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April 2024


An original, comprehensive and thoroughly researched account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.

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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 (, 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 9: 1902-1903 Part 2

The Birth of Plymouth Argyle

The second of three chapters that tell the story of the 1902-03 season, such was the significance of events in the last campaign under the Argyle FC name. In this chapter, Plymouth Argyle Football Company Ltd was formed, a first-class manager was appointed and sights were firmly fixed on the Southern and Western Leagues, not to mention success in the local competitions.

Author: Roger Walters   [about the authors]

Version: 1.0

Date: 18 Aug 2011

In this chapter: Argyle professional plans; new name will retain the old ... football’s reliance on the railways ... the cost of playing football ... Secretary of the Southern League in Plymouth ... finance in place; search on for manager and best players ... rugby and association opposition unites against Argyle ... Argyle’s fixtures less frenetic than last season ... first meeting of Plymouth Argyle at Chubb’s Hotel ... Torquay United’s loyalty to the Devon F.A. ... first Plymouth Argyle Football Co. Ltd. Directors meeting ... Argyle Football Club climb league and begin cup matches ... Plymouth Argyle board meetings ... Argyle F.C. play Bristol Rovers. ... life in the local game ... visit to Portsmouth; interviewing managers a bluff? ... board appoints new manager ... Windrum's choice, Frank Brettell ... Windrum and Spooner approach Western League ... F.A. Secretary backing of Argyle wipes away opposition ... Crownhill versus Southampton ... Argyle F.C. in position for a league and cup double ... the end of the Argyle Rugby Football Club ... Devon F.A. seeks to rid the professional element ... the breaking of the Plymouth monopoly over the Devon F.A. ... league table confusion in Argyle and Green Waves race ... bibliography for this and other pre-1903 chapters

Return to History Contents


As if it were ever in doubt, the Western Daily Mercury of Friday 19th December 1902 announced, the 'ARGYLE PROFESSIONAL TEAM' scheme of the Argyle Athletic Club was going to be carried through, providing membership of the Southern League could be secured. The club had decided they would retain the 'Argyle' name in its new professional identity. Though no players could be signed until May 1st 1903, Argyle had already advertised for a manager who will decide which professional players to sign. The Southern League was the ‘Football League’ of the South. Argyle, whose plans were being carried out so expertly, had probably considered applying to join Football League Division Two; it included two clubs from the South, Woolwich Arsenal and Bristol City, but all the other big professional clubs, south of Birmingham, were in the Southern League.


The geographical difficulty made it highly unlikely that Argyle would have been voted into the Football League by the Northern and Midland member clubs.  The travel expense and time factors were prohibitive, not just for the club but also the supporter. The railways had played a major role in making possible multi-area League fixtures and helped build the fan bases at the Northern and Midland professional League clubs. This was so because the majority of these clubs were squeezed into the industrial corridor of England between Leeds and Birmingham. The railway network here was comprehensive; journeys were shorter in distance and time, and affordable. The various railway companies were not efficient and their fares, to the ordinary working man, were expensive. Cheap excursions and special trains were laid on where the number of passengers involved made it profitable.

Wages at the turn of the century were not rising significantly in amount, but were in real terms as the prices of goods steadied and generally came down. In Plymouth, this meant that increasing numbers of potential supporters could afford the cheap tram ride and admission price, on a regular basis, for ‘Home’ matches. As electric trams replaced the less efficient and more dangerous horse drawn trams and buses, which struggled on the steep hills, passenger journeys in Plymouth increased fivefold from 1895 to 1901. The railway companies had a monopoly on the longer journeys because there was no alternative, therefore fares remained high. A lengthy railway excursion fare for the ‘away’ Southern League match at Southampton on the 24th October 1903 was offered at 6 shillings and 6 pence. The traveller had to depart from Friary Station, Plymouth at 6 o’clock on the Saturday morning. The departure home from Southampton was not until 9.00 p.m., returning on Sunday. The considerably reduced fare was still expensive for someone with a family, earning less than 30 shillings a week.  The cost and time was prohibitive for the fans of Argyle, though this excursion did attract 300 supporters to travel on it, to one of the most important fixtures of the season.

The long arm of the South West peninsular was a disadvantage and advantage for Argyle. To the officials of the Football Association, it was an empty part of their football map of England that needed to be included. A successful professional club in its midst would bring the game on in bounds and break the domination of rugby beyond Bristol. It was vital to the national game that association football had become. These factors are as important to the game today as they were then.


Working class supporters of Association football who wanted to play and emulate their heroes found it expensive to kit themselves out in the right gear. In 1902 a pair of football boots from Parker’s Boot Store in Treville Street, Plymouth cost from 4 shillings for boys to 7 shillings for adults. Twenty years later in 1922, Sidney Parker’s shop in Old Town Street was still charging around the same price. A 'Bouncer' football was the most expensive from Limpenny’s in George Street, Plymouth, costing a hefty 9 shillings and 11 pence. The 'Diadem' from Nichols & Co, Plymouth was even more expensive at 10 shillings and 6 pence. The cheaper footballs regularly burst and would need a new 2 shilling bladder that was laced inside the leather. The laces, when coming loose, could cause an eye injury whilst heading the ball. Knitted woollen football jerseys or flannelette shirts were available from Nicholls & Co. at 1 shilling to 3 shillings. When wet, the colours were not always fast and often ran into each other or dyed the wearer the same colour.

Limpenny’s Sports Store, 16, George Street, Plymouth, circa 1900

The business started off, principally, as the makers and retailers of umbrellas. In 1889, this shop was refitted to sell additional sports goods.  Limpenny’s advertisement in 1899 carried testament that their made-in-Devon rugby version of the 'Bouncer' football was used by Devon County and Albion. Many clubs and players often sent orders up-country for sports goods until new local businesses in Plymouth began to open or various other retailers extended their ranges. Mr. Limpenny lent footballs to the Devon F.A., and the Western Independent football reporter 'Verite' recommended enthusiasts to buy Limpenny’s goods.


