Ever since Gary Johnson walked through the doors at Plainmoor, he has made an astronomical difference to Torquay United Football Club. Not just on the pitch, but very much off it too. To say he has made an impact at the club is probably one of the largest of understatements you are likely to hear, but there you have it. I am utterly perplexed, even still, at how we managed the feat of outright promotion especially if you consider how we faired earlier in the season under Gary Owers. Honestly, that feels like another, entirely different season than the one we have actually just experienced since GJ’s appointment in September 2018. Yet, Gary J adopted the squad, adding a few key signings, but mostly sticking with the same players and has totally transformed them all over the course of this season. Of course, the most notable of transformations has been in front man Jamie Reid who has bagged himself an incredible 32 goals and a well-deserved award for player of the season. Now, no one could have predicted that before the start of the season. This is especially magnificent an achievement when you consider he didn’t even score in the first seven games of the campaign. Reid is certainly not the only player who has flourished under Johnson, improvements have occurred throughout the team. I’d probably be here all day if I mentioned every single player because, honestly, Johnson’s influence has improved every single player in that side this season.
It’s unbelievable how confident Johnson was in the ability of his players from the very beginning, when many at the time really weren’t, and indeed the club itself. Especially when you refer to his very first interview back in September on the Official TUFC YouTube channel, where this confidence can be seen exuding from the former Cheltenham man. One of the first points he brings up is how “the main thing is we need to get the club up and going” and man did he do that. The most reassuring and sheer confidence vote-worthy comment however was when he mentions how “we can be optimistic about winning this league, and then we can be optimistic if we go further”. This, for me, just demonstrates how confident he was in the entre setup and that confidence really has paid dividends, not just for the season as a whole in winning the title but from his very first game in charge. This desire for promotion can still be seen at the tail end of the season, speaking to ITV (as can be seen in the clip below) after the Hungerford game, when Gary reinforces how “We want to get in the football league. I’m going to do all I can to get these people in the football league”.
I mean, it’s amazing, if you follow the trajectory that United made from when Johnson was appointed in September 2018 through to January 2019, how much of an impact he has made. In just FOUR months, he took the club from 14th in the National League South table to first! A record run of 10 successive wins in a row saw the 63-year-old’s free-scoring side go top of the table at the time. Johnson’s success also boosted, and made a notable increase to, the crowds at Plainmoor from about 1,200 towards the end of the Owers regime to 4,000 on 26 December when the Gulls hosted Truro City. Really, it’s a testament to Johnson’s fabulous modus operandi that he has galvanised the club as much as he has, getting Plainmoor truly rocking once more, and that doesn’t look like stopping any time soon.
I have had the great honour of speaking to Gary on a number of occasions. All of which have made me more and more confident in him as our manager, and to which I have been greeted with a genuine gentleman who is always prepared to have speak to both the reporter and avid fan I am. Normally I wouldn’t mention this, but I deem the sentiment of what I am about to say in the highest of regards: Gary Johnson seems to genuinely understand how important the fans are to, not just Torquay United, but to the game and he embraces every single one of them. For me, that is one of the reasons why he enjoys the success he does, he doesn’t shy away from the fans and has built up a truly reciprocal rapport that is quite unlike anything I’ve seen in quite a long time at the club.
Speaking to Devon Live recently, Johnson insisted how “I’m not going for consolidation, I want to give it a go in the National League next year”. He also added: “This club showed today (Hungerford home game) that this is a Football League club and that will be the aim next season” It’s so very clear how promotion will always be the aim, and nothing will deter him from earning that very accolade, and here we are in his first season celebration our first championship promotion since 1927! And for me, that is all down to the brilliance of one man. Gary Johnson.
TORQUAY UNITED: NATIONAL LEAGUE SOUTH CHAMPIONS 2018/19
Images courtesy of Torquay United/Pinnacle/DevonLive
Video courtesy of ITV News