“THEY went round the ground with buckets to try and raise some money to get me – then a mystery benefactor came in and stumped up the cash.”

When current Dorchester Town boss Robbie Herrera was at home as a teenager, he might not have realised the beginning of his professional career was a five-minute walk away.

As it happened, his brother Tony was playing for Torquay’s youth team in a midweek fixture. The Gulls needed reinforcements.

“They had an evening game and I’m pretty sure it was Bristol City Under-18s,” Herrera told Echosport.

“They were short of a few players, so my brother said to the staff there: ‘My brother plays, we’re only down the road.’

“So he came back, got me and I ended up playing the game. 

“I was 13, 14 and from then on it went to playing for them on a regular basis and getting involved in their reserve team that played in the old South Western League.

“I was 15, playing men’s football and it went on from there.”

Herrera’s brother Tony, who had spells with Exeter and Torquay, saw his professional career curtailed by an ankle injury.

But Robbie’s playing time was only getting started and, in the summer of 1986, QPR voiced interest.

“Dave Webb was manager at Torquay at the time,” Herrera recalled.

“They offered me the old-style YTS (Youth Training Scheme) and I wasn’t going to take it – I was waiting for Plymouth Argyle to find digs for me.

“I was going to go down there, then I got a call from Jim Smith at QPR. Dave had been in contact with him and I thought it was a bit of a hoax at the time.

“It was actually him that rung me, Jim Smith, and he said: ‘Look, would you like to come up?’

“That got arranged, I went up with my dad. It was the ’86 World Cup. They put us up in a hotel, I got met at the train station and got picked up in the morning.

“I went in and trained, went back to the main ground and I signed that afternoon – really quick.

“I spent six seasons, did a year and a half as a scholar then signed pro. I signed a few contracts under different managers but didn’t get a regular run in the first team.

“But I enjoyed my time there, loved it.”

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Herrera had two loan spells at Torquay in 1992 before Fulham offered a three-month stint.

“Ray Lewington was assistant-manager at Fulham and he’d asked if (QPR) had any defenders at left-back, like myself.

“I went there and they wanted to buy me. It went to a tribunal. I’ll never forget it.

“Jimmy Hill was there and it came up at 60 grand. I thought: ‘They’re getting themselves a bargain!’

“It was a £30,000 down payment, so £90,000 altogether. Jimmy at the time said we can’t afford that because the club, financially, weren’t in a great place.

“I went back to QPR and to be fair to Gerry Francis, who was manager, he said: ‘We’ll look after him.’

“They did and offered me another two-year deal, but I wanted to play regularly.

“Luckily, the first game after my loan at Fulham they went round with buckets to try and raise some money to get me and a mystery benefactor came in and stumped up the cash.”

Rumours of film star Hugh Grant’s involvement in the deal have been circling for some time.

However, Herrera seems to suggest the Love Actually heartthrob did play at least a cameo in his move.

“It was obviously a Fulham fan,” he said. “The cash came in and I went and signed.

“The club had said to me that he’d come in and put some money towards it because they couldn’t quite get over the finish line in terms of finances.”

Herrera played 144 games at Craven Cottage – the most for any club in his career.

“It changed dramatically,” Herrera admitted. “When I first went down there Ian Branfoot was manager and we didn’t really get along.

“He was long-ball and wanted to get the ball up the pitch early. I’d been brought up trying to play out, that was our DNA at QPR, so we differed on that and had our clashes.

“Then Micky Adams took over. We had a good understanding because he played in front of me, he was left-wing.

“Then we got promoted and the following couple of years we missed out on the play-offs.

“Micky then got the sack when Mohamed Al-Fayed came in. That’s when the club really took off, the money was there.

“All of a sudden we were buying Paul Peschisolido, Chris Coleman for two million, Paul Trollope came in for £650,000 then we got Mike Taylor and Alan Neilson from Southampton for a combined million.

“Twenty-odd years ago it was quite a lot of money, especially for a club in League One.

“They started splashing and all the squad that had got us promoted the season before was ripped apart.

“We had Ray Wilkins and Kevin Keegan as joint managers. The club had moved on dramatically in a short space of time.”

