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 securing the highest placed finish in their history the previous season, hopes were high throughout the town that Frank Womack’s side could do even better in what was the club’s fifth season as a Football League club.
As starts go though, 1931/32 couldn’t have begun in worse fashion, as the opening day of the campaign saw the side dealt a 0-7 hammering at Crystal Palace. Although the team regrouped to put in a much improved performance at home to Bournemouth four days later (1-1), another comprehensive defeat followed, as Watford left Plainmoor victorious (3-6).
If that loss sounded heavy, it paled in comparison to what would follow at Fulham, as Womack’s side were crushed by a record margin – 2-10. After such an embarrassing setback, the side did regain some respectability at Mansfield five days later (4-2), however Womack’s men couldn’t follow that up with wins in either of their next two matches at home to Fulham (2-3) or Brighton (1-1), as their previously impressive Plainmoor form sadly deserted them.
The end of September saw Torquay beaten at Norwich (0-2), before home success was finally gained via a 2-1 win over Swindon Town. Rejuvenated, United made it back-to-back wins with another triumph in the capital, with a 3-1 win over Clapton Orient. October was to end in disappointing fashion though, as successive 1-1 draws against Thames (away) and Brentford (home) preceded defeat at Exeter City (1-3).
Although the penultimate month of the year began with an exciting 3-3 draw at home to Coventry, a draw at Gillingham (1-1) and a home defeat to Luton (1-2) made it six league games without a win, as any hopes of Womack’s side launching a top-end challenge well and truly evaporated. To make matters worse, a cup exit duly followed, as Southend secured victory at Plainmoor (1-3).
One positive note had been the continued goalscoring exploits of Jimmy Trotter, however after netting his ninth and tenth goals in both the fine win over Northampton (4-1 at home) and dismal defeat at Reading (1-4 away), Torquay’s top scorer was allowed to join Division 3 (South) rivals Watford, leaving a notable gap in The Magpies’ starting line-up.
United’s main concerns though, were at the back, as the side continued to leak goals at regular intervals. Although the last match before Christmas saw them defeat cup victors Southend at Plainmoor (2-1), the clashes against QPR on the 25th (home, 2-3) and 26th (away, 1-3) failed to bring any festive cheer to Torquay’s supporters.
With the side firmly entrenched in the division’s lower reaches, the opening month of 1932 began well enough, as The Magpies avenged their opening day disaster by beating Crystal Palace 3-1 at Plainmoor on January 2nd. Their inconsistencies were once again fully evident though, with another heavy defeat following at Cardiff eleven days later (2-5). A narrow 0-1 loss at Watford three days later made it back to back-to-back reverses, before a 2-2 home draw with Mansfield and 2-0 away success at Brighton saw the side edge into February in a more positive mood.
Predictably unpredictable, successive defeats against Norwich (2-4 at home) and Swindon (0-3 away) were followed up by successive home wins against Clapton Orient (3-0) and Thames (3-1), before March started with a 0-3 setback at Brentford.
Spirits were raised in their next match though, as goals from Jack Cooper and Ralph Birkett were enough to secure a 2-1 victory over Exeter City at Plainmoor, to give United a dose of local bragging rights. Ex-Walsall forward Cooper was again on target during the next away matches, however Womack’s side could only manage a 1-3 defeat at Coventry and a 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers.
That match in Bristol was the first of three matches in four days for Torquay, as they returned to Plainmoor for a 1-0 win over Gillingham, before producing an unbelievable performance in the return match against Rovers, as they demolished their visitors 8-1! Billy Clayson, who had taken on the goalscoring mantle since Trotter’s departure was the star of the show with four goals, with Ted Anderson, debutant Arthur Griffiths and Albert Hutchinson (2) also hitting the target.
Unfortunately that was as good as it got for United, as they failed to win any over their last six matches. Just five days the Rovers victory, Torquay were again licking their own wounds, courtesy if a 1-6 thrashing at Luton. Although they recovered to clinch at 2-2 draw at Cardiff in their next match, The Magpies ended the season on the back of four successive defeats against Northampton (away, 0-2), Reading (home, 1-4), Southend (away, 2-4) and Bournemouth (away, 0-5) to finish in 19th position.
It was clear that Womack’s methods were no longer having the desired results, and United’s directors acted during the close season, as he was replaced by Frank Brown, who combined the Manager’s role with that of trainer.