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Torquay United's first aim always has to be to reach 50 points and safety

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 02, 2013

By David Thomas

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Around this time of year, back in 1988, a couple of us reporters bumped into a bunch of Torquay United supporting friends taking on stay-awake sustenance at Gordano Services in the wee small hours one midweek night.

We were on our way back from watching the late Cyril Knowles' United team beat Crewe Alexandra 1-0 at Gresty Road.

They were heady days. Knowles' powerful, sometimes scarily competitive team had banished the memories of a relegation "great escape" the previous season and were still fighting on two fronts – promotion and in the last eight of what was then called the Sherpa Van Trophy (the Johnstone's Paint Trophy nowadays).

Anyway, the conversation turned, over full English and strong coffee, to an intriguing question. If we had to choose, would we go for promotion or a trip to Wembley?

For a club like Torquay, reaching the old Twin Towers was still a dream, a seriously big deal in those days.

Most of the group opted for Wembley – United actually got there for the first time the next season – but one lad plumped emphatically for promotion.

When we asked him why, he replied: "Because, that way, we're guaranteed at least two more years in the League."

The unerring logic of his decision silenced everyone for a moment, especially after what the club had been through 12 months before, and then one or two started changing sides.

Over the past 25 years, for any League Two club with its head screwed on, nothing has changed.

In the overblown pantomime called the Premier League, managers may be sacked these days for winning something, but, at our end of the game, it is the dreaded drop which haunts everyone and often costs good men their jobs.

No matter who you are, the only way to approach the season is to get to 50 points as quick as you can and then, and only then, to start thinking about something better.

Last August the bookies had Bristol Rovers among their favourites for promotion, and down at Home Park the Plymouth Argyle hierarchy were talking in the same terms. If you offered guaranteed safety to either of them now, they'd snatch your hand off.

How many summer punters lumped on Port Vale, Gillingham or Burton Albion? So when the final whistle went at St James' Park on Monday night, it was not just a victory over local rivals that had Torquay's fans singing their way home. It was three precious points to end a worrying winless spell and lift the Gulls five places up the table.

Few at Plainmoor had actually wanted to admit it, but everyone was privately paining about the possibility of being dragged into relegation trouble.

It is not over yet, not by a long way. But at least United can go to Cheltenham this afternoon with their tails up and that gnawing in the stomach eased, ever so slightly.

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