Every football fan is kept up at night by the thought of their club facing relegation. Following a 1-1 draw on a visit to Hartlepool in April 2018, Torquay United fans lived that nightmare, sentencing the club to a season of regionalised football in the National League South.
For a side that was once a member of League One, it is an unthinkable level to reside in. With the greatest of respect to the rest of the division, United were a big fish in a small pond. A rocky start to life in regional divisions was turned around by the appointment of the vastly-experienced Gary Johnson, who took the Yellows on a glorious run of 15 league matches without a loss, starting from his very first fixture with the Devonshire side.
What followed was Torquay United’s first notable trophy. United were crowned champions of National League South after a 2-0 win at home to Eastbourne Borough. Plainmoor was in a jubilant mood, and the English Riviera was alive with passion and pride for their club. However, behind the glass doors of main reception, a more sombre story took centre stage.
United’s relegation from the Vanarama National League the season before had a detrimental impact on the club – one which could not be turned around within a single season. The club recorded a devastating loss of £943,876 for the 2018-19 season alone.
For an outfit like Torquay, who already owed £1.3 million, figures like these are troubling. In football’s current climate, where a large number of clubs always seem to be on the very edge of collapse, it is a nail-biting time for supporters, staff and players.
There are very few viable ways for United to claw themselves out of such a hole. Attendances are dropping, results are ailing, wages are rising and money is simply running out. Torquay United are on borrowed time.
The Yellows could offset the books a little by selling highly-sought-after striker Jamie Reid, who has been rumoured to have sparked interest from the likes of Huddersfield Town and Luton Town. The Northern-Irishman’s 20 goal contributions in 32 games mean that United could place a significant fee on his talent – one which would lift a lot of financial pressure off their shoulders. They must act fast, however, as the Devonshire-born talisman will be out of a contract come summer 2020.
Dwindling figures are not too unfamiliar on the English Riviera. Times were tough at the turn of the 21st century, and the continuation of the club would have been in question had it not been for the saving grace of lucky local lottery winners, Thea and Paul Bristow, who took home £15m from the National Lottery.
Thea became a director of the club and even opened a new stand in honour of her late husband, but the money soon dried up. United’s professional status has hung in the balance ever since.
Perhaps, then, Torquay’s money would be better spent trying their luck on EuroMillions tickets. That may well be the best chance the Yellows have.