5 Defining Moments in Torquay United's Championship Winning Season
After 42 games in the National League South, Torquay United are crowned Champions, securing automatic promotion to the Vanarama National League (The Conference League) for next season. From one Gulls fan to another, read our season defining moments.
A year ago, Torquay United fans were finding it hard to fight off their darkest thoughts that the Club’s days were numbered, as they free falled into relegation and the National League South. Fast forward 12 months and how the narrative has changed, with the Gulls lifting the National League South trophy. The Gulls clinched the National League South title with a 2-0 win over Eastbourne, leaving them 10 points clear with three games to go. Torquay boss Gary Johnson and the players at Plainmoor have had a turnaround season and reignited local support. From one Gulls fan to another, here’s 5 defining moments in Torquay United’s Championship winning season:
1 / Torquay United are Losers on Netflix
It's hard to believe, but streaming giants Netflix included Torquay United's infamous 1987 relegation battle as part of their recent original documentary series Losers . The nostalgic tale surrounds a police dog bitting Jim McNichol during the final game of the season against Crewe Alexandra, which resulted in Torquay United staying in the Football League.
The passionate memories from the fans in the stands that day, shows the deep rooted love that local people have for the club. The 25-minute documentary ends on a sluggish note of a club with no ambition. When this episode was filmed it was probably true, but one massive thing changed, which takes us nicely onto our next defining moment of the season...
2 / The Gary Johnson effect
Torquay United kicked off the National League South campaign with the aims of making up for the previous season, but instead gaining haphazard points. Coming up to their 10th game of the season, the club had won 3 matches, drawn 3 and lost 3, with the hopes of even receiving playoff promotion slowly flickering away.
On September 13th (lucky for some!), the board and club made a big announcement that Torquay United had appointed former Bristol City Manager, Gary Johnson. This announcement was met with huge expectation and encouragement from fans. Gary felt slightly missed placed in the National League South, as he once nearly took Bristol City into the Premier League; and notably took Yeovil Town from the Conference League up to the EFL League 1.
After taking over, the Gary Johnson effect soon kicked-in, as the Gulls went on a 17-game unbeaten run, which saw them shoot up the table and soon became title contenders. The superb form and foundations Gary put into place, brought back this team from the brink.
3 / Players with pride
For the first time, in a long time, the players on the pitch were playing for the shirt, the fans, and the manager. Players like former Exeter City youth-academy player, Jamie Reid, began to shine. After numerous loan spells to Torquay through his 10-year span at Exeter City, Jamie signed an 18-month contract with the club in 2017. In his previous season for Torquay, Jamie only managed to score 6 goals in 41 appearances in the league, however, the Gary Johnson effect clearly worked with this player too. Reid has excelled this season with 29 goals in 42 appearances. This saw him receive National League South - Player of the Season and Torquay United's - Player of the Season. Reid's standout story symbolises the reignited team now reeling in success.
4 / Winning back the fans
As the team strung results together, playing good, entertaining football, the fans were quickly won back too. The attendance grew back to the size that Torquay saw in the days of the football league with an average between 2000-2500 fans in the terraces at Plainmoor, and nearly 5,500 people attending the final home game of the season.
Gary and the rest of the team won back the fans and generated an optimistic atmosphere at the right time of the season. As the title hopes became more and more realistic, more and more fans would travel in large numbers to away games in their thousands, making Gary Johnson’s yellow and blue army a force to be reckoned with. As the championship became touching distance for Torquay, close to 1,500 fans travelled to Woking to see a 6 pointer fixture with the title rivals.
5 / Woking F.C Away
The rivalry soon became apparent early on in the season, as the Gulls had failed to beat the team from Surrey on two occasions at home; in the league and the FA Cup 1st Round. What added to the rivalry was the behaviour of now Woking F.C player and former native Torquay player Ben Gerring, whose return to Plainmoor will be remembered for the all wrong reasons.
Following Torquay United's great run with Gary Johnson at the helm, the Gulls overtook Woking F.C and became top after playing more games. The league was always in Woking's hands, as the team had enough games-in-hand to leap-frog Torquay to regain the top position. However, after a poor run of form, Woking failed to crawl back enough points, and Torquay's away fixture at Kingfield Stadium, Surrey was seen by both clubs as a 6 pointer.
Nearly 1,500 fans travelled with Gary's Torquay team with the hope that they could put one hand on the title. 7 minutes in and Woking went 1-0 up, but this season's standout player Jamie Reid made it 1-1 soon after. By the half-time whistle, Woking were 2-1 up and just past the hour-mark made it 3-1; the voices of doubt were creeping-in, despite the Torquay players trying to nip a second. At the 80th minute, Saikou Janneh struck home Torquay's second and heightened the tension levels. Desperate to nick another and have one firm hand on the title, Torquay's man of the season, Reid was fouled by pantomime villain Ben Gerring, which resulted in a second booking for the former Torquay player on the 86th minute. Woking, now against the ropes, tried to hold onto the lead, but Ben Wynter's strike in the 90th minute meant Torquay United rescued the draw and more or less the league. It was this last-minute drive of glory that was the most defining moment for the Gulls.
The following week, Torquay United went onto beat Eastbourne Borough 2-0 to a home crowd of over 4,500 fans and became champions with 3 matches still to play. Soon after Gary Johnson and the team where presented the National League South trophy in front of 5,300 Torquay United fans. What a season!!
We think these defining moments changed the club's narrative; it's given hope to the fans who are now looking forward to Gary Johnson (please stay!) and team being winners, rather than remembering when Torquay were infamous Losers. The town and surrounding area are proud of the club and it’s definitely reignited a passion for local football. What was your defining moment - tweet us @The_Shorely.
Images © 2018 Pinnacle Photo Agency Ltd and Torquay United