Nat Whittaker, Secretary of the Southern League

The same geographical difficulties, on a lesser scale, still applied to seeking membership in the Southern League. A journey to Plymouth was considerably further for most clubs than they were accustomed to. A two-thirds majority of the member clubs had to vote for Argyle’s inclusion, and they would have to compete against other clubs' applications. The experienced Lieutenant Windrum took up this problem on Argyle’s behalf. He invited his old friend, the Secretary of the Southern League, Nathan 'Nat' Whittaker to Plymouth. Whittaker had been the League’s Secretary almost since its foundation in 1894 and was largely responsible for its progressive success. Whittaker was in Plymouth for the announcement of Argyle’s intent to apply for Southern League membership. He was also a divisional representative of the Football Association so was doubly supportive of the prospect. Whittaker probably received some of Clarence Spooner’s hospitality, though this is not reported.

The Southern League Secretary attended a private meeting held on the evening of Friday 19th December 1902 with Argyle representatives to consider the formation of the new club, including the Articles of Association. The prospectus was expected to be issued within a week. The following day, Whittaker, a major League referee, officiated in the Devon League match at Home Park between Argyle and Crownhill. It was actually Crownhill’s ‘home’ match but they agreed to the switch for the occasion. Arthur Carlton, the theatre impresario and vice-president of Crownhill was accorded the honour of kicking-off. Argyle won 5-0 with professional coach Charlie Hare scoring four. Crownhill were the only club currently supporting Argyle’s plans, the rest were suspicious and afraid. To allay their fears, Lieutenant Windrum, Chairman of the Devon F.A. had arranged a meeting on the evening of the 20th for Nat Whittaker to address representatives of all the Devon League clubs, which numbered thirty-four including the Services and Reserves.

The meeting on the 20th was held at the Newmarket Hotel, Plymouth, presided over by Lieutenant Windrum. Attending were Nat Whittaker, Clarence and J. D. Spooner, George Jones (Secretary of the Devon Senior League) and a number of referees. Most of the clubs did not attend; those that did were Crownhill, Oreston Rovers, Green Waves of the Senior clubs and Junior clubs Rangers (Millbrook) and Plympton. Including Argyle, this was only six out of a possible twenty-six civilian Devon League clubs. Lieutenant Windrum explained the objectives of joining the Southern League and was able to report they had already achieved the backing of Southampton, Portsmouth, and Tottenham Hotspur. He extolled the positive benefits of having a professional club in Plymouth on the local clubs. Mr. Whittaker spoke of a bright future for Association football in Plymouth and he was confident Argyle would get into the Southern League. He said Argyle would have to run a Reserve team in the local League, which would contain three or four professionals. They would have a good effect on the play of the other clubs. The Southern League had always had an eye on Plymouth and was glad it was now going to have a team.

When the meeting was thrown open for questions, the concern of the clubs was the Argyle Reserves rather than the Southern League 'Chiefs'. The local clubs feared they would be disheartened playing against professional players and their best players would want to move to Argyle. It was replied that the professionals would encourage the local players in opposition to raise their game, and Lieutenant Windrum promised Argyle would not 'bag' the best players without their clubs being willing. Windrum said he regretted only six clubs had attended as he personally wanted to advise the concerned opposition, rather than they read it in the newspapers. The meeting ended with Nat Whittaker advising the referees with hints and observations.


An interview with Argyle President, Clarence Spooner, appeared in the Football Herald (20th December 1902). He informed the reporter that the quality of the Southern League was improving every season; it was thought that, if a match with Argyle could be made to appeal to the widening competitive nature of the other clubs, monetary considerations would be discounted. Spooner told the Football Herald that Argyle wanted to prove their presence in the League would be to that League’s advantage. He said, “If we can do that there is no doubt we shall obtain admission”. Spooner said the club were already looking for a good, experienced manager; it was essential. As soon as the clock struck midnight on 30th April 1903, they (Argyle) were free to commence operations. The manager would acquire the signing of the best team possible; they intended to sign fifteen Football League Division One players on the maximum allowed wage of £4 per week. The finance was already in place, though the public would be able to buy shares in the new company. The players’ names would be forwarded with Argyle’s application to join the Southern League. The decision of the League would be made after their annual meeting on May 14th.


At the end of the interview, Clarence Spooner was asked, “Were Argyle out to harm rugby in the district?”. He denied this, saying there was room for both. Association had not had a fair chance in rivalling the quality of local rugby clubs because the public, until now, had not been offered first-class games. He hoped that Argyle and their rugby rivals could arrange fixtures so they did not clash. The Albion Football Club later announced they would not divulge their proposed fixture list to any other club. They had been annoyed at the inference they were a Devonport club and their Secretary issued a statement in the press that said, “The Albion Club is a Three Towns organisation”.

In direct opposition to Argyle, the Plymouth Rugby Club welcomed Green Waves to share their facilities at South Devon Place. Green Waves used their new ground to stage rival attractions to harm Argyle. They arranged a match against amateur club Bristol St. Francis to counter the annual Argyle, Christmas Day, six-a-side tournament. Argyle’s lack of friends was evident as only Crownhill entered the senior tournament for the silver bowl and gold medals, though seventeen clubs participated for the 5 guinea Junior silver cup. The few spectators were mostly the competitors. In the two and half minutes each way, only match Senior Final, Argyle failed to win their own bowl, Crownhill defeating them 1-0. The recently formed Argaum Rugby Club temporarily switched codes to reach the final of the junior competition as semi-darkness ended further play. Meanwhile a fine crowd at South Devon Place had seen Green Waves defeat Bristol St. Francis 1-0. Argyle advertised in the Press for an opponent to meet them on Boxing Day; no club came forward. Some Argyle players got a game at Liskeard for a Liskeard & District XI in a 2-0 victory over Bedminster (Bristol).


Following the Devon League victory against Crownhill on 20th December 1902, with Argyle in third place, there was a break in the League until the next fixture, versus Stoke, the local Devonport club that is, on 17th January 1903. Before that, some friendly matches were played on the Cornish side of the Tamar, at Wadebridge and Saltash; the Wednesday XI played at Launceston during the same period. All three matches were won. It was a quieter, less frenetic season on the pitch than the last; this gave Argyle a better chance to win the League or Cup, or both; but the main action was off it.


