Tag Archive: Martin Ling



[Note: this interview was conducted in June 2013 for TQM Magazine.]

As Torquay United’s season reached a crucial point in their battle against relegation, I caught up with midfielder Craig Easton, currently in his first season at the club, to discuss his career so far and plans for the future.

Craig Easton is not your stereotypical professional footballer.  While at Livingston in 2004, he confessed to the club’s matchday programme, “It sounds really boring, but I am quite into my gardening”. He’s also articulate – in 2012, he wrote a 10,000-word essay entitled The Future of Scottish Football, exploring his country’s tactics and youth coaching.

His off-field hobbies differ from those of his Torquay United team-mates, then, and so does Craig’s CV: with over 250 appearances in the Scottish Premier League (the country’s top division, commonly known as the SPL) and having captained Scotland at under-21 level, the midfielder is a pretty high-profile signing for fourth-tier Torquay.

In a way, it’s not surprising Easton has enjoyed a successful career in football: born in Bellshill, near Glasgow – the same place as footballing greats Sir Matt Busby, Ally McCoist, Billy Shankly and Jock Stein entered the world – Craig also comes from a family of footballers. His father represented Livingston United at junior level, while his brother, Stewart, has played for Airdrie and Elgin City.

Craig started his career at Dundee United, graduating from the club’s successful youth team in 1996. A league debut followed soon afterwards, and as early as July 1997 he was representing Dundee United in international competition. Craig’s first UEFA Cup game couldn’t have gone better: a 9-0 trouncing of Andorran minnows CE Principat in which he came on as a substitute.

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton (left) scoring for Leyton Orient against Fulham

Easton continued to make a name for himself at Tannadice in the following years, and was a regular in the starting line-up from 1997 until his departure in 2004. That departure was brought about by the arrival of Ian McCall as manager, whose reign saw Craig somewhat fall out of favour.

By late 2003, the midfielder had decided not to sign a new contract with the club when his current deal expired, and in April 2004 McCall confirmed that Easton was free to leave at the end of the season. Of course, McCall’s verdict was irrelevant; as Craig himself said at the time, “It was clear I wasn’t going to be in the manager’s plans, so when the club said they didn’t want to offer me a new deal, it came as no surprise.”

However, the news did upset many supporters, and a May 2004 statement on the club website paid tribute to his popularity: “News that Craig Easton is to leave the club at the end of the season has sparked a flood of mail in appreciation of his contribution to the club, both on and off the park…Off the park, he has attended countless events on behalf of the club and has always been amongst the first to volunteer to help out when required.”

United’s SPL rivals Livingston offered a fresh start, and Easton immediately justified the club’s interest in him by scoring on his debut against Inverness.  He went on to play in 30 of Livingston’s 38 league games, even scoring the crucial goal that saved them from relegation on the last day of the season – sending Dundee, his first club’s rivals, down at Livingston’s expense.

Despite this, Livingston declined to renew Craig’s contract, and he spurned interest from mid-table Motherwell to move south and join Leyton Orient of the English fourth division. It was there that Easton would meet Martin Ling, then Orient’s manager, who would eventually bring the player to Torquay in 2012.

His first season in England couldn’t have gone better. Almost ever-present in the league as Orient won promotion to League One, the third division, on the last day of the season (with Craig scoring again), Easton also opened the scoring at Craven Cottage as Orient pulled off a huge shock to knock Premier League Fulham out of the FA Cup in January 2006. Unsurprisingly, it meant a lot to Craig, who revealed after the match, “I would put that down as my greatest achievement and my most enjoyable moment in football so far.”

Easton’s appearances the following season were slightly decreased, playing two-thirds of Orient’s games in League One, and in June 2007 he opted to join Swindon Town of the same division. His first season with the Robins yielded his highest ever goal tally for a single season – six goals in League One. However, it was a similar story to at Orient, as Craig’s second campaign saw him used more sparingly and in a variety of positions. He made fewer appearances still in 2009-10, and at the end of the season he rejected a new deal with Swindon.

Graduating from Staffordshire University

Graduating from Staffordshire University

It was while at the County Ground that Craig was approached by the editor of a newspaper in Scotland to write a column about his life as a footballer. Although the editor initially planned to ghost write the column himself – as is often done when journalists interview players for similar features – Craig asked for the opportunity to practice his writing skills, and this step would eventually lead to his enrolling on a Journalism and Broadcasting degree course at Staffordshire University. He would graduate from the course with a first-class honours degree.

