Clive Hayward discusses the dynamic wing back duo of 1997-98
I don’t want Martin Ling back, but I don’t half love a wing-back – Gibbs & Gurney 1997/98
Some names just trip off the tongue together don’t they? Lillee and Thomson, Morecambe and Wise, Clough and Taylor. Incredibly gifted entertainers. More than the sum of their parts. In my earliest days watching Torquay we had Steve Cooper and Les Lawrence up front: two decent strikers who worked really well together.
This article is about another Plainmoor partnership, but of a rather different kind. With the tsunami of technology that has transformed so many areas of our life in recent years and the needs-must growth of remote working in the last few months we are getting more and more used to work-mates combining from a distance.
This is a rather laboured introduction to another “down memory lane” article from me, this time about two young lads who made their name together playing for Torquay: the incomparable Paul Gibbs and Andy Gurney.
It’s a funny one really, because tactically they were a pair and “Gibbs and Gurney” still has a lovely ring to it. Mostly though they were actually a long way apart because they were, respectively, left and right wing-back in a team that surprised and delighted us throughout the play-off season of 1997-98.
Truthfully, I don’t take much notice of tactics. They don’t really turn me on. A variation has to be blindingly obvious for me to spot it. But we all noticed what Kevin Hodges did in this, his second season at the Plainmoor helm. He introduced wing-backs, to bomb up and down either side of a very decent back three normally comprising Alex Watson, Jon Gittens and Wayne Thomas, and what a pair he found.
Paul hails from East Anglia and played a couple of seasons at Colchester before being deemed surplus to requirements in 1997. That summer saw him arrive at Plainmoor. Bleached blond hair and a somewhat equine face that only a mother or the wonderful Helen Chamberlain could love.
Paul took his South West sporting and romantic opportunities with aplomb, and he was a key part of an entertaining team that gave us a fantastic run for our money after a couple of seasons in the doldrums.
Rodney Jack, Steve McCall and Jason Roberts got most of the headlines, but Gibbo was a breath of fresh air on the left side: strong in the tackle, as fit as a butcher’s dog and a good eye for goal. He scored 7 over the course of the season. My favourite came after Tony Bedeau had won us a penalty in the FA Cup at Luton with a piece of skill which Jürgen Klinsmann, Tom Daley or a nuclear submarine would have been very proud of. Paul didn’t hang about waiting for the ref to change his mind. He put his foot through it to provoke what I can only accurately describe as Away End Limbs.
It all ended in tears of course. We finished the season with a no-show on a Friday night at Wembley, losing a play-off final to an underwhelming Colchester team. Hodges went back to Argyle (probably something to do with a big payrise and a massive playing budget) and Gibbo followed him. It was a bit of a shame but we don’t care, because Hells Bells stayed!
Andy also joined us in the summer of 1997. Aged 23, we snapped him up on a free from Bristol Rovers. Quick, strong and very handy from free kicks, he was everything you could want in a marauding defender, finishing the season with 9 league goals.
My highlight was his screamer at Gillingham against Brighton (yes, really: ask your Dad!!) in a 4-1 win. We were sideways-on so didn’t get a great view, but it was one of those strikes that flies into the top corner and very much justifies the invention of goal nets as a time saving device.
He was that rarity: a Torquay player who we actually managed to improve and ultimately got a good transfer fee for: Reading came in for him in 1999 and paid Mike Bateson £100,000 for his services.
In a later spell at Swindon (then as now several places up the ladder from us), he scored what can only be described as a stunning free kick at Premier League Leeds. Get your laughing gear around this one:
Goodness me: “Premier League Leeds” sounds lovely, doesn’t it!
COYY – Clive
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