Steve Harris – @steveharris84
As we wait for the announcement of Gary Johnson’s new summer signings for the 2022/23 campaign, I will now look back at how a number of former Torquay United managers have previously gone about rebuilding their respective squads in the close season.
After succeeding the long serving Eric Webber in the summer of 1965, Frank O’Farrell was keen to turn United into serious promotion contenders very quickly. Tommy Spratt, a former Busby babe who started his career with Manchester United, followed him from Weymouth and went onto become United’s top scorer in the 1965/66 campaign, as they won promotion in O’Farrell’s first season in charge.
Spratt’s fellow summer arrivals included Doug Clarke, who would establish himself as one of United’s best ever wingers, from Hull City and Gerry King, Alan Kirkman and Eric Burgess who joined from Cardiff City, Scunthorpe United and Watford respectively.
They would also be joined later in the season by goalkeeper Gary McGuire and former West Ham defender John Bond – an FA Cup winner in 1964; the latter becoming the first of many former Hammers enticed to Plainmoor by O’Farrell during his reign as manager.
In: Gerry King (Cardiff City), Tommy Spratt (Weymouth), Doug Clarke (Hull City), Alan Kirkman (Scunthorpe United), Eric Burgess (Watford)
As the country basked in the glory of Bobby Robson’s England side’s run to the semi-finals of Italia 90, big changes were afoot at Plainmoor. Mike Bateson’s takeover of the Gulls had given manager Dave Smith the funds to bring in Wes Saunders from his former club Dundee for a club record fee of £60,000 and he was joined by the legendary striker Tommy Tynan following his release by Plymouth Argyle.
Defender Peter Whiston, who had been on loan with the Gulls towards the end of the 1989-90 season, also arrived from Argyle. Chris Myers also made a return to the club two years after he was released by Cyril Knowles after a spell in the Western League with Barnstaple Town.
Goalkeeper Gareth Howells joined on loan from Tottenham Hotspur.
Tynan finished the campaign as United’s joint-leading scorer with 19 goals and Saunders and Myers were amongst the Gulls’ successful spot-kick takers against Blackpool in the Division Four play-off final against Blackpool, as United won promotion. Howells also became the first goalkeeper to save and score in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley, as he slotted home United’s winning spot-kick as the Gulls beat Blackpool 5-4 on penalties after drawing 2-2 in normal time.
In: Wes Saunders (Dundee), Tommy Tynan and Peter Whiston (Plymouth Argyle), Chris Myers (Barnstaple Town), Gareth Howells (Tottenham Hotspur)
After stopping the rot in the 1996-97 season with a 21st place finish, after finishing rock bottom in the previous campaign, Kevin Hodges and Steve McCall set about overhauling their squad.
Andy Gurney and Paul Gibbs would go on to establish an iconic wing-back pairing and Jamie Robinson would form part of a solid central defensive trio with Alex Watson and Jon Gittens.
Kenny Veysey returned to Plainmoor seven years after his departure to Oxford United to provide back up for Matthew Gregg in goal.
However, perhaps the shrewdest acquisition made by Hodges and McCall that summer was the signing of a young midfielder from Western League side Torrington by the name of Kevin Hill. Following a successful trial spell, Hill made his debut as a sub on the opening day of the campaign against Macclesfield Town which proved to be the first of a club record 474 appearances for United.
The 1997-98 season would see United emerge as one of Division Three’s surprise packages, as they reached the play-offs, after flirting with automatic promotion for a time, where they were beaten narrowly by Colchester United 1-0 at Wembley.
In: Andy Gurney (Bristol Rovers), Paul Gibbs (Colchester United), Jamie Robinson (Carlisle United), Kenny Veysey (Dorchester Town), Kevin Hill (Torrington)
With only four players under contract at the time of his appointment in the summer of 2007, Paul Buckle had virtually blank canvas to work with at the time of his appointment as Torquay United manager.
Aided by the backing of a new board headed by Alex Rowe, who had taken over from Mike Bateson as owners of the club, United were looking to rebuild their reputation as a football club following their first ever relegation from the Football League, and Leroy Rosenior’s infamous ten minute stint as manager.
Buckle returned to his previous club Exeter City to secure the signatures of Lee Phillips, Chris Todd and Martin Rice. They were joined by Chris Hargreaves, fresh from helping Oxford United reach the Conference play-offs, Tim Sills, a big target man signed from Hereford United, and Kevin Nicholson, a left back from Forest Green Rovers.
They were joined by a number of young hopefuls including Elliot Benyon and Danny Wring (Bristol City), Paul Hinshelwood (Brighton and Hove Albion) and Darren Mullings (Bristol Rovers). Chris Zebroski and Ishmael Welsh were also drafted in on loan from Millwall and Yeovil Town respectively.
It proved to be a memorable campaign for the Gulls as – over the course of a mammoth 59 game season – they reached the play-offs, where they lost out to Exeter City, and the final of the FA Trophy, only to lose 1-0 to Ebbsfleet United.
In: Lee Phillips, Chris Todd and Martin Rice (Exeter City), Chris Hargreaves (Oxford United), Tim Sills (Hereford United), Kevin Nicholson (Forest Green Rovers), Elliot Benyon and Danny Wring (Bristol City), Paul Hinshelwood (Brighton and Hove Albion), Darren Mullings (Bristol Rovers), Chris Zebroski (Millwall, loan), Ishmael Welsh (Yeovil Town, loan)
Martin Ling faced a major rebuild after succeeding Bristol Rovers bound Paul Buckle as United manager in the summer of 2011. In the wake of United’s League Two play-off final defeat to Stevenage at Old Trafford, a number of players left the club at the end of the 2010-11 season. Scott Bevan and Chris Zebroski had followed Buckle to the Memorial Stadium, Guy Branston headed north to sign for Bradford City and a number of loan players at the club returned to the parent clubs.
Austrian shot stopper Bobby Olejnik filled the void left by Bevan in goal and was one of four United players named in the League Two team of the season for 2011/12 (Kevin Nicholson, Lee Mansell and Eunan O’Kane were the others). Brian Saah followed Ling to Plainmoor from his previous club Cambridge United and Rene Howe finished the season as top scorer with 14 goals as United made the play-offs for a second season in a row – only to be denied by Cheltenham Town in the semi-finals.
In: Bobby Olejnik (Falkirk), Joe Oastler (Queens Park Rangers), Brian Saah (Cambridge United), Rene Howe (Peterborough United), Chris McPhee (Kidderminster Harriers), Taiwo Atieno (Unattached)