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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 1: 1886-1890
In the Beginning
An in-depth account of Argyle Football Club's formation and early years; the first of ten extraordinary chapters that tell the story of the amateur club.
Author: Roger Walters
Date: 19 Jun 2016
In this chapter: The origin of Association Football in Plymouth ... the founders of Argyle meet up ... the formation and naming of the Argyle Football Club ... the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders myth ... 1886-87: the first season ... 1887-88: Argyle take part in the founding of the Devon F.A. ... 1888-89: 'home' ground at Mount Gould ... the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders connection ... Argyle founder William Hampton Pethybridge ... 1889-90: Argyle move to Marsh Mills, Grose leaves the club ... the first Devon Association Cup competition ... the serious threat of injury to players ... bibliography for this and other pre-1903 chapters
THE ORIGIN OF ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL IN PLYMOUTH
When the Argyle Football Club was formed in 1886, Association football was very much in its infancy in Devon and Cornwall, with both counties dominated by rugby. Football, in its broadest sense, had begun in the South West by the late 1860s; amongst the earliest was at Blundell’s School, Tiverton (around 1868). In 1869, Mannamead School played Plymouth Grammar School in a 16 a-side version and in 1874, West Buckland School in Devon played rugby to their own vague rules where, when playing outsiders, numbers taking part were restricted, but any number, however large, could take part in internal matches. Young schoolmasters from outside the South West, who had played the sport during their own school days and at the Universities, introduced football to Devon and Cornwall’s middle-class schools. Public school teams often included at least one schoolmaster in the team. Old boys of the local public schools founded the first clubs: Tiverton F.C. (circa 1868) and Plymouth F.C. (circa 1869). This was before the split of rugby from the Football Association and the founding of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. Generally, in Devon and Cornwall, middle-class public schools played their own version of football and in time aligned almost totally with the Rugby football code.
The exception grew in Plymouth where, by 1880, Plymouth Grammar School, Mannamead School, The Hoe Grammar School and Plymouth College opted for the Association code. The reason for this was partly due to the influence of a large local Army presence of stationed officers and ranks from up-country Association football strongholds, and this code had become dominant over rugby in that Force. At the same time, the Royal Navy generally preferred the Rugby code and, via the Dockyard, Devonport spawned mostly rugby clubs, including its most famous, the Albion Football Club. It was not until years later that Albion tagged on ‘Devonport’ or ‘Devon’ to its name as it moved on from being a mere local Devonport Park club. Association football was favoured in the smallest of ‘The Three Towns’, (East) Stonehouse.
Left: Mannamead School Magazine, November 1885
Right: Association football at Dunheved College, Launceston, circa 1884
Plymouth College, known as Plymouth High School until November 1883, moved to its Ford Park site in 1880. The sports field was a lot bigger then than it is now. Charles Robert Serpell describes early football on Ford Park in his booklet ‘Plymouth College – An Historical Sketch’. He writes, “How many boys would take part in one game of (Association) football was not prescribed by any law. Youngsters were told off to follow in a sort of queue some more or less good natured senior and snatch a kick whenever they had a chance”. Local public school Association football not only involved kicking the ball, but also the shins (known as hacking); the game was essentially still a physical ‘rushing’ game derived from football’s early mass participation roots. From the beginning of the 1880s the Association football playing teams of Plymouth stopped fielding more than 11 players and attempted to rid the game of its brutal side. The reduced line-ups consisted of 6 forwards, 2 half-backs, 2 full-backs and a goalkeeper. The emphasis was on attacking individual play rather than teamwork. For the 1885-86 season, the leading local exponents, Plymouth F.C., Mannamead School and Plymouth College, adopted the usual accepted formation of 5-3-2, which was to become the norm for years to come.
Over the final three decades of the 19th Century the working classes were gradually gaining a half day off from work, either a Saturday or Wednesday afternoon. By the mid 1870s, Dockyard employees became free from 1.20 p.m. on Saturdays. In 1886, most Solicitors offices and banks had closed by 2.00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. The ‘Shop Hours Regulation Act’ of 1886 heralded a movement to gain early closing of shops on Wednesdays. The Plymouth Incorporated Mercantile Association, whose members included many of the leading businessmen of the retail trade, lobbied for early closing at 1 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. In 1897 they boasted that Plymouth occupied the proud position of “being the best Early Closing Town in the Kingdom”. Whilst many of the working classes were gaining leisure time, there was no early explosion of interest in Association football in Plymouth, in what locally was a middle-class sport. The sport had spread out of Plymouth via the railway, which the schools used for fixtures against other middle-class schools in Newton Abbot, Tavistock, Liskeard, and Dunheved College, Launceston.
THE FOUNDERS OF ARGYLE MEET UP
Dunheved College, Launceston in 1886
When Argyle formed in 1886, their original members were from middle-class schools. During the summer months of 1886, Francis Howard Grose, after leaving Dunheved College, Launceston in April, came to Plymouth to learn his profession in architecture and engineering. Here he met up with his friend and colleague William Hampton Pethybridge, who had left for Plymouth in 1884 to study Law with a firm of solicitors. Both had been pupils at Dunheved College but school records show Pethybridge finished his school education in 1882, before Grose became a pupil; they had met later on the football and cricket field.