Craig subsequently signed for Southend United, immediately being named club captain, scoring his first Shrimpers goal shortly afterwards against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup. It was a return to regular playing time, with 38 appearances in all competitions, but at the end of the 2010-11 season the player rejected a reduced contract and found himself a free agent once more.

What followed was a return to Scottish football after six years away, but unfortunately Easton’s six-month deal with Dunfermline Athletic was not a homecoming to remember.  Struggling with injuries, Craig managed just three games for Dunfermline before his contract ended in January 2012.

Many players would no doubt have been disheartened by such a downturn of fortunes, but Craig continued to search for a route back up the football ladder, and, thanks to their Leyton Orient connection, was handed a two-week trial by Torquay boss Ling towards the end of the Gulls’ successful 2011-12 campaign.

Easton impressed sufficiently to be awarded a permanent deal in June 2012, with Ling hailing the 34-year-old as “the ideal type of character for our squad. He was a massive part of my successful time at Orient…I just know I can trust him.”

Adapting well to life on the English Riviera, Craig was a mainstay in the Torquay side early in the season, and helped the club to a comfortable mid-table position by Christmas, with the play-offs firmly in sight.

However, things took a turn for the worse after Ling was forced to return to London to recuperate from a mystery illness early in 2013, leaving the club to slide down the table under assistant manager Shaun Taylor before Alan Knill was appointed caretaker manager in late February.  Torquay struggled to stay in the division, only securing their safety on the last day of the season against Bristol Rovers.

Craig was unable to help his team-mates in their relegation battle as much as he would have liked towards the end of the season – owing to a calf injury that kept him on the sidelines since March – and he was released by Ling’s successor Alan Knill at the end of the season. The midfielder will now look for his eighth club of a distinguished career, and it will be interesting to see what follows when he eventually hangs up his boots: will he pursue a career in journalism or coaching?

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Craig generously gave up his time to answer my questions about his career and plans after retirement.

Which has been the highlight of your career: scoring against Fulham, captaining the Scotland under-21s, winning promotion with Orient, or something else?

I’m really proud of all the highlights you’ve mentioned. Captaining my country is very special and something I’ll never forget. I’ve got to say that winning promotion with Orient is the greatest achievement in my career.  The atmosphere in that game was amazing, and to do it in front of my wife and both our Mums and Dads just made it one of the best days of my life.

What are the best and worst parts of being a professional footballer?

The best part is a bit of a cliché; doing something I love and the only thing I ever wanted to do since I can remember.  I absolutely love being a footballer.  However, I don’t think people really understand what really goes on, especially at our [Torquay’s] level.  There’s no financial security, and that’s more of an issue as you get older.  Football’s a profession where how hard you actually work doesn’t necessarily reflect how you’re treated by those in charge.

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

At Plainmoor in 2012-13

Do you have any funny anecdotes you can share from your time in football?

Dave Bowman [Craig’s team-mate at Dundee United] was one of the funniest/maddest players I’ve ever played with.

He enjoyed having ‘banter’ with the cleaning ladies Rose and Ann. One day we returned to find Rose, stuck in a bin with her legs and arms sticking out the top and Bow trying to roll her down the corridor. Another time we found her inside one of the industrial dryers in the kit room with Bow threatening to turn it on. I know this might sound harsh, bordering on harassment, but it was hilarious and wee Rose was a great sport.

What is the best game you have played in? The worst?

It’s difficult to narrow down a single game, so I’ll give you a top 3 in no particular order.  Dundee United v Aberdeen in the semi final of the League Cup was one of my first games when I broke into the Dundee United first team as an 18-year-old.  I scored my first professional goal and we won 3-1.  There’s two Leyton Orient games that stick out: the promotion game against Oxford and also the FA Cup game against Fulham when we won 2-1 at Craven Cottage.

My worst game?  There’s too many to mention!  Probably any game where I’ve picked up an injury.

How many more years do you want to play for, and do you see your future in journalism or coaching after retirement?

I would say as long as I feel fit enough I’ll keep going and barring the little injury I’ve got at the moment, I feel as fit as at any point in my career.  I would love to stay in football.  I want to coach and ultimately manage at the highest level possible.  I’ll always write, so an ideal scenario would be to continue writing about football whilst managing.

