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The Kevin Hill story at Torquay United
In a brand new book published to celebrate Torquay United, Inside the Gulls, Exmouth Town manager Kevin Hill is fondly remembered as a Plainmoor record-breaker.
Below is an extract from the book, which is available to order by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
When Kevin Hill’s volley hit the Ellacombe End net to put Torquay United 3-1 up against Exeter City in the 2008 Conference Play-Offs, the roar that went up from 5,000 Gulls fans at a packed Plainmoor was as loud as any heard at TQ1 for many, many years.
Torquay fans all know now that the night went painfully downhill from there, and the Grecians came back to win 5-3 on aggregate.
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But that brief moment of ecstasy wasn’t just about the prospect of beating City to reach Wembley.
For even in a side that included hugely popular players like Chris Hargreaves, Tim Sills, Kevin Nicholson and Lee Mansell, if there was one man whom United supporters wanted to score a goal like that, it was Hill.
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The match was his record-equalling 473rd appearance for the club, and over the previous eleven years he had come to inspire not just respect but affection bordering on love.
He came up the hard way, taking his first football steps on tufty pitches in the Exeter & District, Peninsula and Western Leagues.
When a trial at Sunderland came to nothing, his manager John Hore recommended him to all three Devon pro clubs. It was Torquay boss Kevin Hodges who took a chance on him.
“He had a stomach bug the first time I watched him,” recalled Hodges, “but the second time, his energy was fantastic, he made great runs from midfield and he had that unbelievable spring and athleticism - and a long throw as well!”
Hill had to take a fortnight’s holiday from Normans supermarket in Budleigh Salterton for a trial in the summer of 1997. He lapped every other player during one of his first training runs.
“When I signed for Torquay for £150 a week, I was actually on less than I was at Normans. But I wanted to be a pro, didn’t I?” he said.
“I knew what I was in the team for - I concentrated on what I was good at and worked hard at the things I wasn’t,” he said.
“Because I could jump and head it, for quite a while the goalies used to hit the first ball up to me on the left and I would flick it on.”
Few seasons went by without Hill delivering at least half-a-dozen goals.
For one of them, he ‘hid’ behind Stockport goalie Neil Cutler at Plainmoor in March 2007 and, when Cutler rolled the ball out to clear, Hill nipped round him and scored!
The arrival of Paul Buckle in 2007, after relegation to the Conference, prompted an influx of new players, but Hill was by then tantalisingly close to Dennis Lewis’ club record of 473 appearances (1948-58).
“Of course, it was great to break the record at Wembley, but I didn’t celebrate much because we lost, and I sort of knew I might be leaving anyway.”
Talks over a possible player-coach role came to nothing, and Hill left that summer to join Dorchester Town, then Tiverton Town, Exmouth Town and Budleigh Salterton as player-manager.
After rescuing Budleigh from relegation, he returned to Exmouth, won promotion in his first season (2018), had them in the running in the WL Premier when last season was curtailed and is now pushing again in 2020-2021.
Of all his achievements, perhaps the biggest tribute to Hill is that, when Leroy Rosenior put together one of the best footballing teams in United’s history to win promotion in 2004, he was part of it.
“I wasn’t in the same class as people like Alex Russell or Jason Fowler, but Leroy always made me feel that I was an important person in the team. I loved playing for him.”
Hodges, the man who gave him that all-important chance back in 1997, is also Plymouth Argyle’s record appearance maker and he added: “Just like Hilly, I never envisaged myself doing something like that. But we were similar in many ways - we weren’t the star men often, but we had a good attitude and we wanted to improve all the time.
“When things weren’t going so well, when you needed someone to do the horrible little bits that maybe others didn’t fancy, or when you needed someone to play when they were carrying an injury, Hilly was your man.
“That’s what makes you a player who breaks records.”