and out. Even at the age of 33, he can still storm down the left wing, with Johnson commenting recently that we have the best full backs in the division. Who could argue with him?
Upon signing Reidy for his third spell at the club on an initial six-month loan, Nicho said, “He’s a fantastic athlete, a good character and who can play in several positions”. Two of those are true. As this season and the beginning of the next would prove, Jamie Reid is not a winger or a midfielder. As Johnson learnt instantly, put him up front and he will give you goals.
The insistence of playing him out of position did nether player nor club any favours and 2017/18 was hardly a season to remember for both. Still, in hindsight, what would have happened if Nicho hadn’t signed Reidy again? Doesn’t bear thinking about.
The club website said of our new midfielder, “Klukowski comes to Plainmoor to add steel and an eye for a goal to United’s midfield.” In the end his record with us speaks for itself, seven appearances, no goals. He remained on the books until the end of the season but was yet another player who was wracked by injury almost from the start.
My memory of James Gray is very vague, not exactly surprising since like most players that season, he didn’t have much game time. We already know that some of Nicho’s signings were gambles after previous seasons had been troubled with injuries, but Gray’s was perhaps the worst. His 2016 consisted of breaking his ankle, being arrested for drink driving, and getting bitten by a false-widow spider leaving him unable to move for months. “I was asleep in my apartment in Manchester and felt a sharp bite to my arm,” he recalled. “I didn’t think too much of it, but it soon became very serious.
His trial with us was impressive and he was a big fan of Nicho’s style of management, perhaps this had a hand in him not playing very much after the boss was sacked. Gray was loaned out to York in October which was the end of his Torquay career. He’ll be remembered for that 40-yard goal against Woking if nothing else.
A player who struggled when he joined initially during the 2016/17 great escape run, Lee soon proved to be a quality right sided player, playing a massive part in preventing relegation. I was delighted when seeing he’d be returning, what a great bit of business. and maybe he can really kick on this season. Unfortunately, he was very quickly ruled out of contention with a heart scare after playing just two games. Owers didn’t take to him and Lee ended up back at Bournemouth by November.
In a bit of a surprising twist, Lee signed for Wimborne Town in 2018 after being released by Bournemouth and not wanting to stay full-time professional. A mate who saw him at Wimborne described him as the best player on the pitch by a country mile. I hope he’s enjoying his football.
Rating: N/A (didn’t play enough games to justify a rating)
I know I said Liam Davis was the signing of the summer, but it’s hard to overlook Rory Fallon, surely. Nicho hoped that he would fight “to get in our team and in the New Zealand national set up”. This was the moment when I began to understand the financial limitations that Nicho was working with. Perhaps the epitome of a journeyman striker, the 35 year old was signed (on non-contract terms) having not played more than five games in a season since the 2012/13 season. Fallon made five substitute appearances before leaving in September.
He later that year started an ice cream business with his wife and is described as their Chief Taster (surely the basis for a TT quiz question?). In the end though, Nicho was proved right and the prophecy fulfilled, Fallon did manage to get in the New Zealand national set up. He was recruited as member of the coaching staff in November 2019.
With Jordan Lee out after only two games, Nicho dived back into the transfer market and secured Any Haworth on non-contract terms. I appreciate that hindsight is a wonderful thing but some of Nicho’s quotes from that summer haven’t aged well. He described Haworth’s ability as “fantastic” and that he looked forward to the ex-Silkman pushing “for a place and long-term contract” whilst working to “excite our fans”. Haworth would only play the full 90 once for us and made just eight appearances before he was turfed out in October.
Ryan Clarke is going to be out long-term, who do we call upon? You could surely do a hell of a lot worse than giving Wigan a ring and getting Dan Lavercombe. With memories of his form fresh in the memory, maybe he’d be just what we needed. Nope, he fractured his tibia after just two games and went back to Wigan. I’m starting to think that summer was cursed.
With the season quickly going down the pan after Nicho was (unfairly in my opinion) sacked in late August and injuries piling up, Robbie Hererra made his first signing of his time in charge. An anomaly in this season in that he actually made more than a handful of appearances, Efete was decent enough at right back. It’s surprising that he hasn’t managed to carve out a career for himself at NLS level.
We didn’t score many goals this season, so for George Dowling to score on his debut on 2nd September must’ve been one hell of a surprise. Like Efete, Dowling managed to appear regularly whilst most of the squad rotated in and out. I thought he had a fairly bright future ahead of him in the game. I was wrong. Dowling put the boot into his own career after he was charged with grievous bodily harm following a night out in Bristol in February 2018. He’s bounced around a few clubs deep in the bowels of non-league, never staying anywhere very long.
The final signing of the summer! Remembered as quite lively but ultimately only staying for three games, Chinua Cole is the embodiment of many a signing that season. Comes in, looks alright, leaves almost immediately and the search resumes for yet another player.