Stalemate in the first ever League encounter
With the Devon Derby just around the corner, we're previewing classic matches against Argyle every day this week. This is the first of five instalments.
Plymouth Argyle 0 Exeter City 0
Football League Third Division
25th December 1920
Though this was not the first time that Plymouth and Exeter had faced each other, it was the maiden Football League fixture between the two rivals – which came on Christmas Day of 1920.
Having previously played in the Southern League, the two Devon rivals were absorbed into the newly-formed Third Division for the 1920/21 season (which, a year later, became the Third Division South when a division running in parallel in the North was established). So it was with keen anticipation that this derby was played. By this time, City had adopted their red and white kit – they had previously played in green and white, similarly to their near-neighbours, but had adopted their famous stripes in 1911.
Some managers nowadays bemoan a hectic festive period, but for the 18,000 fans that flocked to Home Park on Christmas Day, this matchup was the highlight of the season’s fixture list. Mince pies and turkey lunches were abandoned as fans of both clubs made a beeline for Plymouth’s stadium to imbibe the derby. Their ground had undergone a series of recent upgrades in the months before, in order to meet the safety regulations outlined by the Football League.
Despite all the anticipation, the goalmouth action left a little to be desired. To the dismay of the home crowd, the Grecians were on the offensive in the first half, but debutant Bob Shields was wasteful and missed a host of chances to put them ahead before the break.
After the interval – and presumably a rollicking in the changing room by manager Robert Jack – the Pilgrims were a different proposition. They dominated the second period, but a combination of brilliance between the sticks by goalkeeper Dick Pym and their strikers’ profligacy kept the scores level. In particular defender Jack Hill missed a golden opportunity by heading over from yards out, and George Sheffield then struck the post when presented with a gaping goal.
The fans weren’t in charitable mood, despite the festive occasion, and proceeded to boo off the referee after he blew the final whistle for what they deemed to be a series of controversial decisions. Some things in football, it seems, are permanent!
So, unfortunately, the first Football League meeting between the rivals will not go down in the annals for its excitement. But like any historic occasion, it merits a mention in its own right and helped establish the Devon Derby as the most anticipated date on the calendar.
The teams met in a reverse fixture at St James’ Park just two days later – again inseparable, though the Grecians came close to winning thanks to Shields’ first goal for the club, but a late penalty by Moses Russell ensured that neither team had the bragging rights all to themselves after their first League encounters.
In that era, it was a common occurrence to play derby fixtures over either Christmas or Easter – but there was little in the way of festive cheer for City for a number of years. In particular 4-0 losses home and away in the 1923 yuletide schedule had been galling for City fans. But the hoodoo was finally broken on Boxing Day of 1924 when a 3-0 win at St James’ Park gave Exeter their first League triumph over their rivals.
Tickets for Exeter City v Plymouth Argyle are on sale now at Reception to Known Supporters. The match is ALL TICKET and there will be no sales of tickets on the day, so make sure you have your ticket no later than Friday. Please also be sure to make sure your friends and family know that this fixture is all ticket, in case they don't realise and were intending to come.
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