Torquay United

Ground No. 209
Visited - Saturday 3rd April 2010
Result - Torquay United 2-1 Shrewsbury Town
Competition - Coca-Cola League Two
Attendance - 3094

Some players are unlucky, a badly timed injury or sending off before a final, kept out of the side by an in-form player, but in the case of Lee Phillips then he must truly deserve the nickname of Jonah after becoming the only player to play at Wembley in three consecutive seasons with three different clubs and yet still manage to be on the losing side every time! The second occasion was with Torquay when the team from Devon lost 1-0 to Ebbsfleet in the FA Trophy, yet 12 months later he must have found himself regretting leaving Plainmoor as he lined up opposite his former teammates in the Conference Play-Off Final for Cambridge, only to see the Gulls regain their Football League place with a 2-0 win.

Torquay had dropped out of the league in 2007, but it took them just 2 attempts to return, and with their promotion, it meant another new ground for me to do, settling on the Easter Saturday fixture with Shrewsbury to re-complete the 92 having already visited Burton and Cardiff’s new ground earlier in the season.

Situated on the south Devonshire coast, Torquay is renowned as a holiday destination, nicknamed the English Riviera with its economy relying almost dominantly on the tourist trade which sees the borough’s population swell by almost 50% in the summer months. The Second World War was a busy time for the town and over 23,000 men departed from here to take part in the D-Day invasions, yet in a more peaceful contrast, a mere four years later the same stretch of water was host to the towns most significant sporting event when the 1948 Olympic water sports were held here, the Olympic flame finding a home in Torre Abbey Gardens for the duration.

Sailing aside, football has long had a foothold as well. United were founded in 1899, and it was mergers with local sides Ellacombe (1910) and Babbacombe (1921) that really helped establish the two major events in their early history. After being evicted from the Recreation Ground in the centre of town when the local Rugby Union club took over the lease in 1904, it was the merger with Ellacombe that saw them move to Plainmoor, which ironically had been the rugby clubs ground prior to moving and Ellacombe taking it over from them. Even with that though, finding a permanent home wasn’t enough to progress. 1920 had seen the formation of the Third Division with local rivals Exeter and Plymouth joining to go on to bigger and better things. Torquay Town (as they were) and Babbacombe were bitter rivals at the time, but both could see the need for progression, and so in 1921 they agreed to merge, with United being an apt change of name, before the club joined their county rivals six years later when they were elected to the Football League at the expense of Welsh side Aberdare Athletic.

You can probably quite easily follow the line of thinking that the chairmen at the time took... Welsh mining village or seaside resort? The decision and undoubted reasoning behind it might not sit easily with the moral conscience, but Aberdare’s loss is footballs gain, and with a generally wet and miserable Easter weekend on the cards then I was looking forward to going down to an area where the local microclimate is warm enough to grow palm trees (or cabbage trees for the fastidious out there) 

Setting off early, then the journey went well, changing trains in Birmingham and Exeter before finally arriving into Torquay mid-morning. On leaving the station, I was greeted by the sight of an old grandstand directly opposite with TARFC written on the side, so of course couldn’t help but head over for a look. It turned out to be the Recreation Ground that United had once called home. I hadn’t know about it, so it was quite a nice little spot, and would have been a great venue for visiting fans, no more than a goal kick from the seafront, and making even Gresty Road seem a bit of a jaunt from getting off the train! It wasn’t to be though, even despite plans to move back there announced a few years ago, so having had a quick look, I went off into the town to spend some time before going off up to the ground.

Situated in a residential area, Plainmoor is as squeezed in as any ground you’ll visit. From the outside, the Family Stand (formerly known as the Ellacombe End) seems to be the focus of activity before a game with the club shop, offices and a bar all fitted in here, the bar doing a busy trade with home fans. With Shrewsbury the visitors, then it had been a fairly natural choice for me of where to stand, heading off to the away end after first going in the shop. The ground was largely redeveloped in the 1990s, the Warbro Road End being the last of the three new stands to be completed. Formerly an open terrace, it now holds 1100 under cover, with fairly steep steps helping to offer a good view. The Popular Side to the right is more or less exactly the same, running the length of the pitch with a TV gantry sitting prominently in the centre of its roof, whilst the Family Stand opposite is slightly bigger, albeit still fairly small with 10 rows of seating slightly raised above pitch level. Unusually, the directors box is at this end behind the goal, whilst executive boxes line the rear of the stand. Finally to the left is the Main Stand. Split into two sections, this is the oldest part of the ground, opened in 1927 in time for the clubs first league match after being transported from nearby Buckfastleigh Racecourse where it had seen action of a different kind. The central part is the oldest, a classic grandstand of its time, seating raised from ground with a small terrace in front. At one time this stand was slightly longer than it is now, but a fire only one day after the Bradford tragedy in 1985 meant the end bay was knocked down, leaving quite a bit of open space between it and the away end. The 1950’s extension to its side is in a similar style, except for the roof which sits awkwardly next to its older neighbour. There are some unusual metal struts protruding from the roof of this part, remnants of an old floodlighting system which was replaced in the mid-60s with the four corner pylons that still stand now, short and squat like miniature versions of those found elsewhere around the country.

