A group of Torquay United fans enoyed a virtual evening with VIP guest Torquay United manager Gary Johnson, hosted by the Torbay Weekly.

The event would normally have been held in in Newton Abbot Indian restaurant Eastern Eye but, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, instead each person enjoyed a meal delivered to their homes by Eastern Eye as they settled down to the virtual question-and-answer session with Gary, compered by Torbay Weekly sports journalist Dave Thomas.

WHAT ARE YOU VIEWS ON ARTIFICIAL SURFACES?

If we get into the Football League, I’m happy it’s not allowed in that competition because it’s not something I would go for. Players don’t enjoy it and for many of them that have been playing a long time, it affects their knees and ankles. The hard surface for a whole season can mess them up and they often have to take a day off from training to recover.

IF, OR WHEN, UNITED REGAIN THEIR FOOTBALL LEAGUE STATUS, WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL VISION FOR THE CLUB BEYOND WHAT WOULD BE A SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT?

Our vision is the same as when I first came. We’ve got to keep moving forward and that was [CEO] George Edwards’ statement throughout. I took the job on knowing that was the vision for the club and I’m the same. We took the club forward very quickly and we’ve now got to get our recruitment right to take it on again. When I went to Yeovil, we were in the Conference and I said the same thing.

We were lucky enough to get all the way to the Championship over two spells and they kept improving, on and off the field.

At Bristol City, I was around when they started the plans for the new stadium and we got within one game of the Premier League.

The fact that we had those couple of seasons in the Championship gave us the money to plough into the stadium, which is now a fantastic venue.

Clubs have got to keep moving forward and, as I’ve always said, if you’re standing still in football, you’re actually going backwards. You can’t look too far ahead, just keep striving for the next level and adjusting, on and off the field.

WHO ARE THE PLAYERS YOU HAVE SIGNED IN YOUR CAREER THAT HAVE SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?

I’ve had around 1,400 games as a manager and a lot of players, but the easy one to talk about is my own son, Lee. For a father and son, manager and player, it’s very difficult to manage.

When I first took over from Yeovil after coming back from Latvia, Lee was going to a club in Denmark called Midtjylland and I said to him: ‘at five foot six, you can’t play for a team called Midtjylland’.

I asked him to come and have a look at Yeovil. The boys liked him, he wanted to sign and nepotism only comes into it if you’re not successful.

Luckily enough, we had three promotions at Yeovil and Bristol City, so that was the one where I was so pleased for my son.

As a Dad, you always worry if you’re doing it because he’s your son but, in the end, nobody questioned it because of the success we had and the effort Lee put in.

Funnily enough, the reverse of nepotism is what I did once. We got to the semi-finals against Crystal Palace in the play-offs to meet Hull in the final.

Lee was injured a couple of games before and he had been a big part of my team, with the way he played.

He didn’t play in the semi-final, which we ended up winning. Had he not been my son, I would have played him in the final. I kept the same team but, in my heart of hearts, I felt he should have played in the final at Wembley.

WHO IS THE BEST PLAYER YOU HAVE MANAGED THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?

I’ve had some fantastic players but, off the top of my head, when I was coach at Latvia, we had Marians Pahars. He was 5ft 7ins tall and I recommended him to Graham Taylor at Watford but he didn’t take him.

I then went to Dave Jones at Southampton and I wanted him [Pahars] in a good league. He went on trial at Southampton, scored three goals in 20 minutes, one left-foot, one rightfoot and one with his head.

Dave Jones took him off because there were a lot of scouts there and he didn’t want them to see any more of him. He [Pahars] came over and single-handedly kept Southampton in the Premier League, he was a sensation.

If I think about Yeovil, Terry Skiverton was a fantastic captain.

When I went back the second time, he became my assistant coach. He was a typical non-league lad, liked to have a drink and have a laugh, but I sorted him out and he became a real stalwart.

At Cheltenham, Aaron Downes was so influential as a player and he was my first signing.

We needed to sign 20 players before that season and he was the first one. I sat down with him and we signed the players.

We ended winning the league by a million miles and getting into the Football League.

At Peterborough, Barry Fry took me to Rushden & Diamonds to see a player.

Lee Tomlin was playing and Barry asked me what I thought.

He said: “What do you think, shall we sign him?” I said: “Yes”, and Barry replied: “I’m pleased you said that because I’ve already signed him.”

It was typical Barry Fry.

For influence and the way he’s played the last couple of seasons, goals mean everything, and Jamie Reid has enjoyed a fantastic couple of years.

I’m sad to lose him but he was desperate to try his hand at a Football League club.

We made him a really good offer, he loves the place and what we’ve done with him, but something inside him said that he felt it was the right time to move on.

HAVE WE GOT A GOOD CHANCE OF GOING UP?

Yes. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we had a chance of being competitive in this league.

We’ve kept a very good group, they’re more experienced now and hopefully we don’t get the injuries we had [this season].

We lost five or six of our first-team players in one go. We’re happy with the recruitment we’ve got planned and we’re confident we can get in a group that can be competitive.

We’ve done a lot of meetings on Zoom, speaking to them individually and as a group. We’ve kept their minds busy and we have a meeting twice a week on Zoom, where I stand and watch the exercises given to them by the physio, which are really tough. They’ve got runs to do with GPS vests, so we know exactly how far they have gone.

We are furloughed, so they have to agree to everything but I can’t imagine anyone not going on that run. The boys are looking quite sharp and we’re really looking forward to getting back as a group.

IS THE BEAUTY OF TORBAY AN ATTRACTION IN SIGNING PLAYERS OR IS IT A DETERRENT TO BE SO FAR AWAY FROM THE BIG CENTRES OF POPULATION?

It all depends on the salary! It is also down to circumstances.

If somebody has a wife and children in Manchester, for example, their parents are in Manchester, it is very difficult to get that player. You can’t offer them enough to move house, move schools and everything.

However, the ones that want to come here, players I’ve worked with before or perhaps they know the area, they are a lot easier to negotiate with.

The important thing is they want to come to us because that makes negotiations a lot easier.

I’m pleased with our recruitment so far and I’m pleased with the ones we’re talking to.

IS ARMANI LITTLE FULLY FIT AND HOW IMPORTANT IS HE TO OUR PROSPECTS FOR NEXT SEASON?

He is very important to us and a very good player. He was playing at a higher level with Oxford and he was unlucky that he couldn’t break into a team that was doing very well.

We were lucky to nick him and it took me a lot of chat with him.

Unfortunately, he’s suffered from injuries but he’s seen the specialist and I’m hoping he will be fit by the time the season starts because he will be massive for us. He’s got to look after himself and he’s 12 weeks into a regime at the moment.

We’re all looking forward to seeing him back and plenty of time to get him fit.

WILL THERE BE ANY CHANGES TO THE FOOTBALL LANDSCAPE POST-COVID 19 AND WHEN DO YOU THINK NEXT SEASON WILL START?

They are talking about mid-September to start the season in the Premier League and Championship, so I’m hoping we will go along with the EFL.

If we can have a date when it’s safe to play, we can look to start training in early August.

They are now allowing the play-offs but the big point is when the hierarchy are going to allow supporters to watch games.

At least they’re progressing and I think the National League have a meeting on Thursday, but it looks like Barrow will probably go up.

If there are play-offs, it will probably be a points-per-game scenario.

We’re gutted because, as far as our cancelled games were concerned, we were three games behind and really did feel like we could give it a go.

We felt seven wins out of the last nine games would have taken us very close to the play-offs.