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.
The summer of 1921 saw a growth in enthusiasm for Association Football within the town, as the local public celebrated not only the amalgamation of Torquay Town and Babbacombe after years of dispute, but also the newly-formed club’s professional status.
With ambitions now at their peak, it was time for Torquay United to depart the Plymouth & District League to seek pastures new. The club immediately set their sights on the Southern League, which was seen as the perfect breeding ground for clubs with Football League ambitions. Unfortunately, those in charge at the Southern League were unwilling to accept an unproven side at this stage, leaving United having to accept a place in their second choice environment, the Western League.
For the season ahead, United chose a former Town and Ellacombe favourite to serve as the club’s first player / manager. Crad Evans’ goalscoring talents had seen him represent a number of higher-level clubs, such as Plymouth and Exeter, and his added experience was seen as the perfect example for the players to follow.
Despite their new Western League opponents providing a notable step-up in terms of quality, they were lacking in numbers, with the division comprising of just eight teams in total. With only 14 league fixtures to look forward to, Torquay had to once again bulk out their season with a number of friendly encounters, although even these were against much more established opponents than Town had previously been used to.
The Magpies, as they were now known due to their Black/White striped kit, also benefited from two exciting cup runs, meaning that the season provided their fans with a great deal of interest throughout the whole campaign.
Torquay United AFC kicked off their first match as a professional outfit in perfect style, as they claimed a 1-0 home win over Weymouth, in what also served as their Western League bow, with Sand marking the occasion with the newly-formed club’s first goal in front of an estimated 3,000 supporters.
The following weekend saw FA Cup action in the Extra Preliminary Round, with Stuckey (2) and Townsend claiming the goals in a 3-0 victory at Minehead. A return to the league saw Peasedown St.John emerge from Plainmoor with a 1-1 draw, before Frome matched that result in the FA Cup the following weekend. The replay at Badgers Hill saw United progress 3-1 though, as September passed with only a friendly defeat against Plymouth Argyle’s Reserves not going their way (1-5 at home).
A 3-1 friendly win over Woodland Villa preceded the First Qualifying Round tie at home to Spencer Moulton, a match that had to be replayed following the abandonment of the original match after 75 minutes. There was much frustration from the United camp, with the side seemingly easing to victory courtesy of a 2-0 scoreline, however Evans’ side responded in a professional manner, by completing a 5-2 win over the same opponents four days later.
A 1-0 home friendly defeat against Exeter City Reserves proved United still had a little catching up to do within the professional ranks, however their next FA Cup encounter continued their promising form in competitive matches, as home advantage saw Torquay thrash a Bristol-based St. Georges side 6-0. Stuckey and Townsend were once again amongst the goals with a brace apiece, with Burch and Merrick adding the finishing touches.
Having gone six weeks without a league game, United suffered their first ‘proper’ defeat of the season on October 29th, as Cardiff Corinthians left South Devon with a 3-1 victory. With no more action in the Western League scheduled until New Years Eve, attention once again shifted to the cup competitions, as Hanham Athletic were disposed of at the second time of asking, with goals from Frayn and Evans (2) clinching a 3-1 replay away win, following a 2-2 draw at Plainmoor.
That success saw The Magpies make it through to the 4th Qualifying Round, where they met Southern League Boscombe FC – a side destined to become modern-day AFC Bournemouth many years later.
With Cup Fever gripping the town on November 19th, United showed up well against their higher-league opponents at Plainmoor, however their FA Cup run sadly came to an end, as the side slipped to a single goal defeat.
To illustrate the stop-start nature of the Western League, United had progressed through two rounds of the Devon Senior Cup before they travelled to Trowbridge Town on December 31st, courtesy of comfortable wins over Dartmouth (3-0 away) and Chudleigh (5-0 at home). The Trowbridge match perhaps came as an afterthought following all the knockout action, with the team failing to rouse itself in a 2-1 defeat.
An opening month of 1922 saw little to excite Torquay’s supporters, with January made up entirely of friendly matches. Although there were plenty of goals in the home wins over Bath City (4-2) and Plymouth A AMS (6-4), away defeats against Plymouth Argyle Reserves (0-1) and Exeter City (0-3) were a disappointment in comparison.
The return of league action in February saw United lose all three matches against Welton (3-1 away), Yeovil & Petters (0-1 at home) and Peasedown (1-2 away), putting paid to any chances the club had of competing for the Western League title.
March was to prove much more profitable though, as United cliched a place in the Devon Senior Cup final thanks to handsome wins over Torrington (6-0 at home) and Teign Village (7-0 away). In between those two games, The Magpies also put an end to their five match losing streak in the league, as they triumphed 2-1 over Welton Rovers at Plainmoor. Two friendly matches were played, and although neither ended in victory, the 2-3 defeat away to Bristol City Reserves and 1-1 draw at home to Exeter City produced encouraging performances.
The final month of the campaign saw Torquay play no less than nine fixtures, with only one ending in defeat.
Western League matches against Weymouth (2-0 away), Trowbridge (4-0 at home) and Horfield (3-0 at home) all ended in success, with the only blip coming in a 2-0 away defeat to champions Yeovil & Petters United. Those results saw the side finish 5th in the table, eight points behind the leaders, with their poor form in February proving particularly costly.
Friendly matches also provided some welcome scorelines, with home wins over Plymouth Argyle Reserves (1-0) and Merthyr Town (2-0) sandwiching a 0-0 draw away to Southern League new boys Bath City.
It was the Devon Senior Cup that brought United their most pleasing moment though, as Evans’ side clinched a 1-0 win over old Plymouth & District League rivals Oreston Rovers 1-0 at Home Park. Frayn’s goal was enough to secure his side their first silverware as a professional outfit, matching the achievements of Torquay Town in their inaugural season eleven years earlier.
Having proven themselves to be a decent outfit, particularly in cup competitions, their second application for Southern League entry was looked upon far more favourably at the end of the season, with Torquay United accepted into the competition for the 1922/23 campaign.
Now things could really get going!