Matt Roberts – @MatthewVA438
2013 wasn’t an altogether great time to be a Torquay supporter. The disgraceful way in which Martin Ling was forced out of the club during a very difficult time for him personally left a sour taste in the mouths of supporters and grabbed headlines far beyond Devon. It was the first time that I remember being angry with my club and came after a time during which we’d been used to relative success. Watching that BBC interview with Thea being put in front of the cameras justifying Ling’s sacking was nauseating. Getting promoted from the Conference and challenging for promotion again the last two seasons. The good times, however, had come to a juddering halt and things would get considerably worse as time went by.
After Ling’s dismissal, Alan Knill was appointed as manager. Though a successful coach, given his current position as Sheffield United assistant manager, Knill was a very poor manager and could give Gary Owers a run in the charisma vacuum stakes. A few of his signings were largely forgettable, one was very good and a few more were downright dreadful.
Ask any Torquay fan about Dale Tonge and the most common answer you’ll hear is likely to be that he is one of the worst right backs the club has had in recent memory. Clearly, Alan Knill saw something in him, noting his experience and that he “is also at an age where he still thinks he can get better”. The delusion was strong from Mr Tonge as our defensive solidity over the past seasons was eroded during the 2013-14 campaign.
The only halfway decent signing by Knill that summer. Krystian Pearce was another two-year contract, which actually worked out alright whereas it went horribly wrong when signing the likes of Karl Hawley. “I’m someone who enjoys defending. My first thought on the day of a game is about keeping a clean sheet”. Always good to hear that a defender likes defending and defend he did. Him and Downes at the back were always reliable, too bad that the rest of the team were god awful.
Unfortunately, Pearce cursed us all before the start of the season, saying, “As a team, the play-offs are a realistic aim for us and if we get that far, anything can happen”. I doubt he thought he’d end up in a whimpering exit from the Football League by the end of the season.
Our top scorer of the season with a tremendous five goals! With this return it’s no surprise he was one of the better regarded players of that season’s squad, having undoubted ability but never showing much more than flashes of what he might be capable of.
Fans were understandably excited about a lightning quick former Aston Villa winger with the forums abuzz at what Cameron and Chappell could do to League 2 defences. This duo would “get the punters back through the door” according to one forum member and Torquay Talk contributor. I admire Rich’s optimism. Underutilised or just not that good, things didn’t really work out for Cameron at Torquay. Not terrible, not very good. Still he wasn’t the worst signing Knill made.
Back again after his “brilliant” spell at the end of the previous season, Knill had in mind that Benyon would lead the line with Karl Hawley and propel United up the league. The Elliot Benyon of 2013/14 was a very different Elliot Benyon that we were sorry to see go to Southend in 2010. Though still only 25, Benyon couldn’t rediscover his previous form for the club and ended up with a worse goalscoring record than the aforementioned Hawley, with just three goals in 40 appearances. When you have just six goals between your two starting strikers, it’s not hard to see why we were relegated.
“I like him because he’s a proper man, when you grip his hand it’s a proper man’s handshake and he’s strong and powerful”. This quote deserves far greater exposure, alongside the likes of “Make Torquay disgusting”. It’d astounding the level of adoration that Knill had for Hawley, and the lengths that he went to sign him, admitting that negotiations were ongoing for “well over two months”.
Alongside, Elliot Benyon, Ashley Yeoman and Callum Ball on loan, Knill was delighted with Hawley’s signature. In reality it turned out to be one of the most ineffective forward lines in recent memory, with Hawley’s infamously awful record of three goals in 30 appearances still cited six years after his multi-year contract was terminated.
COYY – Matthew