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.
After emerging from 1908/09 as champions for the first time in their history, United set about establishing themselves as the dominant force in the Torquay & District League.
Things would not pan out that way though, prompting dramatic developments at the end of the campaign.
With local sides Chudleigh Knighton, Longpark and Buckfastleigh replacing Ashburton and Torquay Trams, the division now boasted nine teams, giving Torquay sixteen fixtures to look forward to, and the possibility of more, should the side put their poor cup form behind them.
Although the number of matches were still quite sparse, it did negate the requirement for the host of mid-season friendlies that United had been frantically arranging during the past decade.
The season got off to a poor start, with the defending champions going down to an opening day 1-0 defeat at Dartmouth. Some pride was restored in the next two fixtures though, as United beat league newcomers Chudleigh (4-1 away) and Buckfastleigh (3-2 at home) in successive matches to emerge with a satisfactory four points from three matches.
In what was to prove an frustrating season, Torquay’s inconsistency was on full show thereafter as the team struggled to put two results together.
Bovey St. Johns, who so nearly pipped United to the title in the spring, managed to gain some revenge in October, as they came out on top of their league encounter 2-0.
Local rivalries were on display over the festive period, although with Babbacombe and Ellacombe’s first-teams competing further up the football ladder, Torquay had to be content with again taking on the team’s reserve sides.
No longer in with a shot of the title themselves, a 2-2 home draw against challengers Babbacombe would have brought some satisfaction, and a 10-1 home win over Ellacombe in the following game even more so, before a 3-0 defeat at the the former was further proof of the side’s erratic nature.
By the time United finally found some form, it was too late, with three wins and two draws gleaned from their final five fixtures.
Also of note during the season was a titanic battle for East Devon Senior Cup progression. After being drawn against Dartmouth in round one, both the initial home and away matches ended in stalemate (1-1 and 0-0 respectively), forcing a third replay as Longpark’s neutral venue. Alas, Torquay once again failed to make it through to the 2nd round, as they lost the final encounter 2-0.
A fourth-placed finish was a disappointment following the success of 12 months earlier, however it did prompt a decisive change to the town’s football landscape.
For some years, it was widely accepted that whilst all three of the town’s clubs – United, Babbacombe and Ellacombe – were decent by local standards, none were deemed strong enough to match the professional status of Devon’s two main sides, Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City. Although Babbacombe were still reluctant to entertain discussions for a merge, Ellacombe finally relented, and in the close-season of 1910, a new, combined, club emerged – Torquay Town.
With Ellacombe no longer a separate entity, the old club’s Plainmoor ground was now available. Seen as a crucial part of Town’s renewed aspirations, they enlisted the help of local vicar Percy Baker to secure its lease. A deal was finally agreed and met with much delight, with the caveat being that Babbacombe would also play their matches at the same venue.
With the new combined team and their rivals not only sharing the same pitch, but also the same league, it promised to be an interesting scenario!