Ed Dominic Roman reminisces on his day out at Dover, when Nico and the boys finally got us out of the relegation places….
I don’t attend many away games with the Yellow Army – the struggle to balance family life and a season ticket at Plainmoor is hard enough without too many 300 mile trips to support Nico and the boys!
However, with the season coming to a gripping finish I decided to take the plunge and got a reluctant blessing from the wife to head to Kent. Thankfully I also managed to tempt my old friend Rich who sits next to us in Bristow’s. I thought he was erring towards a “no” – but leniency from his partner and a generous loan of £40 from yours truly for the coach journey meant we were all go.
The day started in lively fashion. Well I’m not too lively when I rock up at Jewson’s in Exeter (the unofficially named ‘Night Tabb Travel Club pick-up point’) before 8am, but just after arriving I am accosted by an ITV Sports guy. He initially hopes I am Nigel, but after assuring him I’m not he still decides I look sprightly enough for an interview in front of the camera.
Managing to keep my cool I answer a few questions on the magnitude of the game (it means EVERYTHING!), and the worries of being a TUFC fan (how long have we got?!). Nigel then arrives and gives very similar answers. He makes the ITV news cut instead of me, not that I’m bitter!
Soon after that the Travel Club coach arrives and Rich is tucked inconspicuously towards the back. The ITV guy does some more interviews and my wife later glimpses 3 seconds of me in the background of the coach in the news report. This was exciting for my daughter who insisted on watching the report a number of times. Not quite a guest appearance on Cbeebies, but enough to encourage a 2 year-old that daddy’s famous!
The journey up is reasonably quiet, plenty of mentions of “we’ll take a draw” being banded around. After all we are facing a top-6 team at their gaff and the painful memories of Lincoln still linger. I thought at that point it might be our day, but didn’t like to jinx it by sharing this with anyone
At the services stop myself and Rich sit next to Dave Thomas and the Travel Club guys. I have never spoken to Dave before, so it’s a pleasure to discuss all matters ‘Torquay United’ with him. He has seen it all at Plainmoor during his time at the Herald Express and these difficult times clearly hurt him as much as they do us.
Anyway cokes finished (hardcore!) and onwards to the Crabble! We get there in decent time, bypassing a huge queue of lorries for the channel tunnel – those guys must sit in there for hours, the poor buggers! The Cricketers Pub next to the ground is suitably welcoming, packed out with the Yellow Army and serving a thirst-quenching selection of beers. Keep em coming!
Songs are sung loudly and there is genuine optimism for the afternoon ahead. I like to mingle where possible (well I can’t just talk to Rich all day!) and we bump into Karl and his partner from Staffordshire. They are lovely people and Karl tells me he follows Torquay Talk so that’s good enough for me! We end up standing behind them at the game – no they couldn’t shake us!
Up the hill to the Crabble and it’s almost time for kick-off. Entering into the away end is a bit strange as all you can see it metallic fencing on either side, almost like you’ve taken the wrong turning into a prison facility. Thankfully a right turn through a gap takes us into the ground and we shuffle into a decent position as the Yellow Army gathers.
The stands are a bit higgelty-piggelty (I love that expression), with some old and others new – whilst the crowd is not exactly overwhelming, certainly not for a Dover team pushing for a play-off spot. In fact the only noise comes from the away end (who total 244 but sound more like 500), and that continues for 99% of the afternoon.
The first half is one word – dull! Dover have the better of possession, and their lead man upfront Ricky Miller has the look of a quality striker who will score against us! McGinty, Anderson, LRT and GG have other ideas and generally shackle him well, with TUFC bodies thrown in the way of crosses, headers contested and tackles thrown in enthusiastically. We are up for this.
Dull it may be but suddenly we come to life in attack. Brett has barely touched the ball, but when Jordan Lee sees a chance to cross – he picks out the boy perfectly (shouting “on the ead son”…or not!) and what do you know we are 1-0 up! Cue much merriment and back slapping down the other end. Could this be our day after all?
Half time comes and goes, and the second half sees the boys shooting down our end – if they can get that far up the pitch! Actually the lads look comfortable with Verma and Young brilliant in midfield, running every inch of the pitch to pressure the opposition to our delight – whilst sub Harrad is buzzing around looking for scraps to keep the ball away from danger.
Then something magic happens! United resist Dover pressure and break. Luke advances, sees Brett in space and feeds the attacker on the left side of the penalty area. Williams hits a magical first time shot that flies past the goalkeeper. We go crazy behind the goal!
The sheer surprise of the shot and glory of it hitting the net instantly becomes my highlight of a tough tough season. I jump on the back of Karl who is stood in front of me. I’ve only known this guy a few hours but it’s a spontaneous reaction to a moment of beauty. He doesn’t seem to mind anyway!
But this is ‘Torquay United’ isn’t it, so let’s not do things too easy shall we! 2 or 3 minutes later a header nestles past Brendan and it’s 2-1. It doesn’t stop us singing as the Yellow Army continue to make themselves heard, but understandably nerves and trepidation start to kick in – it could be another bumpy ride in the last half hour.
After that the boys defend like trojans and should get a third, with two headers cleared off the line by Dover defenders. Its edge of your seat stuff and a huge relief when the referee finally decides enough is enough! With other results going right, our fate is in our own hands with one game to play.
The following celebrations see the players come and rightly applaud us for the support. Nico is obviously trying to play down the victory, whilst late sub Ben Gerring has other thoughts and jumps over to join the fans! No doubt Ben loves the club and the emotion from the likes of him and Sean is there for everyone to see.
Back in the coach for the long journey home – no matter because we have the three points and everybody is buzzing! I decide to write my match report for TT there and then. It’s not ideal on a phone, but just want to get it done asap. I call Aman ‘Andre’ by mistake which is quickly picked up by a couple of Tweeters – not sure why that happened, though I think Verms looks like an ‘Andre’ (not sure why!).
We take a welcome stop at the services and are just tucking into our Burger King when the players and staff turn up. We give them a clap and a cheer on entry which I’m sure is embarrassing for the guys – especially Kevin who leads them in like a headmaster followed by his pupils. The extrovert Gerring doesn’t seem to mind and he gives us a shout-out before heading to BK as well. Meanwhile other non-TUFC fans at the services look a bit bemused by the kafuffle!
On our way out I briefly chat to Nico who is sitting alone with some healthy looking food from Waitrose. He clearly doesn’t want anyone sitting on their laurels (or their hardies for that matter!). ‘Still a job to do’ is the clear message and I wish him good luck for North Ferriby. I’d like to come up with something more insightful (and witty), but Kevin is just glad for some peace and quiet so we leave him be.
I make it home by 11pm, as the Travel Club gets the YA back to Devon safe and sound. A welcome lift from another member of the ‘TUFC Exeter branch’ (ok I just made that up) makes my arrival time earlier than anticipated.
It’s been a terrific day of meeting new people, good beers, singing songs, celebrating goals and eventually a brilliant victory that gets us out the relegation places. I’m not sure away games come much better. Me and Rich both agree we wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and look forward to many more fruitful trips in the future.