Grose played for the College, being described in the College magazine of 1883 as “a fairly good forward, but is rather slow and should pass more”. In the following year, he has gone into defence with the improved comment “very useful at back”. Pethybridge, though short in stature, was a good dribbler of the ball, playing on the wing for Launceston (Town) F.C. in season 1882-83 and captained the club 1883-84. The ‘Town’ club regularly played matches against Dunheved College. Pethybridge was born in Launceston in 1865; his father owned a tannery, which in 1871, employed 11 persons, and the family had 2 servants. The Pethybridge ancestors were originally a Devon farming family from Manaton on the eastern side of Dartmoor. There is a hamlet called Pethybridge close to neighbouring Lustleigh. Howard (as he preferred to be known) Grose was born in St. Kew, Cornwall, circa 1870 to a farmer of 600 acres, at Penpont, Amble, 2 miles north-east of Wadebridge. In 1871, his father, Wesley, employed 15 persons, and 6 domestic servants are listed resident at Penpont.
On meeting up in Plymouth they shared ‘digs’ in Radnor Place where they discussed at length which suitable club they could join to continue playing their favourite sport. The only suitable middle-class club at the time was Plymouth F.C. whose members were old boys from Plymouth’s middle-class schools. The Cornishmen were not invited to join, so William Hampton Pethybridge suggested they form their own club by recruiting old boys from the local Public Schools and Colleges. He knew from his two years in Plymouth several promising young men of their class in study or business in Plymouth. Howard Grose also knew suitable Plymouth players from the recent school fixtures he had played in for Dunheved College. They resolved to approach these young men for their thoughts on the subject. The majority were keenly interested, so Pethybridge and Grose arranged for the first conference to take place in their Radnor Place rooms. Further meetings were held at the homes of Alfred Dyer in Hill Park Crescent, Cornelius ‘C. C.’ Boolds at Seaview House, Lipson Road, and Ernest Harry Babb at 12, Portland Square, Plymouth. Lively discussions took place, including the choice of club colours, the favoured combination being green and black (hardly surprising as both leading local exponents, Plymouth F.C. and Mannamead School, wore green jerseys). Argyle Terrace was not the venue for any of the meetings; E. H. Babb re-iterated this in a letter written to the Western Morning News in 1934.
THE FORMATION AND NAMING OF THE ARGYLE FOOTBALL CLUB
Now assured their venture would go ahead the new group of friends arranged a meeting to form the new Association football club, which was held at the Borough Arms Coffee Tavern at 35, Bedford Street, Plymouth. The luxuriously furnished coffee tavern was designed to outdo the best public houses and taverns in the encouragement of temperance. Besides the saloon on the ground floor, it had rooms above that could be hired out and this is where Argyle were formed. Pethybridge, as a Wesleyan Methodist, was a lifelong tea-totaller and non-smoker, and so probably was Grose as Dunheved College was for the sons of Wesleyan Methodists.
Plymouth Coffee House Company, Borough Arms, Bedford Street, Plymouth in 1892, six years after the Argyle Football Club was formed here.
In modern Plymouth, the site of the Borough Arms lies within the footprint of House of Fraser (Dingles as was), on the south side of the escalators (the next time you walk through men's clothing, spare a thought for Argyle's pioneers). The exact date of the meeting is not recorded but was probably the 1st, 2nd, or the 3rd September 1886. The motion to form a club was carried and the matter of the club name was discussed from which two suggestions came to the fore, ‘Pickwick’ and ‘Argyle’. Thankfully, those present, almost unanimously, decided the new club to be the ‘Argyle Football Club’ as the name was of “local application” whereas the other, coming from a Charles Dickens novel, was not.
By “local application”, this must mean Argyle Terrace, which was local to the prospective members. Though none are known to have lived in Argyle Terrace, attending was Charles Phillips, who was elected to the committee and became Argyle secretary for 1887-88, and he lived across the road at 7, Stafford Terrace. Another prominent Argyle Football member C. C. Boolds, whose residence had been used for a pre-Argyle formation meeting, had a Devonport born Uncle who, in the 1881 Census, lived in Argyle Street, Tynemouth, Northumberland. A lesser-known Argyle F.C. member in 1886 was a J. Reed who, a much later letter printed in the Western Morning News in 1937 claimed, was the originator of the name. This could be correct because at the time a builder named John Reed was living close by in Kirkby Place (1887) and Restormel Terrace (1889). Perhaps he built Argyle Terrace? Within six years of formation, nobody could remember the origin of the Argyle name because it was just plucked out of the air and chosen because it was suitably up-market for the club members social standing, as was middle-class Argyle Terrace; there was no deep reason. What is unusual today is that Plymouth Argyle held onto their original local amateur club name whilst most of today’s big town clubs have not. The fascination in the name is because of the geographically diverse juxtaposition of the two words ‘Plymouth’ and ‘Argyle’ and it seems to demand a specific explanation such as the ‘Argyll Regiment’ connection. From 1886 to 1903 when the name was just ‘Argyle’, there was no juxtaposition demanding explanation.
