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.
Although the previous season had see Torquay Town fail to sustain the progress of their first two seasons, another league ‘double’ over local rivals and Plainmoor co-tenants, Babbacombe, had strengthened the new club’s position as the premier side in the town.
With Babbacombe still resistant to join forces with Torquay, it became increasingly clear that the poor relationship between the two clubs was beginning to hamper aspirations for the town to have its own professional football club.
By the end of the season though, much more important matters would see sport take a back seat in society for a number of years, following the outbreak of the Great War.
Another shake-up to the Plymouth & District League saw Tavistock and champions Sherwood Foresters replaced by Gordon Highlanders and Royal Irish Regiment, meaning that the division would once again comprise of 14 teams, giving each participant 26 fixtures, along with any others gained by progress in either the FA Cup or Devon Senior Cup. For Town, it was the former competition that provided the team with their first fixtures of the season in mid-September.
Crad Evans’ strike saw Torquay earn a 1-1 draw against Welton Rovers at Plainmoor on September 13th, however despite Evans striking again in the replay five days later, it was the Western League side that eventually prevailed with a 2-1 victory.
After putting the disappointment behind them, Town began the league season in superb fashion. With three of their opening four matches at home, visitors to Plainmoor were royally entertained, with a 7-2 mauling of new boys Royal Irish followed by a 4-2 victory over Oreston and a 5-1 triumph over St. Austell. The only blemish in an otherwise excellent October was a 2-1 reverse at Exeter City Reserves, however it was hoped that Torquay were now back to their best, and ready to challenge for the title once more.
Unfortunately though, the inconsistent form that had plagued Town for much of the previous campaign soon returned, and although one win and two draws from November’s four matches didn’t represent a crisis, it did again illustrate the side’s inability to put a string of wins together.
A 5-3 home defeat to Royal Naval Barracks in the Devon Senior Cup at the beginning of December left Torquay with only league matches to look forward to, and although they recovered sufficiently to register a narrow 2-1 win at struggling Royal Irish, a heavy 5-2 home defeat at the hands of Plymouth Argyle Reserves the following week left Town with little but pride to play for by the turn of the year.
Spirits would have no doubt been raised though by a thrilling encounter on Boxing Day, in what was now becoming an annual fixture against town rivals Babbacombe. Although it was once again Town who emerged with both points, they were made to fight all the way for it by their resurgent neighbours, with the final score ending 4-3.
The New Year was to prove anything but a happy one for Torquay, as the club’s hitherto unpredictable form deserted them completely. Heavy friendly defeats against Truro (1-7 away) and Middlesex (4-8 at home) came either side of six winless league encounters, with only a 1-1 draw at Torpoint during that spell not ending in defeat.
It wouldn’t be until March 7th that Town experienced the winning feeling once again, with a 3-0 victory away to Gordon Highlanders being swiftly followed up the following Saturday with a 2-1 home win over Royal Scots. Further disappointment was not far away though, with their next three fixtures featuring a 5-0 defeat at Millbrook, a 2-2 home draw with a struggling Gordon side, and a 2-1 loss at St. Austell.
The end of the season couldn’t come soon enough, particularly as Babbacombe were now eyeing up finishing above Torquay for the first time since United and Ellacombe had merged four years earlier. Two days on from Town’s 1-0 win over Middlesex, the two Plainmoor rivals clashed in their second derby of the season, with the small matter local supremacy at stake.
The match, however, proved something of an anticlimax for any neutrals present, as Torquay strode to a comfortable 3-0 victory to make it eight wins out of eight over their local rivals. Babbacombe though, would gain a measure of revenge during the final rounds of fixtures.
With both sides locked in mid-table obscurity, Town failed to win either of their last two matches against Royal Marines (0-1 at home) and Plymouth Argyle (2-3 away), leaving Babbacombe to finish two points and four places better off, in 6th position.
In some ways, it was a fitting end to a season that never got going for Torquay.
A few months later, such events paled into insignificance, as the Great War began to rage across the globe. Both clubs closed almost immediately, and would not return for almost five years. Although football continued in certain parts of the country, the people of Torquay could no longer stomach engaging in a sport, at a time when their fellow countrymen were losing their lives during conflict.