Fan Feature: Torquay United

torquay-united-logo-150x150Torquay United: Fan Feature

Back in August, Torquay United fan Christina Smart gave us her thoughts just before the Cobblers hosted her Gulls at Sixfields. A lot has changed for both sides since with managerial changes all round and, with both sides stuck in the bottom two, it’s set to be a crunch game this weekend as we meet again. Christina gives her thoughts on the latest comings, goings and happenings at Plainmoor below.

You can follow her passionate Torquay United tweets at @stinadreama…big thanks to Christina for taking time to answer these…

So, Chris Hargreaves! A big win in his first game in charge last week… how has the outlook of the club changed since his appointment?

I understand your disappointment that we won the tug of love for our new manager, I wish you well in your next managerial appointment and you can probably guess a lot of what I’m about to say!

Chris Hargreaves (and his assistant Lee Hodges, another young ex-Gull with management experience, at Truro City) feels as right for us as Alan Knill sadly proved to be wrong, and the less said about that sad time (squirrel jokes aside) the better. All credit to Thea Bristow and the Board for returning to our core values of team spirit and work ethic with this bold appointment.

Known affectionately to us as Jesus or Tarzan because of the long flowing hair in his time here as a player, Chris Hargreaves captained us back into the Football League at Wembley on 17th May 2009, scoring an audacious goal in the process. When he collected the cup he immediately gestured over to us, the fans, yelling “This is for you!”

A staggering TEN of those Wembley heroes are right here, right now: 8 of that playing squad (Hargreaves, Hodges, Poke, Rice, Nicholson, Mansell, Benyon, and the recently reintroduced Danny Stevens; GK coach Kenny Veysey, and physio Damien Davey. It is the hunger to preserve the league status they fought so hard for together, and won, that he can immediately tap in to and hopefully translate into results.

Every point is obviously precious now, but even so, for me a draw at Kingsmeadow would have been a perfectly respectable start. Instead, we were treated to a dream come true with a clean sheet, 2 goals, 3 points, 11 man of the match performances and a team effort which everyone could be proud of.

Another thing that has been transformed is our PR. Interviews are suddenly insightful and entertaining, sprinkled with quips about getting in all the Bournemouth players and not being David Blaine.

Upbeat and positive? “How very unTorquay!” you would have said at almost any time in 2013, but things change, thankfully, and sometimes rapidly!

Any transfer news since the window opened?

Yes and no! I’ve lost count of all the loanees that have come and gone. Yeoman, Thompson and Lathrope have been welcomed back into the fold and are very much part of the survival plan.

Initially, the aim is to see what can be got out of the existing players. That’s clearly working already. Nicholson (completely frozen out under Knill, hence the Lazarus twitter avatar) and Mansell are reportedly rejuvenated, and a reinstated Pearce, who I like a lot, scored on Saturday. O’Connor is now playing at RB where he was so effective last season at Burton.

Jayden Stockley is back on another month’s loan and his Bournemouth team-mate Shaun Cooper is expected to be joining us too. Young Brighton striker Shamir Goodwin has also arrived on a month’s loan. Danny Stevens is dividing opinion by reportedly training with us; he was released after 5 years’ service, is still without a club and has always been commited to the yellow cause.

Vice chairman Alex Rowe has enthused that funds can be available for further reinforcements if needed, and Hargreaves believes bringing in the right character is crucial. Realistically, we are perhaps more likely to utilise the more affordable loan market than to look to buy.

Obviously it’s a huge game on Saturday in terms of the relegation battle but are your sights now set on mid-table and beyond?

Looking back at my blindly optimistic prediction in the summer makes me blush with embarrassment! The goal for now is simply to escape the drop, nothing more, nothing less, game by game, point by point.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say another trip to the Conference wouldn’t be a disaster, because in many ways of course it would be. Chris Hargreaves has astutely not dismissed this possiblilty out of hand because let’s face it, he has inherited a mess: he is our Plan A and our Plan B, which very neatly takes pressure off the players, simultaneously indicating that he is with us for the long haul.

