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 two promising campaigns that both resulted in 10th-placed finishes, Frank Brown made a number of attacking signings to aid a strike force that had been weakened due to a number of recent departures. One signing in particular was to prove a hugely important addition – former Manchester United forward Ben Morton.
Having not won an opening game since being elected into the league, a 2-2 home draw against Reading was therefore well received by the near-7,000 fans in attendance at Plainmoor, however the three successive defeats that followed it left United on the back foot once again. The fact that two of those defeats came against local rivals Exeter City (1-2 away and 0-1 at home), either side of a comprehensive loss at QPR (0-3), only rubbed salt into the wounds.
Although the home match against Bristol City saw Torquay register their first win by an emphatic margin (5-2), another lean spell wasn’t far away, with the fixtures at home to Luton (home, 2-2) and away to Northampton Town (0-3) and Notts County (0-2) adding just a solitary point to their already meagre total. Brown’s men did gain a measure of revenge over Town at the end of September though, with a Morton hat-trick going a long way to securing a 5-0 home triumph in the Division Three (South) Cup first round.
Morton was at it again three days later, with his brace in the 4-1 home win over Clapton Orient giving United’s supporters some much needed league cheer. Defeat in their next game, away to Walsall (0-1) meant that United were once again having to rely on home comforts to keep them afloat, and although Plainmoor wasn’t proving to be the fortress it had been in previous seasons, October victories over Bristol Rovers (1-0) and Swindon (2-0) did at least repair some of the damage, with a 1-1 draw away at Millwall in between those fixtures providing a welcome bonus.
Prior to that stalemate in the capital, The Magpies had taken another step forward in the divisional cup, courtesy of a 1-0 home success over Crystal Palace. With results still hard to come by on their travels though, Torquay did at least seize the opportunity to claim a rare away day win, with Adam Dawson’s strike enough to see off an Aldershot side that was destined to finish bottom of the pile. A return to Plainmoor four days later saw a semi-final place in the Division 3 (South) Cup gained in the best possible circumstances, with another Morton double clinching derby victory against Exeter. With the semi-finals of the competition not scheduled until the latter stages of the season, United could now divert extra attention to their hitherto poor league showing.
Unfortunately the side failed to make much progress over the next few weeks, as a winless run that began with defeat at home Gillingham (0-2) and a draw away to Newport (1-1) was made all the more costly with an early FA Cup exit at Clapton Orient, denying the club of much-needed funds to help counter a growing injury list. Two more defeats duly followed against Watford (away, 0-4) and Brighton (home, 0-2), before a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth steadied a few nerves ahead of the festive period.
Christmas Day saw the first instalment of the team’s first ‘double’ of the season, with a 1-0 win over Cardiff at Plainmoor backed up by a 2-0 success in Wales three days later. United wouldn’t have it all their own way during this period though, with a heavy Boxing Day defeat at Reading (1-5) leaving Brown’s side with a lot of thinking to do on the long journey back home to Devon.
Torquay’s New Year began with honours even at Plainmoor, as QPR left Plainmoor with a point following a 1-1 draw. Back-to-back 1-4 defeats against Bristol City (away) and Southend (home) left The Magpies once again looking over their shoulders towards the foot of the table, before they replicated their 5-0 cup thrashing of Northampton to gain two vital league points. The following weekend saw title-chasing Notts County head to Plainmoor, with United doing well to record a 2-2 draw.
Clapton Orient, who had earlier dumped Torquay out of the FA Cup, again came out on top during the league encounter at the beginning of February (0-2), prior to a 3-1 home win over Walsall seven days later. A hat-trick of defeats against Bristol Rovers (away, 1-5), Millwall (home, 0-2) and Swindon (2-4) saw the team head into March still sweating on their league status, before another Morton hat-trick saw Torquay come out on top of their relegation battle against fellow strugglers Aldershot (5-1 at home).
As much as he tried, manager Brown could find no solution to his side’s continued struggles away from Plainmoor, and with season’s conclusion beginning to come into sight, that patchy form almost dried up completely, as his team scored just one goal from their last five away outings. Barren showings at Gillingham (0-1) and Crystal Palace (0-0) preceded a worrying 1-2 home defeat against Newport, with the Welsh side doing their own survival chances no harm at all.
Two days later, Torquay were back to their best in a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace at Plainmoor, a result which would ultimately prove crucial amid the final shake-up, as United failed to win any of their last five league matches. Although a goalless draw at Southend was no cause for alarm in itself, the conceding of twelve goals in the two matches against Watford (home, 4-7) and Brighton (away, 1-5) was no doubt enough for quite a few at the club to lose sleep.
Those heavy losses were the worst possible preparation for the side’s Division 3 (South) Cup semi-final against Millwall, and although The Magpies held firm in a 2-2 draw at Plainmoor, Brown’s men were completely outclassed in the replay, as the London side eased to a 5-0 victory. That result was particularly disappointing, as it came just days after United had secured a hard-fought clean sheet in a goalless draw at Plainmoor, before the campaign was brought to an end with a 0-2 defeat at Luton.
Morton’s 23 league goals (27 in all competitions) had proved absolutely vital to the cause, as Torquay finished in 20th position, avoiding the re-election fate of Exeter City purely on goal average.