Monday, May 1, 2017

Out of the frying pan...

On Saturday 29 April 2017, once again Torquay United went into the final game of the season fighting against relegation. Showing grit and determination, the Gulls recorded their third consecutive victory to save themselves the indignity of slipping into regional division of lower league football.

In doing so, Kevin Nicholson and the players had to overcome a season full of off-field turmoil. After years of mismanagement a prolonged takeover (initially announced on 20 December 2016 but not ratified until 27 February 2017) of the club was completed by Gaming International. On one hand we should be grateful to Gaming International as it was only loans that they made to the club, that saved Torquay United from administration and the inevitable associated points deduction.

However, in saving their status in the National League, a lot of supporters are left wondering if it is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Gaming International (GI) purport to be a company for the management and operation of greyhound and speedway racing tracks, but really appear to be property developers and responsible for a series of failed plans to develop new stadiums.

Their track record is not promising:
  • Clark Osborne – the owner of GI and current chairman of Torquay United – was a director of Bristol Stadium PLC who in 1986, forced Bristol Rovers (through rent increases) out of their Eastville Stadium before selling the stadium to IKEA. The plan at that stage was to build a new greyhound stadium but that never came to fruition. Instead they moved the greyhound racing organisation from Bristol to Swindon.
  • However, in 2014, announced that planning permission had been granted to build houses on the Swindon greyhound track. Again, the plan was to build a new stadium, but three years later there is still no sign of the stadium being developed.
  • A similar experience has taken place at Reading. This time Gaming International took over the greyhound and speedway stadium, announcing plans to build a new stadium and casino complex. However, they then shutdown the Reading Racers speedway team.
  • In 1995, GI took over Poole Stadium PLC and the running of the greyhound racing and speedway team based there; the stadium being the former home of Poole Town football club. Poole Town have turned around their fortunes this year and have been chasing promotion into the National League. However, for Poole Town to progress they need a stadium that is compliant with the league standards. Despite expressing an interest in hosting Poole Town, GI as yet have announced any plans to help the football club back to their former home.
In the case of Torquay United, the announcement of taking over the club was tied into the prospect of developing a new stadium and GI are believed to have been involved in discussions with the local council to take over the freehold of the Plainmoor Stadium.

The next few weeks will be crucial for the future of Torquay United, and what supporters can expect from the new owners. The club is in desperate need of investment for it to start working its way back up the football league pyramid. With so much uncertainty and rumours facing the club, GI must be seen to publicly back the club financially and through their interaction with fans.

One thing is certain… it is never dull being a Torquay United supporter.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Escape from oblivion

Torquay  United are past masters at the great escape, but the 2015/16 season may prove to be the greatest escape yet completed.

Previous Great Escapes

  • The 1986/87 season saw the start of automatic relegation into the Conference League. With the final game of the season to go, Torquay were second from bottom on 47 points, below them was Burnley on 46 points. Lincoln City had 48 points and seemed in least danger. The final game was against Crewe Alexandra at Plainmoor. At half-time Crewe were leading 2-0. Two minutes into the second-half Torquay's centre-half, Jim McNichol, scores from a free kick. Despite an all-out attack, Torquay seem unable to get the equaliser - even hitting the crossbar. Seven minutes from time a piece of football folklore was created. A police dog by the name of Bryn believed that Jim McNichol was running to attack his handler, and sinks his teeth into the centre-half's thigh. It was from the resultant four minutes of injury time that Paul Dobson scored the goal that kept them in the Football League.
  • At the end of the 1995/86 season, Torquay United finished bottom of Division Three, but were saved from automatic relegation from the Football League when Stevenage's ground was deemed unfit for League Football.
  • The final game of the 2000/2001 season was Torquay United away at Barnet. Before the start of the game Barnet were bottom of the Third Division, and one point ahead of them was Torquay United. The Gulls needed to avoid defeat to keep their League status, Barnet needed to win. Goals from Jason Rees, Kevin Hill and David Graham gave the Gulls a 3-0 half-time and goalkeeper Stuart Jones had saved a penalty. Despite a fierce second-half comeback the Gulls won 3-2 and ensure League football for another season. 
  • In the 2005/06 season, Ian Atkins took over as manger the Gulls when they were 5 points adrift at the foot of League 2, with only 6 games of the season left:

Rushen & Diamonds
Torquay United

Following four consecutive victories, the Gulls went into the final day of the season as one of 7 clubs facing possible relegation out of the Football League. The Gulls needed one point to ensure safety, which was achieved following a goalless draw at home to Boston United.

