AS part of our Easter Egg hunt this morning, Torquay United Football Club was extremely surprised to uncover an article littered with inaccuracies from a national newspaper.
First of all, a big thank-you to the Observer on Sunday and the reporter Barry Glendenning for taking such an interest in our football club.
Players, staff and supporters of Torquay United, like all clubs at our level, crave national attention and recognition.
It is such a shame, however, that our particular moment in the spotlight was so wrong in so many aspects.
Surely one of the golden principles when publishing an article on any organisation or individual is to confirm your statements are correct, and to give that organisation a right to reply.
We have checked with all levels of the football club: the owner / chairman, the lead consultant to Gaming International, the Torquay United general manager, first-team manager, assistant manager, physio, club secretary, media officer, commercial manager, hospitality manager, club chef, groundsman, maintenance manager....not one person received contact from the Observer or Mr Glendenning.
While we are all fully focussed on a massive game of football at home to Braintree Town tomorrow, we would like our supporters to be assured that our internal email and phone systems will be thoroughly checked, as there is clearly a problem somewhere along the line.
It is simply inconceivable for a national newspaper to run a full-length article, using quotes from people who do not work at Torquay United, and take them as fact.
Any journalist or sports editor worth their salt would have to check their statements are correct before publishing anything for external consumption, surely.
As we continue our thorough internal investigation, checking phone masts and email servers alike, it would seem appropriate to take this opportunity to respond to some of the points made in the article.
The first quote from Mr Alan Merson, a lifelong fan who runs the Beyond the Penn Inn Roundabout fan forum is to say ‘Torquay have players on their books earning £300 per week in a league where most of their peers are paid double that amount’.
Unless Mr Merson has a secret camera inserted in the cub secretary office (another internal investigation required here), how would he know what our players earn?
We obviously can’t divulge the details of individual contracts, other than to say the only people earning that figure or below are on non-contract terms, or very young professionals, which is not unusual across lower league / non-league football. We would also add that these players are provided with accommodation by Torquay United.
The second point to make is that the vast majority of our players earn significantly more than this amount, many of them exceeding double £300 per week.
We simply don’t know whether most of their ‘peers are paid at least twice that amount’. All we can suggest is other clubs in the National League conduct their own secret camera search for confirmation here.
Mr Merson goes on to claim ‘we have two players sleeping in one-man rooms at the Gulls Lodge....and it’s like a prison’.
As a new regime at Torquay United, we have no idea if this was true in the past but since Gaming International took over the football club, it has absolutely not been the case.
To suggest it is like a prison would also lead to the assumption that Mr Merson is a regular visitor to the Lodge. Again, his presence must have slipped under the radar and his overall knowledge of what conditions are like in a real prison is something we can’t comment on.
We can’t comment because we don’t have any facts or evidence....a salutary lesson here.
The Gulls Lodge is a valuable facility that the club uses to house players. All players are, of course, allowed to make their own living arrangements but the Lodge is a treasured resource and players have their own room with a shared kitchen, bathroom, and communal space to relax.
Mr Merson has mentioned a player ‘travelling home to Birmingham after matches to earn an extra £50 a night’.
Who is this player?
Has this been the case under the ownership of Gaming International?
If it ever happened in the first place, where is the evidence?
The article moves on to Mr Merson’s comments on our first-team manager and, while every fan is entitled to an opinion because that is what makes football such a wonderful game, all of us at Torquay United would like to reiterate our 100% support for Kevin and his players.
Tomorrow’s game against Braintree Town is one of the biggest in our history and the Yellow Army will only be focused on supporting Kevin and the team.
That is what matters right now.
A later comment in the article states: ‘Osborne arrived at Torquay promising investment in a bid to stave off relegation but no new players were signed’.
Shaun Harrad, Myles Anderson, Aaran Racine, Jared Hodgkiss, Jordan Lee, Paul Rooney, David Fitzpatrick, Ruairi Keating...eight players who spring to mind as either signed permanently, new loans agreed or extended loans, since ‘Osborne arrived’.
Just to reiterate the baffling inaccuracies, the journalist clearly not having his best day at the office refers to ‘Torquay United’s threadbare 15-man squad’.
Please, please just do some research and bring your abacus.
The article concludes with quotes from Michael Golbourne, chairman of the Torquay United Supporters’ Trust, the major crux of which focuses on:
‘If a plan is put forward that clearly demonstrates the development of a new stadium and the relocation of the team is in the club’s absolute long-term interests, we [TUST] will support it. But build it first and leave the freehold under the protection of the council’.
We all know what a fantastic job the TUST and supporters’ groups have done in the past, especially with their safeguarding of the club in the era before the Bristow family rebuilt Torquay United through their wonderful generosity and support.
In response to this question from Michael, we would refer him to the interview given by owner Clarke Osborne to the club website, which contains a cast-iron guarantee of the intention to build a new stadium before anything happens to Plainmoor, as well as an explanation of the reasoning behind the plan to negotiate the freehold of the ground.
We can also assure the TUST and all supporters, including Mr Merson, that a consultation process will be launched this week, as part of the vital stage of stakeholder-engagement, prior to the publication of our five-year plan.
Since writing this response, the Observer have confirmed that the journalist in question had not contacted anyone at Torquay United Football Club before publishing his article and no right of right of reply was given to Torquay United.
Not one person employed by Torquay United was asked for an opinion or to confirm the accusations included in this article.
How can a national newspaper publish a full-page spread without checking their facts?
In contrast, the Observer was contacted and given the opportunity to respond to our article, an opportunity they have declined in this instance.
Torquay United would like to place on record that we know Alan Merson is a dedicated fan of our football club, as well as being a former employee. We would like to invite Alan and a guest to join us for a meal before the North Ferriby game on the final day of the season, when we can hopefully provide some clarity on his questions over the Lodge, wages, stadium plans etc.
Before anything else, however, the next 24 hours is all about three points against Braintree. Get behind the lads and the football club because the future can still be a bright one for Torquay United.