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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 18: 1950-1953

Into the Fifties

With the hardships and hurdles of the forties, perhaps the greatest surprise was that relegation had been staved off for so long. In 1950 the drop had finally come, but not in spirit; the new decade was a time to rebuild and rise again.

Author: Steve Dean   [about the authors]

Version: 1.2

1.1: A correction to the description of the FA Cup game at Millwall in 1951-52.

1.2: An update to reflect that the record 19 home wins in 1951-52 was beaten in 2022-23.

Date: 28 Mar 2024

Grateful thanks: to Colin Parsons for his original suggestions, and to the very helpful people at Plymouth Library Services for providing access to newspaper archives.

In this chapter: Twenty years on ... 1950-51: Life back in Division Three (South) ... 1951-52: A club on the up ... The passing of Clarence Spooner ... 1952-53: So near the promised land ... Plymouth Argyle's Golden Jubilee

Return to History Contents


On 6 May 1950, seven old friends met for lunch at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel in Millbay Road. Twenty years earlier, almost to the day, the hotel was surrounded by cheering fans when those same heroes arrived with their team-mates for a celebration dinner after the last game of the 1929-30 season. For the first time, Argyle had won promotion to English football's second tier, and 20 years later the old camaraderie returned in an instant. Included in the magnificent seven were captain Fred Titmuss, normally behind the bar at the Cherry Tree; Raymond Bowden, who went on to win two First Division championship medals and an FA Cup winners' medal with Arsenal, six caps for England and then owned a sports shop in Plymouth; and goalkeeper Harry Cann, who came up from Cornwall. Also there were four who worked in the Dockyard: Tommy Grozier, Alf Matthews, Fred McKenzie, and perhaps the greatest of them all, Sammy Black.

After enjoying their lunch, six made their way to Home Park to watch Argyle's last game of 13 campaigns in Division Two (the other seasons were lost to the Second World War). It was a bitter-sweet day; a joyous reunion and a 2-0 win against Bury at Home Park, but sadness that their side's hard-won place in the Second Division was no more.

Old team-mates at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel in May 1950. From left to right: Raymond Bowden, Fred McKenzie, Fred Titmuss, Tommy Grozier, Alf Matthews, Sammy Black and Harry Cann.


Encounters with our Devon rivals for the first time in over 20 years

Maurice Tadman, a goal machine in the autumn of 1950

There were few changes at Home Park in the first summer of the new decade. Hugh Ross, appointed 12 months earlier to take charge of training and coaching, was considered surplus to requirements, but nearly all of the first team candidates were offered new contracts, although the terms were less attractive for those not playing regularly. Some were affected more than others, including some senior players who were particularly unhappy. As a result, a few were placed on the transfer list, including goalkeeper Bill Shortt. Captain Jack Chisholm also refused to sign, but by the eve of the new season, compromises had been made and contracts agreed with all except Stan Williams, who joined Dundee at the end of August in an exchange deal that brought Peter Rattray to Home Park.

The first game back in Division Three (South) was a 2-1 home win against Leyton Orient, witnessed by nearly 21,000 curious followers who soon realised that third-tier football was often fast and furious rather than the more cultured style of the higher division. Argyle managed only eight points in the first ten fixtures, culminating in a single-goal defeat at home to Exeter City near the end of September, the Devon rivals' first encounter for over 20 years.

Whatever the reason, Argyle's fortunes turned sharply after that defeat. A very impressive eight wins followed in the next nine games, including five goals against Aldershot, a rare seven against Football League new boys Colchester United (with all five forwards scoring against former Argyle goalkeeper George Wright), four at home to Crystal Palace and an impressive 6-0 trouncing at Brighton & Hove Albion. Also in that run was a 3-1 win at Argyle's other Devon rivals, Torquay United, which again was the first conventional fixture between the sides since 1930. The hero that autumn was Maurice Tadman, who scored an astonishing 17 goals in an eight-game sequence, including four on two occasions (at home to Aldershot and away at Brighton), not to mention a hat-trick in the FA Cup first round at Gainsborough Trinity. At Christmas the Pilgrims were a promising fifth in the table.

