A Catch Up With: Brian McGlinchey

TT INTERVIEW

“Brian McGlinchey – the final piece in Leroy’s puzzle” by Matt Carpenter 

Brian McGlinchey
Brian McGlinchey – Photo courtesy of Herald Express

As most Gulls fans will know, in the 2003/4 season we were blessed with a talented, entertaining squad who defied the odds to pass their way out of the then Division Three in the classiest of styles. Leroy Rosenior capitalised on Roy McFarland’s shrewd recruitment and released the shackles to allow his team to play fluid football, not often seen in England’s basement division. Leroy’s first season in charge in 2002/3 had provided a glimpse of what might come and, after a slight flirt with the play-offs, a respectable ninth place finish was the result. Those who watched the Gulls regularly at the time could see the undoubted ability in a squad which boasted names such as Russell, Woods, Graham and Fowler (and many more) but it was clear that the squad required a little more ‘know how’, grit and doggedness if it was to make its way in to the play-offs and beyond.

In the early 2000s, it is hard to argue that the club was not boosted by the success achieved by Paul Sturrock down the A38 at Plymouth and the arrival of Craig Taylor on loan at the end of the 2002/3 season showed just what a level headed experienced player could add to the talented squad. Torquay fans were delighted when Taylor made his transfer permanent in the summer of 2003. A solid but not spectacular start to the 2003/4 season saw Torquay sitting in mid-table at the end of August with a record which read W2,D1,L2; a further win in their first game of September against Leyton Orient stemmed muted murmurs that perhaps this team might just be play-off contenders. Fortunately, Leroy was able to shrewdly dip in to the loan market and sign another player from Home Park whose experience, reading of the game and classy cool decision-making was to be the final piece in the puzzle of that much loved promotion team – that man was Brian McGlinchey. The rest is history. I caught up with McGlinchey to discuss life, football and that great team.

Despite having his career cruelly cut short by a back injury at the age of 28, McGlinchey enjoyed significant success as a player: first winning the Division Two play-offs with Peter Taylor’s 1999/2000 Gillingham; next winning the Division Three championship with Paul Sturrock’s 2001/2002 Plymouth (amassing an impressive 102 points along the way); and finally (of course) winning promotion from Division Three with Leroy Rosenior’s 2003/2004 Torquay United aka “Brazil from the West country”. And which of these achievements does McGlinchey look back on the most fondly?

I am most proud of the promotion at Torquay” he recalls. “For Torquay to get promoted to League One that season was an amazing achievement – I left Plymouth that year when they got promoted to the Championship but the Torquay footballing team in terms of technical skill of the players were better than Plymouth”.

McGlinchey is a measured and intelligent former footballer, as can be seen from his success in a second career since leaving football – he now heads the South West Mortgage Team for Lloyds Bank. He was pragmatic and astute enough to start planning for a career outside of football long before there was any sign of the back issue which prematurely ended his career. Developing a keen interest in property as a result of making purchases as he moved between clubs, McGlinchey enrolled on a mortgage advice training programme funded by the PFA alongside former Man City, Torquay and Plymouth team-mate, Martin “Buster” Phillips – “I remember when I had my injury at Torquay, walking around Newton Abbot Racecourse – and I was studying my notes for the exams”.

This left McGlinchey well equipped for a world outside football which can be often be daunting for those who spend their whole life in the professional game. On his retirement from football, McGlinchey is philosophical – “The first 6 months after the surgeon told me I was never going to recover properly, I was probably clinically depressed – it was a culture shock – all I had ever wanted to do was be a professional footballer. Looking back now, it was probably a blessing in disguise because I was young enough to go and find a new career. As a lower league footballer you are never going to earn masses of money to make yourself financially secure so you need to work. I have friends coming out of the game now at 35-36 who struggle to find new a career so quickly. While it was horrible at the time, I have to take the positives”.

In addition, the arrival of his first child was a welcome distraction at that time. For Torquay fans, it is reassuring to hear McGlinchey’s assessment of the support offered by the club during his injury ordeal and he recalls that then Chairman Mike Bateson was “As good as gold”. In what can be a cut throat industry, it was perhaps fortunate and ironic in equal measure for McGlinchey that he had signed a new two year deal on the day when he picked up his back injury but his belief that the club looked out for him is sincere.

For a player so erudite and learned on the game, it may come as a surprise that McGlinchey did not try and pursue a career in football yet his reasoning for not doing so is rational – “I was never really tempted to remain in football – when it is going well it is the best thing in the world but it is a very fickle game where you constantly take results home with you and I wanted more control of my life going forward. I wanted a bit of continuity and to set some roots down”.

