MY TUFC STORY
TUST board member & secretary Rick Williams talks through his TUFC story
I am going to tell my TUFC story in ten instalments. Inevitably some will involve the biggest games in United’s history but I will focus on what made those days special for me rather than detailed accounts of the matches.
1 – That game against Spurs
No – not the famous 1965 FA Cup tie – I was too young for that one. Living in Brixham and with a father who had no interest whatsoever in sport, I had only attended a handful of games at Plainmoor with school mates during the late Sixties and early Seventies. When the League Cup tie with Spurs was announced in 1971, my much older cousin asked if I wanted to go with him and we joined the other 20,211 fans in the crowd (younger readers may have difficulty imagining a crowd of that size in Plainmoor!). Stood on the heaving Popside, I was fortunate enough to be right behind Bruce Stuckey when he struck the curling shot past Pat Jennings and inside the far post for my first never-to-be-forgotten Gulls moment. We went on to lose 4-1 but my passion for TUFC was secured for life that floodlit evening.
2 – It’s lonely up North
As a long haired, punk-loving student at Sheffield University in the late Seventies (think of an unlikely mix of Neil and Vyvyan from the Young Ones!), football took a back seat as more pressing interests dominated my life – beer, bands and other recreational activities! Friends I met from various parts of the country often discussed their passion for their local clubs and eventually at the end of my second year a group of us decided to attend a game at Bramall Lane.
From that moment I was hooked on live football and became a regular at Blades’ matches but only if my first love, TUFC, were not playing at a northern venue. I attended many games over the next few years and fearless centre forward, Steve Cooper, became my first United hero. Having no personal connection with Torbay-based supporters, I sometimes felt I was the only Gull in the ground, not least when Dave Webb scored an unlikely winner late in an extremely dull game at Chester in 1984 and my stifled cheer appeared to be the only one in the ground.
3 – Leaving early
I have never understood fans who leave games before the final whistle (and in the case of some North East crowds, even before half-time!). The only time I have ever done so was a low point in my life as a Gull. In 1986 Wolves visited Plainmoor for a Saturday evening game and after many of their large contingent of fans had spent the day drinking around town, the atmosphere at the game was intimidating with their fans lining the touchline and frequently spilling on to the pitch. I did not feel comfortable and decided to leave after about 80 minutes with United trailing and have never felt so relieved to be out of a ground and on my way home. It was this game which led to the infamous ban on away supporters and Membership Card scheme the following season, one of the first in the country.
4 – Wemb-er-ley!
I was back to see Wolves’ next visit to Plainmoor in 1989 in the first leg of the Sherpa Van Trophy Southern Final but didn’t go to the famous second leg at Molineux which we won with goals from Dean Edwards and Mark Loram to secure the unbelievable prospect of a cup final at Wembley. Younger supporters need to appreciate that visits to the national stadium for lower league teams were as rare as hens’ teeth in those days before play-off finals were staged there. For that reason alone, that Sunday in the sunshine with family members who would never normally dream of attending a Torquay game was a fantastic occasion. It was also the first time I had travelled to a game on a Football Special train!
5 – Ecstatically embarrassed
The fact that I was back at Wembley to support the Gulls within two years was even more amazing and the penalty shoot-out victory over Blackpool was one of the absolute highlights of my TUFC life. I travelled up to the capital on one of the many supporters’ coaches and we were fortunate to be among the first coaches to arrive. The steward made a point of asking us to be sure to remember where the coach was parked so we could find it after the game. I prided myself on my sense of direction and noted that we were the third coach along in the front row of the coach park and headed off for a few pints at the Green Man.
You will all know the story of the game and the celebrations afterwards were fantastic, before I hastily made my way back to find the coach. But since we had arrived a number of other coaches had parked in front of mine and I started to panic as I couldn’t locate the one I had arrived on. Eventually I did find it by which time I was the only passenger unaccounted for and I sheepishly made my way to my seat under the glare of the driver and steward. Luckily, I think the rest of the passengers were as ecstatic as me and couldn’t give a toss!
6 – Friday night blues
Our next Wembley trip was the Colchester play-off final in 1998. Moved to the Friday evening because England required the stadium for a game on the Saturday, the size of the crowd was disappointing and the mood seemed somewhat low-key as a consequence. What made the game memorable for me was that it was the first of the ‘Big Games’ where I was accompanied by my young son. He had got the football bug as an 8 year old during Euro 96 and, despite a passing interest in Man Utd, he had pinned his allegiance firmly to the TUFC mast by the time of this game and the defeat didn’t put him off. He has been by my side on each of the following occasions.
7 – A birthday to remember!
With a birthday on 5th May, end of season finales or nail-biters have often fallen around this time. In 2001 one of the big games fell on the actual day and I couldn’t have wished for a better present than our relegation-avoiding win at Barnet. Having said that, my son and I were very fortunate to be among the last fans to be admitted to the sold-out ground to witness the spectacle with the away end gates closing just a few places behind us at about 1.30pm.
8 – The best team
In the years following our escape at Barnet we gradually built a strong team under Roy McFarland and then Leroy Rosenior, culminating in my next memorable TUFC moment and what a day that was. We travelled to Southend by train in May 2004 with little expectation of success, as we not only had to win but also rely on other results going our way. That season’s team built around the core of Van Heusden, Woods, Taylor, Russell, Fowler and Graham was probably the best since I regularly started attending games in the late 70s. The abiding memory of the day at Southend was the intense atmosphere created by the low roof on the packed away end and the celebrations with the players at the final whistle.
9 – The Man in the Mask
Memorable as the promotion at Southend had been, it was the victory over Cambridge at Wembley in 2009 that rivals the 1991 penalty win over Blackpool as my very best TUFC moment. Although the atmosphere created by the 35,000 crowd in the huge stadium was disappointing, not least with a large gap between the Gulls fans behind the goal and those to the side where our group was. However, the importance of the win and our return to the Football League was crucial and THAT goal remains one of my all-time favourites to this day. I never tire of watching it!
10 – Eruption!
The most recent abiding memory came on April 2019. Luckily my old university friend, John, had a girlfriend who lived in Woking so I met him and my son at her home for lunch. John is that rare beast – a Man United supporter from Manchester but he willingly joined us for his first ever TUFC experience and what an experience it was! It was a rollercoaster game played in a tense atmosphere. Jamie Reid’s first half equaliser was greeted with yellow smoke bombs – naughty but they made for very evocative photos, one of which ended up as my screensaver for the next twelve months. When Ben Wynter popped up in the box to fire home the last minute equaliser, all around us erupted in jubilation, including John. It is moments like that which make the years of torment and frustration worthwhile. We knew in that instant that we were odds-on for promotion! Even Torquay, with their reputation of doing things the hard way, couldn’t slip up now. Could they? A week later, Jake Andrews’ late goal against Eastbourne confirmed that they couldn’t and we were league champions for the first time ever!
COYY – Rick
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