An original, comprehensive and thoroughly researched account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.Important copyright conditions:
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THE HISTORY OF ARGYLE
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 (www.greensonscreen.co.uk/argylehistorymenu.asp), 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 17: 1945-1950
From the Ashes
After six years of war and four with its gates closed, Plymouth Argyle Football Club faced a mountain to climb when it rejoined the Football League in 1945. Despite huge obstacles, the club worked wonders to compete once more with some of the best clubs in the country, and its supporters across a devastated city welcomed football back in record numbers.
Author: Steve Dean
Date: 22 Dec 2017
In this chapter: Rising from the ashes ... 1945-46: A season of transition ... 1946-47: As we were ... 1947-48: Jimmy Rae takes the helm ... 1948-49: A fight for Second Division survival ... 1949-50: Argyle's first relegation ... South Side Story
RISING FROM THE ASHES
Jack Tresardern, Argyle's Secretary-Manager
Michael Foot MP
At Plymouth Argyle's Annual General Meeting on 22nd February 1945, the club announced its wish to join the Football League's western section for the upcoming season. This was a remarkable ambition for a club that had re-formed only five months before, and whose ground and playing squad had been decimated, but manager Jack Tresadern was back in post and determined to rebuild. Incidentally, the usual title in those days was secretary-manager, reflecting a broader role than in modern football. The title was first used at Argyle in 1919, with Bob Jack fulfilling the dual role for nearly 20 years, but as it turned out, his successor was the last.
The difficulties facing Bob Jack's successor were enormous, but he relished the challenge and his achievements in 1945 were considerable. From his home in Great Berry Road, Crownhill - at that stage there were no office facilities at Home Park - Tresadern acquired huts for player facilities, disused trams for office space and oversaw a massive clear-up operation, not to mention the small matter of a team.
On May 7th, a week after the news of Adolf Hitler's suicide and on the same day as Germany's unconditional surrender, the Football League held a special general meeting at which a resolution from Arsenal was passed that reorganised the previous season's divisions into a simple north-south divide for 1939's Divisions One and Two clubs (the top two tiers). It would be a transitional season with no promotion or relegation, leading to the return of the conventional league structure 12 months later. Argyle had hoped to enter the Football League West after five years' absence, but instead faced top sides such as Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Wolves, most of whom had played regularly throughout the war years.
Meanwhile, despite the devastation across the city and inevitable hardships that were to follow, the people of Plymouth celebrated the announcement of victory in Europe in early May 1945. As the Western Morning News reported, Plymouth "let itself go". The celebrations carried on for two or three days, with bonfires and fireworks, dances and parties. The victory bottles were cracked and in a spirit of carefree abandon, people let their six-year-old pent-up feelings have full expression.
A General Election two months later resulted in one of the greatest shocks in British political history. The Labour Party won the vote by a landslide, reflecting a commonly held feeling that Winston Churchill was a great war leader but not the man to rebuild the country, and also the widespread desire for social change. In Plymouth, Labour took all three seats from the Tories, including Devonport, where a passionate Argyle fan, Mr Michael Foot, beat the incumbent of 22 years to begin a career at Westminster that ended nearly 50 years later.
How Home Park looked ahead of the transitional season. In the Western Independent, 'Spectator' wrote: "Several football grounds have suffered during the war through bombing. I have seen some of them, but nowhere does the desolation seem some overwhelming as at Home Park."
The exceptional circumstances faced by all sides in the transitional season cannot be overstated, but they probably applied to Argyle more than any other club. The main side of Home Park had been destroyed, general maintenance had been completely neglected, and many of the Pilgrims' playing staff were still serving in the Armed Forces or employed on essential war work - a significant factor in Plymouth. Yet despite the unprecedented difficulties, the manager hoped to run three teams in the club's first post-war season: the first team in the Football League South, the reserves in the Plymouth and District League and the 'A' team in the Plymouth and District Combination League, in which Argyle competed for a few months after its revival in October 1944.
There were several changes in Plymouth Argyle's boardroom: three directors had died since 1939 and four new directors had been elected. Those who continued to serve included the chairman, Sir J. Clifford Tozer, and the vice-chairman, Mr Clarence N. Spooner, whose long association with the club stretched back to his playing days in 1893. In a message to supporters, the chairman said:
"At the opening of the 1945 peace-time season, football enthusiasts in the West of England, I am sure, will welcome the participation of Plymouth Argyle in League football once again. No club in recent years has been so adversely affected as Argyle. The entire grand-stand, together with all the equipment, was demolished through enemy action in 1941, and professional football here has been quite out of the question for four war years, but today Argyle again figure in the picture.
"The directors, realising the popularity of the club, and not forgetful of the great efforts in years gone by to attain Second Division status, are determined not only to retain that position next season, but to achieve membership of the First Division the earliest opportunity. But it is realised that a great task lies ahead. A few months ago the club’s overdraft amounted to over £12,000, and the directors alone are responsible for this figure. A recent appeal to local supporters is meeting with an encouraging response, and donations amounting to nearly £1,000 have already been received.
"This response surely gives all interested in the welfare of the club real encouragement. There is an immediate opportunity for Westcountry football enthusiasts to play their part, and Mr. C. E. B M. Smith, of 44, Thorn Park, Plymouth, the hon. treasurer, will gratefully receive and acknowledge any donations.