One hundred years after the Argyle Football Club formation, Argyle Terrace in 1986
The street theme for choosing football club names was prominent in The Three Towns at this time and other local clubs formed around the same time included street orientated Brunswick Rovers, Catherine Rovers, Clarence, Cobourg, Cumberland, Haddington Road, Holborn, Melbourne, Melville, Osborne, Russell, Seymour, Windsor, Wyndham. The name ‘Argyle’ was a popular name for a street or business and the 1881 Census lists many examples across Great Britain. The reason for this stems from Queen Victoria’s fascination for the Highlands of Scotland, which spread into a national interest that became termed as ‘Highland Fever’ or ‘Tartanitis’. From 1880 to 1882 Argyle Terrace, Mutley was under construction; it did not become part of Sutherland Road until later. In the 1881 Census, numbers 1 to 4 were occupied with two more being built; eventually it was completed as numbers 1 to 9. Middle-class persons of the same origins as the new Argyle Football Club members inhabited the substantial terrace houses, with upper rooms for servants. The name Argyle is the anglicised version of the Gaelic language Earra-Ghaidheal meaning the "East Land of the Gael" which refers to the area of Scotland they settled, from the 5th century, after sailing over from Ireland. The Latin translation was Ergadia or Argathelia. The Argyle spelling has existed for many centuries whilst Argyll is a much later alteration made by the 'Duke of Argyll', whose family title was formerly the 'Earl of Argyle'. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regiment took its spelling from the Duke. It was sometimes confusingly cross-referenced but the club name has never been the Argyll Football Club or later Plymouth Argyll in the same manner as the regimental spelling.
THE ARGYLL & SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS MYTH
The first suggestion that the Argyle Football Club name derived from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders was made in 1934, forty-eight years after formation, within a letter written by Howard Grose. The Army regiment was not stationed in the area and, in 1886, had not yet become well known for their Association football prowess. Other Highland regiments who had been stationed locally were the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, stationed in Devonport from 1883 to 1885, and the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders, also stationed in Devonport from 1887 to 1888. During this period the 1st Battalion (91st) Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were stationed 1881: Cape Town, 1884: Zululand, 1885: Ceylon, 1888: Hong Kong and the 2nd Battalion (93rd) 1881: Aldershot, 1882: Glasgow, 1884: Portsmouth, 1885: Parkhurst, 1886: Cork (Ireland), 1888: Curragh (Ireland). The regiment was an amalgamation in 1881 of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders and the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. After the outbreak of the Crimean War, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, stationed at the Citadel, were mobilized in February 1854. They made a colourful lasting impression on the local population as they left for the Crimea, accompanied through the streets of Plymouth by a piped band to depart from the Royal William Yard; but this was over thirty years before the Argyle Football Club was mooted and founded.
In March 1934, a letter appeared in the Western Morning News from Argyle pioneer E. H. Babb entitled “Argyle’s Origin”. He wrote that he had in his possession a large collection of photographs, which included the first 1886-87 team and 1888-89 team and newspaper cuttings. One wonders are they sitting lost somewhere? His letter gives interesting information on Argyle but does not define the exact origin of the name. He mentions the street option and without dispelling it, does rule out the method it came about; the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders theory receives no mention. This sparked a letter from the now retired Howard Grose to his former Malta and Devonport Dockyard colleague and long time Devon F.A. official John James Pascho. ‘J. J.’ then passed on the details to the Western Morning News. Howard Grose’s letter, which has survived to this day and extracts from which are reproduced below, is a fascinating insight to Argyle’s beginnings from its co-founder, but research has shown that it contains a number of errors. He writes as if he and William Pethybridge were at Dunheved College together when school records show they were not, and he says he left the College in 1885 when it was actually in April 1886. He implies the only meeting before forming the Argyle club was in the rooms occupied by Mr. Pethybridge and himself when there had been at least three more meetings elsewhere. He linked himself to the origin of the Argyle name and its Argyll Regiment connection, which this history will show, was just a fanciful notion linked to later events. The match that he says was the first played by the new Argyle F.C. was actually at least the eighth and he has forgotten that the first was against his old school. The 2nd eleven was formed and played its first match in November 1886, not January 1887. This letter is still important, as it is the only known surviving written evidence by a leading contemporary. For the true connection with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, see 1888-89.
Extracts from a transcript of the letter written by F. Howard Grose to J. J. Pascho on March 25th 1934:
And now about the Plymouth Argyle: Its story is woven with mine somewhat so you must excuse my writing in the first person. I left Dunheved College Launceston in 1885 where with my friend and colleague Mr. W. Pethybridge I took keen interest in football and cricket. Mr. Pethybridge left School before me and took up the study of law with a firm of Solicitors in Plymouth. I joined him there early in 1886 to learn Architecture and Engineering. We wished to take an active part in our favourite sports in Plymouth and to that end often discussed what Club we should join, but outside the Plymouth Town Football Club there was none that appealed to us.
