It's been a while since I felt any affection at all towards football.
Tradition is pretty important to us football fans, isn't it?
Suzanne Vega has a song containing the lyric “if I had met you on some journey where would we be now?”
And it has set me wondering about the counter hypothesis: “if I had not met you on some journey where would we be now?”
Except for “I” I’m thinking Argyle and for “you” I’m thinking James Brent.
If Argyle hadn’t met Brent where would it be now?
And it is a valid question, certainly worthy of pondering given the long, empty summer we have looming, given how often I have heard “without Brent there would be no Argyle” (or variants thereof).
So far as I can see if James Brent had never existed it is only really feasible to imagine 3 options:
1) The Heaney bid would have succeeded.
2) A different “Brent”-figure would have emerged and done much the same in terms of saving the club from administration – after that who knows?
3) PAFC as we knew it would have gone bust (which it did anyway – something often over-looked) and had to start again God alone knows where down the pyramid.
At the time we were offered a club separated from the stadium by Heaney. The club was up for sale for £1 but the land/stadium stayed with him and we would have been tenants paying rent… “all he wants to do is build a cinema in the park” was the mantra chanted, remember?
Well a few years later the land has been separated from the club, the stadium has been sold (luckily to the council) and all James Brent’s planning depended on building a cinema in the park. And we are just tenants paying rent. Brent has obviously failed in his preferred option (the now-shelved Higher Home Park development) and has failed in no small part because he quite simply didn’t get it done before a better (Bretonside) plan came along but, essentially, you can’t slip a fag paper between the Brent and Heaney plans so far as they are known. Had Heaney won would he have built his cinema before British Land came along? We’ll never know but if he had then there would probably be no ambitious Bretonside plan and no new bus station in the city centre and much more besides. If ever there’s an example of why non-Argyle fan Plymothians should be interested in what goes on at Argyle, or why PCC should take an active interest in the club’s governance, then here is as good a reason why as you will ever see.
Or Heaney might have taken over and failed completely. Had he done so then we’re back where we were when the New World failed but with a different administrator, probably, meaning that #2 above comes into play. A similar but different Brent-figure. At the time there was only one other name in the frame: Buttivant. Rumours exist that other parties were interested but Guilfoyle didn’t appear to be entertaining anybody other than Heaney, until his wheels came off, and then it was a mad panic to get Brent in before the whole shebang folded. Was there really any viability in this option? I guess we’ll never know but it seems unlikely.
Which leads to #3: Starting all over again.
That would have meant a Trust-owned club phoenixing from the ashes. Resurgam!
Obviously this is completely speculative but would such a club have been marooned in the very lowest levels for long? I don’t think so. At the time we were told that such a club couldn’t even hope to finance the upkeep of Home Park but, we now know, that the council was willing to negotiate very, ahem, favourable arrangements around rent and rates and we also know that since then next to nothing has spent on maintainance at Home Park. A Trust-owned Argyle couldn’t have failed to match that so why wouldn’t it have succeeded?
The template to follow has been well-established by both AFC Wimbledon and Newport. A steady rise back up through the pyramid would have been likely and a spectacular run of year-on-year promotions is not unthinkable.
And if that had spectacular run had happened the club would now be renting the stadium, exactly as it is now, and it would still be united with the land surrounding the stadium, which it currently is not. The question is which league would Argyle now be in?
We have now had 4 seasons since Brent took over. We are still in the same division that we were in when he arrived. The club’s finances are a little better, so we are led to believe, than when he arrived but had he not done so, and we had genuinely started anew, we would have done so unencumbered by the burden of historical debt and we’d’ve been enjoying 4 years of watching a team pay its own way, mostly win and, possibly, enjoy 4 promotions to boot. We would be awash with optimism and pride and the horrors of the New World’s incompetence/negligence would be no more relevant to us than, say, the affairs of the MK Dons are to AFC Wimbledon.
So, to be where we are now we would need to have seen successive promotions, in reverse order, from the Conference Premier (containing e.g. Forest Green Rovers, Braintree and Alfreton), Conference South (e.g Whitehawk, Concord Rangers and Bishops Stortford), Southern League Premier (e.g. Truro, Bideford and Dorchester) and Southern League Div 1 South and West (e.g. Taunton, Bridgwater and Tiverton). Below that and we’re down to the South West Peninsula League (e.g. Ivybridge, Saltash and Plymouth Parkway) and I don’t think we would have had to drop that far down.
Obviously the presumption of being successful in the lower leagues is hugely speculative but surely not an entirely preposterous notion. It is also pretty much certain that the last 4 years would have been very interesting and, quite probably, far more enjoyable than the ones we have endured so what, exactly has James Brent “saved us” from?
And was it worth being saved from at all?
Supporting a football team is a funny old business. Mostly it just seems to offer the odd island of joy amongst an ocean of misery; for an Argyle fans the last 6 years or so has offered far less than that but this blog goes back further, much further than the last 6 years to 11th May 1984. Exactly 30 years ago to the day.