On 8th January 1903, the first meeting of the proposed ‘PLYMOUTH ARGYLE FOOTBALL COMPANY LIMITED’ was held at Chubb’s Hotel in Old Town Street, next to the Spooner & Co. store and close to the Argyle Athletic Club headquarters. The hotel had suffered only water damage in the fire that had destroyed the Spooner premises. In March 1902, only three months before the fire, its owner, local builder George Shillabear, had put the business up for auction. Since acquiring the hotel in 1898, he had beautified the building in keeping with the improvements being made to Old Town Street. Shillabear added thirty bedrooms to make a total of seventy-one on the four floors; it was lit throughout by electricity and had one of the first lifts in Plymouth.  Clarence Spooner was one of the interested parties along with Alfred Debnam who had built Home Park. At auction, it failed to reach its reserve price of £45,000, and was withdrawn to be sold privately. This was the start of a long patronage of the hotel, and its manager Albert Webb, with Argyle. Future Southern and Western League opponents were accommodated at Chubb’s Hotel.

Chubb’s Hotel, Old Town Street, Plymouth (circa 1905)

The hotel is on the left with the ornate canopy over the entrance. On the other side of the road, beyond the Plymouth Corporation tram, is the Argyle Athletic Club, located on the second floor of number 80.

The pre-prepared proceedings for Plymouth Argyle's formation meeting listed four items to be reported by the Chairman:

1. The steps already taken preparatory to the formation of a Professional Team.

2. That the Directors of the Argyle Athletic Club Ltd, finding it impracticable for the Company to run the proposed team and would be necessary in order to comply with the rules of the English Football Association to alter the Articles of Association, have decided that it would be better for them to join in the formation of a new company to be carried on in conjunction with the present club.

3. That the Directors of the Argyle Company have also decided to further the promotion of the new company in any way in their power

a) by placing Home Park at the disposal of the new Company on terms similar to those under which it is now held by them

b) by placing the Club rooms at the disposal of the promoters for the purpose of meetings or otherwise and after the formation of the Company at the disposal of the shareholders

c) by taking shares or by doing any other thing within its power to obtain the capital necessary for carrying out the scheme.

4. The election of Directors with power to settle the Memorandum and Articles of Association and to select and appoint the necessary officials with power to do such acts as and things as may be necessary for the proper registration of the company and the selection and the employment of necessary football players for the formation of the professional team.

Attending the meeting was Frederick Hugh Windrum (Chairman), Clarence Spooner, John Dawson Spooner, Stanley Spooner, Guy Spooner, Richard Frank Davis, Sydney Cole, John B. R. Orchard, Albert Victor Adlard and Percy H. Adlard. The Argyle Athletic Club Limited could not run the proposed team because their Articles of Association conflicted with the rules of the Football Association; therefore, a new company had to be formed. Presumably, this is why the meeting was in Chubb’s Hotel, rather than across the road at the Argyle Athletic Club. The meeting agreed to form the Company and its name would be 'Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited'.  The gentlemen gathered agreed to cover the preliminary (£1,200) expenses. The Chairman proposed that the capital of the Company should be £3,000, divided into 3,000 £1 shares; this was carried.

Windrum went through the explanations and declarations listed in the agenda. Clarence Spooner, as Chairman of the Argyle Athletic Club, confirmed the Chairman’s statements and stated his Club intended to become a large shareholder in the new Company. This was confirming, in the Spooner way, that in reality the two were the same, but would be registered as two separate ‘limited’ companies. The new Company voted to accept the offers of the Argyle Athletic Club Limited. It was further decided that to qualify as a Director, a minimum of £25 in shares should be taken. Every subscriber of shares to the value of £25 was entitled to a seat in the stand in perpetuity. There were to be not more than seven Directors, or less than five. The six men up for election as Directors; Frederick Hugh Windrum, Clarence Spooner, John Dawson Spooner, George Shillabear, Athelstane Corderoy, and Albert Victor Adlard; were added to by Richard Frank Davis to make seven. The meeting ended. A short report of the proceedings did not appear in the newspapers until a week later.


As Chairman of the Devon F.A., Lieutenant Windrum was largely conspicuous by his absence, his position with the county executive being merely advantageous whilst he worked on setting up Argyle as a professional League club. In fairness to Windrum, he had been concerned by the still ongoing threat of the Exeter and district clubs pulling out of the Devon F.A. The Plymouth based Devon County Football Association had failed in its efforts to placate the angry East faction. In October 1902, the Devon F.A. agreed to the formation of an Exeter-based Eastern Division of the Devon FA, but all the affiliated clubs within it paid their fee to the Devon F.A. They invited the main force behind the threat, Frederick J. Harvey of Exeter United, to Plymouth to discuss the matter further. He refused to travel to Plymouth on the basis it would cost 15 shillings, and he suggested both parties meet at Newton Abbot. The dispute rumbled on to a meeting of the Devon F.A. at the Y.M.C.A., Plymouth on Wednesday 14th January 1903. The meeting was delayed for an hour waiting for officials and club representatives to turn up; Lieutenant Windrum did not attend. The meeting started with just three Devon officials and reporters from two local newspapers. A letter from Frederick Harvey was read informing the Devon F.A. that the Exeter, Newton Abbot and Torquay clubs had voted to be affiliated to the Eastern Association who would then pay one affiliation fee to the County Association. The Exeter delegates wanted the Devon F.A. to agree or the matter referred to the English Football Association.

George Jones advised those attending that, of all the Senior and Junior clubs in the Exeter and district, only two were actually affiliated to the Devon F.A. Exeter United were not one of the 51 affiliated clubs. With such a small attendance, the meeting could only decide to reply in acknowledgement of receipt of the letter. One of the two affiliated clubs was Torquay United who were rewarded for their loyalty to the Devon F.A. by an offer to stage the Devon versus Somerset match at their Recreation Ground pitch. This was to be the first Devon County match played in Torquay; almost exactly fifteen years since the Devon F.A. formed. The Torquay United Association Football Club replied by letter to the Devon F.A. meeting that they “will be only too pleased” to accept and suggested the date to be Wednesday 4th March 1903. In the event the fixture was played at Plainmoor due to flooding, a regular occurrence, at the Recreation Ground. With Argyle’s Buchan, Wyatt, and Broad playing, Devon lost 2-1 before a good crowd.


