Torquay United FC are a football club from the seaside town which forms part of the resort of Torbay in Devon on England's south west coast, who were formed in 1899.
The club was initiated by a group of school leavers under the guidance of Sergeant Major Edward Tomney, playing friendlies at a pitch located at the top of Penny's Hill on Teignmouth Road. After a season the club joined the East Devon League and moved into a new home at the Recreation Ground, for the following four years. In 1904 Torquay Athletic Rugby Club left their Plainmoor home, with United's local rivals Ellacombe moving in. Athletic signed a lease on the Recreation Ground, with United becoming homeless.
After moving back into their original home for a spell, the club moved once again. This time they shared with Torquay Cricket Club in Cricketfield Road. In 1910 the club merged with Ellacombe to form Torquay Town FC and moved into Plainmoor with the team playing in the Plymouth & District League and sharing their home with rivals Babbacombe FC.
After rivals Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle were elected into the newly formed Football League Third Division in 1920, a campaign started up in Torquay for Babbacome and Town to merge to form a club to compete with their neighbours. A year later this happened with the new club reverting to the old name of Torquay United.
The club gained entry into the Western League and then the Southern League a year later. They won the Western Division title in 1926-27 and then gained promotion to the Football League after Aberdare Athletic lost in the re-election battle. A new grandstand was erected to celebrate the achievement, which was purchased from Buckfastleigh Racecourse. The club colours were also changed from light and dark blue to black and white stripes.
Up to World War Two, United struggled on and off the pitch with financial worries and poor results and having to stand for re-election. The goals of Sammy Collins gave the fans some joy in peacetime, and in 1954 the club colours were changed to yellow and blue to reflect the towns image of sun, sand and sea. The change brought luck as the next season United defeated Cambridge United, Blyth Spartans and Leeds United to set up a fourth round tie at home to Huddersfield Town. A gate of 21,908 crammed into Plainmoor as the visitors ended the dream with a 1-0 win.
After a near miss on promotion the following season, they returned to type and were placed in Division Four when the league was re-organised in 1958. The 1959-60 season saw Torquay's first League promotion as they went up in third place under long serving manager Eric Webber. Sadly they were relegated back to Division Four in May 1962.
The 1964-65 season saw another fine FA Cup run. The goals of Robin Stubbs had enthused the side and they reached the third round, only to go out after a replay to a fine Tottenham Hotspur side after a 3-3 draw at Plainmoor. At the end of the season Webber was dismissed to be replaced by the Weymouth boss Frank O'Farrell. In his first season he led the side to promotion and then used his contacts at his previous club West Ham United to sign John Bond and Ken Brown.
The 1967-68 season saw United come very close to winning promotion to Division Two, but they fell away at the end of the season. The club had a major consolation when their fans were voted 'The Best Behaved Supporters in the League'. In December 1968 O'Farrell left to become manager of Leicester City and Stubbs was sold soon after. Torquay were relegated back to the League's basement at the end of the 1971-72 campaign.
Allan Brown, Jack Edwards and then Malcolm Musgrove held the managerial reigns before O'Farrell made a return fresh from appointments abroad and at Manchester United. He soon moved upstairs with Mike Green taking over team affairs. Colin Lee made an impact up front and was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £60,000. For several seasons 'The Gulls' ended around mid table with Bruce Rioch arriving as manager during the 1982-83 season. He departed after an incident with star player Colin Anderson.
In February 1984, the former Chelsea hero Dave Webb bought the club. After a decent first season they had to apply for re-election for the first time since 1928 after ending bottom of the pile at the end of the next campaign. A 'suspicious' fire also badly damaged the Main Stand. Things didn't improve as they finished bottom once more. The locals were not amused with the actions at the club, even though United were not voted out of the league. This was in a period when United would play several home games on a Saturday night.
The 1986-97 saw automatic relegation to the Conference introduced. In their final game United were losing at home to Crewe with seconds remaining, when they needed a draw to survive. Owing to the volatile nature of the day and previous games, police lined the pitch to keep supporters off. A police dog bit centre back Jim McNicol when he got close while playing, and in the time added on for the injury Paul Dobson snatched the invaluable goal to keep the club in the League.
As a consequence of visiting marauding supporters creating havoc, United decided to try a season of allowing only home supporters into games at Plainmoor and creating a members only system.
The new season saw Cyril Knowles appointed as manager to install a brighter future for the club. They missed out on promotion in the play offs to Swansea City, but beat Tottenham in the first leg of a League Cup tie. Sixteen year old Lee Sharpe was introduced to the team before being sold to Manchester United for £180,000. In May 1989 United played at Wembley for the first time, where they went down 4-1 to Bolton Wanderers in the Football League Trophy.