I think it was Mr. Pethybridge who first suggested that it might be possible to form a new Club by recruiting the Old Boys from the neighbouring Public Schools and Colleges: We knew several promising young men of this Class engaged in Study or business in the Town and determined to approach them on the subject. The majority showed themselves keenly interested in the proposal and the first conference took place in our rooms – which Mr. Pethybridge and I jointly occupied – when it was arranged to call a meeting for the purpose of forming a Club. The meeting took place at the Borough Arms and it was decided to form a Club such as we had in mind. The question of what name the Club should be known by then arose and that of “Pickwick” was mentioned and found favour with several present. Others however objected as the name did not adapt itself to local application. I recollect holding forth on what our Club should aim at in achieving in the football world, viz: To emulate the style of Play adopted by the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders who I believe in the previous year won the Army Cup (this no doubt can be verified if so desired). I then explained that anyone who had watched them play would have been struck with the excellent team work shown, the fast low passing from backs to forwards, wings to centre followed by short swift shooting at the opponents goal – and we should endeavour to play on the same lines. Then someone said “why not a “Plymouth Argyle” that’s a name that could be applied locally”. The suggestion was well received and when put to the vote was adopted unanimously. Subsequently the meeting elected me as the first Captain of the new Club for the season 1886-7. We had no Club ground at first and were obliged to play matches on our opponent’s grounds. The team exercised on the then Freedom Fields (now Freedom Park) and so eager were members to get into condition that I remember several games taking place there by moonlight. Later in the Season permission was obtained to play on a ground at Mount Gould where several matches took place. From newspaper cuttings still in my possession it appears that the first match played was against “Caxton” on Oct. 16th 1886 which we lost by 4 goals to 2. On Oct. 23rd we played the Plymouth College which Argyle won by 2-1. The College side was captained by Mr. E. H. Babb who later in the Season joined our Club on leaving the College. During the season 17 matches were played. 7 were won, 8 were lost and 2 drawn. This record for the first Season was considered highly satisfactory as the team had previously no means of playing together and it took some time for individual members to find their proper place of play on the Field and get licked into shape.
The membership of the Club increased rapidly and in January 1887 a 2nd Eleven was organised and matches arranged. The 2nd Team did exceptionally well and won most of its games played.
For the Season 1889-90, Mr. Babb being absent, the records show that F. H. Grose was elected Captain with Mr. W. C. Hawke sub-Captain, C. W. Phillips Hon. Treasurer and H. M. Gibson Hon. Secretary. The teams had a successful Season and won the majority of the matches played. Out of 15 matches played 11 were won, 73 goals scored for the Club and 15 against. A record that many Clubs might envy today.
I left the District in 1890 and regret I cannot assist you in the subsequent history of the Argyle. I recollect however in the latter part of this Season we left the Mount Gould site and acquired a football ground at Marsh Mills where I played in several matches.
I am proud to think that from such small beginnings a club in which I was intimately connected should continue to exist and I hope may ultimately be seen in a leading position of the 1st league. There is room for improvement in their play before this can happen judging from present results.
I have no objection to your quoting me as to these notes which are based on existing records and so far as my memory serves me.
Alternative views on the origin of Argyle
1886-87: THE FIRST SEASON
The ‘ARGYLE FOOTBALL CLUB (ASSOCIATION)’ announced its foundation in the Western Daily Mercury on Saturday 4th September 1886. The officers elected were Howard Grose (captain), Alfred Dyer (vice-captain), George Vaughan (treasurer), Charles Phillips (committee), Alfred Shilston (committee), and Walter F. Siddall (secretary, Bedford Park, Plymouth). Surprisingly there was no place for William Pethybridge though he is not known to have played football in the two years since arriving in Plymouth and, being slightly older than the others, was not in the same school matches that Howard Grose had played in against Plymouth based schools. The other prominent missing name is Ernest Harry Babb who was the linchpin in the recruiting of players for Grose and Pethybridge. He was the current captain of the Plymouth College team in 1885-86 and 1886-87 seasons and did not leave the College until later at Christmas 1886, so was not available on a regular basis.
Formation of Argyle Football Club
Western Daily Mercury, 4th September 1886
The fledgling club practiced in the evenings, sometimes by moonlight, on the only local open ground available to them, Freedom Fields. Densely populated Plymouth had little suitable open ground for sport within it. The only other available space was The Hoe. Increasing football participation on this green space caused local citizens to complain. The Hoe had been used for cricket in the summer from as far back as 1808 without banishment. The Town Council reacted and soon stopped football on The Hoe, by Law, from 1887, and on Freedom Fields in 1888. The Hoe Constable ordered goal posts to be taken down and threatened to summon players. Both green spaces were municipalized. The failure to find a ‘home’ ground led to the demise of many a Plymouth club and eventually led to many finding pitches outside at Mount Gould, Marsh Mills, Oreston, Torpoint, and Cremyll. Devonport was just as densely populated but their Town Council took a much more liberal view on the use of Devonport Park. On Saturday afternoons it became such a popular and tightly pressurised venue for football, both Rugby and Association, that players had problems of one match spilling onto another. In addition, the public ambled the paths that crossed the pitches in such numbers that the goals were not always visible, or a player attempting to score a try was hindered from crossing the line.