It was obvious that Clarence Spooner had as much hold over the new Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited as he did the Argyle Athletic Club Limited. The first Directors meeting, held on Monday 19th January 1903, was at his Trematon Villa home in Mutley. The first business of the evening was to appoint Francis Crouch, Secretary of Argyle Athletic Club Limited, as Secretary of Plymouth Argyle at a salary of £20 a year. Crouch was to give up his Argyle Athletic Club position. Clarence’s brother, Guy Leopold Spooner, was appointed the Company solicitor, just as he had been for the Argyle Athletic Club Limited. Irish-born doctor, Roger Bernard Burke of Queen Anne Terrace, Tavistock Road, Plymouth was appointed Honorary Surgeon to Plymouth Argyle. The list of Directors who had accepted the position were Frederick Hugh Windrum (Chairman), Clarence Newby Spooner, John Dawson Spooner, Richard Frank Davis and Albert Victor Adlard. In addition to these five, Astley Cooper Godfrey, solicitor partner to Guy L. Spooner, was, that evening, elected as a Director.

Francis Crouch, Secretary of Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited and the Argyle Athletic Club Limited

The reason for the absence of Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Windrum from Plymouth recently became apparent in his report to the other Directors. He had visited London, Leeds, and other towns, making enquiries regarding several persons who have applied for the position of Manager. He had also visited the Secretary of the Football Association in London, Frederick J. Wall, who was showing much interest in the scheme. Wall was looking forward to receiving the Company's Articles of Association for his approval. The potentially fatal 'Argyle Affair' with the Football Association, the year before, had given them a friend who was the most powerful and influential football official of his time. In the pursuit of a manager, Windrum advised that it was the most important factor to be dealt with. He said no money or trouble should be spared to get the right man.

The meeting agreed to offer the Argyle Athletic Club Limited £300 rental for Home Park for the 1903-04 season, free of all expenses. The question of terms of years was to stand over for the time, subject to the Secretary, Francis Crouch, writing to the Secretary of the Argyle Athletic Club Limited, which was himself, until he resigned that position on 20th April 1903. It is a crazy situation to the observer but Football Association rules, rather than Company Law, and Clarence Spooner’s own organisation, meant it had to be done officially this way. Football in Plymouth and Devon at this time was not just sport; it was theatre. Both leisure interests were in the ascendancy in Edwardian England.

The Western Daily Mercury reported on Friday 23rd January 1903 that the Articles of Association pertaining to the Plymouth Argyle Football Co. Ltd. had been sent to the Football Association for approval. The newspaper reported that half of the Southern League clubs have been canvassed and indications were they were very willing to welcome Argyle. Portsmouth said it would be their match of the season. Plymouth, with one of the largest populations of the towns in the South, was considered a big feather in the Southern League cap. There had been 100 applications for the Manager’s position with Plymouth Argyle.


With so much going on, the season was quietly building for the Argyle Football Club. On 17th January 1903, they defeated Stoke 3-2 at Bladderly in the Devon League and the following week won 5-1, home to Tavistock to move into 2nd place. Green Waves suffered their first defeat in the League, losing on the same Saturday, 3-1 at Oreston Rovers. The title contenders were: Defiance (played 13, points 19), Argyle (10, 18), Oreston Rovers (12, 17), Green Waves (9, 16). The 5th Provisional Battalion had left the League, leaving ten clubs in Division One. Therefore, each club would be playing eighteen League matches, for completion before the 1st May. The Devon Senior Cup competition was not starting until the middle of February.

On Saturday 31st January 1903, in an agreed venue switch to Home Park, Argyle won 2-1 against the 1st Battalion Border Regiment to climb into pole position, above Defiance, for the first time this season. A week later, after an exciting 4-4 draw at Oreston Rovers, Argyle dropped to 2nd behind Defiance who won 2-1 at Tavistock. The draw for the 1st Round of the Devon Senior Cup pitted Argyle away to Stoke at Bladderly on Saturday 14th February 1903. Taking part in the competition for the first time, and a rare entrant from outside Plymouth and district, was Torquay United. In the Cup match, Stoke again proved to be a tough nut for Argyle to crack. The match required extra-time before an Archie Wheaton goal put Argyle through to the 2nd Round, 1-0.


A Board Meeting of Plymouth Argyle Football Co. Ltd. was held at Chubb’s Hotel on Wednesday 4th February 1903. In addition to the Board, a Director of Portsmouth Football Club, Richard Bonney was attending. He was a close friend and associate of the Chairman, Frederick Hugh Windrum. The meeting proceeded from 8.00 p.m., during which the Secretary, Francis Crouch, read a letter from the Secretary of the Argyle Athletic Club Limited, who was still officially Francis Crouch (a letter from himself?) asking the Directors to provide a trophy to be competed for at Home Park by Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County on April 25th next. The idea to stage a trophy match between the two Football League Division One teams was Windrum’s and he had secured F. J. Wall’s permission to do so. It was another stage in the total plan. The Chairman, Windrum on hearing his own plan, proposed a sum of £5 be voted for the purpose; this was carried. Francis Crouch was advised to write to the Argyle Athletic Club Limited to the effect that the Directors thought it advisable that the term of rental at Home Park should be three, five, or ten years. [The author presumes the reader understands the ironic gist of any communication between Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited and the Argyle Athletic Club Limited at this time.]. Richard Bonney answered questions and gave advice on the running of a football club. The meeting ended with Windrum being tasked to approach all the secretaries of the Southern League clubs regarding the admission of Plymouth Argyle.