Torquay United461313205366-1352
Notts County461216184863-1552
Stockport County461119165778-2152
Oxford United461116194357-1449
Rushden & Diamonds461112234476-3245

The 2015/16 season

The 2015/16 season was proving to be a tumultuous season for the Gulls. A new inexperienced board of directors were struggling to financially keep the Gulls afloat. The decision to appoint Kevin Nicholson as player/manager was met with wide-spread derision. However with quiet determination, Kevin and his team of backroom staff set about organising a revolution. Despite being inexperienced as a manager, cleared out a number of under performing players and brought in his own team of players.
Image result for kevin nicholson manager

A series of postponements meant that despite Kevin Nicholson's best efforts, the Gulls slipped to the bottom of the Vanarma National League, and many fans feared a slip into the football obscurity of National League South and the ensuing financial ruin of the club.
On 16 February 2016, Torquay United were rooted to the bottom of the league and 12 points from safety:
Pl W D L F A W L D F A GD Pts
19 Altrincham 32 6 5 4 20 23 2 4 11 11 31 -23 33
20 Boreham Wood 32 3 6 8 14 19 4 5 6 13 14 -6 32
21 FC Halifax Town 31 3 8 6 26 36 4 1 9 17 28 -21 30
22 Welling United 31 4 5 7 17 22 2 3 10 8 21 -18 26
23 Kidderminster Harriers 32 4 3 9 16 22 1 5 10 16 29 -19 23
24 Torquay United 29 2 2 9 14 27 2 6 8 18 32 -27 20
Two months later, having displayed almost promotion winning form (played 15, won 9, drew 3. lost 3 goals for 17, goals against 11, points total 30), the Gulls position was confirmed and the the league table looked like:
Pl W D L F A W L D F A GD Pts
17 Torquay United 44 7 4 11 24 31 6 7 9 25 39 -21 50
18 Chester 44 8 8 6 39 27 4 4 14 22 41 -7 48
19 Guiseley 44 7 7 8 29 35 3 9 10 14 31 -23 46
20 Boreham Wood 44 4 7 11 17 24 6 7 9 23 25 -9 44
21 FC Halifax Town 43 6 8 7 34 42 5 2 15 19 39 -28 43
22 Altrincham 44 7 9 6 29 30 2 5 15 14 40 -27 41
23 Kidderminster Harriers 44 5 6 11 20 28 3 6 13 24 39 -23 36
24 Welling 44 5 6 11 21 30 3 5 14 14 35 -30 35

Once again there is talk of new owners taking over the Gulls, but on the basis of this, the greatest of escapes, surely Kevin Nicholson and his coaching staff should be allowed to continue their revolution and bring further success to the Gulls.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Your club needs you... Now !

It has always been eventful being a supporter of Torquay United - footballs most frustratingly entertaining team.

Torquay United do not do mediocrity and like to ensure a thrilling end to each season by either challenging for promotion or fighting relegation:

  • May 2007 - Relegated to the Conference for the first time. A new consortium takes ownership of the club
  • May 2008 - Lose Conference play-off semi-final to Exeter City and are beaten in the FA Trophy Final by Ebbsfleet United
  • May 2009 - Beat Cambridge United in play-off final at Wembley
  • May 2011 - Beaten by Stevenage Borough in League Two play-offf final
  • May 2012 - Beaten in League Two play-off semi-final by Cheltenham Town
  • April 2014 - Relegated to the Conference having finished bottom of League Two

The 2014/15 season has been turbulent for the Gulls. Having been relegated from the Football League, the Gulls started brightly in the Conference. In September they were second in the league after a 10-game unbeaten run which included six successive victories. However in October, the Gulls failed to make the FA Cup first round for the first time in club history after a 2-0 defeat at Aldershot in the fourth qualifying round. The demise in league form followed and they recorded only one win in 12 league games. Paul Sturrock, an experienced league manager, was brought in to act as an advisor but only lasted for 4 days before he left to manage Yeovil Town

With the Gulls in one of their lowest ever league positions, Thea Bristow - the Torquay United chairman - announced in January that she would step down at the end of the season and sell the club, explaining in a statement "It is best for me and my family that I step down and allow others to take the club forward".

Thea Bristow, and her late husband Paul, had been part of the consortium that took over the Gulls in 2007. Having won the National Lottery, the Bristows funded the return to the Football League and also the new grandstand - Bristow's Bench.

Bristow's Bench

The commitment and contributions that the Bristow's have made to Torquay United cannot be underestimated and should never be forgotten, but as Thea Bristow explained "As I am sure people will appreciate,the role of chairman can be a stressful one and recently it has had an impact on my health. Therefore now is the right time to say that I think I have done enough. It's been almost five years since Paul passed away and I have basically been majority funding the club since, including helping to build Bristow's Bench, which we will always be proud of. We have enjoyed some great times, including the Wembley appearances, promotions and the FA Cup runs, not to be forgotten"

In a final act of generosity, Thea Bristow converted all of the £3million invested into shares in the club, meaning that the club is effectively debt-free.

Despite this, new owners will still need to invest in order to run and operate the football club and to have cash flow. The financial status has been highlighted by the latest balance sheet that has been issued to shareholders. It shows that the Gulls had a deficit of more than £500,000 for the year ended 30 June 2014.

In the last few days it has been announced that a proposed takeover of the club has fallen through. This is now a crucial time for Torquay United as on 2 June 2015 there is the Annual General Meeting of the Conference League, at which point the club will need to present clear evidence of ownership and financial funding for next season. Any uncertainty may result in the Conference demanding a £250,000 "bond" to secure next season's fixtures.