The shortage of available suitable land determined that, on its formation, the Argyle Football Club had no ‘home’ ground and the first of at least six matches were away fixtures. The very first was played at Launceston versus Dunheved College on Saturday 9th October 1886. This fixture was only possible because of the railway; by road a horse and wagonette journey would have taken too long. In very inclement weather, the College won 4-1 according to the Launceston Weekly News in a report that the ‘home’ captain would have submitted; meanwhile in Plymouth a report submitted by the Argyle secretary in the Western Morning News gives the score as 2-0 to the College.
The nature of the game caused many disputed results. The invention of goal nets was not until 1889 and not in common use until much later, the crossbar was only tape stretched across two posts, and the officials came from both participating clubs. The referee did not decide when a goal was scored; the two umpires (one from each club) did this. They decided by raising a flag if they thought the ball had travelled between the posts and under the tape, a difficult task, particularly in bad weather. The outcome sometimes being the umpire from the scoring team signalled a goal and the other did not, causing the goal, and often the result, to be disputed in consequence. It was not considered necessary for a neutral official referee to officiate until the following seasons when organised competition began in Devon and Cornwall, and Association football law changes in 1889 gave power over to the referee. Dunheved College and Argyle have never met again since that first match, though 100 years later, in 1986, Mr. Charles Cooper, the headmaster of Launceston College, as the school became known, offered Plymouth Argyle the chance of revenge in a return celebratory match. The invitation was not accepted.
Argyle were scheduled to play Hotspur of Devonport a week later but no reported result has been found. The next match was on Saturday 30th October 1886 versus Plymouth College, captained by Ernest Harry Babb, on their Ford Park ground. Argyle won a hard fought and exciting match 2-1, with goals from Grose and Chapman (junior). In the next match a week later at Granby Barracks, Argyle were only able to field 10 men but still beat the Royal Artillery 5-0 with Pethybridge scoring a hat-trick. The first reported ‘home’ match was at Mount Gould on Wednesday 11th December in a disputed 5-1 defeat of Plymouth United. The match venue had switched from Freedom Fields on the insistence of substitutes playing for Argyle.
The Argyle Football Club formed a 2nd XI with William Warmington as elected captain. Their first match was played on Ford Park versus the Plymouth College 2nd XI on Saturday 27th November 1886. The teams must have enjoyed the match as they played each other again a week later at the same venue, and twice more during the rest of the season. In the rest of the season the 2nd XI played once at Freedom Fields as ‘home’ venue and twice at Mount Gould as ‘home’ whilst the first XI, now including Babb having left Plymouth College, played two more ‘home’ fixtures at Mount Gould. The final ‘home’ fixture at Mount Gould on Saturday 26th February 1887 was against the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Battalion, which was won 2-0 by the soldiers. The South Staffs became very important in the growth of Association football amongst all classes in Plymouth. Argyle had fielded South Staffs players as subs during the season, as had other local clubs. The Argyle Football Club were known to have played 17 matches in their first season of 1886-87 of which 8 were won, 2 drawn, 7 lost. A source in 1903 says that the Argyle Football Club started the season wearing White jerseys and black shorts, but this was not the official colours; possibly their black and green shirts had not arrived. The earliest known combination was a black jersey with a green diagonal sash going over one shoulder.
When the football season ended, the Argyle Football Club played a handful of Cricket matches, all against either Plymouth College or Mannamead School. Argyle played no more summer cricket matches until 1899.
1887-88: ARGYLE TAKE PART IN THE FOUNDING OF THE DEVON F.A.
Ernest Harry Babb, the Argyle captain 1887-88
For the 1887-88 season Ernest Harry Babb was elected captain, and Howard Grose vice-captain. Argyle were unable to secure a regular ‘home’ venue until March 1888 when a field, yet to be built on, next to Plymouth F.C.’s South Devon Place ground was used for three matches. In total 18 matches were played of which 7 were won and 3 drawn. Of these fixtures, six were against Army teams, seven against schools, and five against local club teams. The best team in Plymouth were the highly popular South Staffordshire Regiment who defeated Argyle 9-1 and 8-1 during the season.
The significant event of the season was the founding of the Devon Football Association on Wednesday 8th February 1888 in the rustic Plymouth F.C. pavilion at South Devon Place (now the Astor Playing Field). The influential (mostly middle class) clubs were invited and they formed the membership, namely the instigators Plymouth F.C., plus Argyle, Plymouth United, Carlton Oaks, Plymouth College, Mannamead School, and the only non Plymouth organisations Newton College and Tavistock Grammar School. The sole purpose of the founding was to put out a representative team to play inter-county matches with their neighbours Dorset (founded 1884) and Somerset (1885); there was no remit to advance the game at club level amongst all classes. Each of the eight original members guaranteed to pay a £1 sum towards defraying the expenses of the 1887-88 season.
