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FAN ZONE 09/06/2022





THREE UP THREE DOWN ON THE WAY? AND WHY WAIT UNTIL JULY FOR NEW SIGNINGS? WHEN IS A MARQUEE NOT A MARQUEE?


Last week’s column led the way with asking about three up, three down between the National League and League 2 reporting that the league’s General Manager, Mark Ives, had told Fans’ Zone some weeks ago that talks had started well. This week Ives has given an encouraging update.

“We’ve made it clear three up, three down is something we would like to pursue,” said Ives. “Absolutely, we are having open dialogue about it. It would be fairer and more fitting for our competition [next season there’ll be 15 ex-football league clubs]. It is a matter for the EFL and it has to have discussions with its clubs but is it something it is willing to have dialogue over? I think so.”

Regarding the implementation of a salary cap, Ives has hinted that, although discussions are continuing, it is unlikely, in the short term, that any changes will be agreed [at their next AGM].

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If ever a team deserved to regain their place back in the EFL doing it the hard way through the play-off system, it was Grimsby Town, one of only a few clubs who have returned at the first attempt. Although finishing the proper season in sixth, they won their eliminator round 3-2 at Notts County after extra time, they defeated Wrexham on their own turf 5-4 after extra time, the winning goal the result of a long throw-in and on Sunday clinched promotion, again after extra time, 2-1 over Solihull Moors with that vital second goal coming from yet another long throw.

Just goes to show the importance of set pieces. All Torquay fans would love to see more productive corners and free kicks in the new season.

Anyway, readers of this column voted for Grimsby to win the final and so congratulations to Paul Hurst, the Grimsby manager, who’s now taken his side back into the football league for the second time in six years.

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What does it take to get out of the National League? Torquay United have done it once, in 2009, with a Wembley Play-Off Final 2-0 victory over Cambridge United and came oh so close last year.

In season 2008-09 in the then called Blue Square Premier the Gulls finished fourth with 83 points, Burton Albion, champions that campaign ended up with 88 points.

Let’s just look at the number of points needed to be champion and automatic promotion over recent years:

2021-22: Stockport County 89, 2020-21: Sutton United 81, 2019-20: Barrow 67 (due to Covid this was a curtailed season), 2018-19: Leyton Orient 87, 2017-18 Macclesfield 83, 2016-17 Lincoln City 96, 2015-16 Gary Johnson’s Cheltenham 90.

So, if Johnson’s Torquay have any aspirations to re-join the EFL for 2023-24 then these are the kinds of points totals they must strive to achieve. But with a pretty major squad re-build it’s going to be a massive challenge.

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Interesting stats compiled by Thomas Wagstaff about the number of National League appearances each champion winning squads had for that promotion winning success: 2021-22: Stockport County 1762 games, 2020-21: Sutton United 1304, 2019-20: Barrow 951, 2018-19: Leyton Orient 1224, 2017-18: Macclesfield 1514, 2016-17: Lincoln City 1942, 2015-16: Cheltenham 774 compare these figures with Torquay’s total National League figure for last season: 941 appearances.

This would strongly suggest that Johnson’s summer recruitment needs a number of experienced National League/former EFL players alongside those gems he’s hoping to turn into marquee level.

And on this point why is it that there won’t be any signings, according to a recent interview the United boss gave, until July 1 when other National League sides have already announced new recruits? Stockport’s released skipper Liam Hogan joining Oldham along with Crewe striker Chris Porter and Notts County signing Gateshead’s top scorer - and top National North marksman - Macaulay Langstaff, while Scott Boden joins York City from Boreham Wood.

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Then there were two: Asa Hall and Olaf Koszela are the only two left at Plainmoor from the National South championship winning squad following last week’s released/retained list. Since when it’s been confirmed that fans’ favourites Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Shaun MacDonald,(Player of the Year and TUST’s Exiles’ Away Player of the Year) ,Armani Little snapped up by Forest Green Rovers in League 1, Ben Wynter (TUST’s Ian Twitchin award winner), Danny Wright who’s signed for Havant & Waterlooville to join Jake Andrews and Joe Lewis, have turned down new contract offers.

While it is disappointing to lose so many in one go, it does leave manager Johnson with a blank canvas and hopefully a competitive budget to entice a number of good quality, experienced replacements. With the first pre-season match on July 8 and the new season beginning on August 6, that’s only 59 days away to put together a team that can be a top seven challenger, it certainly needs to get off to a better start than last year’s new look side. Catching up, as the squad tried last season, doesn’t work unless you have terrific good luck.

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Ex-Gull striker Billy Waters looks to be moving from FC Halifax to re-join his manager at Barrow this week.

Of course what a difference it would be if United could produce their own marquee players. A few years ago owner and chairman Clarke Osborne wanted to re-establish the club’s youth system.

And to be fair, with the appointment of Chris Todd, the youth set up has seen the Under-18s achieve unprecedented success but the recent loss of promising goalkeeper Matt Wonnacott, 16, to Wigan has underlined the pitfalls of not having a proper academy. And now comes news of Todd leaving to join up with Chris Hargreaves at Yeovil. As an EFL club, clubs receive EPPP funding to run an academy (as long as they have a covered training area), or a centre of excellence.

Torquay, having closed their youth centre in 2007, missing out on lucrative transfer deals for the likes of Keiffer Moore and Ollie Watkins, don’t have an academy anymore. Theirs is a Pro-Direct version attached to South Devon College with players/parents having to pay for their football. And in the case of Wonnacott, 17 is the youngest age a player can be offered a professional contract.

There are a lot of FA rules regarding players’ contracts of employment aged 16-18 and if Torquay are ever to cash in on promising talent they need to regain EFL status pretty quickly.

In the meantime Exeter City have seen work start on their £2.9m Cliff Hill training ground upgrade, money generated from Watkins’ sell-on clause when he moved from Brentford to Aston Villa.

Also look out for ambitious French club PSG who are setting up academies in the UK, the latest, the twentieth, near Cardiff opening in 2023. They’re state-of-the-art, football pitches, therapeutic pools, 15 classroom school, library, accommodation for 180 and a 3,000 seat stadium.

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This week it’s back to the popular Three Word Fun. How would you sum up the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in three words for you? Send yours to: fanszone.tu@gmail.com or Twitter: @FanszoneT

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