What made you study journalism at Staffordshire University? Did you consider becoming a journalist as a teenager?

I never really considered doing anything other than playing football, although I did well in my exams at school.  I suppose, looking back on it now, English was one of my favourite subjects and I did like writing, so I’m not surprised that I’m enjoying the print side of journalism the most.  At Swindon, I was approached to do a ‘Diary of a Pro’ piece for the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, my local paper back home. I asked if I could have a go at writing it myself;  I really enjoyed it and things just snowballed from there.  I then managed to get on the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] course a couple of years later.

Was there a mix of footballers and normal students on your journalism course?  If so, how did the other students react to having professional players on their course?

We did a similar degree to other students, although we crammed it into two years and our classes were separate.  That was because most of our work was done on a distance learning basis.  There were about 15 of us in the class, either pro footballers – mainly from the lower divisions – or ex-players.  We attended Uni in Stoke once a month and for a week in the close season before the beginning of each semester to do most of the practical work. We very rarely crossed paths with the other students, but I did meet one who’s a fellow Scot and we’ve become really good friends and are currently working on a project together.

How have your team-mates reacted to your slightly unusual hobbies for a footballer off the pitch (gardening; writing)? Are there any other budding writers at Torquay?

I’m not sure they knew about the gardening until now!  I’m not into it as much as I used to be because I’m living in a rented property, but I love being outdoors and going for walks and swimming in the sea.  I got a wetsuit for my birthday because it got a bit cold in the winter. That’s what I like about living here – it’s a very outdoorsy area.

[Torquay defender] Aaron Downes is a good writer.  He was in my class on the course and we’re hoping to maybe work on something together in the future.

What are the differences between life in Torquay and life in Scotland?

Obviously the temperature’s a bit different to start with!  The amount of rain we’ve had down here in the last year has made me feel right at home, though.  It’s a very similar sort of lifestyle, especially compared to when I lived in Dundee.  I love being close to the sea and going for walks and exploring the area.  There are so many lovely places to visit, and Dartmoor reminds me a lot of Scotland.  I know this area pretty well as we used to come to Devon and Cornwall most summers when I was growing up.  My Dad used to drive down with the caravan – it used to take us 12 – 14 hours!  My first ever holiday with my wife was when we went to Torquay on the bus together as teenagers.  I have a great affinity with this part of the country.

What were you like as a teenager at school?

I was hardworking and enjoyed some subjects more than others  – P.E., Physics, Economics and English were some of my favourites.  I didn’t hate it, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could go home and play football.

You have made a career in a very competitive environment. What advice would you give teenagers to help them achieve success in their chosen field?

I would just say, give it everything you’ve got.  Things might not always work out how you would like and you’ll probably have some disappointments, but don’t have any regrets that you could have worked harder.  Sometimes you may have to be single-minded and sacrifice things to achieve what you want to, and not just follow the crowd.

What has been the most motivational thing (words or action) you have witnessed from any of your managers?

Martin Ling gave a few brilliant team talks in my time at Leyton Orient, but the biggest motivator I’ve come across in my career has been Terry Butcher.  When he was at Dundee United I remember him getting us going before a game against his old team, Rangers, at Ibrox.  He was ranting and raving and telling us that they were overpaid prima donnas and how we were just as good as them on our day.  By the time the whistle went, we were ready to run through walls for each other and we ended up winning 2-0.

Finally, what are your views on the Scottish independence referendum next year?

I want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.  I’m proud to be Scottish, but also proud to be British.  I feel we already have a big say in how things are run in our own country and would be weakening our global position by severing our ties with the rest of the UK.

You can see more of Craig’s writing at http://eastonblog.wordpress.com/

 

 

One Knill To Torquay


League Two strugglers Torquay United yesterday announced the appointment of Alan Knill as the club’s interim manager until the end of the season. Knill will work with assistant manager Shaun Taylor, who had taken over the first-team reigns following normal boss Martin Ling’s illness which has kept him out of action since late January. Knill, a former Wales international, now has fourteen games to save Torquay from the relegation battle that they have slipped into in Ling’s absence.

