Crawley Town's Sergio Torres on arriving in England without a club, becoming a professional and playing at Old Trafford
PUBLISHED: 11:16 25 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:14 03 November 2017
Argentinian footballer Sergio Torres has been key to Crawley Town's rise to League One. Here, he tells of his extraordinary journey from brick factory to Old Trafford
Five minutes into our interview, the smile on the face of Sergio Torres broadens. “Today is the third anniversary of the goal I scored in the final minute of our [Crawley Town’s] third round FA Cup match against Derby County,” he reveals. “It was the best feeling I have ever had playing football. The adrenaline rush was incredible.” That goal set up a fourth round clash with Torquay, which Crawley duly won. Their reward was a dream draw away to Manchester United.
The match at Old Trafford provided another high point in the extraordinary story of Sergio Torres. But the man who turned his back on his family’s brick factory and native Argentina at the age of 22 to pursue his dream of playing professional football endured some pretty tough times along the way.
When he arrived in this country on a damp November morning back in 2003, he couldn’t speak English, only had $300 in his pocket and had nowhere to live. His Cameroonian agent took him to Croydon, which Sergio assumed was central London. The young footballer even suffered the indignity of having to share his bed, “with a man who snored like a bear.” A trial at Brighton and Hove Albion ended in disappointment when Mark McGhee told him he wasn’t strong enough or quick enough for English football. Had the boots he borrowed been less uncomfortable, it might have been a different story.
After months of frustration, hardship and disappointment, he eventually ended up at non-league Molesey. Although it wasn’t the Premiership, at least Sergio was playing regularly and able to keep fit in readiness for the ‘big break’ he desperately hoped would come along. A move soon after to semi-professional Basingstoke Town was a significant step up. His spell with Basingstoke began auspiciously when he received the man of the match award on his debut. Even more importantly, he was earning £150 a week.
Finding affordable accommodation was a major problem that was solved by a fan who, despite having only recently got married, invited him to share his matrimonial home. It was one of several extraordinary acts of kindness shown to the young Argentine, all of which he greatly appreciates. “At school I was taught the English are horrible nasty people who stole the Malvinas. How mistaken many of we Argentines are when we talk bad or hate the English. Sadly, I was one of them.”
To supplement his meagre wage, Sergio worked an early morning shift at a Boots warehouse and eventually came to an arrangement with his sympathetic boss to adjust his hours around match days.
A pre-season friendly against League Two Wycombe Wanderers, which Basingstoke lost 7-2, turned out to be rather fateful as Sergio was subsequently invited to play for Wycombe in a friendly against Stevenage. He took a day off work, played well and was invited for a trial with Wycombe. It was two years since his unhappy experience at Brighton and Sergio was determined to do better this time. He knew this was a great opportunity and another might never come along.
Meanwhile, Basingstoke had upped his wages but made it clear they wouldn’t stand in his way if he wanted to move. Just before he ran onto the pitch at Eastbourne United in what proved to be his final game for Basingstoke, his manager told him the club wouldn’t stand in his way if Wycombe wanted to sign him. “I thought to myself, at last I’m going to be a professional footballer. I’m going to live my dream.”
His first match for his new club at the start of the 2005/6 season was at Shrewsbury and Sergio particularly enjoyed the smart team hotel. Although he sat out the match on the subs’ bench, he thought, “This is the life.” All the anxiety and discomfort he had endured was at last beginning to pay off.
He settled in quickly at Wycombe, became a fixture in the team and was very popular with the fans, many of whom sported long, blond, curly ‘Sergio’ wigs and flew the Argentine flag in the stands as a tribute to their new hero. The team did very well and only narrowly missed out on promotion.
Paul Lambert, who now manages Aston Villa, took over at Wycombe and masterminded remarkable victories over Premier league opponents Charlton and Fulham in the Carling Cup to set up a semi-final clash with Chelsea and the likes of Lampard, Ballack, Drogba, Cole and Shevchenko. The home leg at Wycombe resulted in a hugely creditable 1-1 draw in which Sergio was thrilled to play his part.
The second match at Stamford Bridge attracted a crowd of 42,000 and was beamed live on TV around the world, including Argentina. Although Wycombe lost 4-0, Sergio loved every minute.
Not content with seeing him on television, Sergio’s parents occasionally came to England. And it was while they were visiting him at Wycombe that a team-mate suggested he take them to Brighton for the day. Perhaps because it reminded him of the seaside town of Mar del Plata he had left behind, Sergio really liked Brighton.
Soon after agreeing a new contract, he was approached by Peterborough United. Although reluctant to leave Wycombe, the opportunity to play at a higher level was hard to turn down and Sergio was sold to the League One side for £150,000. But injuries and a subsequent loss of confidence blighted his time at Peterborough and, even though the team won promotion to the Championship, he was rather unsettled. At the end of the following season, Peterborough were relegated and Sergio was soon agonising over a move to either Lincoln City from League Two or non-league Crawley Town. Strangely, the prospect of being able to live in Brighton shifted the delicate balance towards the ambitious club from the lower division, and so on 7 July, 2010 he was sold to Crawley for a club record £100,000.
As well as doing extremely well in the league, Crawley enjoyed an extraordinary FA Cup run. The third round draw brought Derby County of the Championship to the comparatively small Broadfield Stadium. Well into stoppage time and with the score 1-1, Crawley had a corner which fell at Sergio’s feet on the edge of the penalty box. Struck with the inside of his right boot, the ball flew just inside the far post. “That moment was indescribable. I felt like God for five seconds. The whole team came over to hug me and I threw myself to the ground. It was unbelievable. Like a film.” The scenes that followed the final whistle were extraordinary and the police had to escort ‘man of the match’ Sergio to the dressing room.
After a fourth-round win over Torquay United came the fifth-round draw, which Sergio vividly recalls “I walked into a television shop in Brighton, asked the salesman to switch channels so I could watch it live. When we were drawn away to Manchester United, I just went completely crazy.”
Sergio’s father flew over for the match and 9,000 fans travelled north for Crawley Town’s greatest day, 11 February 2011. Manchester United scraped home 1-0 in an extraordinarily tight encounter. After the match, and without realising he was being watched by millions on television, Sergio tore a few blades of grass from the pitch and tucked them into his sock as a memento.
Although they didn’t lift the FA Cup, Crawley did win promotion that year and entered the football league for the first time in their history. With Sergio still right at the heart of things, they won promotion again the following season when finishing top of League Two. They are now firmly established in League One.
Sergio will be 33 this summer when his contract at Crawley is due to run out. Now married and living in Brighton with wife Lena and 2½ year old daughter Luca, he’s not sure what the future holds. Has he any remaining ambitions? “I’d love to play at Wembley. Maybe in a promotion play-off match for Crawley.” Given his past history, you wouldn’t bet against him scoring the winner to take them into the Championship and then, who knows, a hat-trick against the club that turned him down all those years ago, Brighton and Hove Albion.
The Sergio Torres Story – from the Brick Factory to Old Trafford is available in paperback (www.pitchpublishing.co.uk)