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 a highly successful first season in the Southern League, a re-jigged format saw United take their place in the ‘Western’ section, rather than the ‘English’ one, with 10 of the 18 teams representing a full strength side, leaving just 8 reserve teams.
With Crad Evans again at the helm, it was against Cardiff City’s second-string that Torquay began the season at Plainmoor, as The Magpies and Bluebirds cancelled each other out with a 1-1 draw. A trip to Swansea was next up, however this ended in disappointment as United returned empty-handed (0-1). A third consecutive league match against Welsh opponents would prove more successful though, with Evans’ men finally tasting victory against Pontypridd at Plainmoor (3-1).
Torquay faced just one English side in their first ten league matches, with that game resulting in a 1-0 defeat at Weymouth. Back-to-back matches against another Welsh trio largely went in United’s favour, with fixtures against Barry (5-0 at home, 1-0 away), Newport County Reserves (3-3 away, 3-1 at home), Bridgend Town (2-2 away, 4-0 home) seeing them emerge with ten points.
Mid-December saw United edge an entertaining match with Bristol Rovers Reserves 3-2 at Plainmoor, largely thanks to a hat-trick from Cornish centre-forward Percy Varco. That performance, as well as a number of other impressive ones before it, alerted First Division Aston Villa, who paid £200 for his services shortly after.
Evans’ men were certainly not struggling for goals at this point, with a record-breaking 8-0 win over Swindon Town’s 2nd XI providing much festive cheer to the majority of the Plainmoor faithful on Boxing Day, before a less emphatic, but equally pleasing 3-0 triumph over Plymouth Argyle Reserves three days later. Another win against Bath City (2-0) made it a trio of home successes, whilst a 1-0 win at Cardiff in the next game completed six league victories in a row.
United couldn’t repeat that success in Wales though, with their next two matches both ending in 2-0 defeats against Llanelli and PontyPridd.
On home turf though, few teams could live with Torquay, with their next three matches resulting in wins against Aberman (5-0), Swansea Reserves (1-0) and Llanelli (1-0).
A disappointing four week spell between the end of February and March saw The Magpies fail to win any of their fixtures against Yeovil (2-3 away), Bristol City (0-0 home, 0-1 away) and Bristol Rovers (0-2 away), and put paid to any ambitions Evans had of his side mounting a serious title challenge.
Just as they had done at the end of the previous campaign, United finished strongly, as they put together another six match winning streak against Aberman (2-0 away), Ebbw Vale (1-0 away, 2-0 home), Weymouth (1-0 home), Swindon Reserves (2-0 home) and Exeter Reserves (2-1 away), before the later held Torquay to a 1-1 draw two days later.
Their only defeat during their last ten matches came at the hands of Plymouth’s second-string, before goalless draws against champions Yeovil (home) and Bath (away) saw United finish in 4th place, two places higher than 12 months earlier.
Two big factors in the side’s Southern League success had been their excellent defensive record and imperious home form.
The conceding of just 25 goals represented the best record in the Western Section, whilst they also emerged from their campaign at Plainmoor undefeated.
United’s county cup campaign though was brief, and ultimately disappointing. Having beaten Exeter City’s full-strength side away in the 1922/23 Devon Professional Cup, there would have been much confidence that home advantage would see United repeat the feat when they met again at the end of September, however this time it was The Grecians who took their place in the final, with their one goal proving decisive.
Much more exciting was a marvellous FA Cup run, which saw the team progress all the way through to the 4th Qualifying Round.
Beginning in early September, the opening rounds saw a succession of comfortable victories, as Newtons & Taunton and Green Waves were both beaten 3-0 away, before healthy home wins followed over Coleford Athletic (6-0) and Trowbridge Town (3-0). United marksman Billy Kellock particularly enjoyed himself in the latter two games, grabbing four goals Coleford match, before netting another hat-trick against Trowbridge.
The following tie against Yeovil & Petters Utd was far more competitive, with initial 1-1 draw at Huish forcing a replay at Plainmoor, where Torquay prevailed 2-1. Third Division opponents awaited them in the 4th Qualifying Round, with Evans’ men giving as good as they got on home soil against Aberdare Athletic in mid-November. After the initial match ended goalless, the team from Wales proved far too strong in the replay, as the hosts ran out 4-0 winners.
United would have to wait some four years to avenge that defeat – and it would come in very different circumstances.