"We all look forward to an interesting season in which a great effort must be made to build up a strong team, playing attractive football, ready for the Second Division in 1946, and, we hope, the First Division in 1947. It may be that we are aiming too high, but surely it is well worth making the effort. If, however, all does not come up to expectation, do not be dismayed. There will be many difficulties ahead, both from a playing and possibly from a financial point of view. Local enthusiasts, however, can play a great part. Support the club consistently in your thousands, and give every possible encouragement, so that a united effort may well spell success."
The people of Plymouth had their first chance to watch Jack Tresadern's new team in a public practice match on August 11th 1945. In the same week, atomic bombs destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The World War was finally at an end.
In an open letter from his home address, the manager appealed for help.
A week later and a week before the season opener, the influential Plymouth Argyle Supporters' Club met for the first time since 1939. Jack Tresadern reported that a profit of £600 had been made since the club re-formed some months before, but a large proportion had been spent on new equipment. He asked for volunteers to help clear up the ground at Home Park and also appealed to supporters to give every encouragement to young players and to prevent barracking.
In July an ex-military hut was renovated as dressing rooms and baths were installed, although at this stage the conditions were basic, with water for the baths boiled on spirit stoves. Rails around the pitch had been repaired and the ticket office near the iconic entrance (which survived the German bombers) was made ready. Suitable amenities for visiting directors, officials and the press, as required by the League rules, were achieved by the use of a Plymouth Corporation double-decker bus, which arrived for each game to act as a mini-grandstand. The seats on the upper deck had been replaced with movable upholstered seating for 12 people, with a second row (actually wooden boxes) behind. The bus became quite a talking point, with visiting officials amused by their unusual accommodation but also impressed by the club's ingenuity. In between matches, the bus could be seen on the city's streets as a training vehicle for new drivers.
A few week's into the season, under a headline "It's A Nightmare For Soccer Managers", the Daily Mail reported, "There has been a lot of head scratching by harassed football club managers over the heavy League programme ... Almost every manager has a story to tell of borrowing and making-do ... They have had to beg to secure the release of their men in the forces ... Then there is the travel problem. The luxury motor-coaches in which teams travelled the country in 1939 have gone; trains are fewer. It is a good thing that there is no trip like the 480 miles that Derby County had to cover last week to play Plymouth ... 480 miles these days, when it is impossible to reserve train accommodation, and even the corridors are packed, is no joke."
It will come as no surprise to those with green blood that there was no mention of the same difficulties that Argyle would face for the return fixture a week later, nor the similar distances from the south-west corner of Devon to Aston Villa, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton, Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham, Luton, Millwall, Tottenham, West Ham, and Swansea. Surely no club faced such an accumulation of journeys in those very difficult travel conditions, illustrated by Argyle's shortest round-trip that season - its local derby - the 300 miles to play Southampton on the first day of the season.
1945-46: A SEASON OF TRANSITION
Published in the Football Herald on the first day of the season, "a group of promising youngsters from whom selection will be made for the first post-war matches".
A section of over 33,000 that came to see Aston Villa.
Argyle's first Football League game for five years was an astonishing 5-5 draw with Southampton at the Dell, with a hat-trick on his debut for centre-forward Ron (Paddy) Brown and two from Dave Thomas. However, desperate times lay ahead. Heavy defeats followed in the following few weeks, including 6-1 at Portsmouth, and by the end of the calendar year the Pilgrims had accumulated just six points. Every match between the start of November and Christmas Day was lost, a run of nine consecutive defeats that remains a record today.
Despite the disappointing performances, large crowds were drawn to Home Park to watch Argyle take on some of the best clubs in the country. Aston Villa, League Champions in the penultimate pre-war season, attracted a crowd of 33,308 for the first match in Argyle's record string of defeats, and later that month, 26,419 were attracted by the visit of the Arsenal. Against Arsenal, Argyle turned out in a new set of shirts, supplied by British residents in Argentina. They were one of several sets sent to British clubs who had toured the country, as Argyle did in 1923. The gift was a blessing because all of the club's equipment had been lost when the stand was destroyed, and when the club obtained new shirts at the start of the season they had to be content with green shirts with white instead of black collars and cuffs. The new shirts were in a dull shade of green, but welcome nevertheless.
These were rare chances to see some of the country's top sides, and to be fair, the record run of consecutive defeats was in part due to the quality of the opposition. In response to the large crowds, the facilities at Home Park improved, bit by bit, as the season progressed. By the end of September, hot water boilers had been installed in the dressing rooms, and by October, serious efforts had been made to improve the safety of spectators on the south side. The removal of what remained of the grandstand had left dangerous holes in the foundations, some eight to ten feet deep. By November, these had been filled with some of Plymouth's plentiful supply of rubble, and this work was followed by a procession of lorries to tip nearly 20,000 tons of rubble on Home Park, mainly forming a mound along the length of the grandstand site to act as a temporary terrace above the south-side enclosure, but also at other parts of the ground, including the infill of the old Spooner Stand foundations near the northwest corner.
After 26 games, action from Argyle's first win of the season, against Wolves at Home Park. Here, England international Bert Williams punches away from Argyle's Harry Butler.
Argyle's first win came nearly six months into the season, a 3-2 win at home to Wolves on February 2nd 1946. Described as a "dour game", Argyle resisted considerable pressure near the end to win the points, thanks to a second hat-trick from Paddy Brown. The first win in nearly six months - actually it was all but six years - and yet over 15,000 witnessed the occasion. Many more defeats followed, including a seven goal drubbing by West Ham, leaving Argyle firmly at the foot of the table at the end of the campaign with just 16 points gained and 120 goals shipped. The reasons were many-fold: apart from some top-class opposition, the travel conditions and the state of Home Park, it proved impossible for the Pilgrims to field a regular side. An astonishing 72 players made an appearance that season and team performances inevitably suffered. From week to week the club called on Armed Services players, guest footballers from other League clubs and local amateurs to supplement its registered playing staff in an attempt to field a team, and there was simply very little continuity.
