Archive for June, 2012


Palmer’s a Poppy


Former Torquay United defender Ed Palmer has joined Southern League Premier side Kettering Town on a one-year deal. Palmer was released by the Gulls in May and had been without a club until signing on the dotted line at Nene Park on Monday.

The 20-year-old centre-back becomes new Kettering manager John Beck’s first signing after the boss best known for his spell in charge of Cambridge in the early 1990s was appointed Poppies chief two weeks ago.

Palmer (left) is happy to have joined Kettering

Palmer failed to make a first-team appearance for Torquay but enjoyed loan spells at non-league sides Weymouth and Truro City after graduating from United’s youth academy in 2010. Clearly pleased to have hooked up with one of the bigger clubs in the Southern League, Palmer said “[I’m] happy and excited to be joining Kettering. Can’t wait for [the] season to start now!” after the deal was completed.

Palmer’s signing at Kettering matches Torquay manager Martin Ling’s prediction for the youngster: on releasing Ed, Ling said “Ed has got ability and did very well down at Truro. I feel that he can play Conference South or Conference level but hasn’t quite got enough for me at this moment in time.”

The Totnes-born defender may well benefit from a season’s playing time at a club three divisions below Torquay, and given Kettering’s financial worries – the club finished bottom of the Conference National last season amid crippling debts of £1.2 million – Palmer is likely to be one of the Poppies’ first-choice centre-backs – manager Beck will not have the funds to employ a large squad.

 

Image: http://www.poppynet.co.uk

 

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Torquay United midfielder Eunan O’Kane has delighted the club’s supporters by revealing that he has turned down the chance to move to League One new boys Crawley Town. The Irishman’s snub comes following weeks of interest from the Red Devils, which had culminated in a £150,000 bid being accepted by Torquay and O’Kane heading to the Broadfield Stadium to discuss terms.

The Gulls have already sold two key assets, goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik and defender Mark Ellis, for a combined total of around £380,000. While O’Kane’s transfer – with Swindon Town also rumoured to be interested – had looked at one stage to be the most likely to eventuate, the ex-Everton midfielder now appears set to be the only one of the three players to remain at Plainmoor.

There should be plenty more United goals to celebrate for Eunan (left) after the midfielder’s decision to turn down Crawley

It is unlikely that Torquay would have had to sell any of their three starlets had promotion to League One in 2011-12 been achieved: the Gulls’ eventual play-off semi-final defeat to Cheltenham Town led Olejnik and especially Ellis to declare themselves open to offers from clubs in higher divisions, seemingly believing Torquay would not be winning promotion any time soon.

Although O’Kane also appeared to be interested by the League One football on offer at both Crawley and Swindon, he emphatically ended links to the former with the short, but sweet Twitter post: “Just to let you all know I have turned down the chance to move to crawley! #TUFC”, a message that was predictably greeted with abuse from disappointed fans of the Sussex club, but provided optimism for Torquay supporters that the Republic of Ireland U21 international would remain at Plainmoor for the 2012-13 season.

This hope was further boosted by the reactions of Torquay skipper Lee Mansell and left-back Kevin Nicholson soon afterwards: the former tweeted “I’m delighted [O’Kane] is staying” and told Eunan turning down Crawley was the “2nd best decision you have ever made – you know your first was having me as your mentor!” while Nicholson said “Good news mate, see you in a couple of weeks!”

Although United fans will not feel entirely comfortable until an official club statement confirming Eunan’s staying is made, the omens look good for the Gulls ahead of their upcoming 2012-13 League Two campaign. O’Kane’s creativity in midfield would be sorely missed should he depart, and Torquay look a better team with him in the side – manager Martin Ling has admitted “If Eunan ticks, we tick as a team.”

Torquay’s 21-year-old no.10 has already racked up over 120 appearances for the Gulls, scoring 14 times, since joining the club from Irish outfit Coleraine in 2010.

Image: Eunan O’Kane with Danny Stevens – http://www.wearegoingup.co.uk


Zimbabwe defender Thomas Sweswe has controversially performed a last-minute u-turn to join South African side Bidvest Wits, despite being thought to be on the verge of signing for fellow Premier Soccer League outfit Black Leopards.

Sweswe, who had played for South African giants Kaizer Chiefs since 2009, was recently deemed surplus to requirements after the club signed fellow defenders Siboniso Gaxa and Morgan Gould. A move to PSL strugglers Black Leopards appeared to be on the cards – with South African press claiming the deal was “90 percent done” – but a late collapse meant Sweswe instead joined the 12th-placed Wits.

The centre-back has never been far from controversy – in February Sweswe was one of 80 players banned from playing for the Zimbabwe national team after being suspected of match-fixing during a tour of Asia, dubbed “Asiagate” by the country’s football association.

Sweswe is happy to have joined Bidvest Wits after losing his first-team place at Kaizer Chiefs

And, earlier this month, Sweswe was one of four players caught dining with former ZIFA chief Henrietta Rushwaya – a man recently arrested for match-fixing and corruption.