The first Devon County match was versus Somerset, which resulted in a 2-0 defeat, played at Weston-super-Mare on Saturday 3rd March 1888. In that side were two Argyle F.C. players, Thomas H. Chapman in goal and Ernest Harry Babb on the right wing. The committee of which Babb was the Argyle representative had chosen the team, following trial matches. His selection over another player led to allegations of favouritism in the Press by supporters of the working-class club Plymouth United. A resultant simmering rivalry grew between Argyle, and United that was both sporting and class related. In Plymouth, at South Devon Place on Tuesday 3rd April 1888, Devon played a return match against Somerset, with the visitors victorious 3-2. Possibly, to placate Plymouth United their goalkeeper replaced Chapman leaving Babb as the only Argyle player in the Devon County team. The following Saturday Argyle played Plymouth United at Ford Park, by permission of Plymouth College. Though Argyle held on to win 1-0, Babb had received an injuring blow after 10 minutes and he was attacked again in the same manner in the opening minutes of the second half leaving him a passenger for the rest of the match.
1888-89: ‘HOME’ GROUND AT MOUNT GOULD
For the first time Argyle secured for the whole 1888-89 season a ‘home’ ground at Mount Gould. It was known as the Recreation Ground from this season having been supplied by Plymouth Town Council for football clubs who had been prevented from using The Hoe and Freedom Fields. Besides Argyle, ten other clubs claimed it as their ‘home’ for the season. It was a switchback and not thought of as ideal land for football, though all but its lowest reaches did drain well. With the security of a ground, more fixtures could be arranged for the season, especially by the Argyle Second XI, which increased the club membership. The elected Captain and vice-Captain for 1888-89 were again Babb and Grose. There was still no official position for founder William H. Pethybridge in what was to prove his final season before leaving Plymouth. E. H. Babb became an art teacher and was later to design the new school crest for the amalgamated Plymouth College and Mannamead School in 1896. His father Henry was headmaster of the Plymouth School of Art, and one of his pupils, Charles Edward Brittan joined the Argyle Football Club for the 1888-89 season. Brittan became a very good footballer for the club and was soon to become famous as an artist of Dartmoor and Scottish landscapes. Queen Mary, wife of King George V, bought a number of his Scottish paintings and he illustrated an edition of the novel ‘Lorna Doone’. Brittan joined Argyle just as R. A. J. Walling, later well-known as the first Editor of the Western Evening Herald in 1895 and later the Western Independent, was leaving the club.
Devon played four matches during the season and four Argyle players participated, Babb, Grose, William C. Hawke and Frederick H. Hayes. The final County match played at South Devon Place on Saturday 30th March 1889 was against Cornwall who were playing their first ever representative Association football match. Devon, who fielded only 10 players including Babb and Hayes of Argyle, narrowly won 3-2. The Cornwall Football Association were not formed until the 18th September 1889 so much of the organisation of trialling and judging to determine the first team was, by invitation, done by Arthur Pethick (captain of Plymouth F.C) and Argyle’s captain, Ernest Harry Babb.
THE ARGYLL & SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS CONNECTION
Organised competition has historically proven to be the catalyst that fuelled an explosion of interest in a particular sport. The first competition, the F.A. Cup had begun in 1871, though no club west of Bournemouth had yet entered. The first organised football competition in Devon was the Devon Rugby Challenge Cup played for in 1887-88 season. In England, the first ever Football League began in the 1888-89 season but it was not the domain of any South Western club for many years. Another major competition, the Army F.A. Cup, began in the same 1888-89 season and that did immediately affect Association football in the South West. The final was to be on the major venue Oval Cricket Ground in London.
The first local match in the Army F.A. Cup competition was the First Round tie played at Tregantle Fort, near Torpoint on Saturday 3rd November 1888 between the Royal Irish Regiment (garrisoned Devonport) versus the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment (garrisoned Plymouth). The match was of great interest in military circles but the competition had yet to grab the interest of civilians. When a lengthier than usual match report appeared in the Plymouth newspapers that the South Staffs had won 16-0, the growing number of local Association football enthusiasts took notice. The Regiment garrisoned at the Citadel and Millbay barracks from March 1886; the soldiers particularly liked Plymouth as a posting. The townsfolk, relieved this was not another ill-disciplined, drunken regiment welcomed their good behaviour and the soldiers integrated well into local society. The South Staffordshire Regiment were fostering the working class growth of Association football clubs in Plymouth. Their football team was popular with all classes of local football enthusiasts for introducing the progressive modern passing style of play, learned in the Midlands of England. Unusually all its players were of the lowest ranks ‘Private’ or ‘Corporal’ unlike other regiments who fielded a mixture of officers and some lower ranks. So popular was Association Football in the 2nd Battalion, if a soldier was promoted to Lance-Corporal he was no longer eligible to play, so to get back in the team the soldiers would intentionally loose their stripe.
In the 3rd Round, on the 8th February 1889, the West Kent Regiment (Dorset Cup Holders) were easily beaten 7-1 at Weymouth. The 4th Round draw was a ‘home’ tie against the Royal Scots (garrisoned Aldershot) to be played on the 27th February. The civilian supporters of the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment had grown so much that Plymouth College lent their Ford Park ground for the match and an estimated 5,000 paid to see their new heroes win 6-1. The defeated Royal Scots lodged a protest that the very partisan crowd had encroached onto the pitch, but this was over-ruled. The next tie was the semi-final away to the Scots Guards (London) at the Oval in London on Tuesday 19th March. Before this tie, on Saturday 9th March at Mount Gould, Argyle played the South Staffs. The newspaper report says a crowd of 400 witnessed a splendid match, won by the Regiment 5-0. With no League, the local clubs judged their position in the hierarchy on their results against the soldiers. Argyle had fared better than most and, based on the result, declared they were the best club in Plymouth.
