Dom Roman – @DomRoman
When Paul Buckle dashed off to Bristol in the summer of 2011, I did fear the worst. We had enjoyed four seasons of upwards momentum and being a Torquay supporter you naturally never expect the good times to last. They didn’t of course, but with the seamless integration of Martin Ling we would savour one more year of being challengers.
Lingy’s summer signings certainly helped, and one of them Bobby Olejnik quickly became a colosus in the United defence, casting off initial uncertainties to have a stormer of a season. Penalty saves, clean sheets galore and deservedly picked in the League Two team of the year. In the end his career at Plainmoor would only last one season, but what a season. I caught up with Bobby to discuss his time with the Gulls…
TT – Hi Bobby thanks for talking to us. So you’ve recently retired from Football – what prompted you to make that decision and what’s your new career path?
Bobby – Hi Dom, it’s an absolute pleasure. I’ve got very fond memories of Torquay. I have always enjoyed playing football, there is nothing quite like it in the way that it makes you feel, whether that’s a win or a loss. The rollercoaster of emotions you experience are definitely unique.
With all that said, I have always enjoyed other things outside of football, with technology being one of them and the recent COVID 19 pandemic has really given me time to think about my career, my future and what I want to be doing.
I let nature take it’s course during lockdown and I wanted to see what I feel like every morning; Do I want to get up and go outside and play football or do I feel like sitting in front of a screen and learn web development and coding.
Let me take you back to the summer of 2011, what persuaded you to move down from Scotland to join the Gulls?
To be honest with you, as much as I would like to tell you some kind of a fairy-tale about the transfer down from Scotland, life in the lower-leagues is very different from the top two divisions. I just remember getting a phone call one day from my agent and he literally just said: “Find a plane down to Torquay and I will pick you up at the airport”.
The thing is, having never played in the Football League, it felt like the right opportunity. I have watched it on TV and seen the amount of games and I wanted to test myself at that level and see what happens. I was very lucky that Martin Ling gave me the opportunity.
Bobby on Kevin Nicholson: “Kev was the most experienced defender we had and it showed. He was always in the right place at the right time and who can forget his set-pieces”.
What were your initial impressions of the area and did you find it difficult to settle?
One thing I remember immediately when I came down from Scotland was the difference in temperature and the “holiday vibe”. It was a strange experience at first but it wasn’t difficult to settle down – there were some amazing lads (and staff) there who made me feel very welcome.
The team had an inconsistent start to the season, did you feel that a promotion push was eventually possible?
I must admit that at the start of the season, I was quite keen on establishing myself and making sure I have a good start to the season. We never really spoke much about targets and all I ever really remember was Lee Mansell saying that “Our goal is 40 points – everything else we get is a bonus”.
Suddenly everything seemed to click into gear from the end of October on-wards, what changed around that time?
Looking back, it felt like the team took some time to gel and it wasn’t really until the defeat away at Southend that we all started to pull together. Things got quite heated after that game, but it was the first time I felt that we all started to pull into the same direction.
Bobby on Chris Robertson: “Robbo was amazing at heading the ball and a very good defender. Definitely helped me out a few times”.
What was Martin Ling like as a gaffer and how does he compare with other managers you’ve played for over the years?
Martin Ling knew exactly what our strengths were and he let us play – we never felt “under pressure” with him but I also believe that we had very strong characters and a great team spirit which made a huge difference. It’s hard to compare Martin to other managers but he was definitely one who was more invested in player psychology than tactics and he always did what was best for the team – we got days off when we needed them but we also had hard sessions. I don’t ever recall a player moaning about the way he did things (unheard of these days 😁).
The Plymouth Argyle wins were huge for the Yellow Army, did you realise that at the time and what are your memories of those derby games?
It’s funny because we know that these games were always huge but being a player you try not to get too involved and you just focus on winning the game. We knew that Plymouth were struggling at the time and we were flying, but to win a big derby game 3-1 is no mean feat.
Bobby on: Joe Oastler: “I am sure Joe was a midfielder when I signed but ended up playing right back because we needed a position to be filled. He did an amazing job there and his footballing ability made him settle into that slot much easier”.
Your form in goal was tremendous that season, what do you consider were your main strengths as a goalie and was that your finest season as a professional?
I was lucky to have had a GK coach in Kenny Veysey who knew how to work with me. He knew what was best for me and he was amazing at tailoring the sessions to exactly what I needed and all the credit for that season has to go to him. We had extended warm-up sessions, we had double sessions when everyone had gone home etc. It was personally my most successful season purely because of how hard we worked on the pitch – there is no magic, no secret.
Who stood out for you from that squad of players and why?
It would be difficult to just name one player as everyone had a role to play that season. The one whom I will point out is Martin Rice – he was always the first in, a great character around the dressing room and he was always the one pushing me to do better in training. Kevin Nicholson said it at the end of the season: He should have been the player’s player of the season. His work ethic, his attitude and his manner around the dressing room were incredible despite not having played one game in the league.
Bobby on: Brian Saah: “I had a great relationship with him and we definitely worked well together. He was commanding, strong and consistent”.
You amassed a club record 20 clean sheets in the league campaign. How proud were you and the lads of that achievement?
I think as a player/players you always want to be remembered for having achieved something – that’s why we do it. I don’t think we went into the season thinking that we wanted to keep as many clean sheets as we did, but looking back at it I can definitely say that I am indeed very proud of that number. Credit, as before, has to come down to the manager, the characters in the dressing room and Kenny Veysey.
The penultimate league game saw United holding a promotion place in their hands V Crewe, before a late Nick Powell goal made it 1-1. How devastated was the dressing room afterwards and was it difficult to recover from that setback?
Of course, it’s always horrible when you concede at such a late stage (I am sure I saved a penalty moments before) and we knew that Crewe had to get a point to make it into the play-offs. I don’t think we dwelled too much on the point, we just knew that we were in the play-offs and that we had to beat Cheltenham. You can’t think about the “should have’s” too much in football.
Bobby on Mark Ellis: “We used to say to him: “Just head it and kick it” and he was very good at that. Loved talking about Bolton and being up North and his banter was worse than mine (that’s some achievement)”.