The FA Cup that season meant ties in the first and second rounds for the first time since 1929. The third-round draw resulted in a very unusual outcome: Argyle were to play Wolverhampton Wanderers at home for the second successive season. Like 12 months before, a full house of 40,000 witnessed a brave display by the Pilgrims, although this time a narrow defeat by the odd goal in three settled the tie at the first time of asking. Once again, the First Division side included a host of past and future internationals, including goalkeeper Bert Williams and England captain Billy Wright.

England's goalkeeper, Bert Williams, is beaten by George Dews' 15th minute equaliser. He was beaten twice more, but both were disallowed.

After the impressive run before Christmas and the excitement of the FA Cup, promotion back to Division Two was a real possibility, but inconsistent form in the second half of the season saw Argyle slip away from the promotion race. Five wins in the last five games helped secure a creditable fourth place, with Maurice Tadman top scorer on 26 and George Dews on 20, but it had been clear for many weeks that the gap to the top two had been too great to close.

Off the field, significant progress was at last made on the long road to a new grandstand. Outline plans were first published back in 1946, but season after season the club's ambitions had been thwarted by the need for approval by the Ministry of Works. The Government's primary concern was to manage scarce resources - in particular, steel and skilled manpower - at a time of unprecedented demand for reconstruction. Nevertheless, building works at clubs such as Hull City and Manchester United were approved in the second half of the forties, but Argyle's applications were repeatedly rejected, even though it was widely recognised that Home Park had suffered more damage than most if not all. However, that severity also applied to the city, and few would argue that the housing and business needs of the people of Plymouth should not take priority. In July 1950, Devonport's MP and lifelong Argyle fan Michael Foot pleaded the case yet again in a letter to the Minister of Works. Later that month the Minister visited Home Park and, just a few days later, permission was granted to spend up to 20,000 on a new facility.

The Western Morning News
28 July 1950

The design for the new grandstand was very different from the 1946 vision. The original proposal was estimated to cost around 60,000, but refusals over the following years clearly demonstrated that such an expense was unrealistic, and year on year the design was revised. However, central approval was not the only hurdle; Plymouth City Council was both landlord and planning authority, and each revision was carefully scrutinised and often criticised. Responding to a plan submitted in 1949, the City Engineer and Surveyor wrote to the architects, Messrs Archibald Leitch and Partners: "You can hardly expect me to say anything complimentary about the external appearance of the proposed building. I had hoped to see on this site a reinforced concrete structure which would have possessed some degree of architectural merit. The structure proposed to be erected is nothing more or less than a gaunt corrugated-iron shed."

(Home Park's grandstand is often said to be a typical Archibald Leitch design. This is true in part; Archibald Leitch designed many fine structures, including stands at Ibrox Park, Goodison Park and White Hart Lane to mention just a few, but he died in 1939. It was his son, also Archibald, who inherited the firm after his father's death and who designed Home Park's third grandstand, which proved to be the company's last commission.)

Limited to a spend of 20,000 at that time, the architects were instructed to produce a design that could be implemented in stages, with covered seating for fans as the main priority. It was very welcome news for the Pilgrims' long-suffering followers on the south side, who had been compelled to sit out in all weathers for five post-war seasons, and who must have wondered if the day would ever come. The solution was to build a stand along the lines of previous designs, but with only three of the five planned bays and without most of the intended facilities below. Covered seating would be provided for 2,500 and a standing enclosure for 6,000 in front, with the aim at a later date of adding changing rooms, offices and other facilities below and a further bay at each end to increase the accommodation to 4,000 seats and 9,000 standing.

The final plans were submitted in September 1950 and approved by the city's Special Works Committee two months later. At long last, Plymouth Argyle's third grandstand was about to rise.

By March 1951, over 200 tons of steel had arrived at the workshops of Messrs Blight and White at Prince Rock, and initial preparations were well under way.

A month later, the scene at the last home match of the 1950-51 season. Already the temporary seats on the south side had been removed and the banking reduced, ready for a busy summer ahead.