Of those 72 players, 15 had played for Argyle before the war, including the likes of Archie Gorman, Jimmy Hunter, Len Jones, Jimmy Rae and George Silk (who was a near ever-present this season), and seven had appeared in the three games of the abandoned season. And then there were an incredible 55 debuts, of which only 11 played in the following season.
But whilst the majority of players came and went, there was one debut that season that stood out. Wrexham-born Bill Shortt played his first game for the club, having been third-choice goalkeeper at Chester City at the start of the war. Stationed in the area with the Army, he played as a guest for Argyle on two occasions in September and October 1945, and that was a particularly useful arrangement for the club because Argyle's first choice goalkeeper, Matt Middleton, faced a long trip to play on a Saturday after night shifts in a Sunderland coal mine. After two more guest appearances in the February, including the first win of the season against Wolves, Shortt impressed enough for Argyle to seek a permanent transfer, and in mid-February 1946 Chester agreed a £1,000 fee, marking the start of a decade as Argyle's first choice 'keeper.
Although Shortt was a regular between the sticks and made many fine saves in the latter stages of the season, Argyle still lost eight of their final eleven games. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. A draw at Wolves (who included future England stars Bert Williams and Billy Wright) and victory at home to Nottingham Forest in the final two games of the season, together with a final average home gate of over 18,000 in a seemingly hopeless campaign, must have left both club and fans quietly confident about the long rebuild that was yet to come.
1946-47: AS WE WERE
A week after the end of the first post-war season, Sir Clifford Tozer talked about the progress made by the club. He admitted some trepidation back in 1944 when it was decided to revive the club, when initially there was no ground, no players and a considerable overdraft at the bank. Significant progress had been made in less that two years and, in particular, great credit should go to the people of Plymouth and the impressive support they had shown throughout the transitional season. Most remarkable was that after the club's worst-ever season in terms of points, the attendance at the last home game was higher than that at the first.
The chairman also reported on improvements at Home Park. The board had hoped to provide more covered accommodation for the season ahead, but the availability of labour and materials, and exceptionally high costs, would prevent even temporary roof provision. Efforts would therefore concentrate on a new stand as early as possible, but recognising that housing was the top priority in the nation's reconstruction programme, there was little chance of progress for a year or two.
However, some improvements were made in the second half of 1946. Earlier in the year, the club had acquired ten ex-Corporation tramcars to be used as small stands at the ground, but the idea was abandoned after the cost of foundations and the conversion of the trams to a form suitable for spectators had been estimated at forty times the cost of their purchase. Attention then turned to the provision of seating, albeit in the open, and the first idea was to install benches ('forms') for 800 spectators inside the rails around the pitch. In the event, a much bigger scheme was implemented: in August 1946, forms for 4,000 fans were placed in the enclosure (the terrace below the grandstand).
A month earlier, a bulldozer had been employed to flatten parts of the embankment of rubble that had been tipped onto the footprint of the stand, so that the enclosure could be extended further back to allow seats in front and standing behind. As the season unfolded, the reaction to the new standing section was not altogether favourable because it was too shallow for many to see. The board was quick to act; in October, some 2,600 old railway sleepers were built into the structure to improve the view and comfort of the standing spectators. All told, the new south side could accommodate eight to nine thousand fans - an amazing feat in such a short space of time and with very little mechanical assistance compared with what we take for granted today.
Top-left: A brave spectator at a reserve team game later in 1946, when most took cover at the Devonport End, showing the benches erected in the enclosure before the start of the season.
Top-right: 2,600 railway sleepers laid in the rubble above the pre-war enclosure in October to provide more comfortable conditions for fans.
Bottom: A full house in 1948 shows the effect on the south side of the ground.
16-year-old Alex Govan (third from right) in pre-season training with (left to right) Bill Harper (trainer), Dave Thomas, Len Jones, Alex Dyer and Luke Tinkler.
Whilst Argyle's final results of the transitional season offered some crumbs of comfort, Jack Tresadern was all too aware that that his team needed strengthening if it was to survive a competitive season in the Second Division (tier 2). Less than two weeks into the close season, the manager signed his first new recruit: 33-year-old Syd Rawlings from Everton. On the other wing, South Africa-born Bill Strauss arrived in late June for the first of seven seasons with the club, and then came Alec/Alex Govan, a fresh-faced 16-year-old recommended by former favourite Alec Hardie, who was Argyle's scout in Scotland at the time. However, Govan was an investment rather than a target for the coming campaign; he did make a few appearances over the next four seasons, but then became a regular and firm favourite in the fifties. In all, ten made their debut over the following ten months, including, in the final few weeks, Pat Jones, a left-back from local football who went on to play 441 times in this and the following 11 seasons.
At the end of July, the players returned for pre-season training. From left to right, standing: Archie Gorman (reserve team trainer), Tommy Briggs, Alf Miller, Harry Butler, Bob Royston, Billy Strauss, Billy Hurst, Syd Rawlings, Alec Dyer, Alec Govan, George Poyser, Luke Tinkler, Len Boyd, Bill Shortt, Tom Parnaby, Dave Thomas, George Silk, Ellis Stuttard, Reg Gibson, Len Jones, Alec Holland, Stan Dixon, Syd Rundle, Bill Harper (first team trainer). Crouching: Paddy Brown.
