An original, comprehensive and thoroughly researched account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.Important copyright conditions:
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THE HISTORY OF ARGYLE
An original account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day
This is a printed representation of one chapter of GoS's History of Argyle (www.greensonscreen.co.uk/argylehistorymenu.asp), provided for ease of reading and personal retention. Inevitably it lacks links to associated pages, including match and player records, and its layout has been simplified to allow page breaks. Note also that Greens on Screen's online History of Argyle will be updated and new material added from time to time.
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Chapter 3: 1895-1899
Rising from the Phoenix
With Argyle FC defunct, rugby grew from strength to strength in the three towns, but Argyle re-emerged and under the influence of Clarence Spooner, competed with Albion for the support of the sporting public.
Author: Roger Walters
Date: 19 Jun 2016
In this chapter: Jimmy Lynes ... 1895-96: the end of the Home Park Association Football Club ... Devon FA bring top flight football to Home Park ... 1896-97: Albion move to the Rectory Ground ... Albion - a professionally run club ... 1897-98: Argyle rise from the Phoenix ... Devon FA bring Corinthians & WBA to the Rectory ... 1898:99: Clarence Spooner takes the Argyle FC helm ... The struggle to compete against the Devon rugby boom ... Devon win England rugby championship for first time ... Argyle through to final of Devon Senior Cup for first time ... Growth and control of Devon FA ... Royal Welsh Fusiliers defeat Argyle in Devon Cup Final ... Argyle form a cricket club ... bibliography for this and other pre-1903 chapters
Jimmy Lynes with Lincoln City, 1896.
With Argyle now defunct, Jimmy Lynes had no club to join. Football Association rules had classified him as a 'professional' and, as such, this classification stood for one year from the deemed date. When the year was completed, he could apply to be re-instated as an 'amateur', a status that he had no intention of following; Jimmy Lynes made his living from football. In September 1896, he joined the St. James-the-Less club who now had Argyle’s former captain, Charlie Bawden on their committee. Lynes was proposed and accepted unanimously as a member of the club after a long discussion. Nevertheless, the St. James club was still worried about Lynes' status, so they contacted the Hon. Secretary of the English F.A., Frederick J. Wall, for advice. Mr. Wall advised the club that by registering Lynes as a player the club itself becomes ‘professional’. They did not want this because the club would not be able to play in the Devon Senior League and Cup competitions. The St. James committee resolved to endeavour to procure the instalment of Lynes as an amateur. As he made his living from sport, Lynes was not interested.
Jimmy Lynes decided he had no future in Devon football and, ever the opportunist, found legal professional employment at Football League Division Two club, Leicester Fosse for the 1895-96 season. Here, he made seven first team League appearances, scoring one goal. The following season Lynes moved to fellow Division Two club Lincoln City where he scored in the first two League matches. During the 1896-97 season, he made twenty-two first team appearances and scored six goals. Lincoln finished bottom of the League and Jimmy moved on to Halifax. He moved around the North Country playing football for Warrington and Bacup and professional cricket in the summer months until he eventually returned to play football for Liskeard again in 1904-05.
1895-96: THE END OF THE HOME PARK ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB
The previous season ended on a high for the Home Park Association Football Club; its introduction of professional League football to the South-West seemed successful but there was a problem. Securing a fixture against a well-known top-flight club required an agreed guaranteed sum with that club. Opponents were willing to make the long journey to Plymouth, even fitting in a fixture amongst their League programme, but it had proved to be too expensive in relation to crowd receipts for the Home Park Club. The cost had to take account of travel and hotel expenses of the visiting club who also negotiated to make a profit from the fixture. Alfred Richard Debnam was not prepared to cover the losses; he was having problems in his business.
Debnam had tendered successfully in 1889 to build a colossal Co-op Central Premises in Frankfort Street. After building work began the project was plagued with problems, the work force was unhappy and there were a number of strikes by the building workers. The first block opened in February 1894, but some people said the project would never be finished. Debnam had to deal with constant wrangling and resultant increased costs until the long delayed completion of the building in 1899. During 1896 Debnam reduced his shares in the Home Park Ground from 4,500 (£4,500) to 20 (£20). No other rich benefactor stepped in to take his place and the future of the Home Park ground was in jeopardy.