1951-1952: A CLUB ON THE UP

The south side in early summer 1951

Five weeks before the new season

There was little peace for nearby residents in the summer of 1951. At first, hopes were high for a new grandstand on the opening day of the new season, but reality soon set in. In April and May, around 4000 tons of earth were removed from the upper bank on the south side and transferred to the north-west corner of the ground, between the Devonport End and the Popular (Lyndhurst) Side, and more than 60 pits were dug in preparation for the foundations of the steelwork. The south side's railway sleepers were later transferred to the north-west corner to form well-defined terracing - hence the adopted name for a favourite area for many, the Sleepers, also known later by some as the Spion Kop. The railway sleepers lasted for more than 30 years in their new home, to be replaced by concrete terracing and new barriers in 1986.

By mid-July 1951, the work of Blight and White, the grandstand's steel erectors, was well underway, beginning at the east (Peverell) end of the site. However, with the season just five weeks away, the best that could be hoped for was that a small section of the completed stand would be ready in time, and even that was not to be.

Much to the disappointment of Home Park regulars, a decision was taken not to issue seasons tickets for any part of the ground, such were the doubts about the grandstand's timescale, but match-day prices were announced. A seat in the centre of the new grandstand would cost 6/- (six shillings or 30p as we now know it); the stand sides would be 5/- (25p); the new enclosure, 3/- (15p); the Milehouse covered end, 2/3 (11p); and the remaining uncovered standing areas, 1/6 (7.5p). Compared with the previous season's equivalent areas, all were an increase, and even though Argyle was a third-tier club, they were amongst the most expensive in the whole of the Football League.

There was little activity on the transfer front that summer, the most notable aquisition being Ted Jelly, a right-back from Leicester City, who played in the 1949 FA Cup Final. However, Paddy Ratcliffe's fine form kept Jelly out of the side for his first 18 months at Home Park.

With the Devonport End roof unfortunately confusing matters, the view of the grandstand at the second home game of the season.

The lofty view from the seating in the grandstand, which, according to a newspaper report, provided a perfect view of the patterns being woven and broken on the field.

On the eve of the new season, chairman Sir Clifford Tozer stressed the importance of early wins, no doubt recollecting the poor starts in every one of the preceding post-war campaigns. Unfortunately, it was not to be for the first match - a 1-0 defeat at Leyton Orient - but then came an impressive run of six straight victories which left the Pilgrims sitting proudly at the top of the table. The first of those six was the first home game of the season, a 5-0 win over Crystal Palace, which gave nearly 15,000 fans their first impression of the new grandstand. Unfortunately, no seats had been fitted because of a delay in the delivery of the screws.

On September 22nd, the first bay of the new structure was ready for occupation. Eight hundred spectators at the east end of the stand enjoyed the impressive view for the first time, but not the score. Bristol Rovers won 2-1.

Most of the second bay was open for the 4-2 win over Gillingham on December 2nd, and again the view gained enthusiastic approval. As 'Spectator' in the Western Independent put it: "What a change this stand is now making to the appearance of the enclosure, and how much, one wonders, is it beginning to influence the Argyle team now playing under the imposing shadow of the great stand instead of the wide open terraces. The psychological value of the stand should not be underestimated any less than the full throttled roar of a crowd."

All 2,500 seats were expected to be available by Christmas. At last, spectators were able to sit under cover at Home Park for the first time in over ten years, although, apart from toilets, there were no other facilities. A fully functioning grandstand that included changing rooms and baths, offices for the club and refreshments for spectators was yet to be realised.

A fine photo from the Peverell (Barn Park) End, showing a packed enclosure and, for the first time, one section occupied in the new grandstand.

In November, the Pilgrims scored five at home to Millwall, and for the second successive season, all five forwards scored in a game. This was a rare event; it had only occurred three times before, all in the 1920s, and in the era of full-backs, half-backs and forwards, it never occurred again. A week later the two teams met once more, this time at the Den in the first round of the FA Cup, when the Lions gained revenge with a 1-0 win.

