Colin Lee: Joining Torquay United as a player
- Credit: Archant
Having joined Bristol City as an apprentice footballer in 1972, turning professional in July 1974 and playing in the Combination Reserve League from the age of 16, I felt it was time to experience first team football in an attempt to prove to myself and others I could handle being a first team player.
I had a bad experience on loan at Hereford United during the 74-75 season. Following a game at Cardiff City on a cold Friday evening which I watched from the stand, I decided that Hereford United was not for me and it was time to return to Bristol City and look for another club.
In January, 1977, Bristol City manager Alan Dicks notified me that he had been speaking with Frank O'Farrell and Mike Green who were interested in taking me on loan to Torquay United.
It was exactly what I was looking for, allowing me to return to South West where I was born and bred and where my parents still lived.
My wife and I decided the loan move was perfect and would give me the first team football experience I craved for and the opportunity to prove I could handle the pressure of first team football.
After 10 days TUFC wanted to sign me on a permanent deal and had agreed terms with Bristol City.
I spoke with Frank O'Farrell, who convinced me to sign, having informed me that he was fed up of TUFC signing players who were at the end of their careers and coming to Torquay to more or less retire.
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He said he was determined to change the recruitment philosophy and try to attract/sign younger players to develop in the team and I would be the start of this understanding.
He also said that if a better opportunity came along, he would not stand in my way. After little negotiation papers were signed.
At the time Mike Green was the manager and Frank was like the modern day director of football/ CEO.
Torquay United were near the bottom of the Fourth Division (2nd Division) in a relegation fight and results needed to change.
Thankfully, there was a great second half to the season, eventually finishing 16th with my old team mate Willie Brown finishing highest goal scorer with 22 goals.
My team mates at the time gave me huge support and were a great inspiration to me.
Lew Chatterley (stroller) was nearing retirement and had become a player coach but when asked to play, still possessed the ability to retain possession and make a pass.
Dave Kennedy was a great talent, in his day unstoppable - should have played at a higher level. Jimmy Dunne (midfield master), Clint Boulton (Competitor), Pat Cruse (Leader), Ian Twitchin, Twitch my long-time friend, (Mr Consistency), Andy Provan and Dave Rudge (midfield dynamo), joining me at the time was the very talented Barrie Vassallo, who signed from Arsenal, Dave Tomlin and Les Lawrence who became the leading goal scorer in the 1978-79 season with 19 goals.
Mike Hickman was still in the squad but was forced to retire through injury. Mike became the masseur, kit man and trainer. Mike was the man who helped me more than anyone and inspired me to become a First Division (Premier League) player.
Mike took me under his wing and worked with me in the afternoons when everyone had gone home. We trained under the old stand using school benches and some dumb bells to improve my jumping height and most days we would end up on the terrace working on heading techniques and timing using a ball tied on a rope connected to an old rusty light fixture. He got me fitter and gave me confidence and belief.
Having been a striker, Mike knew the areas of my game that needed to improve. He set me targets and demanded high performance and perfection and with very limited equipment, he developed me physically and mentally and gave me the confidence needed to perform.
The opportunity came on Wednesday, October 19, 1977, after scoring 14 goals in 35 games for United.
I arrived for training where Mike was waiting for me outside the changing room. He told me I wasn't to train today as Frank O'Farrell and Mike Green wanted to see me. My first thoughts were what have I done wrong. Mike wasn't giving anything away.
Eventually I was asked to go to the offices to see Frank and Mike Green. I was told two clubs were interested in signing me and United would accept the highest bid. The two Clubs were Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest, managed by Brian Clough. Spurs eventually agreed the fee of £60,000 and I was told to go home and wait for a phone call. When I arrived home I told my wife what had happened and she thought I was joking 10 minutes later I received a call from Spurs.
The following morning I was on a train to Paddington and was met by the great Bill Nicholson who drove me to White Hart Lane. I signed the contract and spoke with Frank O'Farrell, who agreed the contract was very fair and congratulated me on my move to a great club.
On the Friday I was told I would be starting on the Saturday as John Duncan, Gerry Armstrong and Chris Jones were injured – my Spurs debut to follow...