Starved of finance, the energy and purpose of the Home Park A.F.C. filtered away during the season. The team continued to be a mixture of civilian and forces personnel borrowed from other clubs, including known professional Henry Tonkiss. This meant they could not register players to take part in the Devon Senior League but somehow, against Devon F.A. rules, Home Park A.F.C. were allowed to take part in the Devon Senior Cup. There were protests and prolonged argument from the other clubs, but the Devon F.A. executive altered the interpretation of its rules to allow Home Park A.F.C. to take part. On the 1st April 1896 at Home Park, the Royal Berkshire Regiment unexpectedly knocked the club out of the Cup at the semi-final stage 3-1. The English F.A. dealt the final deathblow by bringing in strict rules in October 1896 that required the official sanctioning of fixture arrangements with unregistered assembled sides like Home Park A.F.C. This was their end.
DEVON F.A. BRING TOP FLIGHT FOOTBALL TO HOME PARK
The reason the Devon F.A were so accommodating towards the Home Park A.F.C. seems to be that ‘Jack’ Jaques was again wielding his influence. Devon morale was on a high as the County team had won the South West Counties Championship using players mostly involved with Home Park A.F.C. At the end of the season, the Devon F.A. stepped in to fill the Home Park A.F.C. void by arranging three important Devon County matches at Home Park.
The first was Devon County versus Sheffield United (Football League Division One), on 25th March 1897, which Devon lost 4-1, witnessed by 2,000 spectators. The game was notable for the 'gallery play' of Sheffield’s gargantuan goalkeeper Billy Foulkes who dribbled the ball from his goal to the halfway line, was robbed of the ball and had to scramble back to his proper position. The second match, refereed by Alfred Debnam (junior), was on the 11th April when the famous amateur club, the Corinthians who included England Internationals, defeated Devon 5-2. The gate was a less than expected 1,500 due to a counter attraction at Bladderly where the Albion Rugby Club had brought the equally famous Leicester “Tigers” to the district for the first time. A large crowd saw Albion win by a goal and 2 tries to 1 try (11-3 points). The final Devon County match at Home Park on 25th April was versus Middlesex (South East County Champions). Billed as deciding the “Champion County of England”, the match was won by the visitors, 2-1, before a large crowd.
Despite the sabotage hindrance of Albion, the Devon F.A. managed to make a small profit of around £20 from the three matches. Jaques became a founder and committee member of the Devon Referees Association in December 1896 and in 1897-98 was an official on the Devon F.A. executive.
1896-97: ALBION MOVE TO THE RECTORY GROUND
The Albion Rugby Football Club had begun negotiations in April 1896 to move back to Home Park for the 1896-97 season from the unsatisfactory Bladderly ground. They had also done so for the previous 1895-96 but were quoted an unacceptable £668 for one season’s tenancy. As no workable agreement with the Home Park Company transpired, a decision was made to build a new ground. The vicar of Stoke Damerel since 1894 was the Reverend Stewart Gordon Ponsonby who was a former Public School rugby player. He was influential in negotiating the lease of 4 acres of glebe land, Parsonage Field alongside Stonehouse Lake, with the Church of England Commissioners and the Right Honourable John Baron St. Levan. Ponsonby became President of the Albion Football Club.
Rev. Stewart Gordon Ponsonby, Albion Rugby Football Club
The Albion Football & Rectory Recreation Ground Company Limited was set up and its Articles of Association were registered on the 8th September 1896. The company had a nominal capital of £5,000 from 5,000 shares of £1 each. Similar to the Home Park story, only 2,000 shares were issued. The men behind it included Devonport builder and Councillor William Littleton, John Bright James, a timber and builders merchant, and Henry John Eastcott, a draughtsman whose home address at 98, Wilton Street became the registered office and he was Secretary. As a condition of use on Church land, no matches could be played on Good Friday.
So eager were Albion to get away from Bladderly that the unfinished Rectory ground prematurely opened on Saturday 3rd October 1896 for their top class match versus Swansea. The grandstand was still a skeleton so 600 chairs were brought in and placed in front of it. With the contractor’s materials still on site, planking had to be laid over the foot deep mud caused by the builder’s carts during wet weather, to protect the spectators from sinking into it. The turf had only been laid two days before on the 1st. In less than ideal conditions, a substantial crowd for its day of 6,000 saw the Rev. Ponsonby kick-off the match, which the Welshmen won by 21 points to nil, a record score ‘home’ defeat for Albion. On the same day at Home Park, a small crowd watched the Plymouth R.F.C. versus R.N.E. College local derby. By now Albion was so anti-Home Park they refused to bow to local demand for a match against Plymouth R.F.C. at Home Park, even for a specially donated cup to be presented to the winner. They also refused all requests to alter kick-off times to prevent clashes.