Turning their attention to the Army F.A. Cup, the South Staffs eased through to the Final beating the Scots Guards 8-1. The other Finalist was the 2nd Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (garrisoned The Curragh, Ireland); by coincidence, the government tartan worn by them resembled the green and black colours of the Argyle Football Club. The South Staffs cup run boosted the crowds and enthusiasm for Association football in Plymouth. On Wednesday 27th March 1889, civilians and soldiers travelled with high expectancy of a victory to the Kennington Oval for the inaugural final. The referee delayed the kick-off because he ruled that the 1½-inch nails sticking out of the soles of the South Staffs boots must be removed. Perhaps this affected their game because, against all the expectations of their followers, they were defeated 2-0 by the Argylls.
Whilst the result was a disappointment in Plymouth it did boost the kudos of the Argyle name and was responsible for Howard Grose writing in 1934 that he instigated the name ‘Argyle’ at the founding meeting in 1886 because the new club should try… “To emulate the style of play adopted by the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who I believe in the previous year won the Army Cup”. This is obviously wrong because the win was not in 1885, it was 1889, nearly three years after the formation of the Argyle Football Club. This should be the end of a persistent myth.
As a post note, the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment left Plymouth a few months later in September 1889. The regimental history says that when the well behaved unit paraded in Plymouth to leave the garrison, every man was present and sober. They were embarking from Plymouth for the Curragh where they coincidently were to replace their sporting conquerors, the 2nd Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. In the Plymouth newspapers, after the Army Cup win, the Argyll Regiment continued to feature on the sports pages, sometimes with a report of the Argyle Football Club next to it.
ARGYLE FOUNDER WILLIAM HAMPTON PETHYBRIDGE
At the end of the 1888-89, the man who first suggested forming the football club, William Hampton Pethybridge, left the Argyle Football Club. He made at least 37 appearances and scored 20 goals for the First XI including the club's first hat-trick. Despite being consistently Argyle’s best player in match reports, he never held an elected official position. He was an unassuming and modest man but also very determined. After a five-year apprenticeship with a Plymouth firm of solicitors, he left the Town. In the 1889-90 season, he played for the Old Dunhevedians before moving to Cardiff in 1890 to take up a new position. He remained in Wales for the rest of his life but did revisit Launceston as in the 1891 Census he is listed as a Solicitors Articled Clerk and boarding at the residence of the Launceston Football Club secretary in Dunheved Road.
Argyle founder, William Hampton Pethybridge, Lord Mayor of Cardiff, with his sister Alice (right) the Lady Mayoress, in 1924
William qualified as a solicitor in December 1893 and soon built up an extensive private practice in Cardiff. He later entered into political and religious life being a Cardiff councillor for many years, becoming an Alderman in 1923, and vice-president of the East Cardiff Liberal Association. As a life-long Wesleyan, he rendered conspicuous service to the denomination as a local preacher, Sunday school teacher, and society steward. Whilst he stopped playing football, he remained keenly interested in sport as an enthusiastic cricketer, and became vice-president of the Roath and Mackintosh Bowling Clubs and a member of the Penylan Club. On the 10th November 1924, he was invested as Lord Mayor of Cardiff and, as William was a bachelor, his sister Alice was Lady Mayoress.
During his year in office, Cardiff City reached the final of the F.A Cup on 25th April 1925 at Wembley where they lost to Sheffield United 1-0. The Argyle Football Club founder, as Cardiff’s highest civic dignitary, figured prominently in the Press build-up to the game. He sat in the Wembley royal box with the Duke and Duchess of York, and Ramsey McDonald the leader of the Labour Party. Following the match the Lord Mayor held a Civic Dinner for the losing finalists and William Hampton Pethybridge was photographed in the centre of the Cardiff City team. William died aged 79 on the 19th April 1944 but his law firm W. H. Pethybridge & Co. was still operating in Cardiff over ten years later. His sister Alice lived to be over 100 years old.
1889-90: ARGYLE MOVE TO MARSH MILLS, GROSE LEAVES THE CLUB
Argyle proudly announced they had secured a club ground at Longbridge, Marsh Mills and advertised that a Saturday train for Marsh Mills left Millbay Station at 2.35 p.m. and North Road at 3.00 p.m. Howard Grose was elected as the Argyle captain, E. H. Babb having gone to London on a scholarship. The second of Argyle’s two Cornish founders, Howard Grose, left the district in January 1890. He was to spend his working life as a high ranked civil engineer in the Dockyards of Portsmouth, Chatham, Sheerness and Malta before ending his career as Superintending Civil Engineer at Devonport Dockyard. He retired in 1930 and moved to Southsea. Argyle vice-captain William C. Hawke became captain. Following on from Argyle’s artistic associations, William was the son of a well-known Plymouth photographer and his mother was an artist.