The next meeting of the Directors was again at Chubb’s Hotel, held at 8.00 p.m. on Tuesday 24th February 1903. The select group attending were the four Spooner brothers (Clarence, J. D., Stanley, and Guy L.) plus Chairman Windrum and Secretary Crouch. The list of applications for the position of manager was read and considered. Arrangements were made during the meeting for a visit to Portsmouth on 2nd March 1903. Though the minutes do not state why, the visit was to interview the candidates for the manager's job. The Articles of Association was at the printers and would be sent to Frederick Wall at the Football Association by the end of the week.


In the next stage of their development, Argyle brought their first Southern League opposition to Home Park: Bristol Rovers. The fixture in fine afternoon weather on Wednesday 18th February 1903 drew a less than encouraging 2,000 attendance. The Argyle F.C. XI included new signings Ernest J. Moore from Devon League rivals, Stoke, and Percy Hooper from Oreston Rovers. T. Hodge, a guest from Manchester House, a local Wednesday club, replaced Percy Buchan in goal. This was the seventh match in Argyle’s professional scheme fixtures and the first that Buchan did not play in.

Argyle, aided by a strong wind, went on the attack from kick-off. Archie Wheaton was particularly dangerous. The visitors showed excellent work and put Argyle under pressure. Player-coach Charlie Hare, at right-back, stopped Bristol Rovers opening their account in the nick of time. More Argyle pressure was followed by Hodge having to make two saves, which in the style of the day, were fisted out; goalkeepers rarely attempted to catch.  However, under some pressure, Argyle were playing with “splendid determination”. A counter-attack saw Rovers dribble to the Argyle end where play remained until Hodge saved a shot but the rebound went to a Rovers player who put the ball into the net; 1-0 to the visitors. Encouraged by their success, Rovers showing “fine combination” pressed Argyle harder and scored a second goal after Hodge had again diverted the ball to a Rovers player. Half time arrived with the score 2-0 against Argyle.

The second half began with Rovers missing an easy chance. A short period of Argyle on the attack gave way to more pressure from Rovers and Hare diverted a certain goal over the top. Hare’s last ditch save resulted in Argyle playing with renewed energy but they failed to convert any chances. Their opponents kept up the pressure, “Hare showing grand defence saving his side time after time”. The game was very fast but Argyle could not score. New signing Percy Hooper on his debut had a chance for Argyle to pull a goal back but he shot over the top. Argyle had further chances spoilt by weak shots and Rovers, showing “pretty” play, punished the misses by scoring another goal. Final score 3-0 to Rovers. Argyle might have fared better with Buchan in goal but they had played with three debutants in the team and Bristol Rovers finished their Southern League season in a creditable fifth position. Following this match Bristol Rovers, closer to Plymouth than all the other clubs, decided they would not support Argyle’s entry into the Southern League. If the low attendance triggered this, they need not have worried. A year later the same fixture in the Southern League attracted 12,000, the biggest Home Park League match crowd of the 1903-04 season.


Devon defeated Cornwall 3-2 at Truro on Saturday 21st February 1903 with three Argyle players (Buchan, Wyatt, and Wheaton) in the team. Four days later, on the 25th, there were six Argyle players (Hare, Ledington, Pethick, Vivian, Cleminson and Moore) representing the Devon Senior League XI verses a Garrison XI at Home Park. The civilians won 3-2. Argyle were dominating just about everything at this time, which was mostly to their credit but of annoyance to some of the local also-rans. There had been no organised competition for Wednesday football in 1902-03, so Argyle held a meeting at their Club Rooms to consider starting a Wednesday Challenge Cup. This was to take the place of the Wednesday League which had suffered due to the loss of the Forces teams sent for service in South Africa. Now that hostilities had ended, they were gradually returning. The Devon Wednesday Challenge Cup was agreed and split into Senior and Junior competitions.

Further local club angst was vexed against Argyle in the Football Herald of Saturday 28th February 1903. The Hon. Secretary of Stoke (Devonport) wrote of his team and Oreston Rovers having their best players taken away by Argyle to face the big professional clubs. He was not happy with both of Stoke’s League matches against Argyle and the 1st Round Cup match. The grouches were not dissimilar to many levelled in top-flight football many years later; namely, the bigger club prima donnas getting preferential treatment over the smaller ones. A week later, the allowed reply from the Argyle Hon. Secretary, Chas W. Bishop, was hardly conciliatory and fanned the flames.

The initiative that Clarence Spooner was taking to bring professional League football to Plymouth did not look as if it was gaining much support as feelings against Argyle gathered momentum. The more unpopular they became, the more popular the other senior clubs became, Green Waves in particular. This was evident in the Devon Senior Cup 2nd Round matches on Saturday 28th February 1903. Crownhill were no match for the improved coached play of Argyle who won 6-0 on the 'villagers' ground. The attendance was disappointing. At South Devon Place, the large number of Green Waves supporters swelled the crowd to 5,000 versus Defiance from Torpoint. The match was drawn 0-0 and replayed at Torpoint on the 7th March before a crowd of 4,000. Defiance, who had been top of the League all season, knocked the Cup holders out of the competition 4-0. In the other matches, Tavistock won at home, 3-1 versus Oreston Rovers, and Torquay United were knocked out of their first Devon Senior Cup competition, 3-0 at home to the 1st Battalion (Loyal) North Lancs Regiment. The soldiers were to face Argyle in the semi-final, whilst Tavistock were drawn to play Defiance.


The Football Mail (Portsmouth) reported on Saturday 28th February 1903 that the “missionaries” from Plymouth would be in Portsmouth on 2nd March 1903, the day of the England v. Wales International at Fratton Park. The newspaper said they were attending to gain “the support of Southern secretaries for admission in the Southern League for the Argyle Club, which is being launched on the waters of professionalism”. The reporter thought the Southern League was to expand in size to let them in. The article reported that Argyle had received 100 applications for the manager's job, including individuals then with Football League Division One, Two, and Southern League clubs. Speculation in the press suggested that the favourite for the position was well known in Bristol and was experienced in all these Leagues. This was probably Sam Hollis of Bristol City.

