My TUFC in the 50s and 60s by Tony McHale


Lifelong supporter Tony McHale looks back at his time supporting the Gulls, starting with the exciting 1950s and 60s

Tony – I first attended Plainmoor in 1954 as a 10 year-old.  In those far off days we played in a black and white strip. The player manager was Eric Webber who was to go on to manage the club for over 14 years. I cannot remember much about the game or who the opposition was but I do remember clearly that on the pitch Eric Webber was a commanding presence in the Number 5 shirt.

My second match was a famous one. After beating the great Leeds United 4–0 in an FA Cup Third Round replay earlier in the month on Saturday 29 January 1955, we played Huddersfield Town in the 4th round before a record crowd of 21,908. Although we lost 1–0 it was a very exciting day and I have been hooked ever since.

As I reached my teenage years I came to know the players well and there was a fantastic atmosphere as it was not unusual for the gates to be eight or nine thousand.  The formation was always the same 2–3–5. The players I remember best from that era in the 50`s were Colin Bettany (335 games) Denis Lewis (473) Ronnie Shaw (412) Sammy Collins (380) Tommy Northcott (441) and Don Mills (367). Sammy Collins still holds the clubs scoring record with 219 goals which included 8 football league hat-tricks.

It is interesting that only 4 players have scored over 100 goals for United and they all played during this era.  They were Sammy Collins, Tommy Northcott, Robin Stubbs and Ronnie Shaw.

The first photo that I have found is taken by Wilson Gould of Torquay’s 1956/57 squad. I can remember every player by name except one. Does anyone know who the guy is in the back row far right?

TH 1

My biggest disappointment in this era was drawing 1–1 at Selhurst Park in the final game of 56/57  season and thus missing out on promotion to Division 2 on goal average for the first time in our history.

I twice played at Plainmoor in Youth Cup Finals for Coombe Pafford managed by Mr Crispin and Mr Sweet. Here we are at Plainmoor, second photo, circa 1960, with Dave Maule holding the ball flanked by Mike Boxall and Dave Street, with myself front row far left. The goalkeeper is Peter Herbert. Does anyone recognise themselves in this old photo? Do let us know.


When the Football League was restructured in 1958 United were put in Division 4 but were promoted to Division 3 in 1960 and in the next 12 years were to spend 8 seasons in Division 3.

This was the era where United frequently played on a Saturday evening, which was great for all the local South Devon League amateur footballers who could go to the match after playing on a Saturday afternoon.

1963 saw the arrival of Robin Stubbs at Plainmoor and you soon knew he was special when he scored 5 goals against Newport County in an 8–3 win on 19th October 1963. I was at this match in the Babbacombe end and it just seemed like it was raining goals!

Stubbs was to light up the stadium during the 60`s with his goal scoring exploits which saw him net 133 goals and in a 6 year period he was the club’s leading scorer, with the exception of 1965/66 when Tommy Spratt netted 18 times. Also our right back John Benson was a big favourite of mine when he arrived from Manchester City in 1964.

Robin Stubbs – Photo Courtesy of Herald Express

On 9th January 1965 I witnessed probably the most exciting match as a United fan when we took on the might of Tottenham Hotspur in an epic encounter, which many older fans will remember to this day. The match ending in a 3 -3 draw with Robin Stubbs scoring twice in the final five minutes. This game had everything as our team competed against a side for whom every single player was a full international.  The gate was just over 20,000.

I particularly remember travelling to White Hart Lane for the replay only to discover when 10 minutes from the ground that due to a cloudburst the match was off. We had to travel home to Devon on the train only to return the following week to be hammered by the mighty Spurs 5-1.

In May 1965 Eric Webber was sacked and replaced by Frank O’Farrell, who would go on to manage the club in 177 games during a near four year period which saw the club never finish outside the top seven and play some scintillating football.

1966 was an epic year for football. United were promoted to Division 3 finishing third in Frank O’Farrell`s first season. England won the World Cup at Wembley. I was there on that never to be forgotten day.  It was an important year for me personally as I met my wife to be at The Linney in Coffinswell.

In 1966/67 Frank O’Farrell recruited John Bond and Ken Brown from West Ham United and we finished seventh. Bond was a real entertainer and loved engaging with the crowd.

1967/68 was special as United appeared on Match of the Day for the first time beating Bury 3 – 0 in front of 10,000 fans at Plainmoor. It was that season that saw United fans voted `Best Behaved Fans in the League.