I fully expect an open-top bus survival parade in May with Hargreaves milking it for all it’s worth. I can visualise it now! That’s the least he, and all of us who stand united, will deserve if, by force of character and strength of leadership, he makes Saturdays worth living for again.

Management, staff, players and fans have been united from the very first kick of the new era, and whenever the time comes for us to move from crisis management to longer term progression we have a real chance to build a club to be proud of, a whole philosophy with the open expansive style of play Hargreaves tantalisingly promises. The future’s bright, the future’s yellow. And Where’s the Caravan now? It has a permanent pitch in Babbacombe with a freshly painted picket fence and a budding rose garden.

Who have been the star men amidst the struggle in the opening months of the season?

The last few months have been demoralising and disjointed; we simply weren’t set up to succeed. The stars were there, but for a lot of the time we just couldn’t see them for the clouds. It’s impossible to shine when you have no confidence or belief . Having said that, the rise of Martin Rice on being handed the injured Michael Poke’s goalkeeping gloves has been meteoric. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Jordan Chapell, and Downes has been immense. Marquis and McCourt did well while they were here, but we still need to uncover some shooting stars.

And finally, a score prediction for Saturday?

I’m hoping for a warm reception for Hargreaves from both sets of fans, and it’s easy to predict an emotionally charged atmosphere. Thank goodness this fixture was scheduled for so early in the New Year; I’d hate for us to meet in a winner-takes-all end of season affair. I predict that it will go to the wire and both of our teams will survive! Turning to Saturday’s 6-pointer, in muddy conditions and with the Chris Hargreaves factor, I think it will be much more like a cup game when anything can happen and probably will. A scintillating 2-2 draw… No, no, we must win. We’ll win. 2-1.

2014 has started astonishingly well and is going to be the year that keeps on giving, I just know it.

Torquay United Links…

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Twitter: @InsidePlainmoor




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Fan Feature: Hartlepool United

hartlepoolThis week’s Fan Feature sees me talk to Monkey Hangers expert Paul Bage as he looks back on a mixed season so far and ahead to Saturday’s meeting with the Cobblers. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @PaulHUFC…

How has the club changed since relegation last season?

We have pretty much kept the same squad that we came down with, we changed our manager/assistant manager and Cooper has added some good players to our squad.

How has the transition back to League Two been?

It was tough, for a while. We couldn’t score. We could do everything else apart from put the ball in the net and silly mistakes were costing us.

This is Colin Cooper’s first full managerial position…how’s he getting on?

After a tough start, things are coming together. Players were going into games expecting to lose, it’s what we had done for the past year. He’s changed the mindset around from expecting to lose every game to believing we can win games.

You’re in mid-table at the moment…is that about on target or do you have higher ambitions?

Before the start of the season I said we would finish 8th to 14th. I still think that now. After such a good October, I think a lot of the fans do expect to finish higher. I think next season is a more realistic chance of us finishing in top 7.  We have a very young squad. Luke James has just turned 19, our first choice centre back are only 20 and 22.

Luke James is really coming of age this season…how far can he go?

I think he could play in the Premier League one day, I don’t think he is ready yet but he is showing us what he can do. He is fast and runs at defenders. Defenders hate playing against him.

And, finally, a prediction for the game on Saturday?

I think it will be tougher than most people think. You’s are coming into this on the back on a FA Cup win and an impressive result against Fleetwood last week. I’ll say 1-0 to us, Luke James with the goal.

Hartlepool United Links…

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Torquay United: Fan Feature

torquay-united-logo-150x150Torquay United head to Sixfields tomorrow afternoon still looking for their first win of the season (that in itself fills me with trepidation!) and after a tough second half to last season that saw Martin Ling fall ill and Alan Knill pick up the pieces to keep the Gulls in League Two. This week, resident Torquay fanatic Christina Smart gives us the lowdown on what was a troublesome campaign last time out.

We’ve made quite a habit of getting to play-offs in recent years,Christina says, so you could say we deserved a sabbatical! It was fantastic to have 4 of our players in the 2011-12 League 2 Team of the Year, and painful to then experience last season in all its misery. There seemed to be a lack of focus, questionable allocation of resources and dithering when action was required. The season became increasingly depressing and farcical from a fan’s perspective, and rumours festered in the absence of press releases from the club.

