Despair of 2007 & Jubilation of 2019 – By Danny Burnell

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Danny Burnell – @danny_burnell92

Danny talks relegation in 2007 and title winners in 2019.

This week marks the anniversaries of two very different eras of Torquay United Football Club. Thursday marks 15 years ago since the 1-1 draw with Peterborough finally condemned the Gulls to relegation from the Football League, after 80 years. In contrast, Wednesday marks 3 years since the club were crowned National League South champions, the very first league title won by a United team.

2007 – I remember the words vividly that Saturday afternoon. Torquay United were going, going, gone. It was perhaps some sort of miracle that the club, who more often that not, languished in the Football League’s trap door, managed to escape relegation so many times. Think Barnet in 2001, Stevenage’s inadequate ground facilities, the Ian Atkins great escape just a season before. Torquay had a knack for it, whenever relegation loomed, Houdini magic reared it’s head to save the ‘favourite away-day’ from becoming lost in non-league abyss. Growing up a Torquay fan was never without it’s challenges. The Roots Hall promotion party was as good as it got in the 2000s, and even for a few decent FA Cup runs, it was largely miserable. 

In truth, the club was a shambles and that 06/07 season was a complete and utter disgrace. Chris Roberts left his ‘unique’ mark, on the football club. Lubos Kubik’s reign remains an enigma, in at a time the club badly needed stability. There was no leadership from the top, and that flowed down to the players, who lacked direction and quality. Ian Atkins’ heroics of last season were a distant memory, and so it told when he was shown the exit door in November. Lubos came and went in the longest and bleakest winter known to man, before Colin Lee & Keith Curle were left with the unenviable task of scathing off relegation.  

So when Peterborough came to Plainmoor on 14th April, the writing was pretty much on the wall. Torquay simply had to win their 4 remaining  games, and hoped both Boston & Wrexham lost all of theirs. As it panned out, Torquay got a creditable draw against the play-off chasers, but come 5pm, relegation was confirmed as the Gulls were 9 points behind both their relegation rivals with 3 to play. The fact the other two had to play each other ensured at least one of them would be out of United’s reach. 80 years of continuous football league status had ended in the most disastrous ways for the club. There was to be no reprieve this time, just acceptance we would be mixing it with Farsley Celtic and the likes. Torquay United had hit rock bottom (or so we thought!)

2019 – Champions. I don’t care if it’s champions of a part time league, or champions of England, title winning is etched in history. In the time the Gulls had first been relegated in 07, they had another spell in the FL, missing out narrowly on League One, and had yet more great escapes with the Kevin Nicholson class of 2016. However, 3 years ago this Wednesday will mark the anniversary in which a Torquay United side lifted a league title. Albeit, the Gulls were hot favourites for the crown, but made to work for it they were. Woking provided some stiff opposition, as did a few others, but when the Gulls beat Eastbourne 2-0 that afternoon, they knew they couldn’t be caught.

For all those years of misery, and aggravation, Gary Johnson done what no other manager could do. Yes, it was largely a part time league, but United were at that level. You beat what’s in front of you, and for most of season, they did. The players and staff earned their stripes, where goals were aplenty, and entertainment at Plainmoor was on a scale rivalling that of Leroy’s crusaders in 2004. 

Here’s a look back at the two sides on those respective days, days which changed the course of the club’s history for very different reasons.


MANAGER

Keith Curle will always be the manager who is tarnished with that relegation brush. In truth, the writing was on the wall way before he entered the building. The disastrous Roberts/Kubik era made sure of that. Two wins from 15 games in charge didn’t help his cause, but with the resources at his disposal and lack of quality in the squad, a one-way ticket to the Conference was always on the cards.

From Curle, to Johnson, and arguably the best manager United have had in their most recent history. When GJ took over in September 2018, it was hailed as a major coup for then mid-table NLS Gulls. This is a man who, in the last decade, got Yeovil Town into the Championship, and came within 90 minutes of the Premier League football with Bristol City. 168 games in, the Londoner is going strong, as he aims to go one better than last season and reach the promised land once more.

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GOALKEEPER

Simon Rayner – The Canadian stopper came in at a time of desperate need for the Gulls. Signed on loan in the March, he was the fourth permanent goalkeeper that season, following Nathan Abbey, Martin Horsell & Kevin Miller. A never ending cycle of goalkeepers which tells it’s own story.

Shaun MacDonald – Making his debut back at the start of the NLS campaign, the Geordie stopper has played himself into contention for a POTS award. Re-signing’s don’t get much better than that!


RIGHT BACK

Lee Andrews – The Carlisle loanee, turned permanent signing was an ever-present in United’s calamitous 06/07 campaign. I’m not saying he’s the sole reason we were relegated., but I’ve seen better right backs at Plainmoor in my time….

