Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse
With the good ship Torquay United trying to find safe passage back to the League with just 3 games left, here are some reflections on memorable late season games from seasons past.
There have been some big highs and plenty of crushing lows, but to start with I’m going to reference an entirely forgettable evening in 1985.
PORT VALE (H) 26/04/85
I had spent a less than enjoyable morning working at Presto in Paignton, where having recently turned 18 I was now entitled to the shittest job in the shop. I was now deemed safe to use the rather terrifying “compactor” around the back, and earned every penny of my £1.20 per hour shovelling boxes of unsold food into the jaws of that terrifying beast.
A mate was one of Plymouth Argyle’s thousands of fair weather fans (he actually supported Coventry), and we went down to Home Park to watch them play Blackpool. Argyle were on their way to promotion out of Division 3 and the Janners were out in force. It was a huge crowd and although Blackpool took the lead, they were lambs to the second half slaughter. Plymouth – featuring future Gulls like Kevin Hodges, Gary Nelson, Tommy Tynan and Russell Coughlin, and managed by Mike Bateson’s first manager Dave Smith- won 3-1 to make elevation almost certain.
Torquay were coming to the end of their worst season for many years, finishing stone last in the Football League. No relegation in those days of course, thankfully, and we were still in the excellent habit of playing on Saturday evenings. This meant there was time to jog up Bronshill Road to watch what was a lost cause for us and – it turned out – a celebration for Port Vale. They needed a result to seal promotion and oatcake-munchers were a sizeable proportion of that night’s crowd (1800). My second game of the day also followed the script, with a young Robbie Earle grabbing the only goal, making me wonder what I had ever done to deserve such a mediocre football fandom fate.
CREWE (H) 09/05/87
You know this one, right? Everybody was there. The crowd must have been at least 18000, and of course it took an injury time equaliser by goal machine Paul Dobson to grab salvation from the jaws of a police dog.
I wasn’t. I was, at that time, a student following the mighty Leeds United in their vain attempt to get out of the Second Division. I was therefore in Brighton, and only got to hear of the Plainmoor scenes via Sports Report as we were having kick about in a local park after a forgettable but play-off-berth-securing 2-2 draw.
I haven’t seen the Netflix film either, so for this one I will let the hero tell the tale himself. This is Jim Mc Nichol’s piece from The Guardian:
BARNET (A) 05/05/01
It’s an incredibly close call, but on balance I think I enjoyed this one even more than Southend. We were a poor side that season, and we had been unable to pull away from trouble. Wes Saunders had been put out of his misery and Colin Lee – a bloke who really knows management and was a Gulls legend from about 10 minutes after he pulled on our shirt for the first time – took charge for the loser-has-to-fall finale at Underhill.
The love that our fans have for our club was very clear that day. We travelled in our many thousands and a fixture that might normally pull 2000 managed 3 times that. Word got around the pub that the away seats were filling up fast, and we made a great decision to sup up & join the queue. We gave Chris Kamara some stick whilst we waited, and got in at about 2pm. Hundreds were locked out.
Against many expectations we put the Bees royally to the sword, with Rees, Hill & Graham putting us 3 up by half time. Dreamland! We never do it easy though, and defending up a massive slope proved beyond us. We shipped 2 goals and couldn’t breathe until the final whistle put us out of our misery. Torquay survived, and Barnet suffered their first of several relegations. I will always remember walking up that slope, needing oxygen by the time we got to the halfway line and singing my heart out in front of the main stand. Champagne on the train home: the great survivors had done it again!
SOUTHEND (A) 08/05/04
And all our dreams came true!
Leroy’s entertainers hit the “already on the beach” home side like a train early on. We raced into a 2-0 lead (Woods, Graham). It was a day when we had travelled more in hope than expectation. If Huddersfield could beat Cheltenham (who we had humbled 3-0 not long before) we were play-off bound after a season that would, anyway, have lived long in the memory.
But we held on for a 2-1 win. Southend had a blatant penalty disallowed, but just occasionally the breaks fall your way and you need to embrace them with both hands. The noise in that packed, low roofed away end was incredible and we floated home: automatic promotion secured for the first time since 1966.
(My good friend Roy- “The Mechanic”- was there in ’66. Darlington was an overnight bus ride in those days, and the Quakers were good enough to donate the single point we needed with a 0-0 draw good enough to send Frank O’Farrell’s Barmy Army up).
COLCHESTER (A) 06/05/05
They say memory often protects you. Traumatic experiences can be blanked out. I loved Leroy’s team. They had fought against the odds all season to preserve that hard fought promotion to Division 3. Up against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City they were often outgunned but had put together a phenomenal run in the final weeks, leaving us in need of at least a point at Layer Rd to stay up. Colchester had nothing to play for, and we travelled in genuine expectation rather than hope.
My 2 real memories of the day are a taxi ride from pub to ground, nonchalantly telling the driver we were in great form and were going to piss all over his team, and then joining about 20 other bereft fans spending our summer holiday money in the first off licence we could find after the final whistle. Traffic cones took a beating too as we trudged back to the station.
Until I sat down to write this, I thought we had lost the game 2-0. It turns out that we went 2 down in the 90th minute (in a game where we never had a kick) but that some bloke called Craig Woodman scored for us in injury time. Didn’t matter. Crushed!
BOSTON (H) 06/05/06
Lucas Hunter reminded me about this: it was actually a 0-0 draw but we were back to the great escapes again. Ian Atkins was the mastermind, coaxing several do-or-die wins from a poor team to secure league status. It was the last time we were able to go to the well, because we did fall into the abyss 12 months later, but this was a real celebration.
As many as 5600 crammed into Plainmoor that afternoon, to acclaim a fantastic feat of escapology. The highlight had been a long, long trip up the M6 to Carlisle on the Bank Holiday Monday. The Cumbrians had been the best team in the league by a country mile and were already champions by the time we arrived at their party. We must have been 10/1 with the bookies. The ground was as full as I had ever seen it and a Brunton Park Massacre surely beckoned.
Nope. We started the game in flames, and to the bemusement of the home fans and the delirium of 200 nutters we were soon 2-0 up! Craig Taylor got one of them and although the final hour was a siege of Little Big Horn proportions the outcome was rather better for the defenders. We escaped with the three points and the Fells have never looked so lovely in the early evening sunshine as our coach glided downhill all the way to Devon.
Carlisle was the scene of another lovely “balls out” smash and grab by the Yellows in 1993. We had struggled after relegation and the trapdoor was creaking again, but we made a corner count. (It might have been a free kick!). Everyone who saw it would swear that it was Duane Darby’s left nipple that forced a corner over the line. One Nil to the Torquay Boys and a few of us crossed the border for some celebrations in Dumfries.