It must have been a deeply unpleasant and surreal time for the players. Firstly, we lost key players- notably Eunan O’Kane and Bobby Olejnik, but investment was off the pitch, in our training ground. We were set up to play ultra-defensively which was boring to watch and didn’t always work,particularly now that our creative playmaker had gone. We were humiliated in the first round of the FA Cup and were punished with the resulting loss of revenue from future rounds . This perhaps explains why we didn’t bring in the loanees in January many were clamouring for. Manager Martin Ling departed, initially on sick leave, half way through the season, leaving his assistant to hold the fort until the eventual arrival of our third manager of the season, Alan Knill, who was tasked with saving our football league status

Our position became increasingly perilous as we developed a nasty confidence-shattering habit of conceding and throwing away points in the final 10 minutes of what felt like every game. Labadie and Chapell were finally brought in on loan, became instant heroes in a team seemingly and understandably bereft of selfbelief and were prematurely and infuriatingly recalled by their parent clubs, leaving our battered warriors to fling themselves barely alive over the finishing line against Bristol Rovers on the final day.

Last season has thankfully been sunk in a leaden casket deep below the sea, and we are finally starting to see positive change. In a sudden Board reshuffle, a fan-friendly CEO and a popular new Chairwoman, Thea Bristow, were both instated. We have forged ahead with ground and training facility improvements; we havea pitch-side big screen and our match day programme, TQ1, is rather good…

Knill...Gulls boss

Knill…Gulls boss

Alan Knill has previous at this level having led Bury to the playoffs before being recruited by Scunthorpe United. Things didn’t work out too well at Glanford Park but you can imagine that the old steel is still there as he attempts to rebuild his reputation once again. So is Knill the right man for the job?

Ling’s dismissal was uncomfortable,” Christina says, but the Board acted swiftly and decisively so that (unlike when Paul Buckle departed) there was a manager in place at a time when players needed to be retained/recruited. Alan Knill was the logical choice; as incumbent, he had fulfilled his brief of securing safety. His willingness to relocate, and his ability to persuade Chris Brass to join him were other positives. I’ve read mixed reports about Knill from fans of his old clubs, so I guess time will tell whether he is right for us, but so far, based on signings and attacking intent (and so long as he doesn’t introduce anything daft like goal music) I’m happy.

The new manager’s first pre-season has seen him bring in a couple of ex Cobblers players in Karl Hawley and Ben Harding whilst exciting youngster Callum Ball has had a decent start in Gulls colours. Christina says that they could do with a couple more to fill up the squad but that team spirit is a key factor:

The new signings look potentially exciting, and so far no-one has disgraced himself! The squad is still a little thin and we could do with a couple more additions (a right back and creative midfielder) if we could afford them. Dale Tonge mentioned in an interview that team spirit is greatly underated in football and that it happens naturally at Torquay. I don’t mind if no-one stands out. I love it when the players play for each other and work hard to win as a team. Eleven heroes would do just fine!

“Knill has urged fans to be patient: Hawley and Ball arrived at Plainmoor on the Thursday before the season began, and Pearce came in that week too, so I think it’s fair to say that the team is still gelling. I’m certainly not panicking just yet, although I know others are already starting to. We’re a stronger squad; luck can be whimsical, but the goals and wins will come.

So are there any key danger men to watch out for or youngsters to watch?

Haha danger isn’t the first word that springs to mind when I think of my beloved Torquay, although there is surely no scarier sight on earth than a Lee Mansell war cry! I’d love this to be Billy Bodin’s year; he seems to be on the verge of blossoming into the player we know he can be. Chapell and Hawley could shine for us. Of the youngsters, I wouldn’t write off the goal-scoring prowess of Ashley Yeoman or the scintillating pace of Niall Thompson, but Dan Sullivan could be the one to watch. He debuted for us at Morecambe and last week revived the dying art of scoring with both feet in a brace against Cheltenham reserves.”