COYY – Tony

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11 thoughts on “My TUFC in the 50s and 60s by Tony McHale

  1. We surely must have met up at some stage, Tony. I watched Stubbs perform his goal scoring, Ernie Pym on the wing ( met him years after in a pub on the Newton Road .He was chuffed to be recognised..even less hair…and said he was working as a milkman. Gareth Bale eat your heart out!).
    Went all over England on away matches with my mate John Hockin. All the matches seemed to be up north. Darlington, Chesterfield, Stockport etc. Also remember Northcott very well, and big Jim Fryatt.
    Whatever the result, TUFC always seemed to be an attack minded team, as now.


  2. Tony. The player on the far right is possibly a reserve called Sandys.
    I know the rest except the keeper next Peter Wakeham and also back row, second in.Dave Phillips ex chairman.


  3. Dave the reserve Goalkeeper was called Milton but I believe he only made one appearance for United.
    The other player back row second left is Nobby Clarke who was a midfielder.
    Strangely he is not listed in the Torquay Fan Stats but he played quite a few games for us in that period.


    1. Tony, of course I remember Nobby Clarke, a very good player.
      Roy Milton, from Brixham.
      When Wakeham was injured and before we signed Mervyn Gill, Milton made his debut versus Gillingham at Plainmoor.
      It seems unfair to blame young Milton but arguably this game was ultimatlely going to cost us promotion.
      I remember the game, the defence had no confidence in their keeper and he had a nightmare and conceded 3 goals in the first half. Second half, we stormed back and scored 3.
      Just the one point from this game. I cant help but think that with a more experience keeper we would have got 2 points , which would have given us automatic promotion to the second division(Champoinship).


  4. Dave I was not at the Gillingham game but I remember buying the “Pink Un” which the Herald Express published at 6pm each Saturday with a full report on the match.
    Poor Milton did have a nightmare but as you say Mervyn Gill was a great signing and played 6 seasons clocking up 157 appearances
    Nobby Clarke was actually Norman Clarke but was called Nobby because that was your nickname if called Clarke.
    I never quite understood that although I did get why if your name was White you were called “Chalky”.


    1. Norman ‘Nobby’ Clarke was my late dad who I believe played for Torquay for a few years in the 50s it is lovely to see him in the 56/57 squad photo as I have never seen this one before


  5. I have the team photo 1954-55 on the wall in my study. It helpfully has their names (typed underneath: no computers then!) The player on the right, back row could be G. Norman.
    I first went to Plainmoor as a 7 year old in 1947. No doubt the 50s and 60s were exciting times to be a supporter.
    I actually went to the first game at Leeds as we lived near Nottingham at the time and my Dad was friendly with Eric Webber who gave us complimentary tickets. I think we were just about the only Torquay supporters there. No one gave us a chance!
    I went to the Huddersfield game and to be truthful I was terrified. I stood in the enclosure in front of the stand and literally couldn’t move. Many happy memories from those days.
    My favourite player of all time was probably Don Mills although Robin Stubbs came a close second. We really had some class players in those days. Although I do my best to get to Plainmoor (when we’re allowed) now I’m 80 it’s more difficult living in N Devon. I’m afraid the players we have in the modern era just don’t come up to the same standard as we had then.
    (sighs loudly)


    1. Crikey Tony. Great memories. My first game was 1953, so you beat me by 6 years.
      I envy you being at the Leeds game in 1954. There is footage of that match on Pathe news.
      Just from that you can tell how great Don Mills was.
      I was at the replay in the 4-0 win, no wonder we had a love afair with the team all these years.
      I wonder if you remember Jack Conley?
      I was a friend of his son Mike, who sadly passed away last week.
      Lets hope the season kicks off on Saturday.
      Dave Phillips.


  6. Hello Anthony only just seen your post on 28th Sept.
    No it is not Griff Norman who is the player in the middle row immediately behind Eric Webber.
    Yes you are right being in a crowd of nearly 22,000 at Plainmoor was a bit scary as well as exciting but in those far off days people were very polite and aware that children needed looking after at Football.
    I remember a game at Goodison Park when the Everton fans passed about 20 kids over their heads to the front so the kids could see the Match!
    You and Dave Phillips beat me by a few years but we were lucky in many ways to see how sporting the players were in those days compared to the “conning ” and play acting of today.
    Tony McHale


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