With 2019/20 marking 120 years since Torquay United AFC’s opening campaign, we continue charting the history of the club, following its formation at the Torre Abbey Hotel on Monday 1st May, 1899.
As the beginning of the 1907/08 season approached, it appeared to be a case of ‘business as usual’ for Torquay United, however by the end of the campaign, things would look very different indeed.
The East Devon League – where United had been playing out their competitive fixtures since 1900 – was once again struggling to provide a worthwhile structure for its handful of clubs, and in the winter of 1907, things finally came to a head.
A 2-1 defeat at home to Exmouth United on 9th November was disappointing enough for the club, as it represented their third defeat in as many games. As it turned out though, Torquay would not have the opportunity to redress the balance as the league itself folded.
United had been in similar circumstances three years before of course, when their lack of suitable facilities necessitated a campaign made up purely of friendlies. This time though, it was felt that another year away from ‘proper’ action would be too detrimental for the club’s aspirations.
Midway through the season, and with very few alternatives, the club took up the one option left open to them – replacing their own ‘reserve’ side in the Torquay and District League, alongside Ellacombe and Babbacombe.
United’s claim at being the top side in Torquay had already been under threat, and with both their town rivals already fighting it out for the league championship, the move to taking on their second own XI’s fixtures was seen as a sizeable blow.
To add salt to the wounds, Torquay’s reserves had endured a difficult start to the season, meaning that by the time the first-team took over their fixtures, they were in no position to launch a three-way title challenge.
In new surroundings, their introduction began well enough though. Having beaten struggling Bovey St. Johns 2-1 at home, their next match was an eagerly anticipated ‘derby’ against town rivals Ellacombe. Goals from Phillips and Pridham (2) secured a much-needed 3-0 victory against their old adversaries and breathed new life into what had been a difficult few weeks for the club.
Billy Pridham’s hat-trick secured Devon Senior Cup progress in the first fixture of 1908, however United were left licking their wounds just a week later, as Babbacombe dealt them a 5-2 hammering. Although they recovered in their next league match to beat Ashburton 4-1, back-to-back cup exits within the next fortnight put paid to Torquay’s dreams of glory.
Another defeat at the hand of Babbacombe (1-2), along with two more – heavily – at the hands of Ellacombe (2-7 and 1-7) saw United’s season end with a whimper, as they could manage no more than a 4th placed finish.
To make matters worse, the top two spots saw both Babbacombe (champions) and Ellacombe (runners-up) move on to better things, as they looked forward to matches in the East Devon Senior League and Devon Association League respectively.
For so long United had paved the way forward as the town’s premier side, but now they were undoubtedly third-best.
Their reaction to their latest setback had to be both swift and decisive, ahead of a pivotal 1908/09 season for the club.