From Goodison to Plainmoor - Neville Southall
- Credit: Archant
He only meant to stay for a week or two but the 14 months that Neville Southall spent as Torquay United's goalkeeper have long gone down in Plainmoor folklore.
After losing the 1998 play-off final, the post-Rodney Jack Gulls were suffering a 'hangover', and they found themselves on a long winless run with trainee Ryan Northmore as their only fit goalie.
New manager Wes Saunders was told he could do worse than approach Southall, who was coaching Huddersfield Town's keepers.
Southall revealed: 'I had no real thoughts of playing again but Torquay's centre-half was Alex Watson, the brother of my old Everton teammate Dave Watson. It was Dave who persuaded me to go down there.'
United chairman Bateson dug a little deeper into his pocket for the ex-Everton and Wales legend. Southall was, after all, laden with every honour in the game, to say nothing of an MBE.
He arrived at Plainmoor before a six-pointer against Hull City on December 12, 1998. He was 40 years and 98 days old.
He saved a penalty on that debut, inspired United to a 2-0 win and lifted them to a run of one defeat in nine games, including a brilliant display in a 0-0 draw at Plymouth.
- 1 Show is world’s largest gathering of more than 3,000 iconic classic and vintage cars and motorbikes
- 2 Midweek shocks in the National League
- 3 Property of the Week: Simply striking family home in semi-rural setting
- 4 Probus Club 'home' at last to hear about ghosts, gallows and 'Big Foot'
- 5 Norrms McNamara: All care staff need to be trained in dementia
- 6 There may be no carnival again - but that won't dampen spirits as Christmas plans are unveiled
- 7 All go at Rotary club with new president, vaccines, golf and a chicken run!
- 8 Sinclair's special start on community day
- 9 Indoor bowls: 'A' team win all four rinks
- 10 Gulls boss Gary Johnson: Homegrown duo 'in my future plans'
United stayed up by five points and Southall was voted Player Of The Year, after 27 appearances. 'I was so chuffed to win the award,' he said. 'I'd really enjoyed the games and the people.'
He stayed for a second season. Saunders' United improved markedly. Nev was never better than in the FA Cup.
Southall had not missed a league game before a January match at Chester, where he sustained a head-knock and was eventually persuaded to go off. The club announced the following week that he was leaving by 'mutual consent' after 61 matches. 'I never asked to leave,' he said. 'Wes was the manager and he wanted to move things on. Fair enough.'
Now 61, he works at a special-needs school in South Wales and champions many underprivileged causes via social media.
'Considering that I only planned to stay a few weeks, I absolutely loved my time at Torquay,' he said. 'It was the closest I ever got to Everton in how I felt about a club. I still follow them all these years later.'
• For the full version of the story and the whole Inside The Gulls series, sign up at www.torbayweekly.co.uk