This transfer may not be on the same scale, but aggrieved Black Leopards fans will be annoyed that their team are missing out on the 30-year-old defender’s experience. Since beginning his career with Zimbabwean side CAPS United in 2001, Sweswe has competed in the CAF Champions League, played 28 of Kaizer Chief’s 30 PSL fixtures in 2009-10, and won 13 caps for his country (although that figure is unlikely to increase in the near future!)

By joining Bidvest, nicknamed The Clever Boys, Sweswe will play in front of compatriot goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro, and alongside former Kaizer Chiefs team-mate Tinashe Nengomasha, who has also recently joined Bidvest. Says Sweswe: “It’s a two-year deal and I am happy that I have signed with a Johannesburg club. I am at home here in Johannesburg and I aim to continue working hard, as I have always done, to help my new club win trophies. It also feels good that I will be playing with Tinashe. We come a long way together from the juniors up to the senior national team. We were also played together at Chiefs and I believe we make a good team.”

Sweswe could possibly partner Aaron Mokoena in central defence if the Portsmouth man’s transfer comes through. Mokoena is demanding £600,000 from the Fratton Park side in unpaid wages, but Pompey administrator Trevor Birch has claimed the  club could face liquidation by handing over the payments, also demanded by Mokoena’s team-mates Kanu and Tal Ben Haim. The 31-year-old’s experience and versatility – he is also able to play in midfield – would greatly benefit Bidvest Wits, but the transfer appears to have hit a snag and there is a good chance it will now not come off.

Sweswe’s new side are also targeting ex-Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari, also currently at Portsmouth. Benjani won almost 50 caps for Zimbabwe during a 11-year international career, scoring 29 times.

Image: Sweswe – http://www.supersport.com


Spain booked their place in the Euro 2012 final  on Wednesday by shading a close semi-final against Iberian neighbours Portugal. Extra time and penalties were required to separate the two sides, with Spain’s eventual triumph meaning they have played their part in setting up a repeat of the Euro 2008 final, in which they beat Germany 1-0.

This game was the first competitive derby since Spain’s 1-0 win in the second round of the 2010 World Cup. David Villa had scored the decisive goal that day, and Spain could dearly have done with him last night as they struggled to a shoot-out win over a surprisingly positive Portuguese side.

The omens coming into the game were not looking good for Paulo Bento’s Portugal  – despite rarely stepping out of second gear, Spain had conceded just once in the tournament so far, and had easily overcome France in the quarter-final despite playing without a recognised striker for much of the game.

Seemingly recognising that this tie would be tougher than the France game, Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque started with Sevilla forward Alvaro Negredo –an unusual choice given the fact that Negredo has just 12 caps to his name.

However, it was Portugal who dominated the opening exchanges  here, with Bento’s men enjoying the game’s first shots and corners as they surprised Spain with their high pressure and intensity, which denied Spain the time and space to employ their attractive, infamous passing game to full effect.

Inevitably, the Spaniards soon recovered to establish a measure of control over the game – Portugal were predictably unable to keep this intensity up for 90 minutes. Before 15 minutes had elapsed, both Alvaro Arbeloa and Andres Iniesta had fired over from the edge of the box, and Spain’s higher-tempo passing demonstrated a side keen to step up through the gears.

Portugal did well to limit Spain’s tiki-taka for much of the game

Portugal, unsurprisingly, attempted to utilize the speed of wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to trouble Spain’s defence, and on 15 minutes the two combined to almost devastating effect. Ronaldo’s searching cross from the left by-line was brilliantly plucked from Nani’s head by Iker Casillas, denying Portugal a sure goal.

Ironically, Spain’s closest effort of the first half came from an uncharacteristic long ball into Negredo, which was eventually worked to Iniesta, the Barcelona man’s curling effort narrowly clearing Rui Patricio’s crossbar.

Portugal almost took the lead themselves on the half-hour through Ronaldo’s low left-foot drive, and the Real Madrid man’s threat was shown by Sergio Ramos’ 40th-minute booking for a crude foul on the winger. The Spanish defence, not troubled unduly in any of their previous games, was now struggling to keep tabs on Portugal’s attack.

Half-time came and went without an improvement in Spain’s fortunes, and just eight minutes into the second half, Del Bosque withdrew the largely anonymous Negredo in favour of Cesc Fabregas, reverting to a bizarre, but trusted, strikerless formation.

Portugal continued to match their illustrious opponents, with burly forward Hugo Almeida wasting two decent openings, followed by a second Spain player, a clearly annoyed Sergio Busquets, being cautioned for dissent.  Indeed, Del Bosque again turned to the bench on the hour in an attempt to influence proceedings, replacing David Silva with Jesus Navas.

