Friday 27 May 2011

A tale of kettles and brooms...

Just thought I would digress from CTFC for a post to talk about tomorrow's League Two play off final at Old Trafford, Torquay United v Stevenage.
Right, let's get this straight from the outset - I am firmly in the Torquay United camp for this one, as they are my 'unofficial' third team behind CTFC and my home town club, Watford.
Back in 1989, when I started my journalistic career, the first job I had to do was to go to Plainmoor and introduce myself to the manager - at that time, the Spurs legend Cyril Knowles.
My task was to get some stories for the Sunday Independent, and I covered the club for three eventful years, with various managers and some decent players coming through the ranks.
I dealt with managers like Dave Smith, John Impey, Wes Saunders, John Uzzell, Ivan Golac and Paul Compton, while players including Matt Elliott, Paul Hall, CTFC legend Jimmy Smith, our current physio Ian Weston and the mercurial Mark Loram were part of the story.
Mike Bateson was the chairman and there was never a dull moment, with great stories like him changing the away kit to purple as it matched the colour of the new parrot he had just bought, and the signing of players like Tommy Tynan - whose time at the club ended suddenly after an incident with a hotel kettle before the play-off final - and Justin Fashanu.
They were great days, and it was such a friendly club that I really enjoyed my trips to Plainmoor - and used to go down regularly after moving on to the Evening Herald in Plymouth... even seeing Ruud Gullit line up for Chelsea and getting a quick interview with him afterwards.
But the highlight of my time covering Torquay was the play-off final win at Wembley, against Blackpool back in 1991 - in fact 20 years ago next Tuesday...
Blackpool finished seven points above Torquay, who beat Burnley in the semi-finals, and it was a great game at Wembley with Wes Saunders and Dean Edwards scoring for the Gulls, and Paul Groves and a Chris Curran own goal leaving it 2-2 after extra time.
Successful penalties by Micky Holmes, Wes Saunders, Paul Holmes, Chris Myers and goalkeeper Gareth Howells, combined with Dave Bamber's miss for the opposition, made Torquay winners 5-4 on penalties - and spawned a fanzine, Bamber's Right Foot.
Things didn't go so well later on - and ironically at the end of the 1995/96 season Torquay finished bottom of Division Three after a disastrous campaign and were threatened with relegation to the Conference. However, they were saved from relegation when Stevenage Borough's ground was deemed unfit for League football, so it's an irony that they meet tomorrow.
Stevenage were regular foes for Cheltenham in the Conference days with one game being delayed by a bomb scare, another featuring one of the best free-kick moves we ever produced, discovered by Steve Cotterill watching Real Madrid on Eurosport, and, of course, the lack of brooms.
We travelled there for a midweek FA Trophy replay, and after the bus broke down (well, I am told it did as  I slept all the way through it) we were leading 1-0 with the most fabulous goal Mark Freeman ever scored for us.
The snow got heavier and heavier, and the Stevenage officials told the referee they had no brooms to sweep the lines with - result, match abandoned and Boka's goal was wiped off.
Still, we went down there and won the rescheduled game on penalties, so stuff them!
It was a sign of the arrogance which typified them at the time and in Graham Westley they still have that cocky swagger and I remember their disrespect for Newcastle when they drew them in the Cup both a few years ago and last season.
Westley was the same at Farnborough when they drew Arsenal - disrespectful and big-time throughout - and I hate that sort of thing.
On the field this season, we drew at home to Torquay 2-2 after being two down with 11 minutes left, and lost to them away. The loss of Elliott Benyon in mid-season doesn't seem to have hit them too badly, but the likes of Jake Robinson, Chris Zebroski up front and big Guy Branston at the back will be key.
Stevenage were beaten 1-0 at Whaddon Road with a Wes Thomas goal, and were a big, physical, functional side. 
I happily missed the 4-0 away defeat - one of our worst displays of the season, and another illogical reason for wanting them to lose...
They seem to be team of few stars - John Mousinho is their top scorer with seven - and it will be interesting to see how our old player Craig Reid - who they paid £100,000 for from Newport - goes on.
But I am afraid sentimentality and a long-standing annoyance of a shortage of brooms means it is Torquay for me.
Come on you Gulls!

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