They say that hangovers get worse as you get older. Personally I’m not sure about that, but having given it some thought since Saturday I wold definitely say that relegations are getting more painful!
I would argue that every demotion I have seen has proved more grievous than the last.
So, in the true spirit of masochism, please allow me to guide you through the five years of famine that Torquay United have endured since I were a lad. It will start with a sharp scratch in 1992 and escalate towards this season’s denouement, which has left many of us screaming for a medic and begging for tramadol.
Torquay’s glory years ended in the early seventies when we fell back to our traditional place in the bottom division of the Football League. After that, the unmeritocratic Re-Election system insulated us from the cold winds of Non League football until 1986/87, when Bryn the Police Dog pulled the iron out of the fire for us, consigning Lincoln City to the first ever automatic relegation.
In his early days as Torquay Chairman, in 1990/1, Mod Dec Mike Bateson splashed the cash on signings like Tommy Tynan and Wes Saunders, and we won promotion after a memorable Wembley playoff against Blackpool.
That was a wonderful time for those of us too young to have watched Webber or O’Farrell’s teams (an overnight jaunt back from a playoff at Burnley was unreal), but a common reaction to going up into Division Three was that it would at the very least buy us another 12 months in the league!
1991/2 did bring some memorable moments. There were home wins against some big clubs: Birmingham in the cup plus WBA and Stoke in the league. Justin Fashanu kept us afloat and also managed a winner against Exeter. But despite an iconic purple shirt, we managed to win a grand total of zero away games. My mate Roy went to all 23, and his accelerating hair loss was a clear consequence of those thousands of fruitless miles.
Relegation was effectively confirmed at Easter with a limp loss against Chester City at Macclesfield and we were swiftly back where we thought we belonged.
This one stung quite a bit more. Leroy Rosenior’s team had produced the best football I’ve ever seen from Torquay to secure automatic promotion on that unforgettable day at Roots Hall in 2004.
In truth, we started as one of the relegation favourites. David Graham had predictably been sold but we had hung onto Alex Russell and signed a skinny young forward by the name of Bayo Akinfenwa.
The first week of the season was a sobering experience, as we sustained heavy home defeats by Hull and (slumming it) Sheffield Wednesday. We bumped along the bottom all year and it looked a hopeless task by Spring.
But we got a brilliant point at Hillsborough, and what a run we then went on in April! Consecutively, we put MK Dons, Port Vale, Oldham and Blackpool to the sword, giving ourselves a great chance to pull off an escape at Colchester on the last day.
I have a vivid memory pre-match, pissed up in a taxi, of assuring the driver that Torquay were unstoppable and would be securing a second season in the third flight. As with Alan Partridge’s second series, it was not to be. Torquay never showed up and for years I believed we had lost 2-0. In fact, future Grecian Craig Woodman netted a no-consolation 90th minute goal and it finished 2-1.
I have further vivid memories of kicking every traffic cone on the forlorn walk back to the station.
With the benefit of hindsight, that was probably the beginning of the end for us as a league club.
You can only go to the well so many times, and there is a reason why Russian Roulette has never been adopted as an Olympic Sport.
Bateson was by now out of love with the club and there were more members of his family on the payroll than Chris Zebroski has had hot dinners thrown at him. The Chairman wanted out. He had stopped any realistic financial support, and he threw away any reputation he had ever had for due diligence by selling to the fantasist- and man of straw- Chris Roberts. There’s a book in that whole episode, but suffice it to say he was potless, he sold our only half decent players in Jamie Ward and Adam Murray and replaced a seasoned manager in Ian Atkins with his hapless Czech mate Lubos Kubic.
We barely won a game after October and lost our cherished Football League status in listless fashion.
The pain was short-lived though, with a new consortium of locals buying the club in the summer and backing Paul Buckle as he built a team well capable of bringing back some good times.
This was a shambles, to be honest.
We had been back in the league for four years and it had generally gone really well. Paul Buckle left after Old Trafford but Martin Ling inherited some good players and found more as we reached the playoffs again in 2012.
But although we didn’t realise it, Thea Bristow and her family were not prepared to squander any more of their lottery winnings after Paul died (gone too soon- RIP) and by January we were bottom of the pile and sent for rookie manager Chris Hargreaves.
A good win at Wimbledon (Kingston) papered the cracks but was in fact one of the lowest quality games of football I had ever seen. (Don’t worry- there have been many subsequent contenders!).
Our slide could not be reversed, and we had thrown away our golden ticket. Despite a brilliant win at Fratton Park The National League gobbled us up again, and little did we know but there was worse- so much bleddy worse- to come.
I went to lots of the away games in 2015-2018, but I never really bought into the “Great Escape” celebrations if I’m honest. We had never been so poor, struggling year after year even to stay in a division we were once embarrassed to play in, and I was darned if I was going to go mental about beating North Ferriby!
But it did get worse, and I am not ashamed to say that it was more than I could stomach. Awful players by the dozen darkened Plainmoor’s door, and a mood hoover by the name of Gary Owers contrived to get us relegated into the National League South. That was- and is- a joke. I had sacked it off weeks before the end. We were now under the control of serial dream crusher Clarke Osborne and I joined many other lapsed Torquay fans in refusing to pay any more gate money unless things improved.
I’m back now. It was Gary Johnson who got me out of retirement and what fun we had, didn’t we? Each Christmas I gave him my heart, and watching the likes of Janneh, Kalala and local-boy-done-incredible Jamie Reid was a life affirming experience.
But then, Ashton Gate. This was followed by- ooh, let’s see: Lolos, Omar and- God help us- the likes of Crowe, Hanson and McGavin and it stopped being funny. Gary had lost that magic wand, Downesy looked more and more like an Aussie undertaker and we know the rest.
Regional football again? You have to be kidding me!!
But I am going to end on a brighter note. I’m not giving up again. Thanks in large part to having been asked to get involved with this website, and joining in the general nonsense of the Nat Obs Pod (not a Torquay United podcast), I have met some great people who love the Gulls and we will keep fighting for what we adore.
One thought on “TT BLOG – Gulls Relegations by Clive Hayward”
Great article Mark.