MY TUFC STORY
30+ years of hurt…never stopped me dreaming. The Ed recites his own TUFC Story..
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
My TUFC supporting career unofficially begun on 28th May 1989. It was the day of the Sherpa Van Trophy final and the Gulls were kicking a ball around at the twin towers of Wembley for the first time. Not that I was there. I was in fact kicking a ball around the house as usual (from one end to the other, back and forth), but that sunny afternoon I found time to tune Radio Devon in and listen to see how Cyril’s lads were faring.
The Sherpa Van Trophy run had caught my attention when the Gulls beat Steve Bull’s Wolves team – probably one of the finest results in our modern(ish) history and even though Deano’s early Wembley goal only stirred Bolton into asserting their higher league quality, it was enough to persuade me that come the start of the season 1989-90 I was ready to make the trip to Plainmoor. As long as I could persuade dad to do the same…I was only 10 after all.
And so it came to pass. Torquay V Lincoln, Saturday 9th September 1989. Memories? Not a lot. I was a nervous and shy child, so probably sat there quietly digesting and disecting the 90 minutes and struggling to make myself heard to my very tall dad (whilst trying to remember not to sit back too far for fear of falling off). We sat on the very basic benches in the old Family Stand, towards the left hand side near the old players entrance. My dad never wanted to stand for long, ruling out the Popside.
The place seemed busy, but then again when you’re small the world seems busier. Checking out attendances from around that time it wasn’t exactly crowded – but when the most people you’ve seen in one place is the school assembly, 2000+ or so feels like a lot. The Popside intrigued me as the vocal point, with the ‘Come on you yellllows’ chant louder in those days from the corner, plus there were a few lively characters near us. One with an old school rattle comes to mind (bloody hell I’m old).
We lost 0-3 but I’d seen enough to entice me back. The sights, smells and sounds of the laid back old ground somehow felt welcoming and gave myself and dad some time together. Like many lads I have always attended games with my father, it’s a bond that non-sports lovers can’t appreciate and something I’ll always be thankful for.
My family had moved down to Teignmouth years before, but I had never thought of adopting a local team until then. Nobody at school had any interest in Torquay United (something that would continue throughout) and there was no overwhelming influence to seek out a professional game in the flesh. I had always been ridiculously obsessed by the beautiful game, so this was a natural next step. In truth this chosen team could have been Exeter. Living in Tinmuff, you are stuck in middle ground…most people just tend to ignore both to be honest! Anyway I digress, my journey on the TUFC rollercoaster was about to get bumpy.
My first Plainmoor heroes started to become familiar as we attended more and more games. Merrily jogging onto the pitch afterwards to collect their autographs, something that seems unlikely these days, but stewarding was more for show than anything and it was just great to get onto the hallowed turf! Favourite early players were Mark Loram for what he could conjure with a ball, Matt Elliott because I’ve always loved a solid centre back and Paul Smith. Smithy is not a name to roll off many people’s tongues, but this winger could tie a full back in knots with speed and close control. Unfortunately Paul suffered major injuries and his mantle was quickly taken by a certain Paul Hall. He was a bit good as well.
The play-off final in 1991 gave me my first taste of Wembley and Impey’s heroes didn’t let us down on a late night in May. Going into the next season even a young optimistic buck such as myself could tell we were going to struggle. Our squad had not improved and despite Justin Fashanu arriving we were never in danger of a great escape. My first promotion had been quickly followed by my first relegation. This behaviour has been the test of new Yellow Army followers for a very long time and I was not put off, exploring different viewpoints along the standing area in the Grandstand (a much missed option), taking in games under the lights and spending some pennies on random programmes in the programme shack – Plainmoor was my new second home.
As the 90s continued into it’s second half, I have to admit my commitment did wane a little as the Gulls up and downs continued. There was a number of reasons for this, I’ll let you decided if they are forgiveable! Exhibit A: My dad had started to work more Saturdays and without transport, the sloth like bus from Teignmouth wasn’t overly attractive. Exhibit B: A Saturday job. This work malarkey so often gets in the way doesn’t it? Exhibit C: Going out. If you were in your late teens in the 90s you were going out every weekend and the choice between spending the available cash at Plainmoor or the local boozers was not clear cut. Well not when it was under £2 a pint anyway.
I would pick and choose games by the end of the decade, I was never away from the old place and Robert Miles for long but we were good friends who’d grown apart a little. Teenagers drop away from Plainmoor regularly at that sort of age I think as priorities change, and I was no different. Add to that the increasing number of Premier League and European games filtering their way onto the television and you have the makings of a fair weather supporter. Don’t worry, don’t worry it wouldn’t last!
Having secured a Monday to Friday job at the start of the decade (working for a Gulls supporter), it was time to re-establish my presence at Plainmoor. By then my mate Rich had become a regular as well, my sister lived a few streets down from the ground and it was time to introduce my nephew to Torquay United. His first game? United 3-2 Blackpool. Plainmoor’s first ever streaker, two late goals from Eifion Williams and the ball kicked directly at him in the family stand. A lively debut for a 5 year-old!
By 2003 and with the Gulls purring under Leroy Rosenior, he had become a regular and we had moved seats to the rickety old Grandstand. All down to the sideway views really as the squeaky old place was ready for demolition, oh and the enclosed roof did provide a safe alcove even on the dodgiest weather days or nights. The surrounding supporters were grumpier than the family stand, but got up less for fizzy drinks and snacks. Swings and roundabouts. I think our fanbase in general are optimistic to a certain point but always prepared for the worst, understandable after the pain we’ve endured.