Whilst the Football Mail was correct about the lobbying of Secretaries for support, the ‘Athletic News’, the leading sports paper of the day, reported that the main reason was to interview the managerial candidates. The interviews were on the day of the International match; how many were interviewed in the limited time available is not known. As Windrum was in charge and the obvious man got the job, the other unspecified candidates may have been a bluff purely for publicity from the speculation. Managers were attending the International without necessarily having applied for the Plymouth Argyle job. The Prospectus of Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited, registered in July 1903, shows that Frank Brettell was appointed Manager on the day of the match, 2nd March 1903. Would the unknown Football League candidates have applied for a job paying £2 per week?  It is unlikely that Windrum and Spooner fitted in manager interviews, lobbied the various Southern League Secretaries, and met with officials of the Western League in amongst the ceremony and staging of an International match. The England match was the first played at Portsmouth, and they won 2-1. The team included goalkeeper John Willie Sutcliffe who allegedly recommended Arthur Jackson (Worrall) as coach to Argyle. Sutcliffe was to sign for Plymouth Argyle in January 1905. This was his last England cap.


A Board Meeting of the Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited convened at 8.00 p.m. on Friday 6th March 1903 to appoint the new Manager. Attending was Frederick Windrum, Clarence Spooner, J. D. Spooner, Guy L. Spooner, and Richard F. Davis. It was proposed by J. D. Spooner, and Mr. Davis seconded, that Frank Brettell be appointed at a salary of £2 weekly, with bonuses not to exceed £50 to be given at the discretion of the Directors; that the sum of £10 be given to him to cover the expenses of removal; and that the Solicitor be instructed to draw up the necessary agreement. This was carried. Clarence Spooner proposed that Mr. Brettell be requested to come to Plymouth on Monday next, which again was carried. A room was taken at 2, Athenaeum Terrace, Plymouth at a yearly rental of £15, to be the registered office of Plymouth Argyle Football Company limited. Mr. Astley Cooper Godfrey resigned as a Director. The meeting then arranged the following committees:

PLAYERS: Lt. Windrum

ADVERTISING: Albert V. Adlard

GROUND & STANDS:  J. D. Spooner, Richard F. Davis

CORRESPONDENCE: Lt. Windrum, Guy L. Spooner

FINANCE: Lt. Windrum, Clarence N. Spooner, Richard F. Davis.

Frank Brettell, manager

In 1906, he was licensed victualler of the Golden Fleece, East Street, Plymouth; by 1910, he had characteristically moved on.


All recruitment of staff and players was put into the hands of Lieutenant Frederick Windrum. He had been given 'carte blanche' and his guidance had the full trust of Clarence Spooner and the others. He had acted in a similar role in the setting up of Portsmouth Football Club and their successful direct election into the Southern League Division One in 1899. It is an odd fact that the same Army man should largely deserve the credit in achieving professional League status for clubs at both of the main Royal Naval ports. Windrum’s choice of Frank Brettell was a foregone conclusion as they had formed the same accomplished partnership at Portsmouth. With Brettell as their first manager, Portsmouth finished second to Tottenham Hotspur in their first 1899-00 season. In 1900-01, they finished third and unexpectedly Brettell stood down at Portsmouth in July 1901. There is an unexplained gap in Brettell’s career from then to his appointment as manager of Plymouth Argyle in March 1903.

According to ‘The Book of Football’ (published in 1905), Brettell as a manager “had a reputation second to none for initial success”. Francis Edward Brettell was born in 1862; the 1881 Census shows him as born Smethwick, Staffordshire. In the Census, his listed occupation is shown as a ‘Pupil Teacher’, son of William, a widower, living at 62, Aughton Street, Everton, Liverpool. Frank married the following year in 1882 at West Derby, Liverpool. His sporting C.V. began as player-Secretary with his local St. Domingo’s club, which formed in 1878 and renamed as Everton the following season. He then moved to help form the professional Liverpool Football Club in 1892. His next club was Bolton Wanderers where he was Secretary-manager until he became Manager at Tottenham Hotspur in 1897. Brettell began his job at Portsmouth in 1898. His managerial stints were successful though generally brief and he stepped aside to hand the reins over to someone else, as if his job were done. He was to do this with Argyle at the end of 1904-05.

Frank Brettell arrived in Plymouth and attended a meeting of Directors at Chubb’s Hotel on Tuesday 10th March 1903. His duties as Manager, and those of the Secretary, were discussed. Brettell was given unlimited charge of everything connected with football. He was to attend at the Company office daily at 9.15 a.m., and from 4.00 to 6.00 p.m. It was resolved that future Directors meetings would take place at the office every Monday at 8.00 p.m. The Secretary, Francis Crouch, was to keep the Company’s Books, deal with all matters of finance, take the gate money, and act as the Directors' secretary. The last business of the meeting, proposed by Windrum, was to send the Manager and Richard F. Davis to represent the Company at a meeting of the Western League at Reading on 12th March 1903.


The Minute Book of the Western League, dated 12th March 1903, shows that their Chairman and Hon. Secretary had met with Lieutenant Windrum and Clarence Spooner to discuss the proposal of Plymouth Argyle Football Company Ltd to join the League if they could gain admission into the Southern League. Windrum and Spooner had already given the Plymouth Argyle particulars to Western League officials to assist in their discussion at the 12th March meeting. In all probability, that initial meeting was on the day of the International at Portsmouth on the 2nd March.

The Western League was advised that the Club's capital, not including Home Park (owned by Argyle Athletic Club Limited) was £3,000. The ground was fully equipped; it had dressing rooms for (perplexingly) five teams, with hot and cold baths. The stand accommodated 2,000; the only further expense was for three more turnstiles. The lease stood for 12½ years at £100 per year (the freehold had been in the hands of the British Electric Traction Company from 1900). Trams from all parts passed the ground. The team would be the best they could obtain, practically the whole of the capital would be spent on securing first-class men, and they would not lure players away from fellow Western and Southern League clubs. The manager, practically engaged, was well known. The train service to London operated by two companies was excellent.

As further endorsement, Windrum and Spooner told the officials that although rugby was strong, the new club would use every endeavour to gain a large share of the patronage of the football public. They speculated that a large number of Dockyard workers only patronised rugby because there were only small local teams in the district playing association football. There was no evidence for this belief; on 7th March 1903, a crowd of 16,000 packed into The Rectory to see Albion versus Newport, from Wales.

