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 superb first couple of seasons in the Southern League, in which the club more than lived up to its professional status, 1924/25 was to prove a different prospect altogether.
Having flirted with achieving their ultimate ambition of gaining Football League status, their 25th season was very nearly their last, as United – like a number of other teams – struggled to remain afloat amid a widespread financial crisis.
The new campaign also represented a change in direction for the club on the field, with former Plymouth Argyle and England Amateur forward Harry Raymond replacing long-serving Crad Evans as the club’s player-manager.
Finances would dictate that Raymond’s squad was significantly weaker than his predecessor’s, however things began well enough, with five points gleaned form their opening three matches.
The club claimed an opening day 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers Reserves at Plainmoor, before following it up with another welcome point at home to Bridgend Town the following weekend. Another 2-1 win, this time away to last season’s champions, Yeovil & Petters United, represented their best start to a season at this level, with hopes raised that a push for the Western Section championship could be in the offing.
However, successive 0-3 defeats at Welsh opponents Mid Rhondda and Pontypridd, followed by FA Cup elimination in the 1st Qualifying Round, saw the first chinks in the Torquay’s armour emerge. With finances at Plainmoor in such a perilous state, it was particularly frustrating that the side’s cup failure robbed the club of a potential money-spinning run, with Taunton United emerging 2-1 victors at home, following an initial 1-1 draw in Devon.
Although striker Billy Kellock’s first two goals of the season helped The Magpies to a 3-0 home win over Yeovil, and completed a notable ‘double’ in the process, Wales was once again to prove an unhappy hunting ground for the team, as October was rounded off with away defeats against Swansea Town Reserves (0-2) and Bridgend (0-1).
November saw a measure of improvement, with a fortuitous own-goal seeing United emerge with parity in the 1-1 draw against Exeter City Reserves at Plainmoor, before the scoreline was replicated at Bath the following weekend. A 2-0 win over Llanelly in their next game represented Torquay’s first win in five matches, however a lot of that good work was undone seven days later, as the side suffered a crushing 7-0 defeat at Plymouth Argyle. Although strictly their reserve side, a number of first-team regulars were reported to have played for The Pilgrims in the match, which did at least provide some measure of excuse for the result.
Three home matches in December saw the team emerge undefeated from matches against Bath City (1-1), Newport County Reserves (3-1) and Swindon Town Reserves (2-2), with the match against Town being the first time that Torquay had played on Christmas Day. December had unfortunately seen the end of Raymond’s brief spell in charge of the side though, as F.G.B. Mortimer, a former United player took his place.
The opening two fixtures of the New Year saw both extremes of the side’s form displayed at Plainmoor. A 4-1 victory over Ebbw Vale proved to be their biggest win of the season, however Torquay were left licking their wounds a fortnight later, with an 8-1 home defeat against Plymouth representing their worst.
The remainder of the campaign saw United largely treading water, with wins at a premium. Five winless encounters against Aberaman Athletic (1-1 away), Bristol City Reserves (2-2 at home), Swansea (0-1 home), Barry (1-1 at home) and Ebbw Vale (1-5 away) preceded back-to-back home wins over Welsh opponents Mid Rhondda (2-1) and Aberaman (1-0) at the end of February. The latter two matches took place within 24 hours of each other, with Torquay’s Pearson proving to be the hero of the day, by netting crucial goals in both games.
February also saw Mortimer’s men exit the Devon Professional Cup in embarrassing circumstances, 7-1 away to Exeter City’s first team. After gaining some excellent results against their Devon rivals in recent years, another heavy defeat in the space of a few weeks was further proof of how far off the pace The Magpies had fallen.
Worse was to follow, as United embarked on a nightmare run of eleven matches without victory, with confidence hitting an all-time low. By now the club’s immediate aspirations were purely centred on survival, as a number of their rivals facing imminent closure.
Torquay, who had developed a reputation for being an entertaining outfit, lost their touch in front of goal altogether during the spring of 1925, with Kellock’s strike in the 1-1 draw away to Exeter being their goal in six matches throughout March, with the games against Weymouth (0-1 away, 0-0 home), Cardiff Reserves (0-3 away), Bristol City Reserves (0-2 away) and Pontypridd (0-2 home) adding just an additional point to their seasonal tally.
The team faired little better during the penultimate month of the season, with a 2-2 draw at Barry swiftly backed up with four straight defeats against the second-string sides of Swindon (0-3) and Newport (1-2), prior to two defeats in successive days against Taunton (0-3 at home, 1-2 away). Ironically it was in Wales, a notoriously unrewarding destination for The Magpies, that they gained their final victory of a difficult campaign, as a brace from Kellock and a penalty from Leslie clinched a 3-1 triumph at Llanelly, before proceedings were brought to an end in early May with a 3-1 home defeat to Cardiff City’s seconds.
Although a Southern League finish of 15th didn’t appear to be anything to celebrate, it was to the club’s credit that they were still in existence at all, with a number of their counterparts falling by the wayside during the close season. This was a point starkly illustrated the following August, as the Western section was reduced from 20 sides to just 14.
For United though, more change was afoot.