This was the season when my Gulls Yellow Army membership was upgraded to serious follower. First away trips on the supporters coach with Cav and Breedy in charge (the glory days) and wonderful memories gained from places like Cheltenham, Hull and of course Southend. I doubt I’ll ever have a better footballing afternoon than that. A joyous, gut wrenching and crazy 90 minutes where dreams did come true. It was well deserved. Our small squad had played their heart out that season and done it the right way. The likes of Steve Woods, Alex Russell and Dave Graham were a different gravy…oh and I loved little Jo Kuffour.
League One football and my first season ticket in the Grandstand followed that summer…’about time too’ I hear you cry. Another relegation followed. This time it was more admirable and an effort we could be proud of. With a tiny budget, minimal coaching staff and the squad training in the middle of Newton Abbot racecourse, we had no right to even be close to safety. It was horribly cruel therefore to lose out in a last day nightmare at Colchester. A case of what might of been perhaps? But saying that, owner and extrovert Mike Bateson was never likely to put more money into the club and settling into the division was only a pipe dream. The club did not even have a youth set-up by then, so the building bricks weren’t in place.
The rest of that decade was a whirlwind of disappointment followed by something much more enjoyable. Relegation to the Conference was cruel, but not a tear shedding moment. It had been coming all season and acceptance had long since set in. Thankfully the club was turned around in 2007 and all our faith in the club was rekindled. By then I had moved to Exeter and the trips had become more time consuming. This didn’t deter me and I barely missed another home game in the decade.
There was so much to look forward to with Paul Buckle in charge. Big games seemed to fall every other week and with a local board of directors in charge the club felt like a big family. Happy days and honest experienced guys like Chris Hargreaves, Tim Sills and Lee Mansell who continually fought tooth and nail for 3 points. By the end of the decade we were back in the league after a delightful day out at Wembley and optimism abounded. Plans afoot for a new grandstand and a club on the up. I should’ve guessed it wouldn’t last..
2010 TO PRESENT
By 2010 the club had become a huge part of who I was and missing a game was never an option, whatever the competition. Two very good seasons started the decade and both led to play-off defeat. I’m not sure if I’ve quite forgiven Paul Buckle for the manner of his departure in 2011, but that day out at Old Trafford was horrendous. Close to 7 hours to get to Manchester and we were still the first supporters there! Then checked over by stewards, before we finally managed a pint near the ground. Then uncomfortable seats, a stinker of a game, a ground so empty it was embarrassing and a non-performance from the lads. Did I regret going? No chance. Sometimes you get Southend (a), sometimes you get Stevenage (Old Trafford) – missing those games is not an option.
2011-12 followed on and to be honest it was one of my proudest seasons supporting the Gulls. We lost in the play-offs…but had battled gamely with a small squad all season, beating the odds and coming so close under the quietly spoken Martin Ling. If the team gives everything on the pitch then I won’t complain. Skill and quality is never nailed on, but they should always try. We were sat in the family stand and the atmosphere at games actually improved, as supporters packed into two stands and generally made more noise. In the end it wasn’t to be, and unbeknown to all of us, around 5 years of upwards momentum and achievement had come to an end.
Cue one of the most painful periods in our history between 2012-2018. The wrong managers being hired, the wrong players being signed, relegation back to the dreaded Conference, Thea selling up and Torquay United becoming something of a laughing stock down the leagues as our sparkling new stand quickly became more sparse (hey at least the leg room was good). I was too far in by know to dip out and renewed my Bristow’s season ticket annually in the hope that the next season would bring better times. My optimism had been tested to the core week in week out as the club seemingly bumped from one crisis to another. Saying that, amongst the chaos there was still joy to be had at Plainmoor.
Kevin Nicholson’s reign at Plainmoor will not go down as successful in the Yellows record books, but the way he conducted himself elevated his status to me. By then social media had become huge and Nicho was determined to reach out to supporters. In dire financial times under Dave Phillips, Nicho did absolutely everything to help keep us going…and yes that did include driving the team coach. Before Kevin I had never engaged with a manager before, my natural shyness making conversations unlikely. But this chap cared about what we had to say and it was a sad day when he left. Those great escape memories will linger on a while.
By September 2018 and with new ownership causing much consternation, the universe had clearly decided that we’d suffered enough and Clarke Osborne’s appointment of Gary Johnson breathed oxygen into our Gulls lives. By then TorquayTalk had become something substantial and endured a season of Gary Owers football…we got through that s##t, we can make it through anything. The team started playing like they meant it and what could have been a thoroughly depressing season in the NLS, transformed into something very enjoyable. By Woking (a) we believed again and I loved seeing supporters desperate to return to Plainmoor as 18-19 closed to a crescendo. Life in the old dog yet.
The tough times just made me more passionate about following the club. We are never going to be soaring very high up the pyramid, but Torquay United do matter. The club has a character unlike any other and like any die hard I forgive it for it’s faults and stay loyal. Recent years has seen my love affair heighten even further and the yellows community I have gathered since creating the site has been a huge plus, with mates who understand what we all go through. I’ve also met plenty of terrific characters who have been showing up through thick or thin – a conversation about United is never too much trouble. Supporting a club like TUFC gives you a feeling of belonging that you’ll never get on an armchair and despite all the lean times over the years, its been more than worthwhile.
THE RESTART 2020
Bring on football in October, and whatever the new normal means at Plainmoor I’ll be there – season ticket booked as the anticipation of going back grows, sitting as close to my dad and Rich Heesem as possible (not to mention other BB regulars Paul and Tony). Join me if you can. The club could maybe have been more open about last season’s lost games and the deals won’t have suited everybody I know, but if you are able to put money into the club again, help us ride through these tough times and keep Torquay United alive and kicking (excuse the pun) for future generations then it’s job done. Socially distanced waves at the ready…
COYY – Dom Roman
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