The gathered members of the Western League were asked to consider the application of Plymouth Argyle and discuss it with their own directorate, the whole question to be gone into further at the next meeting of the committee.


Frank Brettell quickly settled into the task ahead. On Monday 16th March 1903, he attended a meeting of Directors at the Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited new office in Athenaeum Terrace. He suggested the appointment of Tom Cleghorn as trainer; he had known him for some years. This was proposed to the Directors and approved. The Manager reported that he and Director Richard F. Davis had visited Reading for the meeting of the Western League on 12th March 1903. Brettell reported the visit had been “in every way satisfactory. They had been well received by the various Secretaries”. It was anticipated there would be little opposition to their admission as the Secretary of the Football Association, Frederick J. Wall, was recommending the admission of Plymouth Argyle. A significant, mutually beneficial situation and an amazing turn round from the F.A.’s original stance against Argyle.

Every move made by Plymouth Argyle, under the guidance of Lieutenant Windrum, showed brilliant tactical planning to the finest detail to dispel any possible failure caused by the geographical disability. The voting clubs knew that Plymouth Argyle were not going to take any of their players, the improved kudos of a professional League which encompassed a much larger geographical area, including winning its Championship, and the backing of the Football Association were powerful arguments for admittance. Windrum did not stop there. With the permission of Frederick Wall, he had arranged a trophy match at Home Park on 25th April 1903 between top clubs, Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County. At the Directors meeting on the 16th, he proposed that, in connection with this match, important officials be invited to Plymouth to take part. These included John James Bentley (President of the Football League), John Lewis (Board of the Football League and a prominent referee), and William Pickford (Football Association and a journalist) who was keen on the development of the game in the South. They were asked to act as referee and linesmen, which would provide great publicity value.

Richard Frank Davis, Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited Director

As a businessman, and like many others, he combined business with sporting interests. Initially he was a Watchmaker/Jeweller who also became a bicycle agent through his own sports participation. He was a member of the Plymouth Cycling Club and officiated at their Home Park track races. Later he joined the Argyle Athletic Club, whose Old Town Street address was close to his business in Treville Street. He became a close ally to Clarence Spooner. Davis and Frank Brettell attended the Western League meeting at Reading.


Further publicity for football in Plymouth, if not Argyle, came on Wednesday 18th March 1903 at Home Park with the improbable sounding fixture between the village club of Crownhill and the Southern League leaders Southampton. Crownhill lined up with only two of their current players in the team, Ledington formerly of Argyle and Fawcett. Argyle’s ex-Crownhill player Archie Wheaton and William Cleminson also played. Southampton fielded two Internationals, including Jack Robinson who signed as the Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper only two months later. Despite splendid weather, the crowd was a moderate 1,500.

The Mayor of Plymouth, Henry Hurrell, kicked off. Southampton were lucky not to go 1-0 down as Cleminson hit the bar and the ball went over. A mistake by the Crownhill goalkeeper, allowing the ball to roll between his legs, put Southampton 1-0 up. Southampton kept up the pressure to lead 3-0 at half time. During the half, Robinson sustained a head injury, which was treated by a doctor summoned from the grandstand. The famous goalkeeper had to be carried off leaving Southampton with ten men. Despite the loss of Robinson, in the second half Southampton went ahead 5-0 until Cleminson pulled one back for Crownhill. Cleminson scored again within a minute but it was disallowed. Crownhill took up a great assault on the Southampton goal, narrowly missing and hitting the bar. A penalty was awarded and Fawcett scored to make the score 5-2. Under further pressure, the Southampton out-fielder playing in goal threw the ball into his own net to make the score 5-3. Crownhill pressed to score again until the match ended. The previous day Southampton had defeated Cornwall 9-1 at St. Austell.


The 1902-03 season now seemed inevitably to be the last under the guise of the Argyle Football Club. In its fifteen, often difficult seasons in local football, the club had miraculously survived when many other Association clubs had come and gone. At the age of sixteen, Argyle were the oldest surviving non-school, civilian Devon Association football club. Yet despite the backing of Clarence Spooner, all that the Argyle Football Club had achieved was one Devon League championship in 1899-00, and they had never won the Devon Senior Cup. This was their last chance to emerge triumphant. At the beginning of March, Argyle F.C. were still in position for a League and Cup double, a feat first achieved by a civilian club, Green Waves, the previous season. The Green Waves double could have been Argyle’s double had it not been for the heavy match programme. This season the coaching of Charlie Hare and a less hectic match programme made the prospects much better.

In Devon League Division One, Argyle’s 4-0 defeat of Essa on 7th March 1903 put them back into 1st place above Green Waves, who had a game in hand, in 2nd place. The former leaders, Defiance, were a close 3rd and Oreston Rovers in 4th place were still in contention. In the Cup, Argyle were through to the semi-finals to meet the 1st Battalion North Lancs Regiment who were not in the Devon League and the two sides had not met before in any match. The semi-final attracted a 6,000 crowd to neutral South Devon Place on Saturday 21st March 1903. Argyle were able to field their strongest team, including Charlie Hare at centre-forward and amateur stalwart Percy Buchan in goal. Buchan had said he would give up football at the end of the season. In the North Lancs side were two very dangerous forwards, Private Daker and Corporal Ashcroft, both of whom had played in the League for Green Waves. Richard Daker was a good enough player to catch the eye of Manchester United in 1903-04.

Argyle commenced, playing up the slope toward the Embankment Road end. Led by Charlie Hare, the forwards were noted for passing “prettily”. Besides the forwards, centre-half Clifton Pethick tried one of his famed distance shots on the opponent's goal. The Regiment fought back in speedy attacks led by Daker but the defence of Buchan and Wyatt in particular kept them at bay. Argyle, exhibiting “fine head work”, counter-attacked, only to be repulsed by vigorous and watchful defence. The Western Daily Mercury (23-3-1903) said, “The game was fast and exciting, and every inch of the ground was stoutly contested”. Last ditch defending prevented any successful attempts on goal as half time arrived, 0-0. The second half continued in the same manner with both goalkeepers having to make saves. Great spirit and determination kept the score sheet clean until the 64th minute when Johnny Andrews buried a cross from 'Jacko' Matters into the soldiers' net. Now behind, the North Lancs sent in shot after shot on the Argyle goal, though most were off target. As the end of the game got closer the match intensified and the result became beyond doubt as a Charlie Hare shot made it 2-0. Argyle were through to the Final to meet Tavistock who, on the same day at Home Park, unexpectedly defeated Defiance 2-1.


