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.
With the Great War of 1914-1918 prompting both Torquay Town and Babbacombe to close following the completion of the 1913/14 season, it would not be until September 1919 that competitive football resumed at Plainmoor.
Tragically, a number of the town’s early footballing stars had lost their lives during the conflict, whilst others who were fortunate enough to survive lost the best part of their careers due to age, or injuries sustained in battle.
It was therefore a very different Town side that began 1919/20 campaign, with the Plymouth & District League also undergoing a number of changes. Plymouth-based Green Waves and Tavistock both returned to the division, whilst new sides KOSB, 5th Dun Old Boys and 1st Devon Regt. replaced pre-war participants Torpoint, Middlesex Regt, Royal Scots, Oreston, Gordon Highlanders and Royal Irish Regt, reducing the league to 13 teams.
Town made a poor start to the season by losing their opening three matches at the hands of Plymouth Argyle Reserves (0-1 away), 5th Dun Old Boys (0-2 at home) and Millbrook (1-5 away). Although they partially repaired the damage with an emphatic 7-1 home win over Tavistock in their next match, another poor set of results followed, with Torquay failing to win any of their next four games.
Arguably their finest performance of the season came in late November, as Town recorded a surprise 3-0 win over Exeter City’s reserve side at Plainmoor. A disappointing 1-0 defeat at St. Austell in their next game however, made it clear that level of performance could not be sustained.
With their home clash against struggling 1st Devon Regt. on 6th December taking on added importance following Torquay’s own poor form, a 5-1 victory did at least ensure that Town kept their heads above water, although they were clearly now focused on events at the bottom of the table rather than the top.
Green Waves, who Torquay had beaten in their first ever FA Cup tie nine years earlier, exacted some belated revenge by dumping Town out of the Devon Senior Cup before Christmas, before a somewhat embarrassing 3-0 home beating by 5th Dun Old Boys left them approaching their annual Boxing Day derby against Babbacombe in the unfamiliar role as underdogs.
A 2-1 victory for the ‘home’ side was cause for much celebration as Babbacombe recorded a first league victory over their co-tenants at the 7th time of asking. It was becoming increasingly clear by this point that Town were no longer the top side in Torquay, a point that was also to be reflected in the league table at the end of the season.
That defeat did at least spur the club into a temporary upturn in results, as they recorded three successive wins for the only time that season. A 1-0 win over KOSB in mid-January was a welcome response to the setback against their local rivals, before Town backed it up with big home wins over St. Austell (4-1) and RMLI (5-0).
In what had been their worst season since the forming, Town were to register only one more win in their final eight matches, with the 4-1 away win at Tavistock in late March the only success amid seven defeats.
Most damaging of all was a second loss at the hands of Babbacombe (3-1), a result which not only sealed a league ‘double’ for them, but also saw Torquay’s neighbours firm up their status as the best side within the town. Babbacombe ended 1919/20 by securing a 6th placed-finish, ten points and four places above Town, who finished just four points off the foot of the table.
The improvement of Babbacombe, in conjunction with Town’s relative demise, did nothing to further the hopes of amalgamating the two clubs to form one professional side. It would not prove to be the end of the matter though, and 12 months later, things would look very different indeed.