Torquay United Supporters Trust (TUST)

The Torquay United Supporters Trust has been revived. It is planning to allow supporters to have a stake in their club, through representation at board level and in a community facing football club. The aim of the Supporters Trust is " work on your [the supporters] behalf to secure a financial stake in the club through the acquisition of shares, giving us real influence in the boardroom, and with your support one day we could become the majority shareholder, and the fans will own the club"

The TUST is mindful of the of the overall timeframe as well as the significance of the approaching Conference AGM. The TUST are offering their help and support to all parties involved in securing the future of Torquay United Football Club. However the TUST is fully prepared to enter the bidding process either in its own right or in conjunction with other interested parties.

If you want to see the future of Torquay United secured and for supporters to eventually own a part / minority share in the club, then join the Torquay United Supporters Trust now. For details see here (

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ifs, buts and maybes...

Five seasons after they regained their Football League status Torquay United finished the 2013/14 season bottom of League Two and return to non-league football.

Pl W D L F A W D L F A Pts
46 4 8 11 18 31 8 1 14 24 35 45

It was a disappointing and frustrating season. The first time the Gulls were relegated from the Football League (2006/07), the club was in turmoil - only four contracted players, no manager, a new board of directors and facing non-league football for the first time in 80 years.

This season there are a number of factors that could contribute to the Gulls lack of success:

  • Should  Alan Knill have been sacked sooner as manager - he had successfully guided the Gulls to league survival the previous season, but could not sustain that success
  • Should a more experienced manager have replaced Alan Knill - Chris Hargreaves is a Gulls legend that had scored in the Wembley Play-off final that saw the Gulls regain their place as a Football League cub, but had no previous managerial experience
  • The lack of a proven goal scorer - the leading scorer for the season was Jordan Chapell with just 5 goals and the last time he scored was 26 October 2013 in the 1-1 draw at home to Portsmouth
  • The poor home form - winning just 4 league games at Plainmoor, compared to 8 victories on their travels
  • The number of 1-0 defeats (10 in total) demonstrate how close the league was 
  • The number of postponements during the winter months (particularly at Plainmoor) which inhibited any momentum when the Gulls were starting to find form following the appointment of Chris Hargreaves as manager
  • New players - the failure to sign a proven goal scorer has already been noted, but the Gulls became reliant upon loan players and there was never a settled first team
  • Injuries - the Gulls have suffered as a result of the number of long-term injuries - Ben Harding had just started to find consistent form when he was injured; goalkeeper Michael Poke has suffered all season with a thigh injury; Shaun Cooper was signed mid-season but never appeared for the Gulls due to injury; and players Shamir Goodwin and Shaquile Coulthirst both had their loan periods curtailed due to injuries
  • The 10 match ban issued to Joss Labadie for biting Chesterfield player Ollie Banks during an away match in February, denied the Gulls access to a talented midfield player but meant they had to continue paying his wages
Of course all of the above are ifs, buts and maybes. The reality is that the League table speaks for itself and Torquay United simply did not secure enough points to retain their League status and must face at least one season of non-league obscurity.

Whatever happens though, the Gulls will doubtless continue to be frustratingly entertaining and we will continue to support them. Come On You Yellows !

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chris Hargreaves appointed manager of Torquay United

Chris Hargreaves

Torquay United have moved quickly and appointed former player Chris Hargreaves as manager of the Gulls following the sacking of Alan Knill.

Chris Hargreaves made more than 100 appearances for the Gulls. When the Gulls won the 2008/09 Conference Play-off Final at Wembley (against Cambridge United) that saw the Gulls return to the Football League after a two year absence, Chris Hargreaves was not scored the opening goal in the 2-0 victory but was also the club captain.

This is his first appointment as a manager but he has been the first team coach at Bournemouth. Chris Hargreaves has appointed former team-mate Lee Hodges as his assistant manager. Lee Hodges has previously been manager of non-league Truro Town.

Chris Hargreaves has taken charge of Torquay United when they occupy one of the relegation places in League Two, having only won 5 league games. The Gulls have 21 games left in which to confirm their league status for another season.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gulls sack manager Alan Knill

Torquay United have sacked manager Alan Knill following a 2-0 defeat away at Plymouth Argyle.
The club released the following statement :
It is with great regret that Torquay United can announce we have terminated the contract of manager Alan Knill. The first half of this season has not gone as we all hoped and the board at Plainmoor believe now is the right time for a change. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Alan for all his hard work at our club and especially his success in helping us stay in League Two at the end of last season. We all wish him the very best in his future career.
Alan Knill joins the Gulls as an interim manager in February 2013; and was appointed manager in May 2013 having secured the Gulls league status for another season. He was in charge for 41 games in all competitions in total, with a record of nine wins, 12 draws and 20 defeats.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Alan Knill appointed manager of Torquay United

Having been brought in as an interim manager and successfully retaining the Gulls status in the Football League, Alan Knill has been appointed as the new manager of Torquay United.

Alan Knill is a former player with Southampton, Halifax Town, Swansea City, Bury, Cardiff City (loan), Scunthorpe United and Rotherham United. He also made one appearance for Wales.

Knill has previously managed at Rotherham United, Bury and Scunthorpe United.