Thomas Kelly – @Tommyktufc
TK blogs about that man Gary Johnson
The 13th September 2018 has become one of the most important dates in the history of Torquay United Football Club. The Gulls, playing as a full time club against a league of part time sides, were struggling to make an impact in the National League South. The club had lost 1-0 at home to Chippenham Town in front of 1,454 supporters only a few days before, the club were in 14th position and confidence within the squad was low. Things needed to change.
Then on the date mentioned above, Gary Johnson was announced as Torquay United manager. Yes Gary Johnson, the former Latvia, Bristol City, Yeovil & Cheltenham manager was now managing the Gulls. A man who took Bristol City to the Championship in 2007, had taken Yeovil up the leagues in his two spells at the club from the Conference to the Championship and had won the Conference with Cheltenham Town in 2016, was now our gaffer in the National League South.
It was almost disbelief when the news broke. Gary had always been speculated about being manager in the past, but it never seemed to be a realistic option. Too expensive, too good to manage us in non-league, why would he come here?
His interview immediately installed belief to everyone at TUFC. He wanted to get the club up and going. He wanted to turn the atmosphere around, to get the support back to where it can be, to get us back to a higher level. Oh Gary thank you!
His first game in charge was away at Hungerford. It has been a long time since I felt such belief going into a game involving Torquay. Gary shook the hands of everybody who approached him, including myself. The way he put himself across to us was incredible. He couldn’t wait to get started. We won 2-0, we looked comfortable. The rise up the table had begun. His first home game against Woking saw us claw back a draw after going 2-0 down in the first half. He got Jamie Reid scoring goals, proving me wrong as the season progressed. I didn’t think he was good enough. What do I know!
Gary weeded out those who didn’t want to put the effort in and brought in those he thought would do. Aided by his son and his contacts at Bristol City, we were in business.
We smashed teams by big score lines, went on a great unbeaten run and went top after a 2-0 away win at Dartford in early December. In a tightly fought title challenge with Woking, Torquay went to Kingfield and we all know what happened there. 3-1 down, the lads thought brilliantly to draw 3-3 and all but end Woking’s title push. The following week, Torquay won the NLS title with a 2-0 win over Eastbourne. Gary Johnson had done it. He had taken the Gulls out of the NLS and back into the National League at the first attempt. He had turned us into winners, champions! Our first league title since 1927! Watching us lift the NLS trophy at Plainmoor was one of my best moments as a supporter of this club. After years of decline, the Gulls were finally heading back in the right direction. To the Football League, we were on our way.
Gary signed a new contract in the summer of 2019 and set his sights on the clubs National League campaign. With Boreham Wood at home first up, it was going to be a difficult game. Having lost the play-off final the previous season, it would be a good test for the lads in yellow. They didn’t disappoint. A 2-1 home win set the Gulls off to a good start and despite some inconsistency in the beginning, Torquay found themselves well amongst the play-off positions by the beginning of November. Then our form dipped, Torquay lost every other game in November and struggled to find any real winning momentum thereafter. Losing 6-2 at Yeovil the low point of the season.
Despite the inconsistency, the race for the play-offs was such a tight affair with so many teams from seventh placed Solihull Moors only seven points ahead of us after our 2-0 defeat at Sutton. It looked unlikely to happen but there was still a chance with a late surge. Ultimately Covid 19 ended the season early and Torquay finished 14h on PPG. Reflecting back, I think this wasn’t such a bad season, it was clear we had talent in the squad, we just needed to wise up a bit and with a few new players, the next season (whenever that would start), could be a good one for everyone at TQ1. I know there were a few in the fanbase who weren’t sure whether GJ was still good enough at this level and whether he was past it. Let’s be honest, who else would you have managing us with a track record like Gary’s?
This season has been so tough on everybody and with most games being played behind closed doors, it is testament to Gary and the entire squad for giving Gulls fans a season they won’t forget in a long time. To see Torquay United at the top end of the table, fighting for the National League title against sides like Notts County, Wrexham, Stockport, just to name a few big clubs in this division, with an injury list a mile long with so many key players injured for long spells and to have taken the fight to Sutton for as long as we did should be applauded. (Congratulations to Sutton by the way and hopefully see you next season!)
To think that Torquay United are now just one game away from a potential return to the EFL is simply incredible to think when you look where we were less than three years ago. Without Gary we quite possibly would still be stuck in the NLS, reminiscing on past glories of our EFL days, this Sunday we could be back in the 92 club again!
Gary Johnson has turned our fortunes around and I will forever be thankful to him for taking us on when we were at our lowest ebb. He has changed the whole mentality of the football club around and has made me a proud Torquay fan once again.
Whatever happens on Sunday, let’s not lose focus on how far we have come in such a small space of time. Will the stars align at Ashton Gate for our ex Bristol City manager? Here’s hoping so. With a number of ex-City players in our squad as well, I hope that helps in the preparations as well.
Whether you’re watching from Ashton Gate or on TV, be loud, be proud, we are Torquay United and we are all behind you lads.
COYY – Thomas