Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
Every Saturday morning in the Malloch household you could hear the same imploring question “can I come to the game today dad?”. This started as far back as I can remember, pretty much from the moment I could think and speak. “You’re too young! You’re too small!” came dad’s reply. The day I started primary school I’d continue to barrack dad. Always the same response.
It was only until after my 7th birthday that my wish came true. With a little help from my mum, who before she had met my dad was a staunch Villa supporter herself, and as a young lady of 20 years had attended the Wembley FA Cup final when Villa triumphed over the Busby babes. Mum’s friend was dating the Villa winger Peter McParland at the time. I still get some great stories from my mum! “Go on Stan, let her come along with you”. “But….och, go on then” his Scottish accent bristling with the tone of inevitability.
Excitement brimming over, swathed in one of my brother’s scarves, we set off on the number 114 bus to Aston, getting off at the Crown & Sceptre bus stop and walked towards the ground, passing along the grounds of the majestic Aston Hall stately home to the left and Aston church on my right, onwards to the cathedral of my dreams, the place I had spent so often dreaming about. “Stay close by me. I don’t want to lose you in the crowd”, being a part of the swarm of thousands of supporters, the sounds of chatter, expectation, the smell of the food burger vans, the merchandise stalls on every corner “can I get a badge dad?” and stopping whilst dad paid the chap and put my new badge on my denim jacket, marking me down as officially an Aston Villa supporter. I’d arrived!
57,500 were in attendance that day; It was the most thrilling, exciting experience my younger years had ever known. That and being allowed to go with Simon Ansell and his older sister to see Jaws at the Sutton Odeon Saturday picture show. The game itself was somewhat sketchy, sands of time and the memory archive, the surreality of finally being at Villa Park was overwhelming. Exhilarating. An Ian Ross penalty and the genius of Brian Little saw a 2-0 win over Sunderland. Up the Villa!
This wasn’t the first time my dad had succumbed to mum’s football beseeching on my behalf of course. On a family trip to Dundee visiting my grannie, uncle Les and auntie Jean there was a home game on, one that I soon got wind of through my brother’s teasing, and before my dad even had a chance to deliver his “too young! too small!” tirade, mum had bundled me in a coat and off we all marched, making the short journey from my uncle and auntie’s high rise to Den’s Park. Mum left us to spend the afternoon with grannie and we were off on our way heading to the game.
And so began a long, both fulfilling and more frequently frustrating love story. My first love, the one that we are never supposed to forget. Many, many years of watching the boys in claret and blue, home and away, trips to Wembley, watching a European triumph from Rotterdam on the telly. More trips to Wembley. Buying my first season ticket and renewing right up to a decision to move down to live and work in Torbay.
That decision; my sister had already made the move a year before, she was working in Exeter and had made her home by the sea in Paignton. I’d get the calls to come and re-locate too. I’d applied for a couple of jobs both in Exeter and Torquay, and when Kitsons offered me a legal secretarial job, despite earning a fair bit more working for a natty law firm in Edgbaston, right next to the Warwickshire Cricket club, over the way from Cannon Hill Park and the Birmingham botanical gardens, I took the leap of faith and I too was living by the seaside.
We had holidayed as a family in Babbacombe and Paignton. One occasion dad and my brother had attended an evening game at Plainmoor. I think they may have snuck away before I had had the chance to do my “can I go too dad?” but from the holidays there was always that appeal of a seaside town having a league status football club. Yes, Torquay were always a league club, right up until as recent as 2007 when they finally succumbed to those momentous great escapes. As a consequence, I would often check the Torquay scores and like many who had spent a summer holiday or 2 down here, developed an affection for the club.
So here I am 20+ years on, established as a Torbay seaside dweller and a Torquay United supporter. I still occasionally go back to my hometown Sutton Coldfield, grab a Villa game when I can, but the yellow and blue affinity has grown stronger with each passing year. Those undulating years of supporting Villa are now paralleled alongside the equally topsy turvy times of Torquay United fandom.
It was December, the fixture was Walsall at home, my interest piqued by the idea of a visiting Midlands club, a club who I had thought might bring a few and so on a mild, grey December I boarded the bus to Torquay town centre, got off at the arcades and walked the rest of the way to Plainmoor. I wasn’t well versed with the bus timetables hence the walk. I had expected to link up with a stream of supporters the closer I got to the ground, but other than a scattering of people wearing the colours, it seemed relatively quiet. On arrival there were a lot of people there, the queues were for the pub annexed to the ground ‘Boots & Laces’ and as tempting as having a beer was, I was eager to get myself into the ground.
I bought a programme and perched behind a barrier on the Popside, impressed as I was with its quality especially for a 3rd division club, comparisons to the pamphlet I would buy whenever I would go to watch Sutton Coldfield Town, looking around my new surroundings, at the old grandstand, the giant meccano floodlights, watched the coach parties of Walsall supporters trickle into stand at the away stand, absorbing the vibes of my first Torquay United football match.
The game was wholly unremarkable. A tall lad headed over from a half chance early on and my programme reference point told me this was Mark Sale, a former Birmingham City centre forward. Walsall scored. The game laboured on. A game for the die-hards and loyal stalwarts. I grabbed a polystyrene cup of tea at half time. Read some more of my programme. The game ended with very little to write home about. Yet I loved being a part of it all. My new home by the sea, the local football club that had it’s league status, the few thousand crowd that despite this lumbering contest matched only by the grey sky and the fading light, suddenly the floodlights flickered on full beam, and my new love affair had begun.
20 years or more have passed since the day I took myself along to watch the game against Walsall, and in those years I have followed the Gulls to places as far flung as Cardiff, where a spirited Torquay got a share of the points and collected over £5 in change off the terrace floor that the Cardiff supporters had been throwing at us throughout, to Bristol, one Morike Sako’s 30 yard thunderbolt, to Birmingham, oh why Alan flippin’ Connell, many trips to the London clubs, Wembley twice, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Kent, Woking (walking in a Ben Wynter wonderland), Surrey, the many air miles I have accumulated as part of the Yellow Army.
From 3rd division Walsall at home that grey December afternoon to beating Chorley in the National League before the Covid abandoned the 2019/20 season, firmly establishing that support, affection and wearing my badge of honour of a season ticket for the last 6 years, I count myself so very fortunate to have this club at my doorstep and even closer to my heart.
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