He went on to recount that as a young player at Gillingham he bought his first flat in Maidstone only to be told 3 or 4 months later he was moving to Plymouth – not exactly commutable. This is hardly the kind of continuity McGlinchey subsequently craved on retirement and it is easy to see why a more settled career was so appealing to him. In addition, as has been the case for many players who play their football in Devon, McGlinchey found that he loved the South West which reminds him of home in Ireland and he has since settled down and has a young family in Plymouth. His son plays in the Argyle academy which brings back his buzz for the game – so perhaps some coaching is not completely off the cards…

Early Career

McGlinchey’s youth career in England began at Man City. A high turnover of big name managers during his time (Brian Horton, Alan Ball, Steve Coppell, Phil Neal, Frank Clarke and Joe Royale all in the space of three years) made opportunities to break in to the first team difficult – “You were constantly marred by having to start again and prove yourself to the new man”. That said, McGlinchey learned a great deal playing in a competitive reserve team finding himself lining up alongside serious old school professionals – Nigel Clough, Peter Beagrie and Niall Quinn to name but a few.

A move to First Division (Championship) Port Vale followed the next season. This led to his league debut and a total of 17 appearances at a very respectable level, particularly for a player of only 20/21 years of age. A move at the end of the season saw McGlinchey head south to sign for Second Division (League One) Gillingham where he worked under the watchful eyes of Peter Taylor – a manger who helped McGlinchey a great deal – “He was friends with Glen Hoddle and you could see that coming through in his style and philosophy –he was intelligent in the way he would make you think about things”.

That management style showed in Gillingham’s success that season, eventually beating Wigan Athletic in the play-off final and also enjoying a successful FA Cup run, reaching the sixth round before being knocked out by Chelsea. For McGlinchey it was a personal success as well, amassing further experience at a solid level, however his next move to Plymouth was one which would shape him as a player even more.

All in all McGlinchey spent four happy years at Home Park. His first season was steady, a 12th place finish with Scotsman Paul Sturrock having arrived mid-season to steady the ship and sign McGlinchey in the December. The next season Plymouth stormed the Third Division (League Two) although perhaps not winning masses of style points along the way due to their ‘pragmatic’ playing style. It was an amazing season for McGlinchey to be involved in although he was devastated to break his foot at the end of January. Of Sturrock he is highly complimentary – “He got things out of you that you didn’t think you had although he was ruthless”.

A tough and regimented training environment had drilled Plymouth into a formidable outfit although it was quite a different picture to the one McGlinchey would later encounter at Plainmoor under Leroy Rosenior – “Training at Plymouth was tough but you knew exactly what your job was – there were things you weren’t allowed to do like if you played the ball square in the wrong place then he would have a go at you but it got results”.

It certainly did and the experience made McGlinchey a far more gritty and resilient player.

The move to Plainmoor and the promotion season

That’s more than enough about Plymouth and it is high time that we get on to the most important period of McGlinchey’s career: at Plainmoor. After not managing to make his way back in to Sturrock’s plans for the 2003/4 season, he received a call in early September informing him of Torquay’s interest in bringing him in on loan.

What was originally intended as a move for a couple of months to get some first team football ended up being something far more significant in his career – “I went there and absolutely loved every minute of it” he recalls. His first game was a draw away at Cambridge and he could very quickly see the bags of quality on offer in the side – “I didn’t really know many of the players but they made me feel really welcome, I remember Alex Russell came to me before the game and said that when I get the ball I should give it to him, sure enough he would come screaming for it every time I got hold of the ball”.

Alex Russell
Alex Russell – Photo courtesy Paul Levie – Torbay News Agency

Giving it to “Aggy” was certainly good advice for any player. McGlinchey remembers fondly how – “All of that team made the game really easy. It wasn’t just Leroy’s style but also the immense quality of the players. Leroy wanted to play football and he let us. He was lenient with the team and let the team play. In training we would do a bit of shape on a Friday but mainly we just played football – overall it was incredibly enjoyable – everyone in that team wanted the ball, even in difficult areas, it really reignited my love back for playing the game”.

It was some contrast to the style and regime he had experienced under Sturrock. Interestingly, McGlinchey recalls a practice game between the two teams at the time when he was first on loan – “Plymouth and Torquay both got knocked out of the FA Cup so we arranged a behind closed doors friendly – Torquay absolutely played them off the park. Yes, it was a friendly so you can never gauge too much from it but you could see the pure footballing class of the Torquay players”.

The buzz which playing at Torquay brought to McGlinchey, meant that it was not a difficult decision to make his loan move permanent when the opportunity arose in January 2004. Despite having two years left to run on his Plymouth contract and needing to take a substantial pay cut to join the Gulls, his desire to “Enjoy his football and be happy” won the day so he signed for the club. After a brief period away he settled back in to the team quickly. Of Rosenior he is complimentary – “Leroy got the best out of being your friend and he let you play- he was great to work with”.

