On 13th September 2018, Torquay United fans woke to the news that then-62-year-old Gary Johnson, a vastly experienced footballing mastermind, had put pen to paper and become the first-team manager. It was a dream appointment for the Yellow Army as they looked to navigate the abyss of regional non-league football.
But 18 months on, the terraces are turning sour with their proclaimed ‘Godfather’.
United were in their all-time worst slump. Long since the days of League 1 football, they found themselves relegated to the National League South for the first time ever, under the guidance – misguidance, rather – of Gary Owers.
Expecting to bulldoze the semi-professional division and return to non-league’s top flight in one season, the board allowed Owers to continue leading the club. Things did not go to plan, however, and the Geordie, ex-professional player picked up a measly 12 points from a possible 27 in his nine-game reign.
Life at the helm of the distinguished English Riviera outfit began almost as perfectly as possible for his next-in-line as Johnson’s new yellow regime dropped just six points in seventeen matches, remaining unbeaten in the league over said period.
The season played out in much the same vein. The odd loss did very little to slow down the Devonian charge, and the title was wrapped up after the 2-0 defeat of Eastbourne Borough with three games to spare – the first honour in Torquay United history.
Songs of a return to the promised land of the Football League rang around a near-capacity Plainmoor as captain Asa Hall lifted the trophy, bringing closure to Torquay United’s darkest days.
The road to redemption has been a bumpy one for Johnson since the club’s return to the Vanarama National League. The Gulls delivered a mixed bag of results early in the season, and found themselves just five points off the league leaders in mid-October.
Following this zenith, Torquay have won just one league fixture in over two months. The Yellows have suffered a staggering eight defeats in their last ten league fixtures, a record that the passionate Plainmoor faithful have not seen the likes of since 2017.
Unsurprisingly, pressure on Johnson’s job is mounting with each defeat. United have little to look forward to as they sit 15th in the National League; seven points off playoff contention, but only eight points above the relegation places. Additionally, at the hands of Maidstone United and FC Halifax Town, they are no longer in the running for either of the domestic cup competitions.
Johnson’s reign has divided the scores of supporters on the terraces, and it will likely remain in such fashion until changes are made; be that his exit from the club or a serious revitalisation of the squad to bring attractive football back to the yellow third of Devonshire, and, more crucially, league football.