He added: “We weren’t staying at top-of-the-range hotels for away games. It would be a B&B and nobody complained.

“But once the money came in we were staying at the best hotels. 

“We’d gone from travelling in a coach with barely any heating to a coach where everybody had a screen in front of them and leather seats.

“We’d done a kit deal with Le Coq Sportif at the start of the season and when Fayed took over that had been knocked on the head and we’d gone Adidas.

“It was unbelievable times – a fantastic club.”

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But an injury proved the beginning of the end to Herrera’s stay at Fulham.

“When Kevin came in he was all over me,” Herrera said. “He was enjoying what I was doing and how I was performing.

“I was quite excited by things and then I got injured and we’d sold the other left-back to Brentford – a lad called Paul Watson.

“They didn’t have anyone to fill in, so they went and bought Rufus Brevett who was a good friend of mine because we were at QPR together.

“Rufus came in and he finished off the season. Kevin had indicated that if I came back in pre-season fit, then we’d discuss a new deal.

“I came in really fit and we had pre-season away in Scotland, of which I didn’t get any minutes.

“Then there was a trip to Germany and I wasn’t on it. Just before they were about to travel, they said there’s an offer for me and it was Torquay.”

Herrera went back home to Plainmoor on a three-year deal and good money.

“I had a good couple of seasons there,” Herrera said.

“Then the last season there I had an injury. My back and hip had locked so I was having treatment Monday to Thursday.

“I’d train Friday and play Saturday, then back to square one. I was doing that for five months.

“I had it manipulated under anaesthetic, just to get me through games. My form wasn’t fantastic, but I just wanted to play.

“Fair play to the club, they were paying for the treatment and it doesn’t come cheap.”

After just over 100 games at Torquay, Herrera spent time at Leyton Orient, Grays Athletic and linked up with former Torquay star Leroy Rosenior at Merthyr Tydfil.

Spells at Taunton and Devon sides Torrington and Bideford concluded his playing time before stepping into management with relegation-threatened Torrington in the Western League.

“That was hard work!” Herrera joked.

“The majority of lads had been at Torquay in the youth team. The nucleus of that group was quite strong.

“I only went in for the last two, three games of the season and we managed to stay up.

“Then the young lads, they moved for the extra fiver and the budget at Torrington wasn’t particularly good. I had to build a whole new team. That was difficult.”

Herrera earned his coaching reputation at Torquay, guiding the Gulls’ young talent on their way before taking the assistant-manager job to Kevin Nicholson in 2015.

Two years later, Herrera was named caretaker manager after Nicholson left but then went to Plymouth’s youth setup when Gary Owers got the Torquay job.

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Fast forward to 2020 and Herrera joined forces with former Taunton and Truro boss Leigh Robinson at Dorchester.

“I’d played against a couple of his teams when he was at Wellington,” he said.

“When I was doing the 23s at Plymouth and he was at Truro, the club loaned him a couple of players.

“I got to know him quite well through that. The (Dorchester) job came up and I went in.

“They said: ‘Would you do it together with Leigh?’ 

“I said: ‘If he’s happy to do it, I’m happy.’

“I got on well with Leigh and it was good because he’d talk to me about players and finances. That’s what he liked to deal with and he’d let me get on with the coaching.

“He’d say: ‘Could you work on this?’ and I’d take the session, which I enjoyed. It worked out quite well.”

Robinson then left owing to work commitments, having won just four games in 20.

Herrera agreed to step up from his first-team coach role but has only taken charge of three games – including two friendlies – amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The first game at Swindon to go 2-0 down and bring it back to 2-2 with less than 30 seconds to go I’m thinking: ‘The lads have done well, fantastic character’.

“Then to go give away a penalty is criminal and you can’t legislate for that. It was a little bit bittersweet,” he said.

“After that, the two friendlies, Exmouth and Christchurch, I’m trying to get my philosophies and values across.

“Especially on our pitch at home, we’ve got to pass it.”

Dorchester and Herrera seem tailor-made for each other. 

The revamped Avenue’s 3G pitch lends itself to the attacking play Herrera relished while bombing down the wing during his career.

The Magpies will now be hoping results – and the pandemic – turn in their favour.