Torquay United chairman Simon Baker is ready to strengthen Gulls
TORQUAY UNITED chairman Simon Baker has revealed that the Gulls are in the home stretch of a multi-million pound five-year programme of investment designed to fit the club for decades to come.
And with the end of major improvements off the field in sight, it should allow United to concentrate all their efforts on achieving renewed success on the pitch.
Boosted by a 2-0 win at York City, Martin Ling's United team go into Saturday's visit of Dagenham & Redbridge to Plainmoor with their sights set on at least matching last season's run to the League Two Play-Offs and, hopefully, going one better.
Company bosses normally announce five-year plans before they start.
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But as Plainmoor's new electronic big screen was erected this week, Baker disclosed that it is one of the last major signs of the huge commitment which his board has made since it took over the club in 2007.
"This is a very important and exciting time, because this is our last year of major investment on a whole range of areas which needed it," said Baker.
"The finances of the club, our infrastructure, Plainmoor itself, the Youth scheme, the pitch and our training facilities all needed money spending on them, as well as keeping the team competitive.
"I don't know the exact amount, but it's probably near £1.5 million – and that's without the new grandstand.
"We have had to do it in the teeth of a major recession, which has sadly meant that we haven't been rewarded through the turnstiles as we might have done in better times, but we have done it. But the really exciting part is that the club is now ready to move forward again and, if we can achieve success on the field, we should hopefully be in a position to sustain it."
Since the current board bought United from former owners Mike and Sue Bateson, after relegation to the Conference in 2007, the club has been galvanised. The Gulls relaunched the defunct youth scheme, won promotion back to the Football League in 2009 and have reached the League Two Play-Offs in each of the last two seasons.
Over the past year United's new £1.9 million 'Bristow's Bench' grandstand has transformed the Plainmoor skyline, restoring capacity back to nearly 6,500.
All 1,300 seats in the Sondico Family Stand have been replaced and a range of other improvements have smartened up the ground.
In two weeks' time, when United play Northampton Town, the new screen will be switched on for the first time.
United have also embarked on a major improvement programme at their Seale Hayne training HQ near Newton Abbot which is eventually expected to cost more than £100,000.
Commercial manager Dean Edwards, the club's popular former striker, this week said: "We're trying to look into the future all the time.
"Life is changing and you have to keep up with it, keep trying to meet people's needs and expectations.
"We've got to have a drive and an ambition, and we've got lots of ideas to help people enjoy their days at Plainmoor more.
"Something like the new screen opens up all sorts of possibilities for us.
"Some people may say 'you're getting ahead of yourself', but if you don't have these aims and targets, you just stand still.
"For me, it's never been 'little old Torquay United' – I've always hated that line.
"In the end, the team is the most important thing.
"But the club is ready to move on again now and, if we can get to the next level, we'll have a real chance of staying there."
This Saturday United had hoped to be playing in the Second Round of the FA Cup.
Non-League Harrogate Town, who beat them at Plainmoor a month ago, will entertain Hastings United instead.
But it leaves the Gulls with a chance to move back to within goal-difference of the League Two Play-Off zone if they can beat Dagenham at Plainmoor (3pm).
Manager Ling, whose team ended a four-match winless run at York, said: "We mustn't get ahead of ourselves, but we're looking up again rather than down."
Ling, who currently has former Leicester City and Inverness Caledonian forward Eric Odhiambo on trial, added that he may well repeat the tactical switch which helped United to win at York.
It involved Ryan Jarvis supporting targetman and leading scorer Rene Howe.
Midfield captain Lee Mansell will serve the second part of a three-match suspension, but United have no new injury or selection worries.