Standing in the Warbro Road End, Shrewsbury had travelled in reasonable numbers, 498 making the trip to Devon, despite some poor form of late. It was this recent run of bad results that had led to the club being an outsider for the play-offs after spending most of the season around the edge of them. The home side on the other hand were looking in the opposite direction, hoping not to make a swift return to where they’d just escaped from, sitting only 6 points above the relegation zone. When the game started though, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the other way round, the hosts worrying the Town defence with a number of corners and free-kicks around the box during the opening period. David Button was called into action in the 11th minute to make a good save after Chris Zebroski’s shot was deflected towards the top corner of the goal, Button just getting a finger on it to tip the ball over for a corner. After this, the visitors started to get back into it more, worrying the home defence with some quick breaks, and they got a bit of fortune in the 27th minute when they took the lead. From a corner, the ball had come to Dean Holden, who hammered it back across the face of goal only to hit one of the home defenders and go in, later reports conflictingly crediting it to Zebroski and also the former Shrewsbury keeper Scott Bevan. Dave Hibbert nearly made it 2-0 shortly after with a stinging volley that was well saved by Bevan, but the half played out with no further change to the score.

Whatever Paul Buckle said to his team at half time must have worked, because in the second half they came out firing, pulling level within two minutes thanks to Mark Ellis who headed home from a corner. This gave the hosts the impetus, and the confidence visibly drained from the Shrewsbury team, not helped by a loud, but at times needlessly negative travelling support. Just past the hour Torquay made it 2-1, another corner turned home, this time by Scott Rendell in a goal line scramble, and the rest of the game was played out with the outcome slightly inevitable, the visitors never looking likely to get back into it with no one to drive them forward or pick them up.

The result leaves both sides far more likely to be playing each next season than at the start of play, but it does make you wonder whether some STFC supporters wanted that. I’m not normally one to be described as a happy clapper (the exact opposite usually), and I’ve always generally thought fans pay their money and are entitled to their opinion, but how people think negative chants at the manager and players help, even when they’re ahead, god only knows. There were a certain few who seemed to be there solely to get on the managers back and songs like “we’re diabolical” and “you must be ****, cause we’re ahead” really make you wonder at some peoples mentality. By all means boo at the end or vent your spleen on a message board, but whilst they’re by no means world beaters, with a little confidence behind them you sensed that the players might have got something. Anyway... After leaving, only briefly popping in at the home end (which remained open afterwards) to take a few pictures,  I made my way back in good time, the trains making a better job of it than the Shrewsbury team bus which was involved in a collision on the motorway! (No one hurt thankfully)

Overall, it had been a good trip, and it’s always nice to get back up to all 92 league grounds visited. Whilst there isn’t a lot to shout about at Plainmoor, it does suit the clubs needs, and the toilets aside which were reminiscent of Gay Meadow (why don’t clubs replace them when they rebuild a stand?) is a good standard for this level. Apparently the plans to move to the Recreation Ground have disappeared along with the previous owner, so it does look likely to be around for the foreseeable future, which along with the town makes it a good day out. The one disappointment… there doesn’t seem to be a single reference to Fawlty Towers anywhere around the town that I saw! (I did mention the war earlier, but I think I got away with it!)

Welcome to Plainmoor

Rear of the Family Stand

The Club Shop

Rear of the Main Stand

Turnstiles for the Warbro Road End

The Main Stand

The Family Stand

The Popular Side

Ready for Kick Off

The Popular Side

The Family Stand

The Main Stand


The Family Stand

The Popular Side

The Clock

The Warbro Road End

The Main Stand

If Torbay Council can't...

Plainmoor Panoramic 1

Plainmoor Panoramic 2

Plainmoor Panoramic 3

Plainmoor Panoramic 4



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