The change coincided with an upturn in Spanish fortunes: on 64 minutes Fabregas was upended by Joao Pereira on the edge of the box when set to go through on goal, and three minutes later, Xavi’s long-range effort into Rui Patricio’s midriff provided – unbelievably  – Spain’s first shot on target of the game.

However, it was Portugal who enjoyed the better chances in the final 20 minutes, a succession of narrowly-over Ronaldo free-kicks being followed by a brilliant break-away being let down by the same man’s uncharacteristically-rushed finish.

Predictably, the start of extra time – combined with the fact that seven of the 22 players were on yellow cards – led to a slump in tempo. 13 minutes into the additional 30, Spain worked – and missed – the best opportunity of the match. Great work by substitute Pedro gifted Iniesta, but the Barcelona midfielder’s side-foot shot was brilliantly saved by Rui Patricio.

Ramos cheekily lifts the ball over the prone Rui Patricio to emulate Andrea Pirlo’s spot-kick against England

The goalkeeper had kept his country in the tournament, but as it became apparent that the match was headed for penalties, he would need to produce further heroics if Portugal were to progress.

Spain’s Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the first spot-kick – in the same goal he had scored in against France – but saw his kick saved by Patricio. Portugal’s first effort, taken by Joao Moutinho, was almost a mirror image – the Porto man’s shot was similarly saved by Iker Casillas.

Successful penalties from Iniesta, Pepe, Gerard Pique and Nani followed, leaving the pressure on Spain’s Sergio Ramos to regain the lead for his country. A brilliantly cool Panenka-esque penalty rubbed salt into Portugal’s wounds, which were further deepened by Bruno Alves seeing his effort cannon off the bar straight afterwards. The defender had mistakenly stepped up for Portugal’s third effort only to be sent on a walk of shame back to the half-way line upon finding it was Nani’s turn instead, and was clearly full of nerves as he belatedly took his penalty.

Ron Man Team: Portugal’s star player was unable to lead his nation to the final

That miss meant that Fabregas had the chance to send his country to the final with Spain’s fifth spot-kick. Under huge pressure, an ice-cool Cesc told the ball to “make history” as he approached the penalty spot, and the ball duly obliged as the ex-Arsenal skipper sent Spain to their third successive major tournament final…via an agonizing bounce of the far post.

Having banked on the shoot-out coming down to the tenth kick, Ronaldo had positioned himself as Portugal’s fifth penalty-taker, and was clearly devastated not to have had a say in proceedings – although many felt Spain had just deserved the win over the 120 minutes, Ronaldo was seen to mutter “Injustica.. (injustice)” as Fabregas wheeled away in delight.

Portugal boss Paulo Bento later revealed that his side had planned for penalties, but in hindsight, both he and Ronaldo would have chosen the Real Madrid man for one of Portugal’s earlier efforts, rather than relying on the likes of Bruno Alves to keep them in the shoot-out.

Spain will face Italy (who somewhat surprisingly triumphed over Germany in the other semi-final) in the final on July 1, and despite a slow start here, they will still enter crowning showdown in Kiev with a great chance of winning their third tournament in a row.

Images: David Silva vs Coentrao & Bruno Alves – http://online.wsj.com; Sergio Ramos Panenka penalty – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/; Cristiano Ronaldo – www.thesun.co.uk 


Torquay United yesterday evening completed a double swoop that sees two new faces join the club in a bid to replace players sold in recent weeks. Defender Tom Cruise (no, not that one!) and goalkeeper Michael Poke have agreed deals at Plainmoor ahead of the 2012-13 season, as United boss Martin Ling aims to rebuild his squad.

Following the departure of Austrian goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Championship side Peterborough United last week for £300,000, coupled with centre-back Mark Ellis joining Crewe Alexandra in a deal thought to be worth £80,000, Torquay have swooped to sign replacements for the defensively crucial pair, who helped the club to its highest-ever clean sheet tally last season.

Cruise’s Arsenal background ensures that he has had a sound footballing upbringing

Ex-Arsenal reserve Cruise joins Torquay as a highly-rated young defender, despite having just three Football League appearances – attained during a loan spell with Carlisle in 2010-11 – to his name. Able to play as a central defender, left-back and left midfielder, Cruise’s versatility means he can provide valuable cover in a number of positions in Ling’s new-look squad.

A member of the Gunners’ FA Youth Cup-winning team in 2008-09, Tom also boasts Champions League experience, having played the full 90 minutes of Arsenal’s group-stage clash with Greek giants Olympiacos in December 2009. Despite this, Cruise was released in June 2011 at the age of 20, but the youngster has refused to let the setback affect him, enjoying trials with Italian side Sampdoria and American outfit New England Revolution last season.

Although neither of these temporary spells worked out, Cruise’s experience of football in several countries, as well as 6 England under-19 caps, stands him in good stead for a career in the English lower-leagues. Like Bobby Olejnik before him, Cruise may well have joined Torquay in a bid to kick-start a rise up the Football League ladder – as Ling admits “my job as a manager is to buy low, sell for a profit and then fetch in low again.”

