The Welsh Gulls
As a Welshman and a Torquay fan for the last 15 seasons, one of the most enjoyable times for me as a youngster was the period where our goal was guarded by one of Wales’ greatest ever players, and one of the best goalkeepers Britain has ever produced – Neville Southall. Capped 92 times by his country, Nev’s career seemed to be drawing to a close after leaving Stoke at the end of the 1997-98 season when, in December 1998 at the age of 40, he signed for Wes Saunders’ struggling Gulls side. Not only did he proved to be an inspired and inspirational signing, arguably being the main reason we weren’t relegated that season, but it certainly also prolonged his own career – in February 2000, he left Plainmoor for Bradford City, where he would become one of the oldest players ever to appear in the Premier League.
Southall is just one of numerous Welsh players to have featured for the Gulls over the years, developing a close affinity between the principality and this little corner of Devon. Indeed, the second highest number of appearances for the club belongs to a Welshman, Dennis Lewis, whose 442 league appearances between 1947 and 1959 was only recently overtaken by Kevin Hill.
In recent times, Wales has provided other club cult heroes. Eifion Williams was Torquay’s record signing when arrived from Barry Town for £70,000 in 1999, such was his reputation for scoring in the League of Wales. He would make over 100 appearances for the Gulls, scoring 24 goals including a hat-trick on his debut against Hartlepool, the club he would later join three years later. Having now retired from professional football, Eifion is plying his trade part-time with Jarrow Roofing.
Chris Todd is another fondly-remembered Welsh Gull. Brought to the club by Paul Buckle shortly after he took charge, Swansea-born Todd played a key role in our promotion bid of 2007-08, including scoring a notable number of goals for a centre-back, and quickly became a fans favourite. His 2008-09 season was disrupted by his well-publicised and successful battle with leukaemia, but he fought his way back into the side and was named Man of the Match in the Conference Play-Off Final against Cambridge, cementing his status in club folklore. Chris is currently at Forest Green Rovers.
A number of Welsh internationals, past or future, have played here too. Paul Trollope made his name at Plainmoor with over a century of appearances before moving onto Derby County. He would go on to pick up 9 Welsh caps between 1997 and 2003. At the other end of the scale, Jason Rees (born in the town of Aberdare, the home of the club Torquay replaced in the Football League in 1928) arrived at Plainmoor in 2000 towards the end of a long career of 200 league appearances and a solitary cap in 1992. He will probably be best remembered by Gulls fans for scoring in the legendary match at Underhill in 2001 which saw Torquay survive on the last day by beating (and thus relegating) Barnet. That day, he played alongside a young Ryan Green – the full-back, on loan from Wolves at the time, had already picked up his 2 caps in 1998, when he had broken Ryan Giggs’ record as the youngest ever Welsh international player (though since superseded by one Gareth Bale). 10 years on and Green is currently in his second spell at Hereford.
And of course who can forget Andy Marriott? The former Premier League ‘keeper arrived at Plainmoor from Bury in early 2005 as we battled relegation from League One, and instantly established himself as the number 1. And although he would later frustrate us further at Boston and Exeter, he is certainly remembered as one of the club’s best stoppers of the past decade. However, it is worth pointing out that despite his 5 Welsh caps, he was actually born in Nottinghamshire, but we’ll claim him anyway…
Other notable Welshmen to have featured at Plainmoor in recent times include former Swansea defender Dudley Lewis, who joined Torquay in 1993, 10 years after his only international appearance, and a host of Welsh Under 21 internationals – Michael Brough, Alex Lawless, Kyle Critchell, Anthony Pulis, Daral Pugh, Jamal Easter, Andrew Martin and Rhys Wilmot. And of course, that is not to forget former manager John Cornforth, who was also capped twice, despite being born in Whitley Bay of all places.