Since hanging up his playing boots in 2001, Knill has managed Rotherham United, Bury and Scunthorpe United, enjoying most of his managerial success to date at Bury. The 48-year-old’s first foray into management came in January 2005 as caretaker boss of Rotherham, and despite only leading the side to two victories in his 11 games in charge, Knill was given the job permanently in December of that year. Knill was slightly more successful during his permanent spell at Millmoor, recording a win rate of 28.13%. However, was sacked by Rotherham in March 2007 after a dire run of 14 games without a win, and it took him just under a year to find another job, as manager of League Two side Bury.

Knill has a tough job on his hands at Torquay

Knill’s stay at Gigg Lane was vastly more successful, and after saving the club from relegation to the Conference after his appointment in February 2o08, he led the club to a fourth-placed finish in his 2008-09, his first full season in charge, only missing out on automatic promotion by one goal. The 2009-10 campaign followed a similar pattern until February, when a disastrous run of form saw The Shakers drop out of the promotion race and end the season in mid-table. Towards the end of 2010-11 Knill left for Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United; shortly afterwards Bury finally secured promotion to League One, with new manager Richie Barker building on the foundations that Knill had laid.

Knill could have been forgiven for soon questioning his decision to leave a Bury side on the up – his first game in charge of Scunthorpe was a 6-0 loss to Norwich – and with only eight games remaining, he was unable to prevent the second tier’s bottom club from relegation to League One. His first full season in charge culminated in a disappointing bottom-half finish, and on 29 October 2012 the club lost patience with Knill and sacked him. Two months earlier he had been lucky to escape without serious injuries after a cycling accident caused by a squirrel; his subsequent comment that “the situation we [Scunthorpe] are in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations” possibly led the board to believe he was not the man for another relegation battle.

However, that is exactly what Knill finds himself in now after joining Torquay, who are currently five points clear of the drop zone, having lost their last five games under makeshift boss Taylor. It’s a far cry from last season, in which Ling’s side rallied after Christmas to push for automatic promotion, only missing out on the final day of the season. Knill will inherit a squad low on confidence, and with his first game against rampant league leaders Port Vale, he will do well to avoid a repeat of his first game at the helm at Scunthorpe.

It appears that Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at fellow strugglers Aldershot Town was the final straw for United chairman Simon Baker, who had revealed Taylor had previously turned down his offer of a coach to provide assistance. One Torquay fan even claims that when asked during the defeat to Aldershot if Taylor knew “what he was doing”, Baker replied “I don’t think so, no”!

Shaun Taylor has been shown to be out of his depth in Ling’s absence

The chairman yesterday revealed that Knill’s appointment came on the back of recommendations from his former colleagues: “Alan was suggested to us by some people in the football industry,” said Baker. “We had drawn up a shortlist and we checked up on Alan with people he had worked with, and they all gave him a glowing reference.” Baker also hinted that Knill’s contacts and “good relationship[s] with Manchester United and Everton” could lead to an influx of loan players to aid Torquay’s fight for survival.

With the new man having attended the Aldershot game in order to run the rule over the club’s players, Torquay fans will be hoping Knill recognises the need to move creative midfielder Nathan Craig – too often wasted on the right-hand side, despite being left-footed – into the middle of the park, and to make more use of recent loan signing Elliot Benyon, who has been borrowed from Southend United. Despite being brought in by Taylor to score the goals needed to convert 1-0 losses into draws and victories, Benyon has played just 55 minutes, all from the bench, in the three games he has been available. Supporters will also have been encouraged by Knill’s reputation as a fan of passing football, developed at Bury – too often this season United have resorted to playing aimless long balls in the vague direction of targetman Rene Howe.

Torquay remain in the dark about the extent of Ling’s illness – although Baker vaguely revealed that the manager is “making progress”, it is still unclear whether or not he will be able to take over the reigns from Knill at the end of the season.


Torquay United will face Conference North side Harrogate Town in the first round of the FA Cup on Saturday after the North Yorkshire club finally emerged victorious from a qualifying round clash with Hyde FC.

With 87 minutes played at Hyde’s Ewen Fields ground on 20 October, Harrogate had looked to be heading out of the competition. Former Everton striker Phil Jevons had given the hosts the lead early on, but Harrogate scrambled an equaliser late on through substitute Leon Osbourne to secure a replay on home turf.