That said, Tom’s youth means he is likely to begin the season as United’s third-choice centre-back, as Ling says: I see Cruise and young Kirtys MacKenzie as my numbers three and four at centre-back, so we need another first choice defender to play alongside Brian Saah”.  Instead, Cruise is more directly a replacement of versatile defender Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, who was released at the end of the 2011-12 campaign after a season of providing cover for left-back Kevin Nicholson and centre-backs Ellis and Saah.

Goalkeeper Poke, who enjoyed three successful loan spells at Torquay between 2008 and 2010, joins the Gulls on a permanent basis following his release from Brighton & Hove Albion in April. Since beginning his professional career with Southampton in 2004, Poke has failed to hold down the no.1 jersey on a regular basis at either of his two previous permanent clubs, resulting in an incredible seven loan spells in as many years.

Poke became a firm fans’ favourite during his loan spells at Plainmoor

The fact that, at the age of 26, Poke has made 60 appearances in the Football League suggests that he is happy to be settling down at a club where he is expected to be first choice ahead of last season’s back-up goalkeeper Martin Rice.

Fondly remembered for an incredible, crucial save in Torquay’s 2008-09 Conference play-off semi-final second-leg against Histon, as well as being between the United sticks as they won promotion against Cambridge at Wembley, Poke’s return to Plainmoor seemed to please most Gulls fans – as one fan wrote on a Torquay forum, “Genuinely delighted with this [signing]! Thought Pokey was terrific before and good to have him back.”

Manager Ling admits Michael’s previous loan stints at Plainmoor played a large part in yesterday’s signing: “I’ve watched Michael play a few times, although Torquay fans will probably know him better than I do. When I mentioned Michael Poke’s name in a board meeting, it certainly caught their attention and we know he is a quality goalkeeper from his last time here…he is an ideal replacement for Bobby Olejnik.”

The former Leyton Orient boss also revealed that an attempt to sign Poke in 2011, soon after taking over the reigns at Plainmoor, was only foiled by then-parent club Brighton’s refusal to let him leave: “I tried to sign him last summer and it never came off because Brighton didn’t want Michael to leave…[he] will work well in the goalkeeping unit with Kenny [Veysey (goalkeeping coach)] and Martin Rice.”

Poke’s experience, albeit limited in playing time, encompasses spells at several League One, League Two and Conference clubs – the Surrey-born shot-stopper knows what it takes to be successful in the English lower leagues. Known as a vocal, able goalkeeper, Poke’s only real weakness is his kicking, which has previously been criticised for the custodian’s lack of distance.

With Ling promising the signing of a first-choice defender “with experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”, Torquay fans will be hoping Poke can establish a formidable partnership with the new centre-back who will partner last season’s stalwart Brian Saah before the start of the new season.

The arrivals of Cruise and Poke on free transfers – combined with the signings of fellow free agents Ryan Jarvis, Craig Easton and Nathan Craig – means that Ling is yet to leave a dent in the transfer fund boosted by the sales of Olejnik and Ellis, fuelling rumours that a substantial bid for former Torquay loanee Billy Bodin is on the cards.

Images: Cruise – http://www.journallive.co.uk; Poke – http://www.torquayunited.com


Spain progressed to the semi-finals of Euro 2012 last night with a routine 2-0 win over Laurent Blanc’s listless France. The holders took the lead through a Xabi Alonso header early on, before a late penalty from the same player – making his 100th appearance for Spain – secured the win.

As in the group stage, Spain started the game without a recognised forward on the pitch, with Cesc Fabregas ploughing a lone furrow ahead of the central midfield trident of Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso.

In a bid to stifle Spanish winger Jordi Alba’s influence, France deployed Lyon right-back Anthony Réveillère on the right hand side of midfield, with first-choice full-back Mathieu Debuchy playing behind him.

Ribery and Nasri – two of France’s biggest threats – were disappointing as their side crashed out

Predictably, Spain dominated the early stages of the match, with right-back Alvaro Arbeloa seeing plenty of the ball as France chose to concentrate on defending the left wing. Just  5 minutes in Fabregas had a penalty claim waved away, the Barcelona man tumbling too easily under former Arsenal team-mate Gaël Clichy’s challenge.

If France’s game plan was to soak up pressure and reach half-time goalless, it didn’t work. Just 19 minutes in, Jordi Alba’s cross was headed back across goal by the late-arriving Xabi Alonso, nestling in Hugo Lloris’ far corner. Ironically, given France’s doubling-up on Alba, the goal had come from the Valencia man’s wingplay.

The goal forced France to come out of their shell, but it took Blanc’s men 25 minutes to register their first shot on goal: Karim Benzema’s hideously ballooned free-kick, which sailed over Iker Casillas’ crossbar, highlighted the difference in effiency between the two teams – Spain’s first effort on target had resulted in a goal.