The Rectory was nearing completion on Saturday 17th October 1896 for the match against Llanelly (Llanelli) which resulted in another defeat. The enclosure was now railed and the grandstand’s 1,700 seats were in place. Dressing rooms with baths and showers were not opened under the grandstand until February 1897. Until then, players had to wash and change at the Terminus Hotel in Paradise Place and walk down to the ground with the crowd. Access to the Rectory was so poor it sometimes took over an hour of queuing to get into the ground, despite extra turnstiles being added. Numerous springs on the northern side were causing ground problems and extra drainage was put in to cope with the problem.
ALBION – A PROFESSIONALLY RUN CLUB
Albion were so impressed by Llanelly’s Welsh International Cliff Bowen that, within a week of him playing at the Rectory, a job was found for Bowen in Plymouth and he joined Albion. On approach by Albion, with a job in the offing, other top players from the North of England signed. The Albion move to the Rectory was a financial success; record crowd and receipts figures were broken. Top clubs from the North, Midlands and Wales were brought to the Rectory, and the club undertook a tour to South Wales. As the club’s profile grew, Albion’s amateur players had to take more and more time off work for training, express train travel and overnight stays in good hotels. As if they were professionals, their day-to-day jobs were not a hindrance. In March 1897, Charles Hall was sued for the non-payment of eleven bottles of champagne in May 1895, which he had ordered to be drunk from the Devon Senior Cup whilst celebrating with winners Albion. The amateur status Albion players were partaking in a seemingly professional life-style. This was at the time of the Northern Union (professional Rugby League) breakaway from the strictly amateur Rugby Union. The strong brotherhood that was building between South Western Rugby and that in the North of England and in Wales was causing great concern to the resolutely unmoveable Secretary of the England Rugby Union, Rowland Hill. Under pinning the social unity bond was money. Clubs from these districts made increasing amounts of profit from gate receipts in club matches against each other, which they did not make against clubs from London and the South East. Clubs like Albion were professionally run, and very well at that.
Since the demise of Argyle in 1894, sport nationally and locally had reached a boom expansion period, particularly for the working classes, in participation and expectation. Whilst the Home Park Association Football Club had become a victim of the Albion Rugby Club’s success, the standards necessary to create a successful professional Association football club in Plymouth had become known. The Western Evening Herald reported on 13th April 1897 that the Bristol South End club had decided not to be behind the times and had joined the ranks of professionalism. The club will change its name to Bristol City and apply to join the Southern League Division One.
1897-98: ARGYLE RISE FROM THE PHOENIX
Thirty-two months since the last match played under the ‘Argyle’ name, on Thursday 19th August 1897, the Western Evening Herald carried an advertisement: “Argyle Football Club (late Phoenix) require dates from senior teams – G. Hancock, jun., Secretary 27, Trafalgar-place, Stoke. Ground – Longbridge”.
Report of earliest known Phoenix F. C. match (“The Plymothian”, November 1895).
The Western Independent of Wednesday 15th September 1897 announced that “Phoenix have gone in; have sunk their identity in the endeavour to raise the old name of Argyll from the oblivion in which it has been sunk of late to a position it deserves by the light of other days. The “patronage” – whatever that may mean – of Messrs. Babb, Brittan, and Shilston have been secured. The officers are A. P. Fisher, captain; G. A. Rowse, sub-captain; W. Rowse, Treasurer; and G. Hancock, hon. Secretary. The old Argyll colours are to be worn”. Despite the spelling error made by the reporter, there is no doubt that this ‘new’ Argyle is the ‘old’ Argyle revived.
The Phoenix Football Club had formed in 1895. Socially the members were sons of higher working-class to lower middle-class trading families. Their club ‘home’ ground for 1895-96 and 96-97 was South Devon Park (South Devon Place) and its earliest known match was played on the 19th October 1895 versus Plymouth College. The club was one of the few clubs that ignored the increasing pressure from the Devon F.A. to affiliate, so Phoenix could only play friendly matches until finally giving in and affiliating during 1896-97, too late to join the Devon League. The club played only one official, non-friendly, match during its two-year existence, on Saturday 6th March 1897 in the Devon Senior Cup 1st Round. The Welsh Regiment defeated Phoenix 5-1 before a reported “large concourse of spectators, chiefly military” at South Devon Place.
