Torquay United excitement shows how former owners got it so wrong

Every Wednesday in the Herald Express, our Torquay United correspondent Richard Hughes takes a sideways look at what's going on in the world of the Gulls. This week, he looks at the new signings the Gulls are making

Paul Wotton says it is incredibly exciting at Torquay United – even for a 46-year-old manager – after standing on stage at the Princess Theatre and meeting more fans who so far don’t have a bad word to say about anything the Bryn Consortium has done since it took over a club on a pair of last legs.

Prior to the Neil Warnock ‘Are You With Me?’ showcase last Friday, more than one thousand fans had bought season tickets for next season – a figure that maybe the former owners of Torquay United could only dream about – and that total is rising every day, with the Gulls’ squad now 16-strong, and the promise of a few more players yet, perhaps even before the first pre-season friendly at Buckland Athletic the Friday after next.

But Paul did repeat to me yesterday, when we had a catch-up over a dodgy phone connection, that a ball has not yet been kicked in anger, and it might not always be like this. But here I am throwing caution to the wind: What a time it is to be a Torquay United fan. What a time and a half.

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Which makes me wonder how the previous owners got it all so wrong. Yes, we know that the involvement of owner and absent chairman Clarke Osborne was all about making money out of property, but did former chief executive George Edwards not see how he could have made it so much better? So much more comfortable for everyone?

His aloofness and rigidity was only ever going to alienate the fans that pay the club’s way. His forthright denial of access to the club to long-suffering supporters bred contempt and meant many stayed away. It would be interesting to discover just how many of the season tickets that have been snapped up in the last couple of weeks will be in the hands of returning fans queuing up to get back into Plainmoor on August 10 – on the first day of the National League South season.

Of course, without asking each and every punter as they enter the ground, it won’t be possible to put a number on the amount returning – but I think it’s safe to presume that there will be many coming back to the place they love. And although the massive changes made by the Bryn Consortium are the reason, might Edwards be wondering now about what might have been?

Because it seems too simple doesn’t it? Be positive, be nice, be willing to talk and to listen. The club is demonstrably a talking and listening club now. In co-chairman Michael Westcott and Mark Bowes-Cavanagh, and new chief executive Joe Lovell, there is a team that wants to bring the fans home and is holding the doors wide open.

More than 1,000 supporters were at the Princess Theatre on Friday night as this new era was celebrated on the stage and in the stalls. The players lined up on the stage like a massive boy band and our football advisor Neil Warnock sat in the spotlight with a big book like he was reading everyone a bedtime story. Because dreams are made of this and perhaps Mr Edwards could have done with a football advisor.

While the relationship I had with Osborne and Edwards was non-existent – they ignored most of my requests for interviews – I did get on with Gary Johnson, who in the end had to go, but did give us some good times with that National South title, and the almost-promotion.

It wasn’t Gary that messed that up at Ashton Gate, it was the referee, Simon Mather, who we must all still blame. But did Gary not call on all of his years of football experience during the darker days to chivvy Edwards into being much inclusive, less elusive – less like sandpaper?

Maybe Gary did try to talk George around – we are unlikely to ever know now. Maybe he didn’t feel it was his place, being the football man and not the business man, but I keep coming back to one thought: how did they get it so wrong?

But thankfully, here we are now in a different era. It’s exciting. I know the new squad hasn’t kicked a ball in anger yet and we are all in danger of blowing up balloons with far too much positivity that it makes them overinflated that they might be burst by the bluntest of pricks – but what a time to be a Torquay United fan!

When I spoke to Paul I asked him, if he was a young player at the club during this period, how excited would he be? His reply was: “Listen, I am a 46-year-old manager and I am really excited. It’s a really good place to be at the moment.

“We are fully aware that there is a hell of a lot of hard work to come. We have all got to gel and we have all got to get to know each other, we have got a hell of a lot of work to do on the training ground.

“It’s all good at the minute because we haven’t played a game. We are undefeated at the moment. But we are under no illusions, it is going to be majorly tough, but it’s good and we are looking forward to it.”