With Argyle at the top of the table, the Christmas Day and Boxing Day games ended in draws against Bristol City. These results occurred in the middle of a run of 28 games that included just six draws and three defeats. One of those losses was by a single goal in February at Port Vale, 11 days after the death of King George VI and the accession to the throne of his daughter, Princess Elizabeth. The Western Independent's 'Spectator' summed up the affair: "The game never ought to have been played through to the end. Not one person in the crowd of 10,600 could see more than an occasional kick during the second half when the fog, which had always been a menace, thickened and blotted out the field. In fact players could not see each other if they were more than 20 yards apart and for long periods in the second half there was not a single player within my vision. On other occasions ghost-like figures would flit across the snow-covered surface chasing the ball the spectators could not see only to vanish again as eerily as they appeared."

On Easter Saturday (this author was a fortnight old), Maurice Tadman scored the Pilgrims' 100th goal of the season when the season's highest crowd, 31,755, saw a 2-2 draw at home to promotion rivals, Brighton and Hove Albion. A few hours after the game, thieves broke into Home Park's ticket office, no doubt with the 3,000 takings from the best gate of the season in mind. However, even though the safe was found in the centre of the pitch, with its back jemmied off, the intruders made off with only 7 10s. Very fortunately, they also missed 125 FA Cup Final tickets, said to be worth 1,OOO on the black market. The tickets had only reached Home Park that afternoon, but instead of putting them in the safe, Argyle's secretary said he had taken "other precautions".

Argyle were seven points clear at the top with five games to go after that Brighton game, and with two points for a win, promotion was tantalisingly close. With luck, it could have been won two days later, at bottom-placed Exeter City, but the Grecians spoilt the occasion with the only goal in front of a 19,000 crowd at St James Park. So with just the top team promoted in those days - the second promoted club were the champions of Division Three North - the Pilgrims had to wait until the following Saturday, when a Maurice Tadman first-half winner in the 2-1 victory at Gillingham ensured the step up to Division Two football, barring freak results from all promotion candidates in their last three matches.

In a shop window in Peverell, the ball from match at Brighton that ensured promotion, acquired by Argyle director, Mr T.R. Nicholls.

Mathematical certainty came four days later in the midweek fixture at Brighton. 28,000, the Goldstone Ground's largest crowd of the season, urged their team on against the top-placed side, and with 16 minutes remaining, the score stood at two each. Then came the most bizarre goal of the season: Gordon Astall's first-time, full-blooded drive rebounded off the woodwork, struck Brighton's goalkeeper on the foot and spun away into the net.

Before the game, the team posed for a photograph, which appeared in a golden jubilee publication a year later. However, something was wrong - It was certainly shot that day at the Goldstone Ground, but leaning against captain Jack Chisholm's legs was the Division Three (South) Championship Shield, which should not have been present because Argyle's success was not absolutely certain, Also included in photo was Neil Dougall, but he was injured and did not play in that or any of the remaining games of the season. The answer to the puzzle is found in the following season's club handbook, which includes the actual photo taken at that time, with a ball between Chisholm's legs, not a shield, and Harold Dobbie, who was on standby for the game, standing in Dougall's place. The genuine photo had been 'doctored' and presumably re-photographed to produce an image that celebrated the trophy-winning campaign and also reflected Dougall's contribution for a large part of the season. To use a manufactured photo for the jubilee booklet suggests that no photo was taken of the 1951-52 team with their prize.

The mystery photo, taken at Brighton before promotion was certain that day, and later altered to add Neil Dougall and the shield.

Back: Neil Dougall, Tony McShane, Pat Jones, Bill Shortt, Peter Rattray, Johnny Porteous, George Dews.

Front: Gordon Astall, Paddy Ratcliffe, Jack Chisholm, Maurice Tadman, Alex Govan.

The following day, the Lord Mayor (Alderman Randolph Baker), other civic dignitaries and hundreds of fans waited on the platform to greet the side on their return to North Road Station, and an estimated 70,000 lined the route to a civic reception at the Grand Hotel on The Hoe. Commenting on the behaviour of the crowd, the Deputy Chief Constable said, "They were enthusiastic, cheerful, but cooperative. There was no disorder and the police controlling them had no trouble at all." At the Grand Hotel reception, the Lord Mayor handed a 5 note to the chairman and said, "If 4,000 people in the city follow my example, your club's 20,000 overdraft will be wiped out." The Lord Mayor's lead was followed by others who had assembled to greet the players, and by the end of the reception, 45 had been handed over. (Oh well, it was worth a try!)