In terms of predictions and hopes, Christina reckons that simple progress would be all that is needed this season and that she would take a point tomorrow afternoon. She finishes:

I’d say somewhere in the top half of the table is definitely achievable. Around 10th would be fine, and then we can push on next season. It’ll be interesting to see how Ben Harding and Ian Morris fare after swapping clubs.

We’re definitely due a win at Sixfields, but I don’t expect it to come on Saturday. I’d be happy with a 1-1 draw, so long as we beat Hartlepool the following week! Come on You Yellows!

You can follow Christina on Twitter @stinadreama for passionate, heartfelt and genuine tweets about Torquay United.

Torquay United links

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Twitter: @InsidePlainmoor




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Fan Feature: Newport County

newportThis Saturday we welcome Newport County to Sixfields for the first time after the Exiles made their triumphant return to the league for the first time since a reincarnation of sorts in 1989. After the demise of the original Newport County in February of that year, around 400 supporters reformed the club in time for the 1989-90 season in which they began a new life in the Hellenic League, four levels below the Football League. I spoke to County fan Andy Lawrence about the rise of the new look Exiles and their transition to life back in the league.

“It’s very hard to put into words just how much it means to everyone involved with the club,” he said, “It’s been a roller coaster to say the least. To think 25 years of fighting all came down to 90 mins of football against our rivals Wrexham was unbelievable, but sometimes these stories write themselves and I think it was a case of “fate” to do it in the manner we did. When I was a little boy my dad would tell me stories of the famous European nights and beating west ham 2-1, and I remember thinking ….Would we ever get back to where we belong ?  Sadly there are a few County fans that have passed away in recent years and didn’t get to witness the achievements we have made.”

Andy names league titles, promotions and, of course, last season’s Playoff Final as personal highlights during that time:

“There have been some great highlights over the years, but I think the last 4-5 years have been the most memorable. Firstly, winning the Conference south with 103 points and breaking nearly every record in the book. We only lost 3 games that season so as you can imagine it was a good year to be a County fan. Secondly obviously has to be last season. The previous season was a struggle and we just about survived relegation, so the heroics of last season were unexpected in many ways. We didn’t drop out of the top 5 all season and I genuinely believe that our horrendous fixture pile up cost us the title, but who wants to win it the boring way? So we got promoted the “hard way” which over the years I have renamed the “County way”, seeing off Grimsby town 2-0 over the two legs and finally silencing the doubters at Wembley beating Wrexham 2-0 in the Play Off final.”

The man leading the charge back into the league is a well-known figure in these parts. Justin Edinburgh cut his managerial teeth down the road at Rushden and Diamonds between 2009 and 2011 and took the now defunct outfit to the Conference playoffs in 2010 before losing his job when the club folded in 2011. But by October of that year the former Tottenham defender was back in management and hasn’t looked back since.

“Justin is terrific,” says Andy, “The best manager I have ever seen at County. What he has achieved over the last 18 months has been nothing short of a miracle, and you get the feeling he’s not done yet in order of how far he can take us! Tactically he is a genius and I always have confidence in his decisions and signings.”

“Adam Chapman has been the “catch” of the summer. We had him on loan a few seasons ago and I think his decision to join us permanently was down to Justin and how good a manager he is. His passing is his strong point, and he’s the sort of player that can make the pass to change the game. Harry Worley is another who has joined this season and I was over the moon as soon as I found out. He’s a strong, solid centre back who’s dominant in the air and he’s light on his feet too, which is a bonus.”

So with a litter of good summer signings and the momentum from last season, how far can the Exiles go this time around?

Andy says,

“I think we will probably finish around 10th this season, I always have this feeling that perhaps we can upset the odds and perhaps sneak the play offs but I’m going to keep my feet on the ground for now and say 10th.”

And, of course, a prediction for Saturday’s game?

“I’ve looked at this game as one where we find out just how good we are. The win against Accrington was brilliant but they are relegation candidates so we can’t read too much into that. This is going to be a very tough game for both us, so I’m going to say we will draw 1-1.”

Big thanks to Andy for his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter @gingelawrence


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