Matty Hayward discusses an ex-Gull who we can’t help but remember.
Matty Hayward – @mattyhayward96
Over the years, Torquay have made hundreds of loan signings. So many have been unmemorable – young players with no prospects, tumbling down the football pyramid, using Torquay as their last chance saloon before a job as a salesman and a part-time contract at Taunton. If you can’t make it at Torquay, you really can’t make it.
Some are different. Some are genuinely gifted. They’re at Torquay to gain experience and build their CVs before making it at a decent level. When Angus MacDonald signed for us in February 2012, then again in the following November, it was fairly obvious he’d be part of the latter category. His debut, Crawley away, was marked by a clean sheet and a comfortable pocketing of brutish, dangerous opposition forward John Akinde.
Nonetheless, his loan spells at Plainmoor and Wimbledon were not enough to get him into Reading’s first team, so after being released and spending a season at Salisbury, Chris Hargreaves snapped the centre back up for his post-relegation rebuild project. Gus played most of the first half of that season – the part where we were quite good – but got sent off at Bristol Rovers on New Years’ Day and, thanks to that suspension and an ankle injury, only appeared twice more under Greavsie.
But it was the following campaign where ‘The Farmer’ came into his own. After Paul Cox’s departure and a few horror-show performances under John Ramshaw and Dean Edwards, Kevin Nicholson took the helm. One of his first decisions was that, due to Luke Young’s long-term injury, Angus would be appointed captain.
In spite of his relative youth, Gus grew into this role with ease. His voice could often be heard from the Popside – booming out those words like “shape!” and “squeeze!” which bear no real meaning as individual instructions but somehow make sense and sound so wise when bellowed by a skipper on a football pitch.
Because of our paltry league position, it’s easy to forget the ability in that back four. Gus was joined by Port Vale loanee Nathan Smith, with whom he formed a superb partnership. These two were flanked by, when everyone was fit, Dan Butler and Durrell Berry. It’s no stretch to say that, on paper at least, we haven’t had a better back four since these lads. Berry would still be playing at a decent level had he not been flattened by a dirty Doverman, and the other three continue to play in the Football League.
Gus was the jewel in this crown though. His talismanic performances and domineering defensive displays were crucial to Nicho’s first “great escape”, and while it is easy to scoff at the idea that Torquay United staying in the Conference is an achievement, with that budget and having been twelve points adrift in February, it’s fair to say this was an impressive feat.
The defining moment of that season, of Gus’ Gulls career in fact, was his goal at Bromley. 526 Yellows travelled to South East London that day, knowing three points would be enough to retain our place in this particular village league. 11 minutes in, Luke Young – in just his second game of the season – floated a corner into the area. MacDonald rose in space and everyone could see what would happen next. That’s the only time in my life I’ve felt genuine celebrations within a crowd before the finisher has met the ball. We just knew. And we were right. Gus nailed a header into the ground. It bounced just before the line, past the keeper, and rattled into the net. Jubilation.
Angus scoring at 43 seconds on the highlights
That was his last competitive game in a Torquay shirt, as it turned out. Despite signing a new contract that summer, he was understandably tempted away by a move to Championship Barnsley. Indeed, his whole time at Torquay, the three spells and that goal at Bromley, would be a small footnote in the story of Angus MacDonald if it were to be published.
He took the armband at Barnsley in 2017, but traded South Yorkshire for East Yorkshire the following January as Hull swooped in. The Tigers stayed up that season and were “treated” – so much as you can be treated to playing against such a horrid football club – to a trip to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup, a game which MacDonald played all of. Some way from his Football League debut at Crawley, Gus’ immediate opponent that day was Olivier Giroud, and the class of the future World Cup winner shone through in the end.
Not long after that, Angus’ world was to turn upside down. He went from August 2018 until last weekend without making a professional appearance – a result of first a dislocated shoulder, then deep vein thrombosis, then finally a diagnosis of Bowel Cancer. And that’s the real story here. You can keep your Conference survival, you can even keep your four years in the Championship, the fact that the man has beaten a potentially life-threatening illness and is not only still about, but is barking nonsensical orders and marshalling brutish forwards in a relegation battle – just like he was in 2016 – is truly remarkable.
As Torquay fans, we have to accept that we’ll very rarely see the peak of a good player’s career. We are, at the very best, a steppingstone. As a result, we’re forced to develop a sense of pride as we watch on and see ex-Gulls flourish in leagues we can only dream of competing in. In Angus’ football – nay, life – story, his time at Plainmoor will pale into insignificance. But to us, for bringing us great joy that sunny afternoon in April, for keeping us in a professional league (for another year), for going on to do us proud not just as a footballer but as a person, we salute him.
Thank you Gus, and congratulations.
COYY – Matty
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