Outside, even though the players had entered the hotel, the good-humoured crowd waited until their heroes reappeared. Manager Jimmy Rae summed up the players' feelings when he said, "I've played in a Scottish Cup Final but I've never known a crowd so enthusiastic as this. It's wonderful."

Top left: The Lord Mayor greets the team on a station platform. Right: outside North Road Station, the Royal Marines Band and the Lord Mayor's car lead the way. Bottom left: the coach heads down an incomplete New George Street. Right: A Civic Reception for Jack Chisholm and his team-mates at the Grand Hotel.

The last home game of the season, two days later, was the visit of Torquay United. The crowd of nearly 29,000 celebrated as Jack Chisholm led his side onto the pitch, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw after Torquay rushed into a two-goal lead, the second scored by ex-Pilgrim Ernie Edds. Argyle fought back and dominated as the game drew to a close, but could not find the winner that would have also broken the all-time record for goals scored in a league season. The game ended as the third home draw of the campaign, with a very impressive 19 home wins and just one defeat.

'Jumbo' Jack Chisholm acknowledges the cheers for his side at the last home game, with a guard of honour formed by Torquay's players. This is the last known photo of the players emerging from the south-east corner, where temporary dressing rooms had been erected in 1945.

Champions of Div 3(S) in 1951-52

Ironically, the final game of the 1951-52 season ended in Argyle's worst result - a 3-0 defeat by Norwich City at Carrow Road - but of course the result was of no consequence. Argyle had won the Division Three (South) Championship Shield by a margin of five points. If there was any disappointment on that final day, it was the failure to find the net, so equalling the all-time record of 107 Football League goals scored in a season (first achieved in 1925-26). Nineteen home wins was an all-time record that was equalled in 2001-02 and remained until 2022-23. Maurice Tadman topped the goalscoring chart with 27, closed followed by George Dews on 25. Peter Rattray (19) and Gordon Astall (18) also weighed in. Incidentally, George Dews missed the final game to play first-class cricket for Worcestershire, as he did every summer. We will never know if his presence at Norwich would have been enough to break the 107-goal record.

The defence also played a vital part. Just 53 goals were conceded to give a for/against ratio (goal average) of over two, thanks in no small part to another impressive season from Bill Shortt. Full-backs Paddy Ratcliffe and Pat Jones were ever-present, as was captain Jack Chisholm at the heart of the defence.

Above all, the manager fully deserved the fulsome praise that came his way. Jimmy Rae always believed in the players who suffered relegation in 1950 and in only two years he had steered them back to Division Two.


Clarence Spooner
Club President 1947-51

On Christmas Day, 1951, whilst over 17,000 were at Home Park to witness a 2-2 draw against Bristol City, Plymouth Argyle's President, Mr Clarence Spooner, passed away at his home in Yelverton at the age of 82.

From the earliest times to the present day, no one has given so much to the club for more than half a century than Clarence Newby Spooner.

As a local player, he played ten times for the Argyle Football Club in the 1890s and became its president from 1898 to 1903. In 1899 he led the formation of the Argyle Athletic Club, which broadened the range of sports under the Argyle name, and then drove the initiative to create a professional club for the Three Towns, culminating in the birth of Plymouth Argyle Football Club in 1903.

Clarence was the second son of John Dawson Spooner (Snr), whose father had founded the family business of drapers that grew to become the Spooner & Co department store in the heart of Plymouth. Clarence and his brothers, John Dawson (Jnr) and Stanley, had a huge influence over the club in its early days, but it was Clarence who was rightly regarded as the architect of the professional club. At various times and on a number of occasions over the first half of the 20th Century, Clarence Newby Spooner was a director, vice-chairman and chairman of the club, and in 1947 he once again became its president.

Clarence Spooner's passing marked the end of the Spooner family's connection with the club, which spanned nearly 60 years.


The opposition for the season ahead, clustered mainly in the north of England, with no other teams in the South West region.

