Steve Harris – @steveharris84
Over the years there have been a number of players who have turned out for both Torquay United and Exeter City, including the recently departed Jamie Reid.
In the wake of Reidy’s move to Mansfield Town, I will now have a go at naming a full XI who’ve appeared for the Gulls and the Grecians during the past 40 years. Before I start, I feel that I must give honourable mentions to those who’ve starred for both teams before the start of this timescale, including Reg Jenkins, Eric Welsh, Bruce Stuckey and Fred Binney amongst others.
Goalkeeper: Vince O’Keefe
Signed by United manager Mike Green from the Grecians as a replacement for the Chesterfield-bound John Turner for a then club record fee of £25,000. O’Keefe would make 108 league appearances for the Gulls between 1980 and 1982 before he was signed for Blackburn Rovers by former Grecians manager Bobby Saxton for £30,000.
Right-back: Jim McNichol
Jim McNichol will probably be forever associated with being bitten by Bryn the Police Dog against Crewe on the final day of the 1986-87 season, but his three seasons with the Gulls could all be described as ‘nearly seasons’. In the 1986-87 campaign, United nearly went out of the league, in the 1987-88 season they nearly won promotion and in the 1988-89 campaign United nearly won the Sherpa Van Trophy. He returned to St James Park in the summer of 1989, three years after leaving for Plainmoor, where he helped Exeter win the ‘old’ Fourth Division title under Terry Cooper. Not a bad achievement for someone who was told that he couldn’t combine playing for the Grecians with being landlord of the Exeter Inn in Ashburton!
Centre-back: John Impey
Exeter-born John Impey started his career with Cardiff City and enjoyed two spells with Torquay United between 1983 and 1985 and 1986 and 1988, with a stint with his hometown club sandwiched in between. In his second spell with the Gulls, he captained the Gulls during their incredible 1987-88 season under the late Cyril Knowles and later managed United to promotion success against Blackpool in 1991.
Centre-back: Peter Whiston
Something of a left-field choice for this team. Peter Whiston formed a brief central defensive partnership with Matt Elliott early in the 1991-92 season before moving to St James Park in a deal that saw Darren Rowbotham move in the opposite direction. After two seasons at St James Park he later appeared for Southampton in the Premier League before moving on to Shrewsbury Town and Stafford Rangers.
Left-back: Phil King
Selecting an all-time Torquay United XI ,whatever the criteria, often poses a headache when selecting who to play at left-back. This team is no different. Narrowly edging out Tom Kelly in this team is Phil King who made the move from St James Park to Plainmoor in 1986, when Stuart Morgan paid £3,000 for his services. Within a year, he was sold to Swindon Town for £25,000 – after making 24 appearances and the Grecians had been due a further payment once he had made his 25th! King later went on to appear for Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and England B amongst others and arguably his greatest career highlight was scoring a penalty for Villa against Inter Milan in the 1994-95 season.
Right midfield: Wayne Carlisle
Wayne Carlisle played a key role in helping Exeter City and Torquay United secure their returns to the Football League in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons respectively. The Northern Irishman, whose previous clubs also include Crystal Palace and Bristol Rovers, scored the Grecians’ fourth goal in the play-off semi-final second leg that all Gulls would rather not discuss. However, a year later, his pinpoint cross which was headed home by Tim Sills is forever entrenched in United folklore and probably best summed up by Setanta commentator Steve Bower’s immortal line: ‘Carlisle…he’s looking for Benyon…SILLS!’
Centre midfield: Alex Russell
In his four years with United between 2001 and 2005, Russell established himself as one of the Gulls’ all-time great central midfielders and as one of the best central midfielders in the lower leagues. He was named in the Division Three team of the season for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 campaigns; the latter, of course, saw the Gulls win automatic promotion under Leroy Rosenior. Russell remained with United as they agonisingly missed out on retaining their League One status but would stay in League One for the 2005-06 season, as he signed for Bristol City. A year later he would win promotion to the Championship with the Robins under current Torquay United manager Gary Johnson. Brief spells with Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town followed before he linked up with the Grecians under Paul Tisdale in the 2008-09 season, where he won another promotion from League Two at the end of the campaign.
Centre midfield: Chris Myers
The son of former Gulls’ midfielder Cliff Myers, Chris Myers progressed through the Gulls’ youth ranks and made his debut as a teenager in the 1986-87 season, featuring in United’s ‘Great Escape’ match against Crewe Alexandra on the final day of the campaign. However, he fell out of favour following the arrival of the late Cyril Knowles and was released at the end of the 1987-88 campaign. Chris then dropped into the local non-league scene before he was given a second chance at Plainmoor by Dave Smith in the 1990-91 season. He seized his second chance with both hands as he remained a regular for the Gulls under Smith’s successor John Impey and Ivan Golac; Chris was also one of United’s successful penalty takers at Wembley in United’s 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Blackpool in the Division Four play-off final. He remained with the Gulls following their relegation in the 1991-92 season from the ‘old’ Third Division and was part of United’s next ‘Great Escape’ of the 1992-93 campaign under Neil Warnock. In the summer of 1993, Chris linked up with Ivan Golac again at Dundee United where he stayed until 1996 when he returned to Devon to join the Grecians. After being released by Exeter in 1998, Chris joined Dorchester Town and later became one of the many number of ex Gulls who signed for Taunton Town under Russell Musker and later managed Dawlish Town.
Left midfield: Martin ‘Buster’ Phillips
Hailed as Britain’s first ‘£10million footballer’ when the late Alan Ball paid Exeter City £500,000 to sign him for Manchester City, Martin ‘Buster’ Phillips never quite hit those heights (although the transfer fee remained a record fee received for the Grecians until Matt Grimes’ move to Swansea City in January 2015). He later appeared for Ball again at Portsmouth before returning to Devon to sign for Plymouth Argyle in 2000, where he won two league titles under Paul Sturrock – the Division title in 2001-02 and Division Two in 2003-04. After his release by the Pilgrims in 2004 he signed for the Gulls to become one of the select band of players to have appeared for all three Devon sides. He also played a key role in the Gulls’ ‘Great Escape’ of the 2005-06 season under Ian Atkins before retiring a year later due to chronic fatigue syndrome.
Striker: Jamie Reid
The difference between Jamie Reid pre-Gary Johnson and post-Gary Johnson was like night and day. Prior to his recent move to Mansfield Town Reid had scored 63 goals in 176 appearances in all competitions for the Gulls, with 52 of those coming following the arrival of Johnson. He finished the 2018-19 campaign with a 32-goal haul, which helped United clinch the National League South title; he then scored another 21 goals in all competitions in the 2019-20 season before the National League’s Covid-19 enforced suspension. Earlier in his career with the Grecians Reid netted twice on his full debut against AFC Wimbledon on April 13, 2013, and was also capped by Northern Ireland at Under-21 level; now he has the chance to stake his claim for full international honours with the Stags.
Striker: Darran Rowbotham
After starting his career with Plymouth Argyle in 1987, Darran Rowbotham joined the Grecians in 1987. During the 1989-90 season his 20 goals in 31 league games were instrumental in helping City win the ‘old’ Fourth Division title in the 1989-90 season. He became a Gulls player in September 1991, in a deal that saw Peter Whiston move in the opposite direction, but he failed to reproduce the form he showed at St James Park. Rowbotham later moved onto Birmingham City, Mansfield Town, Hereford United and Crewe Alexandra before returning to the Grecians in 1996 where he formed a formidable partnership with Steve Flack.
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