Matt Roberts – @MatthewVA438
Summer 2014 and we’re back in the conference after meekly surrendering our Football League status in what was a depressing season. Lee Mansell has sadly gone, and the board was losing members, with Alex Rowe and the Boyce brothers departing. Our finances (or lack thereof) were becoming more and more of an issue. Surely though we’d dropped as low as we could sink, and things could only get better? Nope, not a chance.
Still, having Chris Hargreaves as manager was at least better than the charisma vacuum that was Alan Knill. Hargreaves hadn’t realised the perilous state of the club’s finances when he replaced Knill in January, nor “how bad the training ground was”, acknowledging that “we were in a mess and that’s a fact”.
What did he want to achieve, apart from promotion at the first time of asking obviously? To create a legacy of good young footballers, to have “people who care about the area and care about the club, end of story”. The youth system would shut down a year later.
That’s some way off though, but who did he manage to bring in to solve the mess the club found itself in and did he achieve the legacy he wanted? Let’s find out.
The first signing of the summer in the new Conference era. Louis Briscoe was a stocky, robust player who often showed flashes of skill, but whose work rate and commitment were frequently called into question. Signing him on a two-year contract was a big call and was one that didn’t work out, with Briscoe’s stay being terminated in January 2016 when money really started to run dry. 10 goals from 19 appearances certainly isn’t bad, but you get the impression there was much more to come.
Brought in from Dagenham and Redbridge and as a replacement for the outgoing Michael Poke, Seabright was in fact the second choice ‘keeper behind Martin Rice. He made six appearances for the Gulls, but never carved out a place in the side. In March 2015 he resigned from Torquay, having fallen out of love with the game after getting dropped and seeing his career falter. He went back home to Poole and started work as a certified sales specialist at an Audi dealership, as of July 2020 he’s still there if his LinkedIn is up to date.
It’s impossible to do justice to Angus MacDonald’s career both with Torquay and after in such a short space. I’d recommend Matty’s Gullactio article for a longer read on the man. Safe to say though that he was one of two excellent signings that summer. He acquitted himself well in the first half the season before being side-lined in the second half of the campaign with an ankle injury. MacDonald would hit his peak with the club next season, shoving big Exodus “make Torquay disgusting” Geohagan aside and partnering with Nathan Smith to make a formidable duo at the heart of defence under Kevin Nicholson. A player where is was obvious that he would go on to greater things, and so it proved with MacDonald now a regular at Championship level following his recovery from bowel cancer.
The other excellent signing of the summer. Luke Young wasted no time in becoming a fan favourite with his determination and clear ability, taking the captain’s armband for the season. Despite his inexperience as a manager, Hargreaves knew how to spot talent and wasted no time in picking up Young after he was released from Plymouth Argyle. “He’s a really good player, a good character and someone I was really surprised became available”, the boss said. The qualities that Hargreaves mentioned, being able to dictate a game, passing, goals, positional sense, would all become apparent to us all over the next few seasons.
That Young stuck with Torquay for so long as we circled the drain is surely a testament to his passion and commitment to the club. A player who many have only fond memories of.
A signing that was very much welcomed by fans and one that played almost every game during the season. Hargreaves had bemoaned the fact that during the relegation season that “we were taking punts on loan players” which were sometimes unreliable. Now he had the chance to mould a squad in his own image. Ajala was an exciting player, fast, skilful and entertaining, he made a good impression at Plainmoor throughout the season. He came back for a second stint a couple of years later but couldn’t recapture his previous form.
A first team regular throughout this season and the two after. Richards was always a player who showed commitment to the cause and epitomised what Hargreaves said he wanted at the start of the season, players who care about the place and care about the club. His confidence took a very noticeable hit when he was placed at full back against Alfreton away, an awful game which we lost 4-2 with Richards (and others) having a bad night. Still, at least I got to watch it on a big screen in a bar in the Netherlands. Other patrons somehow didn’t see the appeal or the majesty of fifth tier English football played at a tiny ground on a dark and wet Tuesday night in Derbyshire.
The best striker we had since Howe left? Not that this was much of a challenge given that of the 13 recognised strikers that played for Torquay in the previous season, not one of them contributed more than three goals. Bowman certainly improved on those atrocious figures, netting 13 times during the season, enough to see us finish mid-table.
What I found most interesting when reading about Bowman joining was actually Hargreaves voicing the possibility of Jamie Cureton also coming to Plainmoor. The evergreen and sprightly 38-year-old had been released from Cheltenham. Instead, Cureton went to Dagenham for a couple of years scoring 22 goals in 61 appearances. I wish we had got him, what might have been.
The eighth signing of the summer and a regular throughout the season, Ofori-Achaempong was one of several players that season for whom commentators struggled to pronounce correctly. Olivier Gueguen being the other notable player in this regard (Gweegan, Googan, Gwaygan, Geegan, Gaygan, the Frenchman’s name caused all sorts of problems). Back to Duane’s Torquay career though, he split opinion amongst fans who recognised his ability at times (particularly his strength) but noted his inconsistency. A decent player.
As an addendum, this raft of signings was probably the most consistently decent of all the summer’s I’ve gone through so far. There were no bad players (Seabright didn’t appear enough to make a judgement) and all but the aforementioned ‘keeper were first team regulars. In the end this wasn’t the most thrilling of Torquay seasons, a rare campaign in which we ended firmly ensconced in mid-table. Still I’d take that over what was to come over the season’s after this. Set against what he said at the start of the season, some of the players Hargreaves brought in are well remembered for their loyalty to the club and remain as fan favourites to this day.