Joined by Lincoln City, champions of Division Three (North), Argyle's promotion to Division Two meant the return of journeys to all parts of the country, but a large number in Lancashire and Yorkshire meant much longer journeys, which at that time were normally by steam train. Huddersfield and Fulham had been relegated from the top flight and other sides included Everton, West Ham, Leicester and Leeds. Gone were Torquay, Exeter, both Bristol clubs, Newport, Swindon and Bournemouth, leaving Southampton and Swansea as the opposition for this season's not-so-local derbies.

Peter Rattray left the club in June, signing for Ipswich Town for 10,000. Rattray had found it difficult to settle throughout his two years in Plymouth and the transfer came as little surprise. As the tallest of the promotion-winning forward line, he was often the target of Astall and Govan's crosses, and his 19 goals at inside-left that season had been vital. The concern for many was that he would be difficult to replace.

At the end of July, Arthur Smith, an inside-left from West Bromwich Albion, signed for a modest four-figure fee, and on the eve of the new season, Sam McCrory, an inside-forward from Ipswich, stepped off the train at North Road Station to bolster the Pilgrims attack. The following day, over 29,000 turned out to welcome their team back to the Second Division, and the latest new boy scored on his debut. The momentum continued into the new campaign; five victories and one draw in their first six games left Argyle in second place by mid-September, on the same number of points but with a game in hand on the leaders and eventual promotion winners, Huddersfield Town.

Later in September came a moment that was to forever change the image of Argyle's captain. One day he decided to delay shaving until after training, which led to dressing room banter and a bet by George Taylor, the reserve team trainer, that Chisholm could not remain unshaven for a week. The challenge was set, and it even made headlines in national newspapers because he became the only player in the Football League to grow a beard. A week later, and with Mrs Chisholm expressing her liking of facial hair, 'Jumbo' decided to defy the ongoing banter and keep his beard, although he admitted it would be off by the end of the season. Little did he know; Jack Chisholm's beard became a symbol of the rock at the heart of the defence for years to come, and together with his strong personality, perhaps it was enough to win him a place in the Team of the Century, selected during the centenary celebrations of 2004.

Left: Jumbo with wife and daughter a week after the dressing room bet (wife Olive was said to like it). Right: Two months later, the famous Chisholm beard in perfect shape.

After the very successful start to the season (five wins in six), Argyle's form became less predictable. Four games without a win were followed by five victories in seven, and then a run of five without a win, ending in a 4-0 beating by Birmingham City on Christmas Day. At the end of 1952, despite such inconsistent form, Argyle were in 6th position and only six points off a promotion place.

The captain leads the team down the new pitch entrance on the halfway line.

Modern baths and showers after years of making do in the post-war huts.

Off the field, all 2,553 seats in the grandstand had been available since the start of the year, but there had been no official opening because there was so much to be done on the ground floor, with the necessary building licences from the Ministry of Works resulting in a protracted development. However, plans for dressing rooms and other facilities had been approved in the summer of 1952 and work commenced in September. As well as new facilities for the players, a new entrance onto the pitch was constructed by dividing the south-side enclosure into two halves, and refreshment counters for the fans were provided at each end of the structure.

On 27 December 1952, the Argyle players ran down the new slope to the halfway line for the first time, and after a 2-1 win over Birmingham City, enjoyed a leisurely soak in modern baths and showers.

One of the more unusual features of the new stand was its open ends, with supporters protected by roll-down canvas sides in the event of bad weather. No doubt this reflected optimism that the originally intended five-bay structure could soon follow, but only months later, short extensions with rigid asbestos sides were added at each end, although no further seats were incorporated at this time.

Whilst the west end of the grandstand's ground floor had been fitted out with modern facilities for the players, the other side remained largely untouched apart from makeshift areas for a boardroom and visiting guests, where remaining railway sleepers formed the basis of the floor. Modern facilities that also included a tea room and ladies' room were constructed in the summer of 1958.

In 1959 the west end of the upper structure was extended once again, to provide full cover over the access steps. However, this improvement was not implemented at the east end, giving the stand an irregular look when viewed from the Popular (Lyndhurst) side. Once again, even though the deck had been extended, no further seats were added.

