Torquay United Association Football Club was founded in 1899 by school leavers of Torquay College and Torbay College under the guidance of Sergeant-Major Edward Tomney. United played their very first friendly against an Upton Cricket Club XI on one of farmer John Wright’s fields, which was situated at the top of Penny’s Hill, on Teignmouth Road. United demolished their hapless opponents with a scoreline of 10-1. At half-time, rather than handing out the customary lemons for refreshments, a picnic was held.
After a season of friendlies the club joined the East Devon League and moved to the Recreation Ground, which was to be their home for the following four years. Torquay were by no means the biggest side in the area in these formative years and so, when in 1904, Torquay Athletic Rugby Club secured the lease of the Recreation Ground, the club moved back to Teignmouth Road. Two years later the club relocated to the Torquay Cricket Ground where they played until 1910. They moved to their present ground at Plainmoor in that same year.
Plainmoor was reckoned to be the ideal venue for United because it was closer to the working-class areas of the town and likely to open up a promising catchment area of new support. Well, the problem was that two other football clubs of note shared the same idea, one of them being Ellacombe FC.
This club agreed to merge with United to become Torquay Town. As Torquay Town the club shared Plainmoor with local rivals Babbacombe, and, for the seasons running up to the beginning of the First World War, both clubs played in the Plymouth and District League alongside the reserve teams of Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle. Pressure began to mount in favour of Torquay Town and Babbacombe coming together when, at the end of war in Europe, the first teams of Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle were promoted from the Southern League, into the newly formed Division Three South. Torquay Town and Babbacombe finally became, somewhat confusingly, Torquay United in 1921.
Originally United’s club colours were black and white and fairly obviously the team was nicknamed ‘The Magpies’. The installation of floodlights in 1954 marked a new era for Torquay United. Seeking a fresh identity, the English Riviera club chose a more distinctive gold and royal blue outfit. The new colours represented Torquay’s golden sands and blue sky and sea. These colours have remained in varying form over the years – plain, stripes, sleeves etc, although the blue has darkened somewhat. The nickname of the ‘Magpies’ of course had to be dropped at once and subsequently ‘The Gulls’ tag was introduced.
The club’s first badge was the shield of the town’s previous coat of arms, granted in 1893. Its blue and white background suggests Torquay’s seaside location. The three-masted ship typifies the region’s shipping activity. The castellated gateway is an ancient emblem familiar in civic arms as a symbol of local government and the golden wings are those of seagulls.
In the late Seventies, an enterprising supporter thought it would be more appropriate to include two seagulls depicted in flight rather than the three-masted ship. So the ship made way for an impressionist interpretation of the aforementioned two golden wings, suspiciously looking like the Motorola logo. This design adorned the shirts until 1984. A third badge, representing two palm trees, was introduced by then manager Dave Webb for the 1984/85 season and lasted three seasons. Had that spell been successful this emblem would have been one supporters would have looked back on in fondness. Today Torquay United have dropped all heraldic and other items, leaving plain wings encircled by the club’s name. Sadly enough it has no obvious meaning or resemblance of anything that is especially familiar to anyone with sympathy for Torquay United.