The choice of the football club name ‘Phoenix’ has more than one possible origin. The sloop, H.M.S. Phoenix, was launched at Devonport Dockyard on the 25th April 1895; the chemist shop owning Netting family were involved with the club and the Phoenix was used as a sign for a chemist; or the club was named after Phoenix Wharf, which was being developed in 1895, or Phoenix Street or Place. There was a previous incarnation of Phoenix, not necessarily the same club, which lasted for one season, 1889-90, whose members included the two Argyle Football Club stalwarts Victor Prout and Charlie Bawden. Therefore, there were Argyle Connections.
The majority of the Argyle Football Club players used during 1897-98 had played for Phoenix in the previous season and some, such as the captain Archie Fisher, had played for the ‘old’ Argyle. In addition, for 1897-98 former Argyle players Victor Prout and Alfred Shilston were on the Argyle committee and Ernest Harry Babb was made President, whilst other former Argyle members Cornelius ‘C.C.’ Boolds, Francis Howard Grose, Clarence Newby Spooner, Alfred Dyer, George Holdstock and others are shown in supporting roles. The Secretary, George Hancock, resigned in September 1897 and was replaced by George Vaughan, who had been Argyle’s honorary Treasurer in the first 1886-87 season.
The 'Members Card' of the reformed Argyle Football Club shows many names from the original club. The printer, Sampson Caddy, was also Hon. Secretary of the Devon Football Association.
The first match played by the born again Argyle Football Club was at their Longbridge, Marsh Mills ground on Saturday 18th September 1897 versus Atlas (the Association football team of the Royal Naval Engineering College, Devonport). Argyle were 3-0 up by halftime and won 4-0. Reformed for the first time since February 1891, the Argyle Football Club Reserves, captained by Henry H. Jackson, played their first match at Marsh Mills on Saturday 9th October 1897, versus Torpoint Defiance, resulting in a 0-0 draw.
The Devon F.A. had decided at their Annual General Meeting that the Devon League would be run on similar lines to that of the English Football League. The old ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ terms for the League no longer applied, the League being Division One and Two. It was intended that at the end of the season the bottom two clubs from Division One would play the top two from Division Two ‘home’ and ‘away’ to decide who would be in the top division. Reformed Argyle went straight into Division One with nine other clubs. To enable a full 90 minutes of play and a transport connection back into Plymouth, Argyle arranged for a special train to run to Marsh Mills Station and a return to Millbay Station.
They also arranged on Wednesday 17th November 1897 their first social event, a “Smoking Concert” to take place at the Globe Hotel, which was within yards of the Borough Arms, where the club was formed in 1886. A report in the Western Independent, headed “The Argyle Smoker, Oh! What A Night”, says the resuscitation of Argyle had met with considerable success. The article explains, the idea of a ‘smoker’ is to sit around tables, order what you want to drink, sing songs in turn, smoke, rant, chew and swear.
This ‘Smoker’ not only announced to local football that Argyle were back, but it also introduced them for the first time to the man who was to mastermind and carry out Argyle’s entrance into the Southern League six years later. He was Sergeant-Major Frederick Hugh Windrum, visiting Plymouth with his Portsmouth Royal Artillery team who had earlier that day played the Worcester Regiment at Home Park. The evening was a macho, patriotic and bawdy affair during which the Hotel’s female staff were the subjects of male bravado and harassment. The Secretary of the Devon F.A., Sampson Caddy, was allegedly drunk, and George Vaughan, the Argyle Secretary, in welcoming the Portsmouth R.A. (one of the best teams in Southern England), announced to Windrum that Argyle would have beaten them that day. Rudely referred to as “Sergeant Wotsisname”, Windrum took the joke seriously and apologised for his team's apparent poor display. Vaughan reportedly “laffed up his sleeve”. Not an auspicious start to a winning relationship, but one that Windrum would remember!