With set-pieces commonly highlighted as the easiest way to score against Spain, it was Yohan Cabaye’s curling free-kick on the half-hour mark that had Casillas scrambling for the first time in the match. Tellingly, Cabaye’s effort, from 35 yards out, was the closest his country would come to scoring.

Half-time allowed France to regroup, and unsurprisingly, the second half saw Les Blues commit more men forward as they recognised they were 45 minutes away from elimination. With Benzema and Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery underwhelming, it was full-back Mathieu Debuchy’s header that narrowly cleared Casillas’ crossbar and fired a warning to the previously untroubled Spanish defence.

Xabi Alonso marked his 100th international cap by clinching the tie for his country

However, France’s need to score provided Spain with an opportunity to counter-attack – just after the hour mark Fabregas was sent clear, only denied by Lloris racing off his line to block. Recognising further firepower was needed, Blanc replaced Debuchy and Florent Malouda with the more attacking duo of Jeremy Menez and Samir Nasri with 25 minutes remaining. Having played the majority of the game without a recognised striker, Spain introduced Fernando Torres for Fabregas soon afterwards. It is hard to imagine any other country being able to win matches fairly comfortably without a forward in their starting line-up – a testament to Spain’s ability.

With 12 minutes remaining, France sent on targetman Olivier Giroud, but it was too little, too late as Blanc’s men neglected to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their illustrious opponents. Indeed, French misery was further compounded as Réveillère upended Pedro in the last minute. Alonso confidently sent Lloris the wrong way from the spot to secure his country’s passage to the semi-finals, and book a mouthwatering clash with Portugal.

The French players’ lack of reaction at the final whistle said it all: they never looked like upsetting the odds against a below-par Spain team that eased off after scoring. Spain had never beaten France in a competitive game before last night, and they could well be making further history by winning three successive major competitions come the final on 1 July.

Images: Ribery & Nasri – www.football365.com; Alonso – www.zimbio.com

Ellis Makes Crewe Cut


Torquay United defender Mark Ellis has today joined League One new-boys Crewe Alexandra for a rumoured £80,000, following several weeks of supposed interest from The Railwaymen. 

Ellis, who first joined United in 2007 on loan from then-Premier League side Bolton Wanderers, had racked up almost 100 league appearances for the Gulls in a stay that saw him alternately in and out of the club’s starting XI. Still only 23, Ellis had made his debut for Torquay in September 2007 in the rough-and-tumble of a Conference fixture at the tender age of 17.

After signing for the Gulls permanently in 2008, Ellis initially often found himself left on the bench at the expense of older, more experienced defenders, and was sent on loan to Forest Green Rovers in 2009. However, his superb aerial ability – a valuable asset in League Two – and solid,  no-nonsense tackling meant that Mark was able to reach a half-century of league appearances for Torquay by the 2009-10 season, at an age when young players at other clubs were still waiting for their first run in the team.

Having joined United in 2007 at the tender age of 17, Ellis has matured into a solid, reliable defender

Despite playing regularly in  Torquay’s 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, the acquisition of centre-back Brian Saah, who had previously played under new United manager Martin Ling at both Cambridge and Leyton Orient, meant that Ellis was once again demoted to the bench at the start of last season. Indeed, it was only the sale of first-choice centre-back Chris Robertson to Preston North End in January that allowed Ellis to become a regular under Ling and form a formidable partnership with Saah that helped Torquay to their highest-ever clean sheet tally.

However, ambitions to test himself elsewhere remained, and the fact that Ellis stalled for so long over a new deal first discussed in February showed that his loyalty to Torquay was not all-encompassing. The identity of the clubs interested in Ellis remained unknown, but the fact that United had had to turn down a bid for the Kingsbridge-born defender in January 2011 proved that his impact had been noticed.

Newly-promoted Crewe Alexandra have plenty of money to spend following the sale of young forward Nick Powell – who scored against Ellis’ Torquay in April – to Manchester United for a £1 million-plus fee, and manager Steve Davis made Ellis the first major signing of the club’s summer recruitment process.

Reportedly interested in moving back up north after getting married, Ellis had been more interested in joining Crewe than staying at United: a Torquay club statement claimed that the defender had turned down “a terrific new deal” in favour of “League One football and a fresh challenge”. According to Ling: “I don’t think there was a big difference in the wages offered by the two clubs but Mark sees Crewe as a progressive club in the league above us…it became clear in the end that Mark preferred the Crewe option to staying [with Torquay]”.

“You think I’m staying at Torquay!? No chance!” – Ellis’ desire to test himself in League One made his departure expected

The Gresty Road side are also planning  a bid for Swindon forward Billy Bodin – who enjoyed loan spells with both Crewe and Torquay last season – representing a further blow for Ling’s transfer dealings: the ex-Cambridge boss was known to have been keen to get the Welsh under-21 international back to Plainmoor on a permanent basis.