Argyle had begun the season with a reasonably full fixture card but many of the matches ended up being postponed or cancelled. Petty disputes were an unfortunate feature of the local Association football game throughout its early history without a strong controlling authority to keep it well organised. Referees were taking over the control of play from the umpires, who became linesmen, but there were no Official Referees in Devon until 1891, and the Devon Referees Association was not founded until 1896. In the 1889-90 season, Argyle refused to arrange a fixture with archrivals Plymouth United, who they had lost to twice the previous season, saying their fixture card was full. This announcement at the Plymouth United Annual Meeting resulted in loud jeers for Argyle; both clubs used Marsh Mills as ‘home’.
Of the matches played Argyle had a partly successful season including their record win of 19 goals to 2 against the Woodland Club (not the same club as the later Woodland Villa). This match caused some lasting amusement for the manner in which one of the goals was scored. At the time, some players proudly wore their awarded club cap during matches, as was one of the Woodland defenders in this game. He was chasing the Argyle forward Shilston, who was in possession of the ball, when his cap blew off and he stopped to pick it up which promptly allowed Shilston to score!
THE FIRST DEVON ASSOCIATION CUP COMPETITION
The Devon F.A. instigated its first organised club competition in this season, the Devon County Association Cup. Argyle were one of only six clubs taking part, the others were Devonport Association F.C., Plymouth F.C., Plymouth United, St. James-the-Less, and Tavistock. Of the three First Round ties, Argyle were drawn to play away to the favourites Plymouth F.C. at South Devon Place on Saturday 25th January 1890. A neutral referee was found in the person of Captain Ernest Henry Randolph (North Staffordshire Regiment). The new competition was not free to spectators, entrance being 3 old pence at South Devon Place, with an extra 3 pence charged for the enclosure. Despite having to pay for the first time and heavy rain, the crowd was reasonably large. Argyle, who had recently lost their captain Howard Grose, fielded three players from the Second XI whilst Plymouth F.C. was at full strength. The home side attacked for most of the match and Argyle went out of the competition 5-0.
The next round was one Semi-Final match; Tavistock received a bye, and making it through to the Final was Plymouth F.C. to meet them. Over 1,000 witnessed the game at South Devon Place on Saturday 15th February 1890. The Tavistock and Devon captain, Bombay born Henry Victor Hewett, assistant master at Kelly College, scored the only goal of the game to make Tavistock the first winners of the Cup. The cup could not be presented because, unfortunately, the Devon F.A. had been dithering over its design and Tavistock did not receive it until months later. Underneath the newspaper match report of the Final was a letter about the bitter, still on-going, dispute over the one Semi-Final match played. The Devon F.A. decided there was not enough money in the kitty to purchase medals for the Tavistock players. The following 1890-91 season a Plymouth club, St. James-the-Less, won the Cup and the players each received gold medals from the Devon F.A. The slighted Tavistock club demanded medals for the previous season. Their demands were not met so Tavistock withdrew its membership and the Devon F.A. banned its members from playing them. It was not until eight years after winning the Cup did the Devon F.A. realise the harshness of their decision. They awarded medals to the Tavistock team but had great difficulty tracing all the players.
THE SERIOUS THREAT OF INJURY TO PLAYERS
The selection for county fixtures continued to be almost entirely middle-class players. Cornwall played Devon on the New Recreation ground at Falmouth on Saturday 4th January 1890. Cornwall fielded eight ex-public schoolboys, some at University, and Devon fielded ten, including Argyle players William C. Hawke and Alfred H. Shilston whose family were shipbuilders on the Barbican. Also playing for Devon was E. H. Babb (Old Plymothians) down from London. It was a far from a gentlemanly game. Three Devon players were carried off during the 2-0 defeat including Babb with two cracked ribs, but the worst injury was to the Devon goalkeeper, Drew of Tavistock. On catching the ball he was charged to the ground exclaiming “I am done”. The newspaper reported, “His groaning indicated he was seriously injured”. A doctor at the match determined he had broken his thigh, which was then spliced and bandaged. Drew was removed to the Royal Hotel by cab where he had to remain for eight to ten weeks. The Devon captain Hewett explained later that he sent Drew to the Royal Hotel because he was advised there was no hospital to take such a case. The match report says, “Drew is a poor working man, and it has been suggested that the gate money of two specially arranged county matches should be utilised towards the expenses incurred in consequence of the lamentable accident”. An appeal was sent round in Devon and Cornwall to raise money for Drew. Plymouth United collected £1.10 shillings whilst Argyle played a benefit match against the Old Plymothians.
A sporting injury was seriously risky, especially to a working class man and his dependents. There may be life threatening medical complications or a loss of living could mean removal to the workhouse. In some cases where a poor man had received financial help the Football Association deemed him a ‘professional’ which prevented, on recovery, a return to his local amateur team. Some northern rugby clubs were taking out insurance policies on behalf of player injuries from around 1886. In Devon, it was not reported until the mid 1890s that Albion and Torquay Athletic had set aside money for player insurance schemes.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THIS AND OTHER PRE-1903 CHAPTERS
Click here for a full list of references.
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