Leon Osbourne (third-from-left Harrogate player) is mobbed after scoring a late equalizer in the 1-1 draw at Hyde

Although a lethal combination of bad weather and an over-used Wetherby Road caused the replay to be postponed and moved to Station View (home of neighbours Harrogate  Railway Athletic), when the sides finally met again yesterday Harrogate prevailed… just. Although Hyde’s pre-match preparations were severely hampered by heavy traffic that meant their coach arrived so late that kick-off had to be delayed by 15 minutes, Harrogate showed admirable determination to match their opponents for the duration of normal time.

180 minutes had failed to separate the two sides, but when Harrogate’s winner came deep into extra time, it was again from the boot of a substitute – this time 19-year-old defender Dan Clayton emerged as his team’s hero.

The victory sets Harrogate up for a long trip to Plainmoor, home of League Two Torquay United, in a replica of the 2005 first-round draw. That year, Harrogate deservedly earned a 1-1 draw in the Westcountry before again matching their professional counterparts at home – only to be cruelly beaten on penalties. That first-round replay remains the furthest Harrogate have ever progressed in the FA Cup.

Although Simon Weaver’s men will be hoping to avenge that loss and surpass their club record, they will face a strong Torquay side that is now sitting in the League Two play-off places after recovering from an indifferent start to the campaign. The Gulls are still unbeaten at home in the league and have won their last four games at Plainmoor – even recovering a 3-0 deficit to beat Aldershot 4-3 and pipping league leaders Gillingham 2-1.

Exits at the first hurdle of both the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy  – to Leicester City and Yeovil Town respectively – leave this fixture as United’s last chance of cup success; Martin Ling’s side will doubtless be looking to continue a fine record in the FA Cup that has seen them reach the third round in five of the last seven seasons.

Torquay boss Ling is hoping for a fund-raising Cup run

However, Ling has also admitted that he sees the competition as a chance to boost the club’s coffers – with the January transfer window looming, Torquay need all the cash they can get to fund mid-season signings, and the £18,000 reward for beating Harrogate is a good start. Former Premier League midfielder Ling told BBC Sport: “It’s about money. It’s cruel to say that, because of the glory of the Cup, but it may mean me signing a player or having the the wages to sign a player that can help us go up [to League One]. That’s what the FA Cup’s about to me.”

United’s midfield has been particularly decimated by injury this season, with Ian Morris, Lloyd Macklin and Saul Halpin all currently suffering lengthy spells on the sidelines, while holding midfielders Damon Lathrope and Craig Easton have only recently returned to action after limping out of early games against Cheltenham and Chesterfield respectively. Though Ling resisted a late foray into the loan market earlier this month, the temptation to reinforce may prove too great if funds are made available through a decent cup run.

 

Images: Hyde 1-1 Harrogate – http://www.ripongazette.co.uk; Ling – http://www.football365.com


England’s fourth tier is a league infamous for its wheeling and dealing during the close season, and Torquay United fit this image perfectly. Manager Martin Ling has taken advantage of the summer transfer window to fully stamp his authority on a squad he inherited from Paul Buckle in June last year by completing a number of deals, although it is those heading through the exit door at Plainmoor that have attracted the most interest.

Having helped Torquay to defy the odds and reach the play-offs in 2011-12 in his first season at the club, Austrian goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik inevitably attracted interest from bigger sides after being named to the League Two Team of the Year. Less than a month after the end of the campaign he was linked with a host of Championship and League One clubs, and on 18 June he joined second-tier side Peterborough United for £300,000 – Torquay’s fourth-highest fee received in their 113-year history, and a great deal for the Gulls considering they had signed Olejnik for free in July 2011.

Ling oversaw a largely successful campaign last season, and will be looking to build in 2012-13

Ling was still searching for a new first-choice goalkeeper  (backup custodian Martin Rice has never played in a Football League match) when United’s defensive unit was struck another cruel blow. On 27 June, just over a week after Olejnik’s departure, centre-back Mark Ellis joined Crewe for £80,000 after revealing his desire to play in League One.  Having released youngster Ed Palmer, and lost senior centre-half Chris Robertson to Preston North End in January, Torquay were left with just two central defenders – Ling’s former captain at Cambridge Brian Saah, and teenage first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie.

With Ling having further trimmed his squad by releasing  forward Taiwo Atieno and left-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, new recruits were both necessary and inevitable, and duly arrived soon afterwards. Former Premier League forward Ryan Jarvis, who had spent the second half of 2011-12 on loan at Plainmoor, joined permanently on a free transfer from Walsall, while ex-Everton trainee Nathan Craig traded a four-month trial for a two-year contract after impressing for Torquay’s reserves.

