When my boss offered me an extra day of holiday at the end of October, I snapped his hand off and immediately began planning a far-flung mini-break with the girlfriend… in Torquay.
The allure of an away match was there, with Wrexham playing The Gulls on Tuesday night. But as the month rolled on, the game became more and more of an unwelcome holiday distraction.
Back-to-back league defeats against Chesterfield and Dagenham left Wrexham just three points above Chorley at the bottom of the National League table, while Torquay’s form of five wins in six games, plus their record as the league’s most free-scoring team, meant the odds were stacked.
Rather than three points, then, Saffron and I headed to the south coast with dreams of refreshing sea air and epic coastal walks. Anything else would be a bonus.
After getting battered by gales on a seven-mile hike around Tor Bay earlier in the day, we took refuge in our hotel for a few hours before heading back out in dark, damp and blustery conditions for a 20-minute walk to Plainmoor.
When we arrived, I read the team news… Our best player – defender and captain Shaun Pearson – was not in the squad and neither was our first-choice striker, JJ Hooper.
I began to question my life choices, especially when we queued up in deep puddles and choppy winds for our tickets – which were oddly printed on a couple of A5 pieces of paper. Things began to look brighter when we entered the ground, though. Our view was class and the impressive main stand protected us from the elements.
And when the football started, Wrexham actually played very well. Our constant energy meant we were first to every ball and we should have gone in at half-time comfortably in front, Bobby Grant missing two glorious chances with just the ‘keeper to beat. His second effort was particularly frustrating, as he had enough time to hit a measured shot on target but hastily attempted to chip the ball over Shaun MacDonald’s goal instead.
Surprisingly, we continued to dominate in the second half as well, despite playing against the wind. Grant missed another good chance before MacDonald produced a great save from Paul Rutherford’s goal-bound strike.
Spirits were high among the 132 travelling contingent – I hadn’t heard so much chanting since the opening games of the season! However, moments after Rutherford’s effort was saved, the game – and the fans – turned.
Another away defeat
On the hour mark, totally against the run of play, Torquay went down the opposite end and scored. Jake Lawlor’s headed clearance was poor, while Mark Harris switched off and let Liam Davis burst into the box to fire home from a tight angle.
The confidence in the Wrexham team dissipated and the home side’s lifted.
Torquay should have gone further ahead but they hit the crossbar through Jake Andrews and forced Rob Lainton to make some amazing saves – including a spectacular double stop to deny Saikou Janneh, and then Jamie Reid.
We came closest to an equaliser when substitute, Jason Oswell, headed wide late on but we were never really in the game after conceding, which was incredibly frustrating, and our search for a first away win of the season continues.
In 2019, Wrexham have played 21 league games away from home and have won just three. Unfortunately, in my seven trips following the team this calendar year, I haven’t seen any of these rare victories, witnessing defeats at Salford, Fylde, Leyton Orient, Halifax, Aldershot and now Torquay, while we also stole a point at Notts County.
Barring cup games, I don’t think I’ll be at another Wrexham away match until the new year. It’s not just the results, it’s the lack of enjoyment I’m getting from the games. We lost 4-1 at Macclesfield a couple of years ago but I remember that game for Scott Boden’s wild celebration in the snow after our goal.
There haven’t been many endearing memories like that from the seven games I’ve been to in 2019. I thought re-appointing Keates – manager of the Wrexham team that lost at Macclesfield – would bring back some passion but I’ve yet to see much so far.
Visiting new towns and grounds is still really interesting, though, and both the town and ground at Torquay were a delight. So I think I need to find a few games with a bit more unpredictability. I’m sure there’ll be a few relegation six-pointers that will do the job in 2020.
Torquay United 1
Ground rating: 6.5/10
Best Of The Rest
Away from Plainmoor, Saff and I enjoyed our three days in Torquay immensely, despite the raucous weather. Devon’s coastline provided us with our greatest thrills – from a relaxing twilight walk around the harbour during our first night, to our aforementioned pre-match trek the following day.
During the latter, we took in epic views at Thatcher’s Point, Meadfoot Beach and Hope’s Nose, while we were also astounded by the amount of seating opportunities we had en route. Torquay must home to at least 60% of the UK’s benches.
Some of our other favourite spots around the town included Torre Abbey and St. John The Apostle Church. We also had a great time winning enough tickets in the arcades’ 2p machines to take home a couple of bouncy balls and a fossil encased in plastic.
However, a lack of time and money meant we missed out on the Torquay Museum, the Babbacombe Model Village and – apparently- the world’s largest Pacman arcade game, located in the local bowling alley.
Many reasons to return, then, and if we do, the Trelawney Hotel would be high on our list of places to stay, as the owners were so welcoming and also provided us with an umbrella for our walk to the match. It could have been an even longer night without them.