Webb moved on in May 1990, to be replaced by Mike Bateson who had made his fortune selling double glazing in Devon and who enjoyed playing the ventriloquist to his dummy Algernon. By now Knowles had moved on and Bateson soon sacked his replacement. Former player John Impey took over and led the team to promotion following a Play Off Final victory on penalties over Blackpool at Wembley.
However Impey didn't last long and other managers came and went with regularity as United found themselves back in the bottom tier before missing out in the play offs under Don O'Riordon. Unfortunately the form didn't last as United survived on a tight budget. The team finished bottom of the table at the end of the 1995-96 season, but were reprieved from relegation as the champions of the Confernce, Stevenage Borough, failed with their ground grading. Eddie May who had overseen the poor finish was dismissed to be replaced by Kevin Hodges.
The 1997-98 season ended in defeat at Wembley, when after an emphatic play off victory over Scarborough, Colchester United beat The Gulls in the final, in spite of the quality of Rodney Jack. Hodges took the Plymouth Argyle managers job, with former player Wes Saunders arriving in his place. In typical fashion the relative success lasted just one season before a battle with relegation came along. They survived that and improved the next campaign, but Saunders was replaced by Colin Lee in March 2001 with Torquay sat bottom on the table. They won the final game of the season 3-2 at Underhill to send their hosts Barnet into the Conference.
Leeand then Roy McFarland had spells in charge before Leroy Rosenior took over and led the team to automatic promotion at the end of the 2003-04 season. The team's spell in their higher grade lasted just one season and ended in relegation. Rosenior, John Cornforth and then Ian Atkins all had spells in charge the following season as United narrowly avoided relegation once more.
The 2006-07 season was a disaster on and off the pitch. Three managers tried their luck without any success. Keith Curle was in charge of team affairs, with Colin Lee overseeing things as United were relegated to the Conference. Meanwhile off the pitch Bateson sold the club to Chris Roberts consortium, only for him to resign after complaints about his actions. Local hotel owner Keith Richardson stepped in, but Bateson seized back control after Roberts company failed to pay their installments for Bateson's shares in March.
The chaos continued at the seasons end as Bateson stepped aside from his role as Chairman for Marvyn Benney to take over. Curle and Lee departed. Rosenior was appointed and sacked within the same day before a new consortium bought the club and appointed Alex Rowe as Chairman. Former United player Paul Buckle was appointed as the new manager.
The 2007-08 season saw Torquay go out in the Conference play off semi finals to fierce rivals Exeter City, before losing in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley to Ebbsfleet United. However, the club dusted itself down and returned to Wembley twelve months later, this time going home victorious after defeating Cambridge United in the Play Off Final to regain their place in the Football League thanks to goals from Chris Hargreaves and Tim Stills.
After a moderate 2009-10 league season but a run to the third round of the FA Cup they improved the following campaign to reach the semi finals of the play offs where The Gulls lost out to Shrewsbury Town. Torquay did reach the fourth round of the FA Cup equalling their previous record. They went out to Crawley Town at Plainmoor and then agonised as their victors were drawn away to Manchester United in the next round.
Buckle resigned at the end of the season to move to Bristol Rovers, with Martin Ling coming in to take his place. Once again they ended the season losing out in the play offs, this time to Cheltenham Town. All this went on while a brand new Main Stand was erected to replace the old wooden structure. Ling and his side started the 2012-13 season well but he fell ill and form dipped in his absence. The board decided to replace him towards the end of the season with Alan Knill as the side secured its status once more.
Torquay United will play in Football League Two in the 2013-14 season.
Torquay United v Scarborough - Postponed (Friday 22nd February 1991)
For some reason best known to the Football League the computer had decided that Scarborough should travel to its furthest away game in the middle of winter. United decided that Friday night football worked better for them, rather than the traditional Saturday afternoon. They had tried Saturday nights in the past. I had the week off work and got talked into making the journey south.
The idea was to stay over and enjoy some nightlife over the weekend. I assembled at Keith Crowe's Trafalgar Cafe with fellow passengers Kev Laing, Dave Johnson, Gary Sweeting and our driver Andy Taylor. The weather was poor and the forecasts not very promising in Devon, but a phone call down to Torquay told us that the game was definitely on.
We set off in the days before mobile phones and the Internet, having to stop every hundred miles or so to make sure that the continuous driving rain hadn't put pay to the fixture. On we continued. It was still on when we left Gordano services near to Bristol. We found our hotel for the night and were just getting ready to go out when the local news broke it to us that the game was off!
While we weren't impressed, there was an inevitability about the situation. We still went up to the ground and had a beer in the clubhouse, with sympathetic locals. We even asked if there was any chance of playing it the next afternoon at 3pm as the weather was forecast to improve, but it was not possible. Instead we headed down town and had a big night out, even bumping into some of the United players and having a drink with them.