That said, Ling will be able to use the £300,000 gained from the sale of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Peterborough last week, as well as the rumoured £80,000 Crewe shelled out for Ellis’ services, to boost his small United squad. Ling has already drafted in midfielders Craig Easton and Nathan Craig, as well as forward Ryan Jarvis, for minimal outlay.

Having already stated the need to sign at least one more centre-back before Ellis’ departure, Ling today said: “I’ve been tracking three or four centre-halves for a while and we are hoping to make an announcement later today. Eventually, the right club and offer came in for Mark, but we have obviously been planning for this outcome.”

That will come as welcome news to United fans, who also await an official announcement on Olejnik’s replacement in the goalkeeping department – internet rumours claim custodians ranging from ex-Gull Michael Poke to former England no.1 David James are on the verge of signing on the dotted line at Plainmoor.

Similarly, supporters will be praying Torquay can keep hold of talented midfielder Eunan O’Kane – the subject of a £150,000 bid from Crawley Town. Should United lose all three of their interest-attracting assets, Ling will have his work cut out to ensure United are able to reach the play-offs for the third season running in 2012-13.

Images: Ellis in 2007 – http://www.bbc.co.uk; Ellis in 2012 – http://www.torquayunited.com


Torquay United have completed the signing of Scottish midfielder Craig Easton, following the 33-year-old’s successful two-week trial at Plainmoor at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Easton had been a free agent after being released by Scottish First Division outfit Dunfermline in January, as the side headed towards relegation from the SPL. While the player is relieved to be hooked up with a new club, Torquay manager Martin Ling similarly pleased to have boosted his midfield options, as the transfer saga surrounding United playmaker Eunan O’Kane’s possible transfer to Crawley Town continues.

However, Ling has stressed that Easton has not be signed as a direct replacement for O’Kane: “I don’t see him as a replacement for Eunan. I’m looking for two centre midfielders if Eunan goes, and hopefully one will be Craig”, the former Cambridge boss revealed on Monday.

Easton playing against Bideford in a reserve fixture last season

Easton had previously played under Ling at Leyton Orient between 2005 and 2007, a past link that has played a large part in the Scot signing for Torquay. Says Ling: “He was a massive part of my successful time at Orient… he was a mainstay in my centre midfield. He was nigh on Player of the Season [in 2005] and I just know that I can trust him.”

Ling’s tendency to stick with what he knows when it comes to signing new players served United well last season, as the club reached the League Two play-offs with the help of defender Brian Saah, who had previously played under Ling at both Leyton Orient and Cambridge.

Although he may find himself initially deputising for United’s midfield lynchpins of last season, Damon Lathrope and captain Lee Mansell, Easton’s impressive CV has fuelled hope that the Scot can provide increased competition in a midfield that virtually picked itself in 2011-12. Craig has taken in spells at Dundee United, where he spent 8 years, and Livingston in his home country, and has experience playing at English clubs Swindon and Southend, as well as earning 22 caps for the Scottish under-21 side between 1998 and 2001.

The man himself was clearly pleased to have won the security of another professional contract under a manager he knows well, taking to his Twitter account to say “Thanks to everyone for the kind messages [about] signing for Torquay. Can’t wait to get involved, bring on the new season!”.

Craig had captained Southend prior to his departure in 2011

Unusually for a footballer, Easton runs his own blog at http://eastonblog.wordpress.com/, covering both football and music. Born in Bellshill, Scotland – the same birthplace as Sir Matt Busby and Ally McCoist – Easton is a sports journalism student, planning ahead for a career after retirement from professional football.

An eventful pre-season has already seen Plainmoor’s revolving door fully put to use, with Ling releasing defenders Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Ed Palmer and Kenyan international Taiwo Atieno, as well as signing Ryan Jarvis and Nathan Craig on permanent deals, following the pair’s temporary stays last season. Midfielders Chris McPhee and Lloyd Macklin have both been transfer-listed, while goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik has joined Championship side Peterborough for £300,000.

Images: Easton vs Bideford – http://www.torquayunited.com; Easton playing for Southend – http://news.bbcimg.co.uk


St Vincent and the Grenadines may not be known as a footballing hotspot, even within the Caribbean Football Union, but the country’s former star player Rodney Jack has played a major role in boosting the island’s reputation by endearing himself to fans of several English lower-league clubs.

Born in Kingstown in St Vincent in 1972, Jack began his career playing for local teams Hairoun Lions and Lambada FC in the early 1990s. It was soon after joining Lambada, in fact, that Jack would get his chance to play in Europe – the team’s manager, exiled Torquay fan Keith Millard, brought his Lambada side over to play a friendly against Torquay in August 1995. Jack’s searing pace and assured finishing quickly impressed United chairman Mike Bateson, who pulled out all the stops to sign the young forward.

Understandably, given Torquay’s lowly league standing and the physicality of fourth division English football, Jack took time to settle, but the Gulls were soon rewarded for their patience. Rodney finished the following season as the club’s top scorer, with his direct style and impressive speed proving a handful for flat-footed opposition defenders more suited to coping with aerial and physical threats.