Leroy Rosenior
Leroy Rosenior – Photo Courtesy of the Herald Express

It was not just the great riches of forward players (think Graham, Fowler, Russell, Kuffour, Hill, Bedeau, Rosenior-Junior and more) who McGlinchey was able to play with at Plainmoor that season, but also a formidable defence in which he typically lined up with Lee Canoville, Craig Taylor and Steve Woods. Throw in other defenders who featured that year, such as David Woozley, Reuben Hazell and future Premier League ace, Mike Williamson and you get the picture of the plethora of talent which was on offer.

McGlinchey gleefully remembers some great performances against teams that season with very few clubs enjoying coming to Plainmoor. Those that stuck in his mind (Southend aside that is, which we will get on to later) include a 1-0 win away at Hull which he fondly remembers, not least because of the ‘stick and banter’ he got from old boss Peter Taylor as he ran up and down the left touchline. Torquay fans who attended that day will remember a phenomenal game in which the Gulls played the league favourites off the park in front of 15,000 at the then plush new KC stadium – after the game Taylor was gushing in his assessment of just how good the Gulls were (a running theme for opposition managers’ post match interviews that season).

That game at Southend

In their history, Torquay United have played Southend nearly 100 times yet if you refer to “the Southend game”, any supporter of the last 20 years will know that you are referring to that game on 8 May 2004 at Roots Hall where the Yellow Army saw their team promoted to League One.

McGlinchey recalls leaving his house on the Friday evening to join his team mates and thinking that he did not want to end up in the play-offs. The equation was simple, all Torquay had to do was win (and of course for Huddersfield not to beat Cheltenham). Of the game itself he remembers how two early goals settled the team with Torquay scoring twice in the first 11 minutes – “On the pitch, we knew we could do no more and that the rest was down to Huddersfield”.

That game was a prime example of the know how and grittiness of the more experienced players like Taylor and McGlinchey coming in to play – when you need to see out 79 minutes+ of football and hold on to a two goal lead, it is helpful if your left back knows how to sit back, take his time over a throw in or two, and stick the ball in to the right areas of the pitch (or stand) when required.

Although the players had heard rumblings from the Torquay fans in the crowd which might (or might not) have indicted what the score was between Huddersfield and Cheltenham, they did not know that they would be promoted right until the end – “We could not believe it when we saw Leroy and everyone running on to the pitch, all of a sudden we realised that we had done it, and what an amazing experience it was”.

On the way back to Devon, the players and staff had to settle for (many) beers on the coach; Torquay had not dared to take anything too celebratory and bubbly in nature with them, for fear of tempting fate. McGlinchey received congratulatory calls from his former team mates and coaches and does not quite recall how he and Craig Taylor managed to get back home to Plymouth after the team got back to Devon and the celebrations continued in to the evening…

Southend 2004 programme

League One and beyond

The following season in League One was sadly less impressive, with the Gulls unable to stay up on the last day of the season away at Colchester (a point from that game would have sufficed). It was notable for Torquay fans who saw the team move up a level that season that McGlinchey was one of the players who seemingly took the step up in his stride. And why did the Gulls fail to hold on to their League One status in the 2004/5 season? – “It was definitely personnel; we struggled to score goals. You go up a level and miss those clinical finishers”.

In addition, that season Torquay used seven (yes seven) goalkeepers which certainly made it tough for the defence to settle. For anyone trying to recall the names of those keepers they were: Gottskalksson, Barnes, Bossu, Dearden, Jarvie, Marriott and Van Heusden.

By the point Torquay were relegated in their end of the season game at Layer Road, McGlinchey had suffered the back injury which ultimately ended his career and his focus was on seeing what surgery could do to save his still young career – “I tried to fool myself but it just wasn’t going to happen, in my final games I could barely physically get off the coach, let alone play”.

The next season back in League Two, he only managed 5 appearances before he had to take the painful decision to retire. It is heartening to know that McGlinchey no longer suffers from issues with his back which has allowed him to complete four London Marathons in recent years – “Running in straight lines poses no issues”…and not does prevent the occasional Argyle legends match.

McGlinchey regularly commentates on Plymouth for BBC Radio Devon but hopes to make a return to Plainmoor to watch a game soon. His assessment of the Gulls team is that Gary Johnson is the man for the job and that the club should to return to the football league, where it belongs, soon. Of the current situation in football in light of COVID19, McGlinchey is sympathetic to the plight of players – “It must be really tough in this climate, there will soon be a gluttony of players looking for work and wages may have to go down for clubs to survive although sadly that it true in every industry – my advice for players would be to keep going, and stay resilient”.

Solid advice, from a solid pro. It was great to catch up with McGlinchey and TorquayTalk wishes him well for the future.

COYY – Matt

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