Ben Wynter – There’s nothing I can add to what’s already been said about Mr Consistent. 143 Gulls appearances in and no sign of letting up. Might have stood a chance of survival if he was born 15 years earlier!


CENTRE BACK

Steve Woods & Chris Robertson – Woodsy was a great defender. His partnership with Taylor in the Leroy years was iconic, but that’s as good as it got. When Taylor retired, that defensive partnership never recovered. Robertson came in at a turbulent time for the Gulls, but to his credit, remained at the club for a good number of years and provided strong stability at the back, latterly with the likes of Ellis & Branston. 

Jean Yves Koue Niate & Kyle Cameron By NLS standards, it was a fairly strong partnership. Niate was often battling it out with Sendells-White throughout the season, but GJ took a shine to the Frenchman. Not adverse to the odd mishaps, he chipped in with his share of goals from the back. Cameron remained a solid presence at the back, putting in a number of MOTM performances.


LEFT BACK

Mark Robinson – You’d be forgiven for not recalling this one. Robinson had a very successful career away from Plainmoor with York and the likes. One of many loanees at the club at the time, playing 18 times for the Gulls.

Liam Davis – A player taken too soon due to injury. Davis famed for his trademark left flank runs. An absolute baller and pleasure to watch him play. Rarely put a foot wrong.

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Photo courtesy of Glenn Lawrence

RIGHT WING

Chris McPhee – Made double the amount of substitute appearances (48), as he did starts (24). A striker/midfielder who never hit it off at Plainmoor, just the 3 goals in fact. 

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Kalvin Kalala – A fantastically talented individual who frustrated time after time. When he was on it, no better player at the club. Shouldn’t be playing for Dartford in the NLS at his stage of his career.


CENTRE MIDFIELD

Matt Hockley & Lee Mansell – Two legends of TUFC in their own rights. Similar in many ways with their tenacious work ethic, but thrusted into a team with no leadership or desire. By this time, Hockers had already played his way into Yellow Army folklore for his performances throughout the Leroy years, Mansell in contrast, was just starting his TUFC journey.

Connor Lemonheigh-Evans & Frank Vincent – This was the season CLE shone. His first loan spell passed by without too much incident, but within the NLS title winning campaign, he began to show everyone just why he’s the real deal. 147 Gulls appearances, and as Saturday proved, still immensely important for this Gulls side. Vincent as a player we saw fairly little of. A tidy footballer who could pick a pass, slotted into GJ’s side well.


LEFT WING

Kevin Hill – If there’s one player who didn’t deserve to be in a relegation team, it’s Kevin Hill. The all-time TUFC appearance maker had seen it all throughout his Gulls career. Largely a one cub player, and recognised as one of the greats. Got the Torquay goal that day on the stroke of half time.

Jake Andrews – One of the quartet of Bristol City loanee’s that stood out. Scored an impressive 10 goals from that position, including a hat-trick against Oxford City. A wand of a left foot and a baller on his day. Secured title winning status for the Gulls as his left foot shot nestled into the net 7 minutes from time.

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STRIKERS

David Graham & Reuben Reid – Let’s not kid ourselves, this was not the DG of 2003. Whatever Wigan & Sheff Wednesday did to him post Plainmoor certainly had an effect. That’s not to say, one of my footballing idols growing up. On loan from Wednesday at the time, he was unable to preserve United’s FL status. Reid came in on loan from Plymouth, but too little too late as his goals were not enough to keep the Gulls alive.

Jamie Reid & Saikou Janneh – Untouchable for large periods of the season. Just the 50+ goals between the two that campaign and a pleasure to watch. Ripped defences apart and linked up well with their fellow midfielders. Both plying their trade, and rightly so, in the Football League.


SUBS

Martin Horsell – Young goalkeeper who largely played a bit part for the Gulls. Unused sub.

George Burton – Another youngster who failed to register an appearance. Unused sub.

Stev Angus – Failed to make an impact at Plainmoor in his solitary season there. 

Jamie Sendells-White – Couldn’t nail down that spot alongside Cameron on a permanent basis.

Ryan Dickson – Another Argyle loanee at the time, unused sub.

Ryan Dickson – An unused sub 11 years previously against Peterborough, he managed the last 15 minutes against Eastbourne. Only player to be involved in both matches, respectable stat!

Stephen Cooke – On loan from Bournemouth at the time, played 13 times in Yellow…….apparently.

Opi Edwards – Completes the quartet of City stars. A tricky winger who has been plagued with injuries. Soon to be a regular back at Plainmoor? Unused sub.

Lee Thorpe – Striker turned centre back who played a massive part in United’s great escape the season prior. Was unable to replicate that.

Olaf Koszela – Is there a Torquay future for Olaf? The summer will tell us that.

COYY – Danny


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