It was one of League Two’s unlikeliest transfers of all time, but Jack proved to be a perfect match for Torquay

However, Jack saved his best performances in a yellow shirt for Torquay’s 1997-98 play-off semi-final tie against Scarborough. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, in which Jack had netted once, United needed their Caribbean corker to provide an outlet in the home leg at Plainmoor as Scarborough piled on the pressure. The striker duly scored twice in the space of seven minutes after outpacing the entire Scarborough defence to seal the tie and send Torquay to Wembley. Unfortunately, Jack was unable to inspire a famous win as the Gulls went down 1-0 to Colchester, although the Vincentian did have a goal ruled out for offside.

It would prove to be Jack’s final appearance for Torquay as he joined then-first division side Crewe Alexandra for £650,000 – a record fee for both clubs. Jack’s fine service in his three years at Plainmoor have not been forgotten: in 2009, the player was named as Torquay’s 48th-best player of all time in the club’s “50 Golden Greats” list.

Although he stayed at Crewe for five years, the longest spell of his career with one club, Jack was unable to match his scoring form at Torquay – he netted 33 goals in 163 league games for his new club, compared to 27 strikes in 93 appearances for the Yellows. Nonetheless, Jack still managed to contribute some vital, and often spectacular goals.

Jack’s speed rendered him unplayable in his prime

He left Gresty Road in 2003 for Rushden & Diamonds, and despite Jack’s 12 goals in 45 games in his only season at the club, Rushden were relegated from League One following manager Brian Talbot’s defection to Oldham Athletic. Escaping Rushden’s financial troubles, Jack followed Talbot to Boundary Park, but his one-season stay in Lancashire was blighted by injuries – he played just ten games all season.

Another brief spell followed, this time at Irish outfit Waterford United, before Jack received a hero’s welcome on his return to Crewe in 2006. However, the club’s reluctance to award Jack with any more than a one-year deal showed that he was no longer the same player – 1 goal in 30 games in 2006-07 represented a shadow of the his previous goalscoring form.

Recent years have seen the Vincentian take in a five-game spell at Southport in 2008, before Jack finally resettled at non-league side Nantwich Town. His advancing years, combined with a slight loss of pace, mean that Jack is no longer a regular goalscorer or major handful for defences, but his ability is clear to see – in 2010-11, at the age of 39, Jack was named Nantwich’s Player of the Year. His experience and performances provoked manager Jimmy Quinn to claim “He can be important for us [as an impact player], but I also think he could do a job on the coaching side”.

Regardless of whether the 45-cap international chooses to accept Quinn’s offer, Rodney Jack has permanently etched his name into both Caribbean and English football folklore. He is an inspiration to young footballers in a country that rarely boasts European-based players, and his success on the continent is yet to be replicated by any of his compatriots.

Watch Jack’s pace tear apart the Scarborough defence in Torquay’s 1998 play-off semi-final:


There are times, such as the ongoing transfer sagas of Torquay playmaker Eunan O’Kane and defender Mark Ellis, when even the club’s most loyal followers are left in the dark as to what is happening. Spare a thought, then, for Dubai-based Gulls fan Sam Jones, who lives over 4,500 miles away from his beloved Plainmoor.

Thankfully for Sam, the modern football fan can easily keep track of most ongoings through internet and television coverage – although, as the man himself explains, that’s not always the case. Following matches, particularly League Two games, via internet updates is a perilous position for any football fan, prone to internet crashes and slow connections. Equally, the lack of League Two media coverage in England, let alone the United Arab Emirates, can sometimes make it hard to keep up-to-date with proceedings.

It’s a credit to Sam, then, that he continues to follow Torquay through thick and thin, in a country where League Two football is not only ignored, but often laughed at! The locals’ favourite clubs – Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid – may be more glamorous and successful, but as Sam will explain, once a bond has been forged with a club, it is not easily broken.

I caught up with the Welshman to quiz him on taking the “fan from afar” concept to a new level, impressive air miles and cherished Torquay moments.

What made you support Torquay in the first place; what was the first Torquay game you attended; and how long have you been supporting them?

My parents bought a house in Torquay in 2005 so I have been supporting them since then. We thought we should support the local team, so the first time we were there we went down to a match – it was Christmas 2005 and Torquay drew 2-2 with Wycombe Wanderers. It was the season before Torquay went down and I have followed them keenly ever since.

Morike Sako celebrates during Sam’s first ever Torquay game, against Wycombe in 2005

Why did you move to Dubai, and how difficult is it to keep up-to-date with Torquay’s results and transfers from over 4,000 miles away?

I moved to Dubai in 2009 from Norway because of my Dad’s work as he is in the oil business, and stayed there because of schooling. Keeping up-to-date is not as difficult as people think, especially with the internet and sites such as the BBC or Sky Sports. They have the rolling updates so we can keep up with the latest scores. Transfers are harder because [Torquay] are a smaller club and obviously the Premier League transfers appear first on these sites, but fortunately the Torquay United website is up-to-date. The worst problems are when the updates are slow in tight games – for example, during the game against Crewe at the end of the season, we lost internet connection! Imagine how we felt when we saw they had equalized in the last minute!