Also that summer the club submitted an ultimately successful bid to join the Football Combination League, having tried for many seasons. The Football Combination was formed as the London Combination in 1915, and after the First World War became a competition for second-string teams in the capital. Its reach grew to the south coast and even parts of the Midlands, so in 1939 it was renamed the Football Combination, only to be halted due to the Second World War. Argyle Reserves had played very successfully in the Southern League since 1921, but with the opportunity to test itself against the reserve sides at top London clubs, the Football Combination was seen as a more fitting contest for a Second Division team. In early May 1946, the Combination League implemented a pre-war decision to expand from 24 to 32 clubs - an unprecedented opportunity to gain entry - but in the face of stiff competition, Argyle's application was once again unsuccessful. However, Newport County withdrew its bid a few weeks later and after a subsequent contest, Argyle were favoured by 19 votes to 8 for Exeter City. So began nearly 40 years of Football Combination games at Home Park, on occasions attracting gates in five figures.
Plymouth Argyle's players, ready to resume their place in the Second Division.
Back row: George Silk, Sid Rundle, Alec Holland, Len Boyd, Harry Butler.
Second row: Jimmy Rae, Tommy Briggs, Donald (aka Ron) Case, Reg Gibson, G. Brown, Bill Shortt, George Poyser, Stan Dixon.
Third Row: Archie Gorman (Asst. Trainer), R. Coxon, Alex Dyer, Billy Strauss, Len Jones, Bob Thomas, Tom Parnaby, N. O'Rorke, Bill Harper (Trainer).
Fourth Row: Syd Rawlings, Alec Govan, Alf Miller, Jack Tresadern (Manager), Dave Thomas, Ellis Stuttard, Tommy Howshall.
Front row: R. Strathie, Bob Royston, Bobby Brown, Marcus Murphy, Bill Hurst, Luke Tinkler.
August 1946 saw the return of the traditional Football League competition after seven years of war and its immediate after effects. Perhaps trying to forge a sense of continuity, the League's Management Committee had taken a simple but deeply symbolic decision that this campaign's fixture list would be the one scheduled for the season that was abandoned after three games when war was declared. So Argyle's opener was a home game with West Ham United, but this time a 3-1 win rather than the reverse score in August 1939. With an increase of some 7,000 over the attendance for the pre-war fixture, over 25,000 clearly demonstrated a yearning for the working man's game, and this in a city of suffering people.
A foot of snow at Home Park in February 1947. This was reported to be the first game in Argyle's history that was postponed because of snow, albeit a reserve team match against Bournemouth.
Argyle made a solid start to their 10th consecutive season in the second tier (ignoring the wartime leagues), with just one defeat in their first eight games. By mid-December the Pilgrims were 7th in the table with an average home gate of over 25,000, and were well positioned for a serious push in the second half of the season, but hopes were dented by five straight defeats (with 21 goals shipped) in 12 very difficult days around Christmas. However, their encouraging form returned in the new year with five wins in the next seven games, albeit over more than ten weeks because a severe winter with widespread snow and ice caused many postponements across the country. Even in normally mild Plymouth, the conditions and lack of a gymnasium meant that the team was forced to train on the terrace under the cover at the Milehouse end of the ground. But there was an amusing side to this story too. Argyle were eager to sign new players and the manager and his scouts were prepared to travel far and wide to do so, but the postponements across the country hindered their chances of watching their targets. As 'Spectator' in the Western Independent reported, a concerned Mr Michael Foot MP had the House of Commons in uproar when he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he could give any advice as to how Plymouth Argyle were going to get hold of a really good inside-left. The Chancellor gave no reply, but there was no doubt that the House appreciated the point.
Because of the numerous postponements in February and March, the Football League season lasted until the middle of June, and it was when the temperatures rose that Argyle's season fell apart; 11 defeats in the final 12 games, all the more peculiar for a 5-2 win (and a hat-trick for Bob Thomas) at West Bromwich Albion in the middle of that otherwise record losing streak. The score had been 1-1 at half-time and then the home side took the lead, but an astonishing four goals by the Pilgrims turned the game on its head. All five goals came from a new right-side partnership of Billy Strauss and Bob Thomas, with the latter bagging a hat-trick to win the game.
In that same week, the board decided that the new role of Assistant Manager was required to support Jack Tresadern, who had been spending a great deal of time away from Plymouth each week, searching for new players. Jimmy Rae, who had made 283 appearances for Argyle in the 1930s and who had been looking after the third team in more recent times, was promoted to the position. Perhaps doubting the team's fitness, the board also appointed Alf Miller as physical training instructor and coach. Miller first joined Argyle for a trial in August 1939, but his stay was of course short-lived. After serving as PT instructor in the Army during the war, he rejoined the playing staff in the summer of 1946. His appointment as a physical training instructor was no doubt connected with the badly-needed gymnasium that had been built a few weeks before. The gym was in fact another temporary Army hut, erected next to the changing rooms, and became the subject of some controversy when the city's authorities complained that the club had not sought permission.
Bob Royston leads the team out for the final home game of the season, but there were still four away games to go. Because of the location of the temporary dressing rooms, the teams came out onto the south-east corner of the pitch - a feature that was likely to be seen again some 70 years later. The black armband was in memory of Argyle director Percy Smerdon, who died the previous day.