Argyle began their Devon League Division One season well and despite a couple of consecutive defeats, they defeated the League leaders, Millbay Dye Works to join them at the top. This position was not maintained and Argyle eventually finishing about 4th out of the nine clubs who completed 1897-98. Every season all the Devon League matches failed to be completed and no final table was published. This was because those clubs that had no chance of winning the title did not attempt to play all their matches, and behind closed doors, the Devon F.A. deducted points or reversed results for various misdemeanours, so much so that it was impossible to keep track. The League tables printed in the newspapers had been compiled by journalists, rather than officially issued by the Devon F.A. In the Devon Senior Cup, Argyle were knocked out in the 1st Round, 3-1 by Plymouth club, Lifton on the 5th March 1898 at Plymstock.
DEVON F.A. BRING CORINTHIANS & W.B.A. TO THE RECTORY
The first Argyle player capped by the Devon County team for three and a half years was Frederick Willoughby on Wednesday 24th November 1897, in a South West Counties Championship match at the Rectory versus Gloucestershire. The match ended 4-2 in favour of the visitors. The Devon F.A., welcomed by the generosity of the Albion Rugby Club’s directors, used the Rectory for county matches from November 1896, forsaking the increasingly abandoned Home Park. Being the best ground in the South West was not enough. Later in the season the Argyle captain, Archie Fisher and Ernest Devonshire also played in the Devon County team.
The final two Devon games of the season, both played at the Rectory, were significant fixtures, but no current Argyle player was involved in either. The first, on Wednesday 13th April 1898 saw the return to Devon of the amateur Corinthians, who included six England Internationals in their line-up. Against all expectations, Devon led 1-0 at half time, the goal scored by former Argyle player Frank Conry. The Corinthians equalised in the second half and, it was said, could have won easily but allowed the 1-1 draw. Their founder and mentor, Devon born N. L. “Pa” Jackson, may have played a part in the result! The match ended prematurely when Devon player Albert Cole, from Tavistock, broke his leg.
Two weeks later, on Wednesday 27th April 1898, reality resumed when West Bromwich Albion, who had finished their season in Football League Division One in 7th place, defeated Devon 8-0. The Rectory crowd were greatly amused that W.B.A. passed the ball back to the goalkeeper who then threw the ball to his halfbacks. The Devon goalkeeper, Percy Buchan was impressed and adopted this type of play, and he became known for throwing the ball as far as the halfway line to players.
1898-99: CLARENCE SPOONER TAKES THE ARGYLE F.C. HELM
This was the season that Clarence Newby Spooner cemented his on-off involvement with the Argyle Football Club as this progressive Association football visionary was elected President. Since 1886, the club’s history could be described as ‘disappointingly mediocre’ but this was compensated for by some pleasing glimpses of sturdy potential, and the renown the ‘Argyle’ name achieved without winning any trophies. Clarence Spooner had appreciated and recognised this. He took the Argyle helm, intending to improve its standing and raise the club to a higher level. A miraculous change in fortune for Argyle had begun; with the club and Clarence Spooner together, all the necessary elements one by one fell into place. The recent acquaintance with Frederick Hugh Windrum of the Portsmouth Royal Artillery was to be of huge significance to Argyle, as will become apparent later. The Home Park Association Football Club potential had faded away for the return of Argyle and the availability of its future stage, Home Park, was in the making.
The Western Evening Herald of Thursday 25th August 1898 reported that there was to be a sale of seized Home Park property due to unpaid arrears of rates of over £77 to the Devonport authorities. It was intended to leave the property in situ but its ownership would transfer from the Debnam Trustees to new owners. The Home Park Company had determined to sell, and the place would be sold by tender or by auction. The crisis had long been anticipated. The ground was still in use by the Plymouth Rugby Football Club and the Plymouth Cycling Club but the revenue from them was not enough. The Whitsun 1898 race meeting of the Plymouth Cycling Club had attracted 6,000 to Home Park. Riders from all over the country took part, attempting to win the valuable prizes. On the 2nd September 1898, a general meeting of the Plymouth and Devonport Recreation Grounds Limited resolved that, by reason of the Companies liabilities, it could not continue business and that it should be wound up voluntarily. The appointed Liquidator was Frederick William Dawe who had been Secretary of the Plymouth Coffee House Company who owned the Borough Arms when Argyle were founded.