A view of the new grandstand from the Peverell end. The open ends are very apparent, with the rolled-up canvas sides just visible, as is the line of the new players' entrance on the halfway line.

A modern perspective: a photo taken in March 2018, showing the three bays and subsequent extensions, and also illustrating how more extensive the original five-bay design would have appeared.

1953 began with three straight defeats in the league, the third being a 5-0 drubbing at the eventual champions, Sheffield United, but was then followed by five consecutive league wins. In the FA Cup, Argyle passed the third round test for the first time in 16 years and then won through to the fifth round for the first time ever. A comfortable 4-1 win at home to Coventry in the third round was followed by a 1-0 home win over Barnsley, and in the draw for the fifth round, Gateshead from the Third Division (North) were to be the opposition, again at Home Park. A successful season in the second tier; lower league opposition; a home tie; and the promise of the quarter-finals and only two steps from Wembley were all factors that suggested an FA Cup upset, and so it was. Despite Argyle's first-half dominance, the visitors' grit and determination was enough to turn the game into one of kick and rush with the Pilgrims' contributing little of their usual finesse. Gateshead's stoical efforts paid off; a second-half header was enough to win the game. No one was more disappointed than Mr Albert Webb, who at 91 years of age, watched the game just as he had witnessed Argyle's first FA Cup tie against Whiteheads in a qualifying round of 1903.

Fourth in Division Two, a record-equalling end to the 1952-53 season

Some years later, Jack Chisholm said that the shock defeat by Gateshead was the turning point of the season, and that the players' confidence had been severely affected. Perhaps that was the case in the dressing room, but the results on the pitch do not reflect a downturn in form. After the FA Cup defeat, the Pilgrims won seven, drew three and lost only four, leaving them in a record-equalling fourth place in the second tier, a feat also achieved in 1931-32. The significant difference between those record seasons was the number of goals scored; in 1932 the total was a very impressive 100, whereas in 1953 the number was 35 fewer, and indeed some 25 fewer than many of their 1952-53 promotion rivals.

Maurice Tadman top-scored with 15, followed by Alec Govan (12), Gordon Astall (11) and Arthur Smith (10). Compared with 12 months before, the top four scored 41 fewer, reflecting a weakness in front of goal that had been suggested in the local press throughout the season. A few more goals, a few more wins; the Pilgrims could have been promoted to the top flight and who knows what might have been.


A booklet to celebrate Plymouth Argyle's first 50 years

Whilst organised football had been played under the Argyle name for some 67 years, the day after the last game of the 1952-53 season marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Plymouth Argyle Football Company Limited's prospectus. To celebrate the golden jubilee, two days of events were organised: a club reception on that Sunday and a busy day for invited guests on Monday that included a civic reception in the morning, followed by a river trip in the afternoon and a jubilee banquet at the Continental Hotel later in the evening. Guests included players and staff from all five decades, local dignitaries and representatives from 51 football clubs across the country. Earlier that evening, a friendly match against Portsmouth was attended by over 11,000 at Home Park. Argyle won 1-0, but the game was most notable for an experiment: two referees officiated, one in each half of the pitch.

In its first 50 years, Plymouth Argyle's 388 first team players competed in over 1,800 matches and scored nearly 3,000 goals.

Some further details:

Competition P W D L F A
Western League (1903-08) 90 45 22 23 151 97
Southern League (1903-20) 492 209 124 159 700 543
FL Division Two 591 216 150 225 912 927
FL Division Three 42 11 21 10 35 34
FL Division Three (S) 470 269 99 102 931 504
FL war leagues 70 19 12 39 111 160
Football League Totals (1920-53) 1173 515 282 376 1989 1625
FA Cup 86 30 15 41 125 131
FL War Cup 2 0 0 2 1 5
All first team matches (1903-53) 1843 799 443 601 2966 2401
Top Appearances:Sammy Black (491), Fred Craig (467), Jack Leslie (400), Moses Russell (400), Septimus Atterbury (361)
Top Goalscorers:Sammy Black (182), Jack Leslie (137), Jack Vidler (103), Maurice Tadman (99*), Freddie Burch (91)
*Tadman went on to score 112

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