Matt Orton – @MattyOrton1
Don’t worry, we’ve been here before! (and we’ve done it)
Fifteen years ago, in an obscure feature by ITV on us surviving that season in the Football League, Gabriel Clarke said, “It’s everyone’s favourite away trip, a weekend down on the English Riviera and you’ve probably seen your team win. But Torquay United are about as durable as the rock they sell down by the seafront, 79 years and they’ve spent most of it perfecting the art of escapology in the 92 club, going , going, but never gone”.
We of course eventually did go, however, but that particular season we didn’t. Ian Atkins pulled off a monumental salvage operation. It was out of our hands going into the last 4 games, with one simple objective, acquire as many points as possible. Our 3rd to last game of that season, our relegation rivals, Stockport County. Sound familiar?
Well, yes and no. The difference this time round is that we both want back in, back into the fabled 92 as oppose to fighting to stay in it. The most crucial difference being, of course, with 4 games to go, is it is very much IN our hands. Both us and Stockport survived that season, with another County being wedged between us in the table, in the form of Notts. Notts, who, certainly threw a wedge between us and Sutton last night at Meadow Lane, and although historic recurrence is arguable, more so in the world of football, my point is – We’ve been here before!
Of course we have! This is the club that has provided the continual agony of roughly one mid-table finish in about 30 years of football. “April in Torquay” (although this year it’s May) was a coined phrase long before Gabriel Clarke chucked it in back in 2006, and the fact of the matter is we are a club, and collectively a fan base, that have been there and done it before. They aren’t going to let us off lightly during these 4 games, so get ready and enjoy the next 360 minutes (plus Gary Time) of being put through the wringer.
It’s what we, the custodians, signed up for when we fell in love with this ridiculous little football club, and walked down Marnham Road for the very first time all those years ago.
Think back to how far we had fallen. How that felt, how far back it was to even contemplate playing in the National League once again, let alone the Football League. Staring the very brink of existence straight down the barrel and watching more than one club cease to exist, in the meantime thinking, that could have, and still could be us. That was even after the granny kicking, mini-bus rides to places like Chester with a squad fuelled on the cheapest pasta money could buy.
We are the epitome of survival, the underdog, dubbed ‘the great survivors’, surviving season after season, this time, once again on the brink, of not oblivion, but the Football League. Do not deny yourself the pride that makes you feel or the way and manner in which we have done it, even if, as much as it would hurt not to do it this season, but if, we didn’t manage it, never ever write this club off, despair or jubilation, always keep perspective of far we have come, which brings me onto, cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The most successful domestic manager in English football, behind only Neil Warnock, is the manager of our football club. The Football League is potentially less than 360 minutes away, and argue all you like about the ‘freak nature’ of this season with the skewered integrity of the league, if we win it we’ll have won it because we are the best team in it, it’s as simple as that. That isn’t to say the standard is any worse amongst those top teams in this division, compared to our counterparts above. If I were to say anything to Southend fans right now it would be that life goes on in the National League and a good standard of football at times is played, but good luck on promotion, because it’s hard as f**k to get out of.
The very reason we are talking about life back in League 2, and the potential of seeing those Sky Bet League 2 badges embossed on the sleeves of our shirts next season is of course owed to that man, the Gaffer. Look at the managers amongst the lower echelons of the English game, and clubs of a similar ilk to ours, I wouldn’t want any of them right now.
There’s currently a confidence in the team, and in the squad, at a time where other managers and squads may feel the pressure and crumble. That derives from him, and the experience he has in positions such as these. Despite anything but a spectacular collapse and turn of events, we’re in this fighting until the very end. There’s no-one better in my opinion to be carrying us through. If there was a situation to be in, and there is, with what the next 4 games could potentially mean, then our Gaffer is the man you want.
It’s important to keep feet on the ground. I found myself corrected by a mate of mine the other day when talking openly about finding ourselves in the Playoffs. I threw out the flippant and clichéd ‘form goes out the window in the playoffs’ quote to which he replied, ‘does it? I’d say form was massive going into the playoffs’, and after thinking about it, he’s right.
We’ve just brushed aside two potential playoff candidates in the last two games and boiled enough p*ss along the way to keep us going for a good while. Maybe it’s the years of being conditioned to expect the worse which collectively accustoms our ideas of preparing for the torment and suffering of the playoffs, again borne out of experience. It’s a defence mechanism.
But it’s also the wrong mentality to have given the situation we are in. Playoffs are what they are, and if we find ourselves there we shouldn’t beat ourselves up or feel sorry about not taking the golden opportunity we were handed at Meadow Lane last night. Be confident in our conviction and believe that we’ll wreck any team that is put in front of us. Injury crisis or no injury crisis, we have momentum, we are the in form team in this league, and we are the team that no-one will want to play.
The Football League
I’ve kept these points fairly broad and that’s because you can drive yourself insane looking at the minutiae of League Tables and fixtures, scenarios and outcomes, it is of course conjecture, and despite it being quite fun, it can also become time consuming and energy sapping.
Put what has gone behind us, the long and short of it is, we are 4 wins away from a return to the Football League.
There is of course a lot of work still to do, and don’t be under any illusion that Stockport or Bromley will let us march to the title without a fight. It’s anything but a given, but it’s a very, very real possibility.
There’s a confidence, or an arrogance if you like, amongst the dinosaurs of the ex Football League clubs, saying that the Football League is ‘where we should be’, ‘where we belong’ and, as a result they are quick to be shouted down.
We deserve to be where we are. Well, yes, but that’s doesn’t detract from the validity of where statements such as those come from. We should be forgiven because it’s what we know. Torquay United is a club rich in history and heritage, there are only half a dozen or so clubs in the top 5 divisions of English Football that have never kicked a ball at Plainmoor. But why is that important? Because it gives us our identity. It’s the very fabric and DNA that determines us as a Football Club. Getting back into the Football League will mean more than just achievement on the pitch, it will also help to solidify prosperity off it, giving the best possible chance that we can pass this club on to future generations.
Did I mention conjecture? Apologies.
Fans and associates of bigger clubs in higher divisions may scoff at how important promotion would be for us and what it would mean. Perhaps because they don’t understand it. But what I would say, maybe more so to those younger supporters who have been getting used to life outside the Football League, is that if we do find ourselves next season up against the likes of Bradford City, Oldham Athletic and Bristol Rovers, remember, they’re just old mates of ours that we haven’t seen for a while. So make yourselves at home, invite them in, and don’t be shy.
COYY – Matt