Argyle's season ended with 96 goals conceded but they were watched by an impressive average of 23,290 at Home Park - both were records for Argyle in a traditional league season that still stand today. But a creditable number of goals were scored too, thanks in particular to 36 from the Thomas brothers. Dave Thomas, who joined the club in 1938, top-scored with 19, and his brother Bob, a transfer from Brentford near the end of the transitional season, bagged 17. Syd Rawlings, Argyle's first capture of the 1946 pre-season, also scored 17.
The reasons for the dramatic decline over the second half of the season and their final 19th place are best explained by the manager, who wrote in the Plymouth Argyle Handbook that summer:
"Much has been said about the team's performance last season, but few people realise the many contributory causes of our poor showing from Christmas to the end of the season. Lack of housing for married players was one chief headache after the fine spell of weather was over and those players who were parted from their wives were discontented, and a consequent loss of keenness was apparent on many occasions. A number of married players, whom we allowed to live at their home towns until we could house them, were never really welded into the team through being with the club only once per week, and that after a long and tiring train journey on Friday they suffered in form accordingly. Secondly, those players who were here in Plymouth had little or no indoor training facilities during the day, and after dark Plymouth's battle-scarred environs offered little attraction to any other than the natives who have their family affairs, friends and interests to keep them suffering from boredom.
"Much good scoring work by our forwards was nullified by an unaccountable lack of confidence in defence. This windiness in defence towards the end had a disastrous effect on the whole team's morale." 1947-48: JIMMY RAE TAKES THE HELM
1947-48: JIMMY RAE TAKES THE HELM
Plymouth's lack of habitable houses caused huge difficulties for many thousands of people, and in a much less important sense it was serious problem for the club. By the end of the war, nearly 4,000 houses had either been destroyed or required demolition, over 18,000 were seriously damaged but capable of repair and nearly 50,000 suffered slight damage (more than broken windows). Accommodation for new players, especially those with families, was very difficult to find and was the main reason why free scoring Bob Thomas returned to London at the end of his one season at Home Park, having travelled from the capital for home games. Nevertheless, Jack Tresadern's assessment in the new season's handbook ended with optimism for the months ahead:
"However, the prospects for season 1947-48 promise to be much more rosy because my Directors are tackling the housing problem strongly, and I hope to see all married players comfortably settled in before Christmas 1947. In regard to the training, a gymnasium has now been installed at Home Park, and when it has been equipped it will be invaluable on the many wet days we have in Plymouth. A running track has been made all the way around the pitch and players will no longer be squelching ankle deep in mud pulling their muscles to pieces during the week."
Encouragement also came with the summer recruits, and in particular centre-half John Oakes and centre-forward Maurice Tadman from Charlton Athletic. Oakes' vast experience - he was nearly 42 - was seen as the solution to Argyle's defensive woes and he was immediately made captain. Although he was 26, Tadman's best years were yet to come; this was the start of eight seasons in which he topped 250 appearances and scored 112 goals, a tally that places him as Argyle's fifth best goalscorer of all time.
However, the season began with the long journey to Newcastle and a 6-1 thrashing, which included a debut goal and a fractured wrist for Tadman. Without a win in the first five games, Tresadern surprised everyone by offering his resignation immediately after a draw at West Bromwich in early September, which the directors accepted at a hurriedly organised board meeting on the Monday morning. In his resignation letter, the manager said: "I regret exceedingly the first team's poor start of the 1947-48 season, and feel that, under the circumstances, it would be as well for me to resign my post as secretary-manager to the club, and trust that this resignation will be accepted. I shall always wish the club well and trust that under new management the fortunes will change." After his summer optimism and only five games of the new season, it seems a sudden decision by the manager and an equally hurried acceptance by chairman Sir Clifford Tozer and his board, but we can only imagine the strain that Jack Tresadern had been under since the club re-formed in 1944, which surely must have taken its toll. No public explanation was given but 'Spectator' in the Western Independent suggested significant differences of opinion in the way the club was run. Whatever the reasons, it was a very sad end for a manager who, in practical terms, pulled the club almost single-handedly back to its feet in without doubt the most difficult period in its history.
Manager Jimmy Rae
Secretary A.H. Cole
Assistant manager Jimmy Rae was promoted as acting manager at the Monday board meeting. Two days later came a 5-0 defeat at Leeds United, but thankfully two successive single-goal home wins eased the pressure. Then came nine games without a win, although six were drawn. Recognising the danger signals, the board decided that money had to be spent. In five days at the end of October, a reported £18,000 was spent on three recruits, including two club-record purchases. First came Frank Squires from Swansea Town, a record buy for a few days, and then George Dews (a new record buy) and Bobby Stuart, both from Middlesbrough in the First Division, whose manager was former Pilgrim David Jack.
Even though Rae's side had dropped to the bottom of the Second Division with only two wins in his 11 games as caretaker, his position was made permanent on 13th November when he was awarded an initial four-year contract. The decision was a popular one and came without advertising the post, although many applications had been received from experienced managers. So began over seven seasons and 323 games at the helm. At the same time, A.H. Cole was appointed to the separate position of Plymouth Argyle secretary. Described as most courteous and obliging, Cole's experience was considerable; not only had he been fulfilling the role in a temporary capacity since Jack Tresadern's resignation, breaking up the secretary-manager responsibility that had existed for three decades, but he also served under both Tresadern and Bob Jack as an assistant secretary, and before that with the Supporters' Club.