The next morning we decided that we would head home via the First Division clash between Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa and then head to Shepshed, our old favourite of the time for a few pints. On the way we went back up the hill to Plainmoor to have a look around and buy a programme from the postponed game.
Plainmoor was a small venue. The clubhouse end had the small Mini Stand in front of it with bench seating with hard flat standing either side. The old Main Stand ran down two thirds of the right hand touchline with a small terraced paddock in front of it. A covered terrace called the Popular Stand ran a similar distance opposite, with the far end being taken up with a small open terrace, which was primarily used for away supporters.
I wrote to United's Chairman Mike Bateson after the game thanking him for their hospitality and our dismay at the postponement. In a lovely touch he told me to let him know the names of any fans who had made the journey and who would be returning when the match was rescheduled. He promised free admission to the game to them.
Torquay United 2 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 7th May 1994) Division Three (att: 3,470)
Boro were enjoying a big resurgence under new manager Steve Wicks who had taken over around the turn of the year and had led the team away from the threat of relegation to one where the play offs were an outside hope for a short while. Chairman John Russell was also extremely popular at the time, especially after Geoffrey Richmond's reign and a short spell of Dave Simpson. Things were looking up.
The Supporters Club decided to run two coaches down to Devon for the final game of the season with a couple of nights in a hotel thrown in. As a treat I took my Mum and Dad. The weather was glorious as we set off on our mini holiday south. The fans were split among three hotels on arrival. Most of my regular travelling companions were with me at our digs on Avenue Road, and I shared with Carl Ellis.
After a lively Friday night out, while watching out for the concern of Burnley fans visiting before their game at Exeter, we went for a walk early on match day. The plan was to find something to do so that we weren't drinking all day. However, the best laid plans often go wrong, especially when there's plenty of lads away for the weekend. We entered the Bull & Bush mob handed, much to the surprise of the young bar man and didn't leave until the coach arrived to take us to Plainmoor.
There was time for a drink in Boots & Laces bar at the home end, not that we needed any more before we entered the ground at the far end turnstiles.
Plainmoor had changed since my previous call. The Mini Stand had been replaced by a much larger all seated Family Stand. The Popular Stand was in the process of being demolished so was out of bounds. As a consequence, the home fans were also given the open terrace behind the goal. Boro fans were given a couple of blocks of the Main Stand and the terracing in front and to the side. An impressive turn out of around two hundred had made the journey.
Torquay were getting ready for the play offs the following week against Preston, whereas the Seadogs looked like they were already on their holidays. They put in a limp performance with the woeful on loan goalkeeper Simon Sheppard not helping matters. There was only going to be one winner.
At full time the visiting players hung around to applaud us and they threw their shirts into our section. I ended up with Simon Thompson's number three top. We returned to the hotel for a rest for an hour or so before heading out once more. It was another top night out, even if some Seadogs were showing the signs of the day. We went back to our hotel where the kind landlord allowed one or two lads in from another place as their accommodation didn't have a bar and Torquay had a policy of all night clubs closing at 1am.
I was not brilliant the next day and seemed somewhat dehydrated. We all went for a walk down around the harbour and found a pub for lunch. The landlord had put his last barrel on at half price and some of the boys helped him out. He had earned his money, keeping the bar open and then having to get up to cook breakfasts. He deserved all the money he made.
We set off back home at 2pm having had a brilliant time, which everyone enjoyed. It was so good for me to see my Mum and dad have so much fun and see my travelling pals in such good light. We got back in time for a last few drinks in the Trafalgar to round off a fantastic weekend.
A Narrow Escape
The season afterwards I arranged the mini bus to revisit for the away match. It was around late February or early March but I was really suffering with flu and had to stay off work. In the end I handed over responsibility to Crusher and Bunner and I stayed at home.
I got up and went downstairs to watch Football Focus, only for news to break that the match was off. I felt terrible for the lads, as did my Mum who was sat with me. How little I knew.
The boys had also heard the news when near Exeter. They turned around and were considering another game to visit, when someone spotted something in the paper and asked how far they were from Minehead? To cut a long story short (I've heard snippets on many happy occasions later when the beer has flowed) they ended up at a 70's weekend at Butlins and ended up having the best time away al season in a trip that has become Boro folk law. They even thanked the team a week later and sent them a postcard from Minehead which had lifted morale at training that week.
Plainmoor Since My Visits
The Popular Stand was replaced with a brand new covered terrace in readiness for the 1994-95 season. A smallish covered terrace was constructed where the open terrace once stood went up for the 2000-01 season. Finally a brand new stand replaced the old wooden construction. It was named Bristow's Bench after a late former director and opened in August 2012.
The images on this page have been taken from the Internet as I didn't have a camera on either of my visits.