Tom Kelly – @tommyktufc
Plainmoor. Home. My “happy place”.
It has been a long time since I last visited, Saturday 28th December 2019 to be exact. On that day, Torquay United smashed Woking 4-1, the Gulls ending a seven game losing streak. Leaving Plainmoor that evening, I never imagined that it would take almost a full year before I would be able to return to see my beloved Torquay United at Plainmoor again. Things were looking up. We played well, won well and hope of a possible play off finish were back on the agenda.
As we all know, the season was cut short due to the Covid 19 global pandemic. Sutton away was the last time Torquay fans were able to see their side play live in person and we all know how that result went for us…..
Leaving the ground, there was a lot of uncertainty. What would happen to the rest of the season? Would it be null and voided? Would football continue without fans? Ultimately the season was cut short and PPG determined the final positions. Torquay ending 14th.
The NHS stretched to the limit. Suddenly there was more important things in the world than football. (Thank you to all NHS, key workers & volunteers for the work you continue to do to help us keep safe during this pandemic.)
I had accepted that it was very unlikely that I and most of the fan base would return to Plainmoor in 2020. It didn’t seem like this would blow over quickly.
But with the summer came hope. Covid numbers were falling & fans were allowed into grounds from step 3 downwards of the English Non League pyramid, limited to a certain capacity, it was a sign that perhaps, maybe, football fans could soon return to grounds higher up the pyramid.
With the season starting with no fans, streaming became the new way to support Torquay United live from home. It wasn’t quite the same as being at Plainmoor, but it was very welcome.
Then covid numbers rose again.
With people urged to stay at home and limit contact with others, November’s lockdown saw football at step 3 and below stop. The National League and upwards continued and Torquay continued to win. Typical that our best start to a season for years and we weren’t allowed to attend!
Just before the second lockdown ended, the government announced a new tiering system which as long as you are in Tiers 1 or 2, then football fans would be allowed back into football stadiums again, at a capped capacity relevant to the tier you’re in and following a strict Covid Protocol to ensure safety of everyone at stadiums across the country.
Devon, like the majority of the country, were placed in Tier 2. 2,000 fans allowed into Plainmoor. No away supporters allowed or people from tier 3 areas. For most, football and fans, reunited again.
I was lucky enough to purchase a ticket for the Wrexham game (thank you Dom & TorquayTalk for offering me the opportunity to do so). I was like a kid on Christmas day. The one real frustrating part is that I wasn’t going to be stood with my mates. I was lucky to be stood near a few people I know by pure chance but not my core friends that I would normally socialise with on a match day.
Of course with Covid restrictions allowing supporters back into stadiums, this was one thing that I would accept if it meant being able to watch my team live in person again.
I think if I were on my own in future, I would probably stick to streaming until things improve, however with more tickets being made available for more games, hopefully more blocks will become available so that perhaps you can be close by to people you know, especially if they are season ticket holders and you aren’t.
With the hotel booked for the weekend, everything was ready.
It was a grey and windy afternoon in the English Riviera, but there was no place I’d rather be at that time. I was home.
Before entering the ground, you get your temperature checked via the temperature gun. With that passed I found a few of my friends and (socially distant of course!), caught up with them for a moment. A chance to reflect on everything that wasn’t via a zoom call!
Then came the time to enter. Tickets scanned and mask on, I entered into the dark and eery concourse. No food/drinks were available for purchase inside, so it was up the small set of steps to the popside.
Like many, smiling under the mask, I took a moment to admire the view I had missed for ages. Plainmoor, live and in person. I was home.
Normally I would turn left and head to my usual spot in the pop, right at the back step under the “Yellow Army” banner. Not in 2020! Under new covid guidelines, I turned right towards the Family Stand and found my yellow footprints and number matching my ticket, where I was to stay for the rest of my time in Plainmoor. It felt like in a weird way I was at a new ground. It took a few moments to adjust but it was definitely Plainmoor and it was so great to be back.
If you needed to use the toilet facilities you needed to inform a steward so that they could find a gap for you. I made sure to use them early whilst it was still quiet inside Plainmoor.
As kick off approached and the socially distant crowd found their spots, anticipation was growing. Torquay, top of the National League and on a run of wins, could they continue the good form? How would they respond to us being there?
As the keepers warmed up, Cov looked over my way and smiled. It definitely wasn’t for my good looks I assure you! This meant as much to the players as it did for us. Fans back where we belong.
Just before 2.55pm, Robert Miles’ Children played over the PA. It was nearly time. It sounded beautiful. Yep, I was definitely back at Plainmoor.
The crowd seemed a bit tentative to chant at first, the atmosphere mostly from clapping rather than chanting, but when the first “Yellow Army” chant spread to all four sides of the ground, I had goosebumps. It had been so long and it felt so good to be supporting my team live again.
For those not able to attend I hope you get to experience the goosebumps I had again in the near future. I amongst many, smiling under the masks. This was Torquay United at Plainmoor on a Saturday afternoon.
If the Yellow Army chant felt good, Ben Whitfield’s brilliant 5th minute goal felt even better. The roar of the crowd, the celebrations of both players and fans. It felt special.
Asa’s penalty looked to have us crusing to victory, but a contentious corner led to a Wrexham response and the first grumblings from the fans to the officials.
In a weird way, I had missed this too. They were very poor and the 975 fans let them know it. There was even a “You don’t know what you’re doing” chant. I raised a smile, before letting the lino know what I thought.
The stewards were very strict in regards to people flouting the mask rules, ensuring on multiple occasions that supporters were wearing masks properly. I felt that they were very organised and helpful to supporters who were struggling to find their standing area near us.
Thankfully, despite a tricky second half, CLE sealed the game midway in the 2nd half and Plainmoor rejoiced. Full time came and the fans celebrated. Torquay had won, stayed top and continued their briiliant winning streak.
The atmosphere was different but that is to be expected when you are encouraged not to sing or chant. Despite the masks there were plenty of loud Yellow Army chants and even a We’re on our way chant at 3-1.
What could top that result? How about a Gary Johnson celebration. He loved it, the crowd loved it, it topped off an excellent result.
Leaving Plainmoor was also different. The crowd were reminded to remain in their seats/standing area until a steward said that they could leave. I did see a few people leave early, but it was well organised from my area anyway, exiting through the corner of the Pop/Family Stand.
Did it feel safe? Absolutely! The club have received a lot of flack in the past but Saturday’s game I feel they deserve a lot of praise. It felt professional, well organised and a great example to other clubs how to run a match day operation in a Covid 19 pandemic.
The great thing is that streaming will continue so if you don’t feel ready or aren’t in a position to go to matches yet then you won’t be missing out. We are all supporters and no matter where we are, we will all be cheering the lads on whether at the stadium or from home. We all have different situations at the moment and with nearly 300 season ticket holders not attending, it will still take a while for confidence to return, but my experience of the day was mostly positive overall.
It was different, but it was wonderful, it was Torquay United in 2020 and boy I missed it oh so much.
Up the Yellows!!!