Steve Harris – @steveharris84
After Ben Wynter became the latest winner of the Ian Twitchin award for making the most appearances for the Gulls in the 2021-22 campaign as an ever-present, I take a look back at a number of other players who have also been ever-presents for United over the years.
Ian Twitchin (1975-76)
What better way to start this article with the player whom the award that Ben Wynter received is named after. Since making his debut in 1970, local boy made good Ian Twitchin was a stalwart player for United in less heralded times in the 1970s and early 1980s. Like Kevin Hill in more recent times, a variety of managers were always prepared to select Twitchin, usually at either right back or in the centre of midfield; It’s a list that includes Allan Brown, Jack Edwards, Malcolm Musgrove, Frank O’Farrell and Mike Green.
Although he was released by Green at the end of the 1980-81 season, Twitchin still went on to earn a richly deserved testimonial against Aston Villa at the start of the 1983-84 campaign.
John Turner (1978-79)
Now found working behind the bar in the Gulls’ Nest on match days, John Turner was one of the most popular goalkeepers ever to appear for Torquay United. He arrived at Plainmoor in the summer of 1978 with a fine pedigree – he started out as an apprentice at Derby County under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. Whilst with his former club Reading, Turner became one of the few keepers to displace the legendary Royals’ keeper Steve Death – albeit temporarily. After winning the Gulls’ player of the year award in the 1979-80 season and being named in the PFA Division Four team of the season, Turner secured a £80,000 move to Chesterfield. However, Turner would later return to Plainmoor ahead of the 1983-84 season, but became one of the victims of Dave Webb’s cost-cutting measures. He later found his way to Peterborough United, who he joined as a replacement for a certain David Seaman.
Vince O’Keefe (1980-81 & 1981-82)
Signed by United manager Mike Green from the Grecians as a replacement for the Chesterfield-bound John Turner for a then club record fee of £25,000. O’Keefe would make 108 league appearances for the Gulls between 1980 and 1982 – and was an ever present in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 campaigns – before he was signed for Blackburn Rovers by former Grecians manager Bobby Saxton for £30,000.
Phil Lloyd (1987-88, 1988-89 & 1989-90)
One of Cyril Knowles’ first signings when he succeeded Stuart Morgan in the summer of 1987. Knowles knew exactly what he was getting when he snapped him up, having previously worked with him at Darlington. Employed as part of a back three with John Impey and Dave Cole, Lloyd played each and every one of United’s record 62 matches in the 1987-88, across league, FA Cup, League Cup, Sherpa Van Trophy as well as the play-offs. If that wasn’t enough, Lloyd was once again an ever present in the 1988-89 season, which saw United reach Wembley for the first time ever in the Sherpa Van Trophy. His efforts were recognised when he was voted as the club’s player of the year for the campaign.
In the 1989-90 season, Knowles left Plainmoor and was replaced by Dave Smith, but Lloyd remained a first team regular. His appearance sequence was only broken by a broken leg sustained in an FA Cup first round clash with Maidstone United in the 1990-91 campaign.
Alex Watson (1996-97 & 1997-98)
The brother of former Everton and England defender Dave Watson, Alex Watson joined the Gulls from AFC Bournemouth in November 1995 for a fee of £50,000 as Eddie May looked to shore up a defence that had conceded 16 goals in the space of three games (3-4 Plymouth Argyle, 0-4 Preston North End & 1-8 against Scunthorpe United) prior to his appointment. While Watson wasn’t able to prevent the Gulls from finishing bottom of the league in the 1995-96 season, he did play a significant role in helping United to turn their fortunes around under Kevin Hodges over the next few years.
As captain, he was an ever-present in the 1996-97 campaign – and he was voted as club’s player of the year. The 1996-97 season saw him appear in a centre back pairing with Jon Gittens, but in the 1997-98 campaign they formed part of a central defensive trio with Jamie Robinson – as the Gulls reached the 1998 Third Division play-off final, where they were beaten 1-0 by Colchester United. Following the departure of Hodges and his assistant Steve McCall to Plymouth Argyle, Watson worked as player-assistant manager under Wes Saunders – a role which he held until he left the club in 2001.
Kevin Dearden (2001-02)
One of Roy McFarland’s first signings when he took over as Gulls manager in the summer of 2001, Kevin Dearden had made his name in the lower leagues with Brentford and Wrexham after starting his career with Tottenham Hotspur. Dearden was an ever-present for United in the 2001-02 campaign and was voted as player of the year – and was the last goalkeeper to win the award before Shaun MacDonald did so last season.
After the appointment of Leroy Rosenior as manager following Roy McFarland’s departure, Dearden often found himself sharing the goalkeeping duties with Dutchman Arjan Van Heusden, as the Gulls won automatic promotion in the 2003-04 season.
Steve Woods (2003-04)
Remarkably, Steve Woods spent the entirety of the 2003-04 promotion campaign under Leroy Rosenior on non-contract forms. However, he was rewarded with a two-year deal in the summer of 2004 for his efforts. Woods originally joined the Gulls from Chesterfield under Roy McFarland in the 2001-02 season, and became a regular fixture in the United defence until his departure in 2009.
Also, Woods was so comfortable on the ball, he was occasionally used as a holding midfielder when the situation demanded it; and it was while playing in the centre of midfield that he came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock with a strike from distance against Birmingham City in the third round of the FA Cup in 2005-06.
Kevin Nicholson (2007-08)
One of the first batch of signings made by Paul Buckle following the Gulls’ relegation from the Football League in 2007, left back Kevin Nicholson quickly became a fans’ favourite. His dead ball deliveries from corners and free kicks, not to mention his long throws, provided numerous assists.
After establishing himself as one of the best left backs outside the Football League, Nicholson eventually cemented a place as a regular for the Gulls following their promotion from the Blue Square Premier in 2009. In the 2011-12 season, he was one of four players named in the PFA League Two team of the season (Lee Mansell, Eunan O’Kane and Bobby Olejnik were the others)
Nicholson left Plainmoor in 2014, but returned in the 2015-16 campaign as player-manager and oversaw two ‘great escape’ (2015-16 & 2016-17) before his dismissal early in the 2017-18 season.
Liam Davis (2018-19)
One of Kevin Nicholson’s last signings as United manager, Liam Davis didn’t actually feature for the Gulls under Nicholson, as he missed the opening 11 games of the 2017-18 campaign. However, Davis didn’t miss a game under his predecessor Gary Owers, and remained an ever-present following the appointment of Gary Johnson, who he previously served under at Northampton, Yeovil and Cheltenham, as United won the National League South title in the 2018-19 season.
Other ever-presents to have appeared for the Gulls include:
Graham Horn (1982-83)
Derek Dawkins (1984-85)
Kenny Veysey (1989-90)
Paul Trollope (1993-94)
Andy Marriott (2005-06)
Bobby Olejnik (2011-12).