Monday, 21 May 2012

Torquay United Football Club

Another post on one of my common and favourite themes; that of family values, community and the strength that can be garnered by the unselfish act of working for others.

Three days ago, our family found themselves fighting that feeling of bitter disappointment that Torquay United had fallen short of the last hurdle in the promotion play-offs! It is almost exactly a year on from when I last wrote about them, in "Coping with Defeat..." following their narrow defeat in the play-off final by Stevenage at Old Trafford.

But now, a few days have passed and some perspective and a sense of proportion has returned, so I feel able to write something about it.

Firstly, a reflection of how well they have played all season; given that it is always tempting to ponder on the result of one or two games, which it's easy to feel they should have won, but didn't, that, if they had, they would have gained automatic promotion; that is how close they got and there is no doubt that would have been an astonishing success!

Secondly, the play-offs are, almost by definition, a separate knockout competition, in which it can be argued that each of the four teams, who have earned the right to be there, have a one in four chance of winning through to promotion. This is despite the observation that it is so often not the team who, out of the four, finishes the season with the most points in the table; more often it is the team in the third or fourth play-off place, who wins promotion. If you accept the evenness of their chances then there is a one in four chance for each of them to win through to promotion. And, as if to provide evidence for this, Torquay United have been involved in the play-offs in four out of the five seasons my son-in-law, Kevin Nicholson, has played for them; and they succeeded in one of them, beating Cambridge United 2-0 at Wembley three years ago to win promotion back into the football league.

The third and final point of perspective here has to do with the spirit of the team. I think it's fair to say that Torquay United do not have one of the largest playing budgets in League 2; they are not a 'big' club. Their location, geographically speaking, is not ideal to attract players and anyone that does move there, as Kev would tell you, have to be prepared to spend a large number of hours in the season sitting on a coach. They have a relatively small first team squad of players and it is a tribute to the fitness and commitment of the players that their legs have carried them this far.

There are bound to be opinions that run counter to these and, if there are, I hope you will accept my invitation to you personally to make your feelings and knowledge known in the space for comment below. Given these perspectives, however, Torquay United have, without any shadow of doubt, punched well above their weight over the past two seasons. But how do they do this? How is it possible in an industry, whose headlines are punctuated by money, big budgets and players, who are paid tens of thousands of pounds a week? There is an answer to these questions, but in case you hadn't already spotted it, allow me to reveal what it is.

Can't recall who owns this photo... any clues?
Before I do, however, I want to express my overwhelming feeling of pride for the thoroughgoing dedication and professionalism of, you might not be surprised to hear,  my son-in-law, Kevin Nicholson, who recently gave a very honest and revealing interview with 'bechampionstv', part of the support systems being set up by the Professional Footballers' Association, and who has played probably the best football of his career this season. But of course it is not just down to him. His neighbour, friend and the inspirational Captain, Lee Mansell has also been a force to be reckoned with all season, along with a number of other core players in the Torquay United squad, the whole squad of players, in other words, who, with what proved to be some seemingly quiet but astute management by Martin Ling, who gives me the impression of being an unusually human of human beings (as football managers go), have melded together a team to be reckoned with. So much so that Kev, along with Lee Mansell and team mates, Eunan O'Kane and goalkeeper, Bobby Olejnik, were nominated in the League 2 'Team of the Year' PFA awards; four players from one team out of twenty four teams; joining seven players from other teams out of perhaps more than four hundred players in the league. That is some recognition!

Now, I need to bring another sense of perspective to all of this by asserting that I have no inside knowledge of the workings and budgets of Torquay United Football Club. I have very few if any conversations with Kev about what goes on behind the closed doors of the changing rooms and, if there is any discussion about this, then it is often about how his team mates are feeling, how is team spirit. The majority of conversations I have with Kev are about how he feels he is playing, how fit he is feeling, how is the ankle injury that he carried for the last couple of months of the season. It is none of these things that I bring to bear in all of this.

No, I'm making no attempt at a commentary on a game, of which I have little technical experience (I played Rugby Union for twenty years) it is my own observations of human nature, of the human condition, that I bring to the table.

It is about team spirit, the bond (and band) of brothers, the close support of wives, girlfriends, family and last but not least the amazingly loyal and supportive fans. Also, the management and supporting staff of a club are involved, in this respect, to make this club probably the best that Kev has played for in his fifteen year career as a professional footballer. It is this sense of 'family', in the literal as well as a broader sense of that word, that I think gives so much added value to the success of this football club. Aside from the fact that Torquay has proved to be not exactly the worst place in the world for him to live with Jen and their two children, it is the cohesive effects of this 'family' that enables synergy to be achieved - that is to say doing the sum, 2 + 2, and coming up with 5 as the answer!

