FANS' ZONE 11/03/2022
FAREWELL FRANK O’FARRELL A TRUE TORQUAY LEGEND ON A WEEKEND WHEN FOOTBALL STANDS TOGETHER
One of the joys of sitting in the Family Stand right in front of the Directors’ Box is chatting to those behind us and in recent years it has been a privilege to chat to a real Torquay legend in Frank O’Farrell who sadly passed away at the age of 94 on Sunday.
Even in his later years he still had pertinent comments about what he’d been watching and in his Irish brogue he was full of banter and happy chat; he very kindly signed his book, ‘All Change At Old Trafford, The Frank O’Farrell story’ to me. The book tells the story of Frank, an Irish choirboy from Cork who began his working life as a railway engine cleaner and went on to find fame and fortune as the manager of Manchester United.
Fittingly, ‘his’ seat in the Directors’ Box is now sat in by Robin Stubbs.
************ It was a day of reflection at Plainmoor on Saturday as the 2,350 (including 141 from Bromley) stood as one to show solidarity for Ukraine with a minute’s applause. Fittingly Torquay United in their yellow and blue kit held the Ukrainian flag as they entered the pitch - a flag which was adopted in 1848 with its two horizontal bands representing the landscape and good harvests, sunflowers and wheat.
The giant scoreboard at the Babbacombe end carried the blue and yellow colours with the banner ‘Football Stands Together’. Could this be a moment to not only reflect on the shocking war images on our TV screens every day but also on the current distasteful fan misbehaviour? It would be good to think so.
And well done to Kevin Hill’s Exmouth Town who have announced they will play in their away kit, yellow and blue, for all their remaining fixtures this season.
With all this in mind it was as if the football was secondary and for the second home game in a row it ended goalless. The two managers after the match conceded their sides lacked quality in the final third as both teams had no cutting edge up front although Shaun MacDonald, surely Man of the Match, had plenty to do, was named in the Non-League Paper’s Team of the Day and for the second week running in the Vanarama Team of the Week.
With the Ukrainian flag now a symbol of defiance, of pride and relentless determination, this attitude could sum up Torquay’s performance following Joe Lewis’ rightful red card sending off leaving the Gulls having to play with a man short for over half the match; only a one game ban.
They might even have won the game if they had a clinical striker on the pitch. Week after week this missing link becomes more and more obvious as the games slip away as does the hope of breaking into a play-off place. Oh for a Tim Sills, Jamie Reid or even Rene Howe, who notched his 25th goal of the season, another penalty, in Bedford Town’s 4-0 home win keeping them top of the Southern League Division 1 Central.
No rightful thinking supporter can, on reflection, blame their team’s woeful performances on the match officials but Torquay’s last four games seem to have seen the worst in debatable decision making.
The worst criticism are the inconsistencies with decision making and bookings, so much so that we are told that National League managers across the division are as one condemning the poor standard.
Take Saturday’s man in the middle, Mr Marsden, who has sent off five players in his last eight games, who missed so much through poor positioning, often having his back to the play.
What is disappointing is that officials are unaccountable after a game for their decision making no matter how much managers try as Gary Johnson well knows - he’s still waiting for a response from the play-off final! And even if there was VAR in the National League - could the ‘winning’ goal at Wealdstone last Saturday have been given? - Everton’s ‘penalty’ against Manchester City was missed denying them a point which might be the difference between staying up or relegation. To be told afterwards it was a mistake and should have been awarded is little consolation.
As Johnson says, with the National League no different from the EFL, why can’t league referees be used in the National League rather than those at this level waiting to be promoted?
The general consensus of opinion in the Family Stand is that spectators use their hard earned money to pay to watch a football match not the referee taking centre stage.
Non-League Crowd Watch: Crowd of the day was at Macclesfield with 4,002 watching a 3-1 home win, if they won last night’s match they could be one win away from promotion from the North West Counties Premier on their journey back to the promised land. Another team on the brink of promotion, Worthing, in the Isthmian Premier, drew a crowd of 2,347 at Lewes, their highest for 70 years.
In the National League big crowds again at Notts County 6,943, Chesterfield 6,625, Grimsby 5,423 and in National South second placed Maidstone won 3-2 in front of 2,222.
With games running out at the business end of the season who could be joining the Gulls next season? Several teams have flirted with relegation over the course of this campaign, amongst them Colchester, Carlisle and even Bristol Rovers but currently it’s looking like Scunthorpe are heading for the drop propping up the table with a miserly twenty four points. Above them are Oldham but it could be a contest between them Barrow, Stevenage, Leyton Orient and Colchester all four of whom have tasted non-league football in their recent histories.
Meanwhile, United’s women’s team is supplying the Devon FA Women’s Under-18 squad to play Cornwall with Ellie Bishop, Alice Gue, Emma Hunt, Scarlett McMahon and Esme Kilburn-Thompson.
In an important top-of-the-table clash on Sunday United Women went down 1-0 at challengers Sherborne Ladies dropping to second behind Ilminster Ladies who have three games in hand.
55% of supporters feel Torquay should be looking ahead to a promotion push for next season but the others are clinging on to a play-off hope. So, this Saturday’s trip to King’s Lynn is crucial where only three points will be good enough.
How should the club remember and celebrate Frank O’Farrell? Naming a stand in his name? Send your view to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @FanszoneT