Before June was out United had replaced Olejnik with the club’s former goalkeeper Michael Poke, who was between the sticks when the Gulls won promotion from the Conference in 2008-09. Ex-Arsenal defender Tom Cruise also signed on the dotted line on Plainmoor, bringing with him an impressive CV that includes a Champions League appearance against Olympiacos and trials at Sampdoria and the New England Revolution.

A further deal were concluded to bring in former Southend captain Craig Easton, who had also been on trial at Torquay in 2011-12, before Ling announced a signing that shocked and delighted the club’s fans in equal measure. Welsh under-21 international Billy Bodin had spent the first half of the season on loan at United, scoring 5 goals in 17 league outings and impressing Torquay’s coaching staff so much that the club made several attempts to sign the winger permanently in January – all of which were refuted by his parent club Swindon.

With a huge difference in valuations seeming to be the problem, both Ling and Torquay fans almost gave up on the deal going through. Thankfully for the Gulls, however, Swindon boss Paolo di Canio publicly suggested “it’s better if [Bodin] leaves” at the end of the 2011-12 season in order to earn more playing time, opening the door once more for a move to Plainmoor. Ling duly obliged and reinvested some of the Olejnik/Ellis cash, offering £70,000 – just shy of Torquay’s club record outlay. The deal was finally completed in early July, adding extra pace and youthful arrogance to the side’s attacking line-up.

All that remained was to replace Ellis, with, as Ling promised, a centre-back with “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”. Though the transfer took longer than expected, with United missing out on Oxford-bound defender Michael Raynes, new signing Aaron Downes was finally unveiled earlier this week. The former Chesterfield stopper joins after multiple injuries marred his stay at The Spireites, but Ling is confident that the Aussie’s worst is behind him. Should that prove to be the case, Torquay’s watertight backline could be even more stubborn next campaign, but if Downes limps out of a match early in the season, expect United to struggle.

As United breezed to a 2-0 win over Tiverton on Tuesday, the squad looked complete –  Bodin, Poke, Craig, Downes, Jarvis and Easton all featured, and there were no obvious deficiencies in a side that looked solid in all areas. There was just one problem, however:  playmaker Eunan O’Kane was ominously missing from the Torquay teamsheet, and it was later confirmed that League One side Bournemouth had lodged a £175,000 bid that was later accepted.

The £70,000 splashed on Billy Bodin represents United’s heaviest investment of the summer

O’Kane had rejected a move to Crawley Town of the same division weeks earlier, but was tempted by Bournemouth’s passing football philosophy and long-term prospects and decided the time was right to leave Devon after two years at Plainmoor. With Ling preferring to bring in the majority of his new faces for nominal fees – saving the considerable cash accumulated from high-profile sales for the January transfer window – the former Cambridge chief has stressed that O’Kane’s replacement lies within the club’s current squad.

Ling has highlighted wingers Craig and Bodin, as well as last season’s first-choice left wideman Ian Morris, as possible substitutes for O’Kane’s central attacking role that was crucial to Torquay’s creativity last term. Whether any of the trio can fill the Irishman’s boots remains to be seen, but given that Welsh pair Craig and Bodin are both just 20 years old, and Morris has previously been criticized for a lack of guile and penetrative passing, Torquay will do well to emulate last season’s success without their creator-in-chief.

Although the Gulls may struggle to improve upon the fifth-place finish posted in 2011-12, Ling’s men will be out to prove the pundits wrong once more next season, and another play-off place is achievable if Torquay’s squad remains injury-free. Although commonly perceived as one of the Football League’s smallest clubs, the Gulls have reached the play-offs in four of their last five league campaigns. Promotion to League One has eluded United since a one-season stay in the division in 2004-05, and Ling’s Torquay look as likely as any of the club’s previous sides to reach the promised land of England’s third tier.

The only concern for most fans is the lack of striking options should last season’s top scorer Rene Howe succumb to injury, with Ryan Jarvis the only senior centre-forward in a youthful attacking line-up that also includes promising wingers Lloyd Macklin and Niall Thompson – both of whom boast pace capable of tearing apart even the most organised defence, as Championship side Leeds United found out in a friendly on Friday night.