THE STRUGGLE TO COMPETE AGAINST THE DEVON RUGBY BOOM
Argyle’s first match with Clarence Spooner at the helm could not have been more difficult. It was against last season’s double Devon League and Cup winners 15th Company Royal Artillery (Efford), on the R.A. Ground at Marsh Mills on Saturday 17th September 1898. A special train took 200 persons from Plymouth to Marsh Mills Station to see the soldiers win the Devon League Division One match 4-1. This was the major Association match of the day whilst, on the same day at the Rectory, Albion attracted a now fairly average crowd of 6,000 for their 45 points to nil defeat of Bridgwater Albion and in Newton Abbot, a town with a population of less than 10,000, a crowd of 1,000 watched Newton R.F.C. play Plymouth R.F.C.
Following the breakaway of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Rugby Union clubs to form the Northern Union, Devon became the leading amateur rugby county in England and its status was booming. Devon were South West County Champions in 1892-93, 94-95, 95-96, 97-98, 98-99, 99-00, 1900-01, becoming County Champions of England for the first time in this 1898-99 season. As a result, there were an increasing number of locally based players called up into the International team, particularly from Albion, Plymouth R.F.C. and the R.N.E. College. Arguably, these three clubs made Plymouth and Devonport the leading Rugby Union towns in Great Britain for a number of seasons, into the 1900’s. This is what Association clubs like Argyle were competing against. There were only eight clubs in Devon League Division One and eleven in Division Two; Argyle were the only club to have teams in both.
Within a year of reforming, by default rather than achievement, Argyle were looked upon as Devon’s leading Association Football Club. As such, there were important player defections to Argyle from the club that had held this position for many years, Plymouth F.C. In October 1898 Plymouth F.C. players Percy Buchan, Cecil Hunt, and Stanley Vosper, all former Mannamead School pupils, defected to Argyle. Despite acquiring Devon’s best and most charismatic football figure, Percy Buchan, Argyle’s fortunes slid and by the end of October, they were bottom of the Devon League Division One.
The Three Grounds at Marsh Mills
This map dates from 1938 but the area was little changed. It shows the three 'Home' grounds used by the Argyle Football Club. The 'Football Field' at the top is the Marsh Mills ground used from October 1889 to March 1890. The 'Sports Ground', to the right, is probably the site of Saltram Park, Marsh Mills used from October 1891 to February 1892. On the south side of the straight road (Long Bridge) is the Longbridge, Marsh Mills ground used from October 1897. Occasionally in matches on this ground, the ball was kicked into the River Plym. Players caught the train to Marsh Mills Station, to the north of Tavistock Junction.
Argyle took a step up from the ordinary local Association football clubs by showing the Longbridge, Marsh Mills ground was theirs, not just rented and shared for a season. Before their ‘home’ match kick-off on Saturday 5th November 1898, the club was presented with a magnificent flagstaff and flag. This very significant event was a purposeful signal of future intent. There was much work to be done as the Devon Senior League match, that followed, was lost 5-1 to the 1st Battalion Worcester Regiment.
Statistically corrected version of Devon League Division One, Western Evening Herald, Tuesday 28th February 1899. Royal Welsh Fusiliers are League Champions.
Argyle defeated Plymouth F.C., in a rough match, 4-2 a week later for their first league win of the season, which lifted them off the bottom. Plymouth fielded Albion’s Welsh International rugby player Cliff Bowen as a forward. The reason why the rugby player was picked became obvious early on in the match; in revenge for defecting from the club, Percy Buchan, as he attempted to parry a high ball, was heavily bowled over by Bowen. Argyle continued to gel as a team and defeated the League leaders, 15th Company Royal Artillery, 1-0 on Saturday 17th December 1898. For the rest of the season the club won most of its matches though they were too far behind in the League to finish any higher than fifth, whilst the Argyle Reserves finished in the bottom half of Devon League Division Two which was won by the Barbican club, Green Waves.
DEVON WIN ENGLAND RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP FOR FIRST TIME
The Devon Senior and Junior Cup competitions began on completion of the Leagues but the greatest excitement at this time was the Devon County rugby team, the South West Counties Champions, making it through to the Final of the English Championship for the first time. Home Park came to good use for the Semi-Final on Wednesday 15th February 1899 as a crowd of over 10,000 watched Devon defeat Kent by 6 points to nil to become Champions of the South. The Final, versus the Champions of the North, Northumberland, was played at the Jesmond Ground, Newcastle on Saturday 8th April 1899. Devon became the England County Champions for the first time in beating Northumberland by a goal (5 points) to nil. Immense crowds in George Street, Plymouth and Fore Street, Devonport received the result with a tremendous outburst of loud cheering and jubilation. In the five matches leading up to the Final, Devon had not conceded a single point.