The Cup match on 21st March 1903 at South Devon Place kicked off at 2 o’clock to allow for a Plymouth R.F.C versus Argyle Rugby Football Club fixture to kick-off immediately afterward. This was to be Argyle’s last rugby match in Devon, losing in a credible 21 points to 14 defeat against such illustrious opponents. A few days later, on the 25th, some of the Argyle R.F.C. players, including the captain Ernie Clark, turned out for Plymouth R.F.C. The last Argyle rugby ‘home’ match at Home Park had been the 9 points to nil victory on 14th March 1903 over Penryn. No rugby matches played by Argyle Reserves have been found after 3rd January 1903. The Argyle 'Chiefs' went on a short Cornish tour to St. Ives and Penzance in April 1903, from whence time Argyle have not indulged in the rugby code.

Plymouth Football Club Ground, South Devon Place

The Argyle Rugby Football Club played their last match in Plymouth here on 21st March 1903. A week later some of the Argyle players turned out for Plymouth R.F.C.

The ground was originally home to the unrelated Plymouth Football Club, and the Devon F.A. was founded in the old rustic Cricket Pavilion, far right, behind the goal posts, with its back to Embankment Road. This ground later became the Astor Playing Field.


The annual meeting of the Devon Football Association took place at the Bank Street Chambers, Plymouth on the evening of Wednesday 25th March 1903. The meeting began with the acknowledgement by the County Secretary, George Jones, that Devon Association football was improving beyond recognition. The County side had only lost one match all season and there were now over fifty affiliated junior clubs. The difficulty with the Exeter and district clubs had been amicably settled by the formation of the Eastern Division, which was affiliated to the Devon F.A. and part and parcel of it, and subservient to it; there was no breakaway. Association football gates had substantially grown in the Three Towns, particularly in the Cup matches. Not once was there any acknowledgement to Argyle for the improvements.

The Chairman of the Devon F.A., Lieutenant Windrum, was not in attendance. In his absence his name was put forward in the election of a Chairman for the 1903-04 season, but there was no seconder. The meeting acknowledged that Windrum had sorted the long-standing Eastern dispute but Arthur Edmund Spender (Chairman, Junior League) thought Windrum’s professional interests made him unsuitable. Spender, whose family were behind the Western Morning News, said he regretted the “professional element” that was about to be introduced into the Three Towns. He thought the Chairman should be one who distinctly favoured amateurism and he recommended candidate Dr. George Stephen Meadows, a Canadian-born Medical Practitioner from Saltash. Dr. Meadows was elected. In his speech he said that he “would rather see a thousand boys kicking about a football badly than twenty-two men doing it well”. As a doctor, he thought football was more important for its exercise. The Devon F. A. Treasurer and pro-Argyle official, Fred Axworthy, declined to continue in the role.

The absence of any Argyle influence at the meeting was very noticeable. All of the anti-Argyle remarks were greeted by “hear, hear” from the small assembled attendance. Clarence Spooner and Frederick Windrum were aware of the opposition and unconcerned by it at this time. They expected this opposition to decline once everyone had settled to the experience of having a professional League club in Plymouth.


The breaking of the Plymouth monopoly over the Devon F.A. was as important to the growth of Association football in Devon as the introduction of professional football with Plymouth Argyle. Following suggestions by Lieutenant Windrum, as Chairman of the Devon F.A., the East Devon Football Association was formed at the Railway Hotel, Exeter at the beginning of April 1903, as a branch of the Devon F.A. It had its own officials, two of whom sat on the Devon F.A. Executive Committee. The East Devon F.A. Committee contained seats from Exeter, Exmouth, Torquay, Newton Abbot, Dawlish, and for the first time, North Devon. Its territory was east of a line drawn from Newton Abbot to Okehampton to Bideford. In one move, two thirds of Devon was now controlled from Exeter, the other third remaining was Plymouth and district. From this date, on the back of a rugby decline, association football made rapid inroads into the new Devon territory. Many new clubs formed and new resultant Leagues set up; the North Devon League formed for the 1904-05 season. The old ambiguous and contentiously named Devon League gave way to the Plymouth & District League for 1905-06.


Argyle went to Torpoint on Saturday 28th March 1903, being expected to win against Defiance and stay top of Devon League Division One. A gale was blowing at the Thanckes ground, next to the Tamar. Argyle F.C. had the strong wind behind them in the first half during which they toyed with the opposition, led by their “artist” Charlie Hare. The Defiance kept a rampant Argyle out but could not prevent a lightening shot from Hare, and a long-range drive from Pethick putting the green and blacks 2-0 up at half time. With the wind against them Argyle nearly came a cropper in the second half. In a ding-dong struggle, Defiance scored twice and the match ended 2-2.

Meanwhile Green Waves defeated the bottom team, Royal Garrison Artillery, the two points lifting them above Argyle. The usual League table mess was appearing in the Press. Following these matches the Western Daily Mercury (1-4-1903) showed Green Waves top (played 13, points 24), followed by Argyle (played 14, points also 24, with goals-for, 44 and goals-against, 17). Argyle had played 14 matches if the discounted match against the 5th Provisional Battalion had been included, but the goals tally would have been 54 for, and 19 against. Without this match, Argyle's record should have been: played 13, points: 22, goals: 50–19. This is without going into whether the Green Waves record was correct.

We can only assume that newspaper inaccuracies were not reflected by the Devon F.A. It is clear that the old rivals, Argyle and Green Waves, were vying for the top spot and the two clubs had still to meet in the League. The result of these two matches would decide the outcome of the season.


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