Dom talks about Torquay’s first trip to the ‘New Wembley’
FA TROPHY 2008
With the Gulls flying high in the Conference National League in late 2007, Paul Buckle could have been forgiven for seeing the FA Trophy as an inconvenience. But United’s first attempt at winning this Cup would be an enthusiastic one. It started on 15th December with a modest 1st Round 1-0 win over Bashley at Plainmoor (Sills the goal-scorer), then wins over Newport, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley (all now EFL teams) and York City followed. A 1st leg Semi-Final victory over York City, with Sills and Phillips scoring, was enough to send the Gulls through to Wembley on 10th May 2008. The opponents? Ebbsfleet.
Ebbsfleet were having a notable season, because they had been taken over by ‘MyFootballClub’, the brain child of journalist Will Brooks, who created an online website that offered everyone a chance of part owning and running a football club – with it’s “Own the club, pick the team” slogan enough to gather plenty of traction. The deal was done in February 2008 to purchase the newly renamed Ebbsfleet, formerly known as Gravesend & Northfleet, and each week a vote was taken on who should pick the team – either the MyFootballClub investors or manager Liam Daish. Common sense prevailed each time and picked Daish (https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/26/what-happened-to-myfootballclub-ebbsfleet-united). It was a successful start to the new regime and the club had finished 11th in the Conference, whilst they also beat Aldershot to reach the FA Trophy Final.
Which takes us exactly 15 years back to the 10th May 2008. Torquay approached the final as favourites, but had just suffered play-off heartbreak against fierce rivals Exeter City. We were all licking our wounds from that gut wrenching result, but the excitement of visiting the new Wembley (opened in March 2007) for the first time was enough to propel the Yellow Army to the ticket office and book their trips to London. We were all looking for a hangover cure, and with Ebbsfleet’s new owners turning up in numbers, over 40k made for a noisy atmosphere at a sun-drenched Stadium. Pints gladly supped, we gathered in our seats in the far corner of Wemberlee. Looking around it truly was a day when fair weather fans (and their kids) were there in force, even my partner (and now wife) made the effort!
The first half saw Paul Buckle’s team try to take the initiative, but with energy and sharpness stifled, it was Ebbsfleet who were more likely to score. On around 40 minutes Martin Rice (recalled in place of Simon Raynor after his disastrous semi-final performance) dashed out of goal and fouled Luke Moore. Up stepped ex-Gull (and future Gull) Chris McPhee, but his shot was palmed away by Rice. A let off for the lethargic Gulls, surely now we would assert ourselves? But then just before half time with Chris Todd robbed of the ball by John Akinde, the ball found McPhee perfectly in the middle to tap home for 1-0. It had to be McPhee.
The diddy men Danny Stevens and Elliott Benyon were then brought on by Bucks to try and spring United into life. Tim Sills had an attempt cleared off the line, and Benyon should have scored with a close range header, but as the minutes ticked on, the game faded away and so did our 2007-08 season. The only moment of note for us came when Kevin Hill arrived as a late substitute and broke Dennis Lewis’s appearance record with his 474th game for the Yellows. A shame it wasn’t a proper celebratory moment for the legend that is Hilly (or the team), but that’s football.
Game over and our lift home was thankfully fairly quick, though we did have the misfortune of witnessing numerous ‘MyFootballClub’ members chirping in taxis through London, and rather than provide a nice hangover cure, the loss just added a little agony to what we had endured the week before. Luckily for us the likes of Bucks, Colin Lee and Alex Rowe were made even more determined by the defeats, and started plotting the 2008-09 season straight away…and we all know how that turned out! 2007-08 had great players, goals galore, fun, drama, Setanta Sports! – just about everything apart from the all-important trophies, and it has left a mark in my memory for a year when we tried to do it all, but just fell short.
As for the pesky Ebbsfleet, their online support dwindled in the coming years and eventually the investor forum was disbanded and they ended up yoyoing between the NL and the NLS. No rematch for 2023-24, as they head up as champions whilst we drop down…sigh.