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.
Having dispensed with the services of previous manager Frank Womack following a disappointing 1931/32 season, it was his namesake, Frank Brown, who was charged as the man to revive The Magpies’ fortunes, in his dual role as Trainer / Manager.
There was certainly no lack of entertainment on the opening day of the season at Plainmoor, as 5,740 supporters witnessed an exciting 3-3 draw with Coventry City, however United’s supporters were swiftly brought down to earth with less than inspiring results against Bristol City (0-2 away and 0-0 at home), either side of an equally disappointing 1-3 defeat at Brentford.
Torquay’s campaign suddenly burst into life on September 10th, as Southend were ruthlessly dispatched at home by a magnificent 8-1 margin, with local boy George Stabb and Albert Hutchinson both claiming hat-tricks. Although back-to-back losses against Exeter at home (1-3) and Luton away (1-2) were a setback, successive victories against Newport (home, 4-0), Bournemouth (away, 2-1), and Swindon (home, 4-3) saw United in rude health by mid-October.
An erratic spell of results followed over the next two months though, as a spell of just two wins in twelve league and cup matches left Brown’s men with some catching up to do. Following two 1-2 defeats at the hands of Crystal Palace (away) and Gillingham (home) and a 0-0 stalemate at Watford, The Magpies were back to their best for the home fixture against Cardiff, as the Welsh side were comprehensively beaten 4-1. The other side to United’s game was on full view the following week though, as they were well beaten at Reading (2-5).
With Torquay drawn against Bournemouth in the FA Cup 1st Round, the two sides cancelled each other out in both the initial tie at Plainmoor (0-0), and the subsequent 2-2 draw at Dean Court. United eventually prevailed at the third attempt at Ashton Gate (3-2), 48 hours after United had secured a 1-1 league draw at Brighton.
Brown’s side were drawn against another Division 3 South rival in Round 2, however once against home advantage failed to see United through, as they could only manage a 1-1 draw against QPR, prior to a 1-3 defeat at Rangers’ temporary White City Stadium home five days later.
A resumption of league duties saw Torquay fare little better at league new boys Aldershot (0-2), before The Magpies avenged their cup exit at home to QPR on Christmas Eve, with a 3-1 win. Although there would be no fixture on the 25th this year, it was to prove to be a happy festive period for the United faithful, as their team backed up that success on Boxing Day with a 4-1 triumph at Clapton Orient. A 1-1 draw against the same side followed a day after, before the final game of 1932 – a 0-5 thrashing at Coventry – set the tone for a tame start to the New Year.
Home draws against title-chasing Brentford (1-1) and fellow promotion chasers Norwich (2-2) may have been creditable enough in their own right, however by the time January had finished, defeats at Southend (1-2), and more alarmingly, at Exeter (0-5) had seen Brown’s side go six matches without a win, as fears grew that another lowly finish may be on the cards.
United’s impressive home form, as it had done before, was once again keeping them afloat in the division, and the second month of the year would see further evidence of that, as Plainmoor wins against Luton (3-1) and Bournemouth (2-1) came either side of a 1-3 defeat at Newport, before February ended with a goalless draw against Swindon.
It was more of the same the following month, this time with a 2-1 home win over Crystal Palace being followed by a 1-1 draw at Gillingham, before a Stabb’s second hat-trick of the season secured a 3-2 win over Watford. Again though, their travels would not prove quite so productive, with the trip to Cardiff ending in a disappointing 1-2 loss.
One player who did hit a rich vein of form during this period was Stabb’s strike partner, Hutchinson, with his goals in the 1-1 home draw at Reading and 2-1 away win at Norwich taking his personal tally to eight in his last ten games. Maximum points from two home matches against Brighton (1-0) and, more impressively, Northampton (5-1) set Torquay on their way to a strong end to the season, with the 0-2 reverse at Northampton their only defeat in their final nine outings.
Two days later, on April 20th, came the news that local winger Ralph Birkett, an impressive performer during the past three years, would be joining Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal for a fee of £1,588 – Not the kind of money that a cash-strapped club like United could turn down.
Three points against Westcountry rivals Bristol Rovers (2-0 away, 1-1 at home) would have lifted the mood following Birkett’s departure, with a 1-0 home win over Aldershot preceding a final day 1-1 draw in the capital at QPR.
That late improvement in form saw Brown’s side finish in tenth, and confirming a job well done, as it represented the club’s highest position since joining the Football League.