Strengthened by money well spent, there were only six more defeats that season, but also only seven more wins. The season ended with Argyle in 17th place, having been dominated by 20 draws, one short of equalling an all-time record. In the FA Cup, Argyle lost 4-2 at home to Second Division rivals Luton Town, but the Cup has lost none of its magic. It was Home Park's first FA Cup tie since 1935, and over 36,000 crammed into the still war-torn ground on a wet January day; quite remarkable under the circumstances. Rae said later: "One of the essential amenities of a successful football club is adequate stand and dressing room accommodation. The loss of the stand during the Plymouth blitz, with the inability to replace it since restarting football at Home Park, has helped in no small measure to bring about the 'barren' feeling, complained of by many visitors to Home Park. It may not be realised, but a club properly equipped with modern accommodation for players, has a tremendous pull, and Plymouth Argyle has been feeling the lack of such accommodation very acutely."
A packed Home Park for the FA Cup tie with Luton Town on 10th January 1948, but also a wonderful photo that illustrates perfectly the Home Park scene in the late 1940s. Note how few cars there were in Central Park's car park, despite more than 36,000 inside the ground.
1948-49: A FIGHT FOR SECOND DIVISION SURVIVAL
Ten years after his appointment as chairman of Plymouth Argyle Football Club, Sir James Clifford Tozer wrote in optimistic terms about the campaign to come; the third conventional season after the war and Argyle twelfth in English football's second tier. Brighter days were in store for the future and he had full confidence in the players, both old and new. Amongst the newcomers that summer was Alex Machin, an inside-forward from Chelsea, who was to be married later in the month. The decision was finally made by Machin's London-born fiancee, who was left in no doubt after she walked across Plymouth Hoe for the first time. As 'Spectator' in the Western Independent put it, "Argyle have arranged to provide the couple with their first home, and the honeymoon will be spent in Plymouth. A more romantic start to a player's career with a new club could scarcely be imagined."
Press reaction after the third game.
Another arrival that summer was Ray Goddard, also from Chelsea, to replace John Oakes at centre-half and also as captain. At 43, Oakes' playing days were over but he remained at Home Park in a coaching role. The third arrival of particular note was George Taylor, an experienced left-half from Aberdeen. Taylor played for two seasons at Home Park before moving on to training, coaching and brief management roles that spanned nearly 20 years.
Just like the previous two campaigns, the season began and ended badly: just one point in the first five games and one win in the last thirteen. A point in the season's opener was followed by four defeats and Argyle found themselves at the bottom of the table. Two wins in early September relieved the early pressure, but they were followed by more defeats, leaving the Pilgrims at the foot of the table again at the beginning of October. Thankfully, only one defeat in a run of nine games left the club in a much more comfortable 14th place as Father Christmas took to the skies.
As an interesting aside with a 1940s twist: news came in November 1948 that the Football Association had approved new colours for Argyle's shirts, involving white sleeves and collars. Misgivings were expressed by long-standing supporters, who complained that the tradition of 45 years - green shirts with black trimmings - was being cast aside. The reason for the change was that the players would be more distinctive, but traditionalists argued that black did not hamper the very successful sides in the 1920s and 30s. A complication, however, was that coupons were required to purchase the shirts (a post war austerity measure to manage the shortage of food and materials). Whilst there were objectors, there were also newer supporters who thought otherwise. 150 coupons were required for two completely new sets of shirts, and within a week 100 had been donated from as far afield as Scotland. As it turned out, the requirement for coupons for clothing ended in March 1949, and the new shirts were acquired for the following season.
On New Year's Eve, one of the board of directors, Mr John Chapman, died at the age of 66. Mr Chapman was a relative newcomer in the boardroom, having been elected at the annual meeting of shareholders in July 1947. He was also the managing director of Plymouth Greyhound Stadium and, surprisingly, the manager of Manchester United in his younger days. His nomination came from a group of shareholders who were well aware of his energy and decided opinions, and some feared he might clash with those who would naturally take a more cautious line. They were right; he fought to achieve considerable power in the boardroom as well as clashing with the press on occasions, but it was his mission to see the club in the First Division and no amount of money was too much to ensure a first class team because there was no risk that the money would not come back. We can only wonder how the club would have fared had he lived another ten years.
Taken from the Barn Park End (then called the Peverell End), a section of the post-war record crowd for the FA Cup tie against Notts County.
Probably the first English football goal of 1949 came on New Year's Day at Grimsby, when the Pilgrims conceded after 18 seconds, but they fought back for a draw. Then came the FA Cup: a home tie against Notts County. The Magpies were a Third Division South side but two years before had bought the famous England number nine, Tommy Lawton, for a British record transfer fee of £20,000. The attendance for the game was nearly double Argyle's average for the season; 40,000 (Home Park's capacity at that time) saw the visitors win with the only goal of the game, scored after 110 minutes (extra time was played at the end of the first game in those days).
In February Argyle sold Len Boyd to First Division Birmingham City for a record £17,500. This was the first time the club had received a five-figure fee, but the move attracted criticism from fans, many of whom doubted the club's ambitions. Boyd went on to play nearly 300 times over eight seasons with The Blues, captaining the side in later years. Not bad for a player who Argyle picked up from the Royal Navy soon after the war.
The reasons for the perilous end to the season.