Even if promotion cannot be achieved in 2012-13, the league season should still be a memorable one for Torquay fans: local derbies against Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers are sure to stir up great atmospheres and crowds of over 4,000 to take in Plainmoor’s new stand, Bristow’s Bench, in its inaugural campaign.

Images: Ling – http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk; Bodin – https://drawley.wordpress.com

Artemi on Trial


Former Southend defender George Artemi has confirmed that he is currently on trial with League Two side Torquay United. The Gulls are known to be on the lookout for a new central defender to replace Mark Ellis, who left for Crewe Alexandra in June.

Although Torquay boss Martin Ling is desperate to sign another defender before the start of the 2012-13 season, many fans will be surprised to learn of 19-year-old Artemi’s trial – Ling had promised the new centre-back would have “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”.

Artemi at Rusden & Diamonds in 2009

That Artemi has spent most of his senior career in the reserve teams of professional clubs or playing in non-league suggests that either Ling thinks very highly of him indeed, or sees the ex-Rushden & Diamonds man as a third-choice centre-back. The Gulls completed the signing of former Arsenal youngster Tom Cruise in late June, and Cruise’s ability to play on the left side of defence or midfielder means that Artemi could take his place in United’s central defensive roster – with Cruise now seen as cover at full-back.

Beginning his career in Leyton Orient’s youth system, Artemi was part of Ling’s regime at Brisbane Road when the manager spent six years at the club between 2003 and 2009. A former captain of Orient’s youth sides, Artemi trialled with Rushden & Diamonds in the 2008-09 season, and, after impressing for the club’s youth team, made his senior debut aged 17 in a Hillier Senior Cup clash with Kettering Town.

Although he has a distinct lack of Football League experience, Artemi is no stranger to the rough-and-tumble of men’s football – described as a “strong, no-nonsense centre-back” by Diamonds, he faced 6ft strikers Anthony Elding and Moses Ashikodi on his debut for the club, and has since enjoyed loan spells further down the football pyramid with Great Wakering Rovers and Malden & Tiptree.

Following a trial with Southend in March 2011, Artemi signed a contract with the Roots Hall club, but he found first-team opportunities hard to come by and, after more loan spells, was released at the end of the year. Artemi, of Cypriot origin but fluent in Spanish, joined Bishop’s Stortford in January 2012, but would spend just two months at the club before leaving for Conference South outfit Thurrock in March.

Relegation-threatened Thurrock had little chance of survival – they would ultimately be relegated in the first week of April – and Artemi was handed his debut in March, starting against mid-table Weston-super-Mare in a 2-2 draw. Though the result was a good one for Thurrock on their travels, Artemi was replaced just 14 minutes into the match and failed to appear again in 2011-12.

Should he join Torquay on a permanent basis if his trial proves successful, Artemi will complete a hat-trick of players on the club’s books with Cypriot heritage. Left-back Alex Avraamides and 15-year-old midfielder Charalambos Mouzouros are both members of United’s youth team, and both impressed in the U-18 side’s 4-2 victory over international academy Pulse Premier on Friday.

With the Gulls also linked with Morecambe centre-back Chris McCready and ex-Crawley stopper Pablo Mills, it seems unlikely that Ling would take the risk of having Artemi, untried in the Football League, in his starting line-up. However, the youngster could provide valuable cover across the backline and act as back-up to the first-choice pairing of Brian Saah and the expected signing of a new, experienced centre-back.

Image: http://www.thediamondsfc.com

McPhee Moves On


Torquay United have confirmed the release of midfielder Chris McPhee following talks with manager Martin Ling that resulted in a mutual agreement that the player’s future lies elsewhere. The news comes despite BBC Sport reporting that a loan move was on the cards just 24 hours ago.

Having returned to Plainmoor in June 2011, after previously spending a season with the club in 2006-07, McPhee found first-team opportunities limited under Ling. Initially used as a substitute or starting central midfielder, McPhee made 26 league appearances in 2011-12 but gradually fell out of favour as the season wore on, even struggling to hold down a place on the bench after January.

Indeed, he last featured for the Gulls on 6 March, in a 1-0 home defeat of Aldershot. Unsurprisingly, both player and manager thought a change of scenery was required, and Torquay transfer-listed McPhee in late May, along with winger Lloyd Macklin.