How many Torquay games do you attend each season, and which was the most recent match you attended?

I try to attend as many as I can. Often it is only the friendlies due to the time we’re back in the UK, but last year I got to see a couple of league games at the beginning of the season. I saw the 2-2 draw with Burton and the 3-1 loss to Crawley at home. Little did I guess that we would have made the play-offs after seeing those matches. Next year I’m going to university in Cardiff so hopefully I’ll get to watch more as I’ll be back in the UK and not that far from Torquay.

It must be strange to watch a completely different set of Torquay players on each of your visits to Plainmoor. Does that make it harder to feel attached to the club?

Unfortunately, that is the curse of the lower-league clubs – the turnover is massive. Yet, this has not made me feel less attached to them. When I first started supporting, the team consisted of players such as Kevin Hill, Morike Sako and Tony Bedeau among others. None of that generation is still at the club [all three had left by 2008], but in recent years more players have stayed on for longer. Ever since Torquay went down [in 2006-07] the core of the team has been the same with players such as Lee Mansell, Kevin Nicholson and Danny Stevens, which of course makes it easier to feel attached to. Also, having [former manager Paul] Buckle for a number of years helped as well, but at the end of the day it is the club that I support, not the individual players.

Play-off final misery in 2011: “so much work goes to waste”

What is your favourite match and most memorable moment from your time supporting Torquay? And your least favourite?

My favourite match has to be Boxing Day 2008 when I went to the West Country Derby. Torquay beat Exeter 1-0 through a Tim Sills goal and he celebrated right in front of the Family Stand! It was an incredible experience as it was my first game in over year and I had never seen Plainmoor so full.

My favourite moment has to be promotion back to the League [in 2008-09] – a bit cliche, but true! My worst memory has to have been losing out on promotion last year. Despite the fact we were relegated in 2007, that was almost inevitable, yet losing the play-off final in 2011 was the worst as so much work goes to waste, and it was on Dubai TV!

Are there any other Torquay fans or supporters of other League Two clubs in Dubai?

I’m sure there are! There are so many British expats here [an estimated 240,000 in 2012] that there has to be supporters of League Two clubs. I’ve met a couple of Swindon fans, Gillingham fans and supporters of other clubs but have not found any fellow Gulls! I am actually about to start a club called Dubai Gulls to act as the official UAE fan group for TUFC and we’re going to sponsor a couple of the youth players to help the club.

How do people in Dubai react when you tell them you support Torquay? Have Emirati people heard of the club or the town?

I have only met a couple of Emiratis but when I tell them about Torquay they tend to ask who they are! Then when I say they’re in the fourth division, they start laughing and say “you should support Real Madrid or Barcelona”! Most people haven’t even heard of the town or club – that’s Western expats as well! A lot of the football-loving Brits do know about the club and the town so it is well known in the British expat communities.

Plainmoor: better than Camp Nou

Which club is the most supported by the people of Dubai, and how big is support for the game in the United Arab Emirates?

Football is massive in the UAE but the biggest game by a mile is cricket as there are loads of Indian and Pakistani workers. Amongst the Emirati population football is the main sport but most tend to support foreign clubs such as Real and Barca. The support for local clubs is not great as the stadiums are rarely even half full, but it is improving. There is a lot of money in the game though, with big names such as Fabio Cannavaro, David O’Leary, David Trezeguet and most notably Diego Maradona, having roles at clubs either in the form of playing or as a manager. The Pro League is very competitive but the standard of football is not great, with the most recent champions being Al-Ahli, who are also the most successful. The biggest club in Dubai is Al-Wasl as Maradona is their manager.

Have you attended any UAE Premier League games during your stay in Dubai?

I have not, for two main reasons. First, it has a reputation that if you’re not Emirati, you’re not welcome. Second, I have no idea where the stadiums are! All the information about games is in Arabic and I don’t speak a word of it! I watch it on the TV sometimes when it’s on, but that’s rare.

Finally, do you consider yourself to be Torquay’s most loyal foreign-based fan? Surely the amount of miles you have to travel to be at a Torquay game makes you one of the club’s most devoted followers?

Well, I would like to think that I am one of them. I do my best to keep track of news, scores and transfers and whenever I am back in the UK we watch a game, be it a friendly or league match. I would fly back more and watch them,  as the highlight of my trips back to the UK are my visits to Plainmoor and the matches I attend. I am sure that somewhere in the world there are Torquay fans that fly back for the matches, but with the resources I have, I can consider myself one of Torquay’s most devoted.

Photos: Torquay 2-2 Wycombe, 2005 – www.wycombewanderers.co.uk; Eunan O’Kane – http://backpagefootball.com