The poor run of results at the end of the season - 7 points out of a possible 28 (8 from 39 in today's terms) - took the club from 12th place to 22nd and just one point from relegation. The run of 13 games began at the end of February, interrupted by an abandoned match at the start of March, but apart from the last Saturday of the season, no defeat was by more than one goal. That abandoned game was at Bury at the beginning of March, when a snowstorm ended the game after 69 minutes with the score at one each. Every effort was made to continue, including the marking of the penalty area lines with blue dye over the snow, but the referee made the final decision when he could no longer see his linesmen.
Perhaps the most significant moment in the second half of the season was the capture of Neil Dougall from Birmingham City for a club-record fee that was reported to be around £12,000. Under pressure to sign for Preston, Dougall visited Plymouth with his fiancee and within a few hours his decision was made. Perhaps the Hoe played its part again. Right-half was his best position, but it was his versatility that made him such a popular figure with the manager and supporters over the next ten seasons. After a spell as player-coach and then chief-coach (when he shared managerial duties with George Taylor), Dougall was named as Argyle manager in 1961. By his own admission he was not cut out for management and soon returned to coaching and scouting, working for the club until the early 1970s.
Safety came with the penultimate game, a 2-2 draw at Brentford. Perhaps it was relief that explains the 5-0 drubbing by Tottenham Hotspur at Home Park on the last day of the season, witnessed by 22,900 spectators despite the poor form and nothing to play for. Whatever the reason, Argyle had survived another season, but for how much longer?
Published in the Western Independent in the summer of 1949, the financial consequences of the bumper gates throughout the forties.
1949-50: ARGYLE'S FIRST RELEGATION
The Hoe works its magic on Les Major and his wife
Amongst the newcomers in the summer of 1949 were Les Major and Johnny Porteous, both of whom served the club for the following seven years. Major was a 23-year-old goalkeeper from Leicester City, who clocked up just 78 appearances in those years but played a vital role as a reserve for Bill Shortt. That backup role began after Shortt was injured in the third game of the season, but it was not the start that Major would have wanted; a run of five games saw Argyle concede 15 goals whilst Shortt was sidelined.
Porteous, aged 27 from Alloa Athletic, was a dependable and versatile half-back who could turn his hand to other roles and became a regular throughout his time at the club.
Off the field, the very experienced Hugh Ross was appointed as 'Supervisor of Training and Coaching'. Originally from Edinburgh, Ross played football in Scotland before becoming trainer at Charlton, Chester, Wrexham (where he also helped the Wales international team) and Preston North End. Bill Harper and George Reed remained as trainers, but John Oakes left his coaching role to take his first steps in management.
A line-up from late 1949, illustrating the new playing strip. For the first time, Argyle's shirt colours included white. Also clear is the new club crest - the first season that a badge appeared on the shirt.
Back row: Mr H A Ross (chief trainer), George Silk, Johnny Porteous, Stan Dixon, Bill Shortt, George Taylor, Pat Jones.
Front row: Bill Strauss, Frank Squires, Maurice Tadman, George Dews, Stan Williams.
Insets: Jack Chisholm, Neil Dougall
It might have been boom time on the club's balance sheet, but after five years of post-war hardship across the city and annual battles of survival in the Second Division, Argyle finally succumbed to the drop in the last season of the decade.
It appeared that all was not well at Home Park. Reports throughout the summer suggested there was a split in the boardroom over policy and direction, one particular issue, apparently, being the search across the country for young talent when there was an abundance in Devon and Cornwall. One director resigned and the press speculated that a veil of secrecy was being drawn.
On the pitch, the pattern set over previous three seasons continued, but in an even more striking way. After a home draw against Bradford Park Avenue (the eventual bottom club) on the first day of the season, Argyle lost the next seven games to leave themselves firmly rooted at the foot of the table, with no goals scored by an Argyle player at home. By mid-October is was one win in eleven, but then came three wins in a row and a climb to two places from the foot of the table. However, hopes were was short lived; seven winless games followed to leave Argyle once again at the bottom in the week before Christmas.
Adorning a wall in the Chisholm Lounge at Home Park in 2017, an oil painting of 'Jumbo' Jack Chisholm. The portrait was painted later in his Argyle career, after he had grown a beard in his final two seasons at the club. He was then said to be the only player with a beard in the Football League.
That week saw two players depart (the surprise move of Edds to Blackburn and Goddard to Exeter) and the most important recruit for many years. On the Thursday before Christmas, a move that had been rumoured for many weeks was finalised: Jack Chisholm, a 25-year-old centre-half, signed from Sheffield United. Chisholm came with a reputation as an old-fashioned stopper. He was a 'barn door' of a man; a traditional centre-half who rarely ventured from the penalty area. At 6ft 2in tall and weighing 14st, he lacked speed, agility, stamina and ball skills; and was bowlegged and had cartilages removed from both knees. But in his five seasons at Home Park he became one of the most popular and inspirational figures in Argyle's history. He was a giant in the air and a thunderous tackler, but it was his ability to cajole his more talented colleagues into action that made him so important to the club. He was also reputed to enjoy a drink, on occasions in the Britannia Inn before a home game. Injuries and lifestyle cut his career short in 1954, but the legend of 'Jumbo' lived on with one of the club's hospitality lounges called 'The Chisholm Lounge'.
Chisholm's first game as a Pilgrim, on Christmas Eve, was Argyle's fifth win of the season, and it can be no coincidence that in the remaining 20 matches there were only seven defeats. However, there were far too many draws - ten after Christmas left just three more wins. Seven of those draws were goalless, revealing Argyle's real problem that season: their inability to convert chances. Just 44 goals were scored, with only 19 in their 21 league games at home. There was certainly little to lift the gloom for home supporters, yet loyal fans remained faithful. Home Park's average attendance for the season, ignoring the FA Cup, was over 22,000.
