Torquay United have completed the signing of former Chesterfield defender Aaron Downes after the Australian centre-back was released by The Spireites in May. United had been searching for a new defender for almost a month after selling Mark Ellis to Crewe Alexandra in late June.
Beginning his career with the Australian Institute of Sport in 2003, Downes moved into English football with short non-league spells with Hampton & Richmond and Frickley Athletic. Signed for Chesterfield in August 2004 by Roy MacFarland – who had managed Torquay two years earlier – Downes made ten appearances in his first season in League One, scoring twice for his new side.
The centre-back went on to establish himself as a regular in Chesterfield’s side, playing over 20 times in all but two of his eight seasons – including a 2011-12 campaign in which he joined Bristol Rovers on loan in January. Downes’ downfall is his tendency to pick up injuries – Torquay manager Martin Ling claims “He was going to be a massive product at Chesterfield” were it not for “a couple of bad knee injuries” that have “definitely thwarted his career”.
Following his loan spell at Rovers, Downes was deemed surplus to requirements at Chesterfield and released at the 2011-12 campaign. Unsurprisingly, he interested other Football League sides, and ironically, it was during a trial with Yeovil that Ling spotted his new man. As Torquay’s boss says: “I watched him play for Yeovil in pre-season and they wanted to take him, but as a cover player rather than a starter. I’ve told Aaron I’m looking for a left-sided centre-half and he has played 90% of his football in that position, even though he is right-footed.”
Yeovil’s loss was United’s gain, as Ling swooped to sign a defender who had met his criteria set upon selling Ellis: he stressed the need for a replacement with “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”. With Downes having amassed 174 Football League appearances for Chestefield at the age of 27, the former Australia under-23 international ticks both boxes.
Though Ling had initially promised the new centre-back would be unveiled in mid-June - a deadline that came and went with little development revealed – most United fans are happy with their new signing. Downes will begin the season as Torquay’s first-choice centre-back alongside the unflappable Brian Saah, with fellow new recruit Tom Cruise and first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie providing cover.
Thankfully for Torquay, the limited time Downes has to gel with new goalkeeper Michael Poke and form a cohesive defensive unit before the start of the season is compensated by the fact that the two were both on loan at Bristol Rovers last season. Downes’ new Plainmoor team-mates also seemed pleased with the signing, with left-back Kevin Nicholson taking the opportunity to welcome Aaron to the club, saying it felt “good to have another quality player on board”.
Downes himself gushed: “[I'm] really happy to be joining such a great club…can’t wait for the season to start. Thank you to all Torquay fans on Twitter who have already made me feel welcome.”
Meanwhile, former Rushden & Diamonds defender George Artemi continues to trial at Torquay, and could feature in tonight’s friendly against Tiverton Town. The 19-year-old, predominantly a centre-back, could be signed as cover either for that position or as backup to defensive midfielder Damon Lathrope.