McPhee struggled to break into United’s starting XI last season

Following this move, it looked as if McPhee would be either sold, or loaned out to a Conference National club for the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, returning in January – or being recalled earlier if required – to assist in what Ling hopes will be a push for promotion. With McPhee having spent most of his career in the South of the country, taking in spells with Swindon and Weymouth as well as Torquay, rumours linking the 29-year-old with loan or permanent moves to Newport County and Hereford United seemed well-founded.

McPhee’s experience in non-league, combined with his versatility – he can play anywhere across midfield as well as up front – would benefit any Conference club, but today’s release scuppers any chance of a temporary move for the ex-Brighton trainee. Ling’s decision to cut McPhee from his now 22-man squad has fuelled hope that the former Leyton Orient chief is about to announce the signing of another attacker, as Ling has previously stated his squad will consist of 24 men – McPhee’s replacement, plus the imminent signing of a new centre-back, would bring the group back up to the requisite number.

Despite acknowledging that there had been “considerable loan interest” in McPhee in recent weeks, a club statement claimed “a permanent departure would be the best option for both parities”. Manager Ling added: “”We have reached an agreement for Chris to leave the club with immediate effect and pursue his career elsewhere. Chris is very much interested in combining a coaching role with his playing duties and sees his best opportunity with a club outside the Football League.”

McPhee now looks set to join a leading Conference side, with the added financial impact of having to pay all of McPhee’s wages (likely to be higher if a coaching role is involved) rather than a propotion, as would have been the case with a loan deal. The 2008 FA Trophy winner is unlikely to be short of offers, though, and could be tempted by a Conference South side if coaching duties are available.

Image: http://www.torquayunited.com

 

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

 

Easton Heads South


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

Ling Lets Lloyd Leave


Following the release of full-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and centre-half Ed Palmer yesterday, Torquay United manager Martin Ling has continued to reshape his playing squad with further transfer news today.

Forward Ryan Jarvis, who joined the Gulls on loan from Walsall in March, has been offered a permanent contract for next season after impressing Ling during his short stay in Devon. Jarvis netted a crucial winner against Port Vale, teed up Rene Howe for the only goal against Accrington, and hit the bar in the play-off semi-final loss to Cheltenham. His contribution almost helped Torquay to promotion from League Two, and Ling said “We could have a really good player and he has been offered a one-year contract to prove to me that there is a good player in there”.

Also being offered new deals are midfield linchpin Damon Lathrope and young striker Ashley Yeoman. Lathrope’s expected signature will come as welcome news to United fans, with some fearing the ex-Norwich holding midfielder would be tempted away by a bigger club.

Lloyd Macklin (left) has mainly been limited to reserve-team football this season

Yeoman’s only league appearance in 2011-12 came in the form of a brief, but impressive, cameo in a home defeat to Bradford in February. The local lad has been rewarded with a one-year extension for, according to Ling: “versatility and for being a goalscorer… we watch him in training and feel he will score goals.”

Seemingly held in lower regard is 22-year-old winger Lloyd Macklin, who featured four times in the league this season. The former Swindon midfielder bagged his first goal in professional football in a 2-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy loss to Cheltenham in August, before Macklin joined Salisbury on loan in a spell that also saw him score against Sheffield United in the FA Cup. However, Ling rather bluntly stated “He was one of the youngest-ever players to make his debut for Swindon when he was a 16-year-old, and I still feel we have a 16-year-old on our hands. He hasn’t been consistent enough…it’s something he hasn’t really grasped and I’m not prepared to try anymore, and that’s why he’s been listed”.

Although he chose to renew Yeoman’s contract despite the forward only having two league appearances for United at the age of 20, Ling also cited this as a reason for Macklin –  who has actually featured more for the Gulls – being transfer-listed: “To be a sub that only touches the pitch a couple of times is not enough for someone at the age of 22”.

Ling’s blunt approach to releasing players could be seen as unnecessarily harsh, but many Torquay fans seem to prefer the Plainmoor supremo’s modus operandi: one fan went as far as saying “He’s put a backbone where there wasn’t one before. Martin Ling tells it like it is… just straight to the point, no-nonsense honesty.”

Torquay have also offered central defender Mark Ellis a new deal, which is said to have been on the table for months. The 23-year-old has reportedly attracted interest from United’s south-west rivals Plymouth Argyle, the club his family support. The Gulls are waiting for Kenyan forward Taiwo Atieno to return from international duty before deciding whether or not to extend his contract.