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photographs by marcus davies

I saw my first Torquay United match in 1972 when I was 6 years old. It was a Saturday afternoon kick off in April versus Mansfield Town. My Dad drove, and my brother and I sat in the back, our home knitted scarves keeping us warm. We arrived 5 minutes late and missed the only goal of the game…1-0 to Mansfield. I wanted to go to every match; it was the excitement, the noise, the smell, the floodlights and, of course, the football. And my Dad took me and my brother to most home games. We stood along the enclosure terrace, and at half-time we moved either up or down so that we could be level with whichever penalty area that Torquay were attacking. My brother stood on one side, me on the other, and my Dad in between, arms around us both keeping us safe.

marcus davies paintingWe were an artistic family (my Dad was head of the Art School in Torquay) and when I wasn’t watching Torquay, or talking about them I was painting them. Mostly I used Colin Bratcher’s fantastic photographs for my compositions but sometimes I just made them up. Looking back at the paintings now they are all about the excitement of being twelve or thirteen and watching live football, I embellished the event with huge crowds and ultramarine skies. The team at the time had great players like Kenny Raper, Barrie Vassallo and Steve Cooper. The player I loved the most was Dave Tomlin, he could do anything, a body swerve and a feint, a mercurial winger with a rocket of a shot, when he was sold to Aldershot for £20.000 I was devastated. I recently looked up his career records, he only played 39 times for Torquay and scored just twice – I must have seen them both and the re-runs in my teenage mind multiplied his goal tally exponentially.

torquay united footballSometime in my later teens I graduated from the comfort of the enclosure with its mixed aroma of St Bruno and Golden Virginia to the altogether scarier world of the Mini Stand. Not that I ever got into any trouble though, I was way too vigilant and keen on self-preservation, I expect I was like the kids in the early section picture. By the time I took this photograph I was 19 and at Art School studying photography. I was given a press pass for the last home game of the season, a 1-0 defeat against Northampton Town. I took the photographs of the game, and the empty ground, for a project on identity and given that students on my fine art course were either making intimate body casts or communing with nature I felt that I had to hang on to whatever identity I had.

I was there for as many of the games as I could over the next fifteen years and only playing Saturday football stopped me from seeing more. I had an inflatable gull when they were all the rage, and I have Jimmy Aggrey’s shirt from the ‘loser loses all game’ at Barnet. I was at the match but can’t totally guarantee the provenance of the shirt as I bought it at a car boot sale quite recently. The guy selling it seemed genuine enough so I am not going to argue. The season before the Barnet match Torquay United reached their centenary; 100 years as a football club. I wrote to Mike Bateson and suggested that what he needed was a photographer to document this historic season as an important archive for the future and I was available… and free.

torquay united footballI took about 70 rolls of films during the season and photographed whatever I thought was interesting. Although I quite often sat on the side of the pitch the project wasn’t purely about getting great action shots of the goals which was just as well because I nearly always missed them – too hypnotised by the action, the fan in me taking over. It was fun going behind the scenes, and I am not sure it would be as easy to do a project like this in professional football today. I tried to cover as many areas as I could, and ten years on the photographs are a kind of archive, very few of the players are still playing league football (none with Torquay), half a dozen managers have come and gone and there has been a change of owners not once but twice. Perhaps the only real constants are the ground and the supporters. I had hoped that the project would culminate in a glorious promotion; a late surge up the table gave Torquay an opportunity to sneak into the play-offs if they could win their last game of the season against Northampton Town. Unfortunately Northampton had a promotion agenda of their own – a win and they would be automatically promoted…they won.

torquay united footballPromotion had to wait another 4 years, but when it arrived it was sweet. I had managed to get a press pass for the Southend game via Richie Hughes who had the idea of putting together a magazine to celebrate the success if it happened. I may well have been the only Torquay United fan at the far end of the ground as first Steve Woods then David Graham struck. I remember taking the photographs of David Graham celebrating his goal and turning around with a huge grin on my face only to see a couple of thousand Southend fans, I was quite keen to get up to the other end at half time. And then the last couple of minutes knowing that a win would be enough and the tension, and the noise. My favourite photograph on the whole website is the one taken a minute from time looking back at the Torquay faithful, there is a kind of fervour, like a religious painting, there are also a couple of fans who look very close to cardiac arrest.

I was hoping to get a press pass for a ride on the open top bus, but it was a blag too far. I was offered a place on the Herald Express train that was following the bus but I turned it down as I was a little concerned that it would slow me down. I continued taking photographs the following season and I did the player portraits for the programme, but nothing really got close to the buzz of the Southend match.

torquay united footballThe final photograph on the website is of Steve Cooper in his pub, just outside Exeter, we met up as part of an interview for Richie’s magazine. He poured the drinks and cooked us food on the barbecue, totally candid about his career, a really nice bloke. He featured in my childhood, and my paintings and here he was telling us about the Sheffield Wednesday game, and perhaps that is what I like about following Torquay United; its not just the proximity, it’s the intimacy, it’s the access to a community. Torquay United are not so much of a brand as an extended family. Their triumph is not really about trophies or big money transfers, but the fact that they still matter to such a significant amount of people.

I hope you enjoy looking at the photographs on the website.

all photographs copyright 2008-09, Marcus Davies and may not be used without written permission | All rights reserved | site design by michelle abadie web and book design