ARGYLE THROUGH TO FINAL OF DEVON SENIOR CUP FOR FIRST TIME
On the same day as Devon won the Rugby Championship, Argyle made it through to the Devon Senior Cup Final for the first time. On the Artillery ground at Marsh Mills they had defeated another Plymouth club, Lifton, 1-0 in the Semi-Final, watched by a crowd of up to 2,000; there had been only 4,000 at the Jesmond Ground in Newcastle for the County Rugby Final. There was some crowd trouble caused by Lifton supporters after the match but the tall figure of the Argyle goalkeeper, Percy Buchan, put a stop to it. The Western Independent reported, “…Percy the great has a fair sized fist, a good heart, and a long arm. It is well to keep out of the reach of it”. In the 1st Round, Argyle had beaten Exeter Training College 6-2 in Exeter, and in the 2nd Round defeated Tavistock at Marsh Mills 3-0. Argyle, the form team of the moment, were described as “brilliant and dashing”. Playing for Tavistock was Cole, the same player who had broken his leg whilst playing for Devon against the Corinthians in April 1898. As the recipient of money collected to support him whilst he could not work, Cole should have been registered as a ‘professional’, according to Football Association rules, but had not. Therefore, if they had lost, Argyle, on protest would have gone through anyway. The Argyle Reserves had won through to the 3rd Round of the Junior Cup where Newton Y.M.C.A., on the Teign Marshes, knocked them out of the competition 4 goals to 3.
The earliest discovered photograph of the Argyle Football Club, almost certainly taken in the Spring of 1899 and most likely on the day of the Devon Senior Cup Semi-Final v. Lifton on 8th April 1899 at the Royal Artillery ground, Marsh Mills.
GROWTH AND CONTROL OF DEVON F.A.
Despite the success of Devon County rugby, there was a decline of support in Exeter, Barnstaple, and the Torbay area because the three top Devonport/Plymouth clubs, namely Albion, Plymouth R.F.C., and the Royal Naval Engineering College (Keyham), were dominating their clubs. This decline lead to a new growth of Association football in those areas which had resulted in the entrance of Newton Y.M.C.A. (Newton Abbot) and All Saints (Exmouth) into the Junior Cup, and three Exeter clubs (Exeter United, Exeter Training College, and Exeter Royal Artillery) in the Senior Cup. This growth was a brewing problem for the Devon F.A., which had always been Plymouth dominated. These new areas wanted to have participation and influence in the running of the sport and when Sergeant Denning (Exeter) and Charles Pappin (Newton Abbot) were elected onto the five-man Devon Executive for 1899-00, there were worries that Plymouth could lose control. In addition, the Devon F.A. Chairman, Herbert B. Spencer, was from Tavistock, so his loyalty to Plymouth was suspect. The ‘Eastern’ area had only five clubs affiliated clubs whilst the Plymouth ‘Western’ area contained between thirty to forty clubs.
The Devon County Association team finished off its season by again bringing the famous Corinthians to the Rectory for a match on Wednesday 5th April 1899. There were four Argyle players (Percy Buchan, Charles H. Shute, Frank Derry and Hugh E. Rose) in the side against the visitors who included five Internationals. Sensationally Devon defeated the Corinthians 4 goals to 1. Perhaps the famous amateur club players were tired on their Easter Tour, having played four matches in five days, winning 2-1 versus Southampton on the 1st April, 3-2 versus Nottingham Forest on the 2nd April, and losing 4-3 at Bristol City on the 4th April. As there were no ‘Eastern’ area players in the Devon team, ‘Lancashire Lad’, the reporter on Exeter’s ‘Devon Evening Express’ suggested that the Corinthians “allowed” Devon to win so that a match would be arranged for next season. Replying in the Western Independent ‘Verite’ was outraged, calling Lancashire Lad “pitiably ignorant” and a “cad” for “contemptible slander” by suggesting the gentlemen Corinthians did not play to win. The journalistic sporting rivalry between Plymouth and Exeter was already in place, well before the advent of professional League football.
