I'm off to Plainmoor - it's compulsive!

Don Mills

Don Mills - Credit: Roger Mann

The first match that I ever watched at Plainmoor was an FA Cup replay against Swindon Town just before Christmas, 1951.

My father explained to me that, last week, we had played the match at Swindon, but the result was a 3-3 draw.

He assured me that today would be really exciting, and that, if we won, we might draw Arsenal, or another famous team, in the next round.

But, we drew 1-1, and, after we lost the second replay by 3-1, my dream was shattered.

The last Torquay United match that I ever watched was at Ashton Gate just a few weeks ago, and after a long drive, and an even longer walk, my dream was shattered once again!

But, ultimately, none of this matters, because I will be back in my seat, as always, in August!  

How do I know that? Well, it’s compulsive!

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Yet, when I examine myself, I am certain that I am not a compulsive person. I don’t watch a television programme unless I want to see it, nor order food without choosing from the menu, nor drive fast unless I choose to but... I’m going to Plainmoor, on Saturday, without further thought or question!

Despite Webb, despite Roberts, and despite relegation to the Nationwide South and, just like night follows day, I am going to Plainmoor on Saturday!  

Some years ago, I met a man in South Africa who explained that lions will often hunt other animals but leave their bodies uneaten. He called it compulsive behaviour, dating back from when they were young.

That got me thinking!   

As a cricket coach, I was always aware that when I was teaching boys of between 10-14 years old, I was liable to become a role model.

My words were likely to have a profound effect, so I must weigh them carefully. 

Now, as an old timer, I realise that my compulsion had its roots in my early days, too. 

In 1951, when I was nine years old, I first queued outside that little door, behind the main stand, for autographs.  

By 1953, my autograph collection was growing, and I began to feel at home at Plainmoor, as I got to know the other collectors.  

People were nice to me, and everyone from the club was friendly.   

At Home Park, they would always try to move us away from the doors, but not at Plainmoor - already my club was becoming special to me! 

Then, one day, after Christmas, we were playing Newport County and I was getting the signature of United’s superstar Don Mills when he leaned down towards me and said: “That’s a smart book, son!”   

He turned to the previous page, where Newport had signed, and noticed that the right-wing space was still empty. 

“Who is missing from here, son?”

I told him that it was Cliff Birch. 

He took the book saying: “Stay there a minute!”. He went in through the door. 

Five minutes later, he handed me back the book, with Birch’s space signed. I never forgot that!

From that day, he always found time to nod to me, or raise his hand, and, later on, after his football days were over, he became a traffic warden.

The only holder of that office whose approach didn’t fill me with terror! 

Another of United’s gentlemen players of the 1950s was a very tall, slim, Welshman called Griff Norman. 

Griff Norman

Griff Norman - Credit: Roger Mann

On the field, we used to joke that he looked like a big spider, but, wherever he played in the half-back line, Griff did a magnificent job.

Off the field, outside that little door, Griff was one of our real favourites. 

It seems hard to imagine today, but Griff used to say, in his soft voice: “Well, lads, who wants an 'away' programme next week?”  

Most of us would raise our hands, and he would say: “Right! That’s fifteen, I’ll see what I can do!”

At the next home match, he would take them from his raincoat, and hand them out among us, and always completely free of charge.

One of our group, Peter, told me recently that he used to call in to Griff’s house each week and pick up the latest 'away' programme from his wife! 

More Torquay United heroes of the 1950s

More Torquay United heroes of the 1950s - Credit: Roger Mann

So, next time I say 'I’m off to Plainmoor' I will credit it to all those kind people who, many years ago, turned a happy day into a compulsive one!