On the last day of the 1986/87 season Torquay United were facing the very real possibility of being relegated after a season which had seen them hover around the bottom of the table for much of the campaign, only to be saved in one of the biggest shaggy dog stories ever told.
After a pretty dismal nine months or so in Division Four, Stuart Morgan’s side were rooted to the foot of the table only for a late revival to give them hope going into the crunch clash against Crewe Alexandra - featuring a certain David Platt - on the final day of the season knowing that victory or, possibly, a draw at Plainmoor could see them safe.
To make things worse whoever came bottom would become the first team ever to get relegated from the Football League as, until 1987, there was always the possibility of the team who finished at the foot of the football pyramid being re-elected, a system which had provided many sides with a vital lifeline down the years.
But it wasn’t the actions of the various league Chairmen, Chief Executives or shareholders who would give the Devon side a stay of execution, it was the intervention of an overly enthusiastic police dog who would go on to become one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of the club.
Two goals down at half-time United eventually pulled a goal back thanks to a fizzing free-kick from right-back Jim McNichol, but they still required another to secure the point they needed and ensure league football for another season.
The Gulls had finished bottom of the Fourth Division in each of the previous two campaigns and such was the tension in the ground as the home fans contemplated an unenviable hat-trick that a number of police officers with dogs were lining the pitch should the worst happen.
As the seconds ticked away goal scorer McNichol surged forward on a last-ditch sortie in an effort to find that all-important equalizer, only for one of the dogs (a German Shepherd called Bryn) to mistake him for a pitch invader and sink his teeth deep into the defender’s thigh, leaving him writhing in agony on the touchline with a gash which would require 17 stitches.
Having received treatment for around 10 minutes the stricken Scotsman was ready to go again, by which time his fellow Torquay players were now aware of results from elsewhere; knowing full well just what was required of them to avoid the drop.
“I didn't know much about it. I was just hobbling around,” McNichol later wrote in the Guardian. “We'd already used our one substitute so I wasn't going to go off but I wasn't much use by that stage.
And deep into the time added-on for McNichol’s painful misfortune Paul Dobson pounced on a defensive mistake to score the goal that guaranteed it was Lincoln City, bottom of the table for only a matter of minutes, who were relegated on goal difference and not Torquay.
The following day, with his handler John Harris, Bryn was taken to see McNichol’s at the stadium where he’d become famous to meet the tough-tackling defender who shook his attacker’s paw in an act of forgiveness providing the papers with one of the most bizarre pictures of the year.
“I didn't see any of the celebrations,” McNichol recalled. “I was off getting all sorts of injections and I had all the tetanus checks and tests. Then I went home and went to bed. By the time I saw anybody the party was finished.”