ROYAL WELSH FUSILIERS DEFEAT ARGYLE IN DEVON CUP FINAL
Two weeks before the Cup Final, the soldiers started to prepare for the match. They were training hotly for the game by going out running every day and carrying out various exercises. The working men of Argyle, restricted in leisure time, underwent special training conducted by Clarence Spooner. The season was wound up on Saturday 22nd April 1899 as 7,000 gathered at the Rectory to see the Senior Cup Final, which was to be followed by the Junior Cup Final between Green Waves and Oreston Rovers. Soldiers in their red coats and blue jackets freely mixed with the sober clothing of the civilians whilst the windows of the Military Hospital that over looked the Rectory ground were fully occupied. In bright sunshine, the Welsh entered the pitch first and were cordially welcomed, followed by Argyle who were greeted by a storm of enthusiasm, which testified the crowd wanted a civilian winner, the last time being 1891-92. The match kicked-off at 3 o’clock by Argyle, into the sun. They attacked from the off, but it was evident Argyle were missing their injured goal-maker winger Bruce Spooner, youngest brother of Clarence Spooner. The Welsh Fusiliers, in repost, crashed the ball against the Argyle crossbar and eventually put the ball in the net only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Argyle had their chances as, with remarkable rapidity, the ball went from end to end. Despite the vigour, there was an utter absence of foul play. The great pace could not last and the game slowed as half time approached. Argyle began to tire which the Fusiliers capitalised on and the ball found its way past Buchan for the first time; immediately the referee blew to end the half, thus the soldiers were leading 1-0.
The second half was not so lively and play was scrappy with Argyle becoming spasmodic, lacking finish. Against the run of play Argyle were awarded a penalty, which Rose planked into the net to equalise amidst the wildest scenes of enthusiasm. Instantly Argyle became dangerous but whilst temporarily down to ten men, due to Rose being injured, the Fusiliers went ahead again with a long dropping shot. Argyle tried to equalise but tiredness nullified their efforts as the Fusiliers sat on their 2-1 lead and held their own to the end. The 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers had won the Devon Senior Cup as well as the League (receiving the Harrison Cup, donated in 1896 by the Liberal M.P. for Plymouth Charles Harrison). Fast rising club, Green Waves won the Devon Junior Cup that followed, 5-1. They had also completed the double and would be playing Argyle in the First Division next season. The Devon F.A. were overjoyed at receiving record receipts, for them, of over £100 which relieved their anxieties and gave them “more freedom in their endeavours to popularise the game in the future” said the Western Evening Herald (Tuesday 25th April 1899).
ARGYLE FORM A CRICKET CLUB
Argyle Cricket Club's first match, played on Saturday 6th May 1899
Some of the local football clubs, such as Albion, Plymouth F.C., and R.N.E. College Students had cricket clubs associated with them. In 1887, after their first football season, Argyle did play a handful of cricket matches but did not form a cricket branch until 1899. Argyle’s goalkeeper Percy Buchan, a dashing all-round sportsman in the C. B. Fry tradition, was elected captain of the First XI and, just as there was in Association football, there was a Reserve XI. The first match played was on Saturday 6th May 1899 at South Devon Place versus the Plymouth Cricket Club, who employed a professional from the Lord’s staff. Also playing for Plymouth were former Argyle football players Victor Prout and Charles Edward Brittan. Argyle included the President, Clarence Spooner and the Argyle Football Club Secretary, Tom Floyd; some of the XI had not played Association football for them. A superb century by Buchan enabled Argyle to easily overhaul the Plymouth innings.
A week later Argyle won again; Buchan was top scorer with 47 to defeat the Naval Barracks. In the next match on Saturday 20th May, Argyle obtained crushing revenge on their Devon Senior Cup football conquerors, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, at Brickfields. The soldiers were bowled out for 39 runs, and then Argyle batted to time, scoring 232 for 7 with Buchan on 110 not out. It was the custom to carry on batting even when the match was won. On Saturday 10th June 1899 at the Rectory, Argyle played Albion. They batted first, scoring 163, with Buchan top scorer on 49. Whilst Albion were batting, the crowd became very demonstrative against the Argyle umpire, Clarence Spooner, and Percy Buchan threatened to withdraw his team. At close of play Albion were 46 for 3.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THIS AND OTHER PRE-1903 CHAPTERS
Click here for a full list of references.
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