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 securing the Plymouth & District League title in only their second year since forming, many would have assumed that Torquay Town would have gone from strength to strength, as they continued in their pursuit to follow Devon neighbours Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City in attaining professional status.
Unfortunately, Town failed to make the most of the momentum gained from their previous two successful campaigns, during a season that will be best remembered for the worsening of their relationship with rivals Babbacombe.
Despite most observers being convinced that the town’s ambitions of having a professional club were best served with one club instead of two, Babbacombe remained reluctant to join forces with Town, even though the struggling side were being forced to watch on as their ‘new’ neighbours enjoyed a great deal of early success.
With both sides sharing the same Plainmoor base, as well as the same division, it was clearly only a matter of time before things came to a head.
With the Northampton Regiment and Royal Garrison Artillery teams both pulling out ahead of the new season and no replacements found, the Plymouth & District League was reduced to just 14 sides for 1912/13. Once again, it would be the fixtures against their co-tenants, along with Plymouth and Exeter’s reserve sides, that would generate the most interest among Torquay’s growing support base.
Town’s title defence faltered from the outset, as they failed to register their first win until early November, as a 1-0 away defeat at Torpoint was followed by back-to-back draws against Oreston Rovers (3-3 at home) and Millbrook Rangers (1-1 away).
Successive fixtures against Argyle saw the side suffer a 4-0 defeat in Plymouth, before some pride was restored with a 1-1 draw at Plainmoor the following weekend. That result did spark a degree of improvement, as the side secured a 3-2 win at Royal Navy Barracks in their next game, before embarking on a five match unbeaten run in the lead up to Christmas.
That positive spell of results couldn’t hide the fact that Town were in no position to launch a significant title challenge though, with Sherwood Foresters ultimately being allowed to pull clear of Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle to secure the championship.
Home & Away defeats to City either side of the New Year were then followed up by a shock home defeat, as Royal Marine Light Infantry – a side that would end the season bottom of the pile – triumphed 1-0 at Plainmoor.
Far from looking like defending champions, a fourth loss on the bounce at Oreston (0-3) prompted glances at the other end of the table, with matches against fellow strugglers Babbacombe now on the horizon.
A 3-1 win over Royal Naval Barracks, who had pushed Town so hard for the title during the previous campaign, completed a notable first ‘double’ of the season, and set things up nicely for what was to be a keenly contested derby against their ground sharing rivals a fortnight later.
The match had taken on greater significance than usual for a number of reasons.
In all four previous encounters, Town had been pushing for league and cup honours whilst Babbacombe were struggling near the foot of the table. Now, with both sides enduring mediocre campaigns, bragging rights throughout Torquay were seen to be up for grabs.
Adding another dimension to the bad feeling between the two sides was a regrettable dispute in the Devon Senior Cup. With both sides being drawn against each other in the opening round, neither club were able to agree on a date for the match, resulting in both sides being withdrawn from the competition. The decision was felt particularly keenly by Town, who held a strong history in the competition.
With cup respite no longer an option, the two sides were left to fight it out for supremacy in their league battles at Plainmoor instead. Both matches were to be decided by the odd goal, with a 1-0 win for Town in the first game just enough for them to retain their status as top dogs locally.
Torquay’s form improved thereafter, with the side finally showing their potential by earning eight wins and a draw from their last eleven matches. Having been so lethal the previous season, their form in front of goal had tailed off badly, however Town rediscovered their goal touch in the latter part of the season, registering comprehensive home wins over Royal Scots Regiment (5-2), 4th Middlesex Regiment (5-1) and Torpoint (4-1).
Most pleasing of all though, would have been the return fixture against Babbacombe on March 24th, although with both sides sharing the same ground, home advantage counted for very little. Nevertheless, a 2-1 victory for Torquay made it six league wins out of six since United’s merge with Ellacombe, as they secured at 6th placed finish, ahead of Babbacombe in 12th.