Since we are talking about family, it is also very timely and appropriate that I should mention that Torquay United has just been awarded the 'Family Excellence Award' for the 2011-12 season by The Football League. You can read about this here. This is why we have so much enjoyed going to watch the football that Kev plays in this league, because there isn't the same level of celebrity hype and hysteria that associates itself with the game at the highest levels.

You can put all the money you like into a man's pocket and, yes, he may have almost all the technically prescribed attributes that the ideal footballer is deemed to need, but, at the end of the day, he is still a human being, as we all are; a unique product of his genes and environment; a human being with emotions and an ability for his subconscious mind to take control and do things that are sometimes not exactly ideal and perfect, both on the field of play and off it. Unless you have human cohesion, common purpose, support systems in the form of WAGs, families, team management and essential staff to help you through those moments when you aren't feeling at your best, and, above all else a will to work for your team mates, then, if you are a professional footballer, you are at risk of serious career damage; you are on your own and nobody but a sociopath can survive that.

It is family, loyalty to the team, working for each other and the strength of the spirit that is borne from this attitude that makes a successful team; enables them to achieve beyond budgets and expectations. The team of highly, and, in my view, over paid individuals that will represent England in the European Championships this summer, would do well to take a leaf out of Torquay United's book, which describes the journey they have taken over the past few seasons.

Well done boys, well done!


  1. Ah, John. Wonderful, moving post...& it marks a year since I 'found' you, which is a happy anniversary indeed! Maybe some background on why I love, support & am 'Torquay 'til I die'!? My husband moved to Torquay at the age of 6 when his parents helped his grandparents run their hotel on the Riviera. So that's why he supports them.As you know, I too grew up with rugby dad was a top player with Wasps & many Saturday afternoons were spent, probably in common with your 2 grandchildren, either on a freezing touchline or without dad at all (most weekends in fact!) I'd never been interested in football at all. But when I met Paul (who loves all sport that's played well, really) I knew I would have to steel myself to watch TUFC. That first game was away to Cambridge. A Tuesday evening game, freezing cold. I was absolutely hooked! This was nothing like the pampered, diving, screaming-at-the-ref antics of the only football I'd ever experienced (briefly, on tv) This was 22 young men, showing passion, commitment, respect for their opponents & amazing team spirit. In the many, many games I've attended since I've decided that there is something very special about Torquay...perhaps it's to do with the geographical isolation you mention, but the players & fans are bonded almost like a family. And even non-supporters smile fondly when I name the team I support. I can't tell you how many text messages etc that Paul & I received after the final whistle on many friends & colleagues have told us through the years that they can't resist listening to the results of Saturday to the end, to hear the Torquay score! So I stand with you in your know firsthand the highs & lows, better than most. But I would say that all of those emotions filter through, even to those of us not personally involved. I add my thanks to yours...for a great season & for the enrichment that lower league football has brought to my life. And 20 years ago, I never thought I would EVER say that!! Here endeth the mammoth comment....:-)

    1. Thanks Rachel. That is a very revealing and honest commentary (which is what I'd call your 'mammoth comment').

      Perhaps, if we'd sent them one or two more trays of your magic chocolate brownies, during the latter part of the season, the odd bad result might have been turned into a win - remembering Burton Albion :-))

  2. I suppose it's with a sense of detachment that I watch sport of any kind, and the only team sport I watch is hockey - infrequently. I have some sense of loyalty to teams based on cities I like, though I know most of the players of those teams are NOT from Toronto , Montreal, or New York.

    I like the direction of your post in speaking to team spirit. In hockey, the concept of 'team' has been diminished by players who want to make a name for themselves or who are expected to perform due to their high pay cheques. When they don't deliver, they still get the pay. There seems to be little incentive to do well just 'for the team.'

    Your last paragraph says it all ;)


    1. Thank you, Eden. You are right, that last paragraph is the right conclusion to all I've said. It's the message of the post.

      I hope you are feeling fit and well after the demands of your professional life as well as the tremendous fund raising you have done for IndiesUnite4Joshua.

  3. And so, as if to prove a point, vis-a-vis the fifth paragraph, the team that finished in the fourth play-off place (seventh in the league), with the fewest number of points, won promotion. Well done Crewe Alexandra


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