Rachel looks back at Gulls Legend Chris Hargreaves
Meeting your heroes or merely engaging with them in the world of Twitterdom is always a thrill and an honour but occasionally can shatter illusions. Attending a wedding recently the head barman, formerly a BA airline steward, spoke of many famous folk he had welcomed aboard and while many characters and their foibles did not surprise me, a couple dashed my hopes, disappointing to learn they were divs/divas. Thankfully legendary US singer Cher was “a total delight” so that was met with a big sigh of relief.
I’ve met many footballers over the years, most notably I have been in the company of Aston Villa royalty, club captain, League title and European cup winner Dennis Mortimer at a supporters club forum in Kingskerswell a few years back now. He was everything I had hoped he would be, engaging, personable and humble.
For most of the noughties my support of Torquay United was somewhat capricious as there was still a SW Lions Travellers club based in Torquay. However it became more and more ingrained throughout the 2007/08 season on the back of ignominious relegation from the football league for the first time in the club’s history propelled by 3 different managers. Let it never be said I’m a football glory hunter! Interestingly our exit from league football coincided with the lowest recorded attendance that same season of just over 1,500 against current glamour team Wrexham, who themselves brought around 70 fans to TQ1. Different times.
2007/08 brought a change of chairman with consortium, a short lived return for Leroy Rosenior before Paul Buckle took up the reins as manager. It was to be a good season for Torquay Utd, but a season that fell short in the play offs. It was a squad built on a solid defence of Chris Todd and Chris Robertson with industrious full backs Kevin Nicholson and Matt Hockley. This was complimented by a Charles Atlas manual midfield of Lee Mansell, Wayne Carlisle, Nicky Wroe and club captain Chris Hargreaves and a dream team strike force of Tim Sills and Elliott Benyon, with wing trickery of Danny Stevens in the mixing pot. While 07/08 was an so close but no cigar season, 2008/09 was a barnstormer! A season ably led by our own captain marvel Chris Hargreaves. A player whose football career had seen him work through the Everton youth ranks, through lower league northern clubs before joining newly non-league Torquay United.
The Plainmoor faithful soon grew fond of the no-nonsense midfielder with his appearance more Faith No More than keep the faith, his straggly long hair, chiselled good looks and imposing frame. A player who had endeared previous clubs with his whole-hearted aggressive approach to midfield domination, and a midfielder who could wade in with a few tasty goals too. His heart of a lion spirit and winning mentality cannot be underestimated in Torquay’s successful play off final winning season. He had skills, intelligence and the muscle to win most battles on the pitch. Often playing with an impertinence and a cheeky smile that could often diffuse a heated encounter, a warrior with I shouldn’t wonder a bottle of Timotei shampoo in his locker, a player who at aged 35 it could be said was marginally past his prime but still as competitive and combative as he had been in previously seasons for a miscellany of clubs.
With a squad well equipped for promotion, it wasn’t plain sailing and the season still needed the play off routes and so that day at Wembley Stadium on 17th May, 2009 saw him lead the team out onto the hallowed turf for a tough old encounter with Cambridge United. A full blooded encounter and a game that is forever synonymous with the commentary “Carlisle, looking for Benyon……SILLLLLLLSSSSSSSS!!!” and yet at the heart of that final was a fantastic all round performance from the captain and a quite brilliantly struck 1st goal to set us on our way.
A worthy addition to the Torquay United legends alumni and a player that if I ever do get to meet him at TQ1 – and not the lad who often pops up in the Gulls Nest whom I’ve since nicknamed ‘Chris Hargreaves stunt double’ – I’d like to buy him a Bryn Ale, thank him for captaining our most successful team in my lifetime and maybe, if I remember to pack it, ask him to sign the excellent and thoroughly recommended Where’s Your Caravan? My Life on Football’s B-Roads, a far more varied, bittersweet and yet entertaining life than most could wish for in the sport.
His physical, gladiatorial approach to the game managed to eke out a few more sinews and tubs of winter green for a further season before a swansong at former club Oxford United where he once again found success in promotion before a return to TQ1 in a managerial capacity under financial restraints of a shoestring budget and more recently at neighbours Yeovil Town for a short stint, again at a struggling club with barely a pit to poss in, and I don’t doubt there is a coaching job out there to acknowledge his knowledge and ability. Super Chrissie Hargreaves, what a legend.
Up the Gulls.