The draw for the third round of the FA Cup in mid-December gave the Pilgrims home advantage over the FA Cup holders, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Third in the First Division, Wolves would surely be too strong for a team in the doldrums, 41 places below them, but this was the FA Cup and Plymouth's imagination was well and truly captured. With the board deciding to double the prices, Argyle's secretary, A.H. Cole, faced the monumental challenge of distributing 40,000 tickets in less than four weeks, and at the same time manage the arrangements for five league games before the January tie, not to mention Christmas.
The FA Cup was paraded around Home Park ahead of the third round tie with holders Wolves
Left winger Stan Williams fires home to take the lead for Argyle
To triumphant headlines in the local papers, Argyle drew the game 1-1, having taken the lead after eight minutes and then held on for a good part of the game. Nearly 2,000 Argyle fans took the trains to Molineux for the replay four days later, but in a gallant display the Pilgrims went down to three second half goals, the first a harsh penalty just before the hour. After the game, Wolves' famous manager, Stan Cullis, said that Argyle ought to be in the First Division.
Over 83,000 had seen the games, and in a very unusual twist of fate, a third round tie at home to Wolves was repeated 364 days after the first, adding another 40,000 to the total.
Average Football League attendances at Home Park, by decade. The 2010-19 data is correct to 9 December 2017.
Back in the Second Division, the excitement of the previous seven days led to Argyle's second and last away win of the season, a 4-2 victory at Sheffield Wednesday in front of nearly another 40,000 gate, but it did not take long for Argyle's league form to return. A run of eleven games without a win from late January to early April left them as firm favourites for relegation, and a second director's resignation sparked more suggestions of a boardroom split. Relegation was confirmed after the penultimate game, a heavy defeat at Barnsley, 20 years and one week after promotion was assured. But at least the Pilgrims avoided the bottom spot - so often occupied that season - by winning their last game at home to Bury, whilst rivals Bradford Park Avenue lost at Luton. In the end, relegation would have been Queens Park Rangers' fate had Argyle managed three more points over a season that included 16 draws and 17 games without scoring.
So ended the 1940s, a decade like no other. Argyle had sat comfortably in English football's second tier throughout the thirties, but the war had devastated every aspect of the club, and after the stark reality of the transitional season, it was a wonder that the club managed to retain its place for so long. Apart from the tremendous work of Jack Tresadern, surely the main reason for its survival was the loyal enthusiasm of the Plymouth public, who themselves were suffering daily hardship. Or perhaps that was the reason: Plymouth Argyle was the Saturday distraction that many in the city needed. Whatever the explanation, no decade before or since has attracted such crowds: an average of over 23,000 at Home Park, peaking at the capacity of 40,000 for two FA Cup ties and many times over 30,000 in the Football League.
SOUTH SIDE STORY
Western Independent, 19 Jan 1948; like many headlines in the early post-war years.
People in those record breaking crowds suffered the conditions at Home Park like none before or since. For the large majority there was simply no shelter from pouring rain or bitter winds, and yet they kept coming, and even paid more for uncovered benches when the roof at the Devonport end offered some basic relief. The need to rebuild the grandstand was obvious and urgent, but for more than ten years after that night in 1941, the hurdles proved insurmountable.
A fundamental problem was the need for a building licence from the Ministry of Works. Shortages of materials and manpower resulted in a national policy of building control for major works. Argyle's application to replace the grandstand was repeatedly rejected, although similar schemes further north were authorised. Local press anger greeted news in 1946 that a new 10,000-seat stand was under way at Hull City, but the regional office of the Ministry of Works in Bristol cited the lack of steel, wood and labour in the South West, and insisted that Plymouth's badly blitzed houses must come first. At that time, a large part of Plymouth's natural labour force was still serving in the Armed Forces, and when men returned, the rebuilding of the city was most people's priority.
Another problem was Plymouth Argyle's relationship with its landlord, Plymouth Corporation. A very helpful annual rent of £100 was agreed in 1945, to be reviewed every May, but some councillors argued that the sum was too low and that ratepayers should not be expected to subsidise the club. In October 1946 one councillor, Mr C F Hunt, went so far as to anticipate a radical outcome. He said: "I predict at some future date we shall be compelled to take over Plymouth Argyle and run it as a municipal enterprise. At present Argyle are paying £100 and rates for the lease of Home Park from the City Council. That lease is due to end in April. It is obvious that they cannot go on like that and we shall have to increase their rent. Then there is a cry for a new grandstand. I maintain that if we are going to have a grandstand we should have one which will compare with the new city we are going to build. And where is the Argyle club to get the money from The City Council will have to provide it."
Three months later the Parks and Recreation Committee recommended an increase to £400 per annum, plus rates, but settled on £300 after Argyle argued that the club was an asset that drew people and money to the city. In 1948 the rent rose again, but the real problem was the annual review. Argyle were desperate to agree a longer term deal because its directors were reluctant to commit the necessary monies for a new grandstand when there was no guarantee of a future at Home Park.
After years of frustration in the boardroom, not to mention its soggy spectators, a licence to build was granted and a longer term lease agreed as the decade ended. At last, even though the Third Division South beckoned, the construction of the most visible symbol of a bright new future could begin.
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