Monday, January 09, 2006

Paul Sturrock

Time to bite the bullet and give my view on our ex-manager.

If you look back in this blog to the article entitled “Dead Cat Bounce” then you’ll have a pretty decent idea as to where the club was when he arrived. Check out our current league placing and see where we are now. That radical transformation is down, largely, to the efforts of one man and that man is Paul Sturrock.

In my opinion he is one of the best managers currently plying his trade in English football and has quite a remarkable level of success within the game; initially with Argyle (2 Championships – almost – in 3 years) and latterly with Sheffield Wednesday’s 2005 play-off victory.

All achieved with next to no expenditure.

When he joined Argyle we were well and truly in the Doldrums. The whole club was dead on it’s feet. The ground was crumbling, we were 91st out of 92 in the professional football pyramid. We had more than our share of gutless and strolling players. Rumours of poor morale within the squad abounded. All in line really with the events of the preceding few years which had seen us plummet down the slippery slope towards oblivion.

Sturrock took the shambles and shook it roughly by the throat. A motley bunch of desperadoes and ne’er-do-wells were given the shock of their knives. Many players came and went on trial. Some stayed. Most of the incumbents on his arrival were history in less than 6 months.

The team was dragged kicking and screaming from the bottom of the 4th Division to the edge of the play-off race. Indeed if a handful of disappointing late results had been different we would have, against all expectation, have won a play-off spot. Those last few games proved to be a blessing in disguise; various formations were tried, positional changes made and triallists started.

Then came Sturrock’s first full season.

During the close season it was announced that the ground was going to be redeveloped. Loans, grants and other financial arrangements were made and the bull-dozers went in. Fascinatingly the demolition was covered as it happened on the excellent Greens On Screen site and we awaited the forthcoming season with mixed feelings.

We started with only the Mayflower side of the ground open and the other 3 sides a building site. Our first home game was against Shrewsbury (lost 1-0) – a game we dominated from start to finish only to get beaten by a very late goal completely against the run of play. Our second was v. Rochdale (lost 2-1) where again we played well for no reward. In between we drew away at Hull (0-0). Not a great start. Our only goal was an own goal!!

The inevitable gloom didn’t last long. The season was kickstarted with an exciting 3-2 win at Rushden & Diamonds. Massively important global events didn’t distract as we then beat Swansea at home 3-1. Massively important global events? The date was 9/11/2001. Never, I suspect, to be forgotten.

I don’t intend to write a blow-by-blow account of the season so fast forward to the end of September. Luton, managed by Joe Kinnear, were the visitors and in the build up to the game JK made widely reported comments which were quite disparaging to us and, in effect, totally unprofessional. Those comments inspired 10 man Argyle (Micky Evans was sent off – a decision subsequently overturned) to win 2-1 in front of a raucous crowd of less than 6000 all packed onto one side of the ground.

Game on!!

Kinnear’s comments could not have contrasted more starkly with Sturrock’s approach. He was never less than complimentary about our opponents. If they had lost 10 in a row he would say “they are due a win and desperate for a result – it will be our hardest game yet”. If they had won 10 in a row he would say “they are an excellently organised team who work hard for one another and have good players throughout – it will be our hardest game yet”.

The rivalry between us and Luton underscored the whole season. We went from strength to strength. We ended the season with the 2nd best ever points total by any team (102). A club record number of clean sheets and many others besides. Chased every inch of the way by Luton we were Champions come May. Cue scenes the likes of which we had never seen in Plymouth before.

A modest season followed. We finished 8th before the whole glorious surge to ultimate triumph started once again the following season. However come the glorious day Bobby Williamson was at the helm and Sturrock was long gone. A “replay” of the joyous celebrations of 2 years before followed.

Despite all of his, quite incredible, achievements I just can’t find it in my heart to feel anything other than resentment towards Sturrock. He was poached by Southampton to be their manager in a move that spectacularly failed for both of them. Southampton were soon to be relegated from the PL whilst Sturrock would be sacked after only 6 games the following season.

Why the resentment? Various quotes emerged in the press. “It took me less than 30 seconds to decide” was one of my favourites. Especially when it was compared to “I would only leave Plymouth to manage AC Milan!!” There were others.

An era was over and uncertainty reigned where once there had been hope. Expectation even.

Although we still were promoted as Champions once again things were never to be the same. Sturrock poached our coaching staff. He came sniffing around our players signing Steve Adams and Graham Coughlan permanently and Hasney Aljofree on loan – by the now manager of Sheffield Wednesday.

So why my hostility towards him? Above all it was because I was sure that as long as he was in charge, despite the ups and downs unavoidable in football, everything would work out fine in the end. I had never really felt that before. I had, deluded, visions of him being an iconic figure for us in the Revie/Shankly/Clough/Stein mould. To some he still is just that. I believed he was the man to awaken the “Sleeping Giant” that is Plymouth Argyle and that one day he would lead us into the Promised Land of Premiership football for the first time in our 100 years or so of under-achievement but he’s gone and the signs are he’s not coming back.

Should his name crop up in future I will refer to him as $ - a fitting epitaph for a man who turned out to be as greedy and cash motivated as the most venal, grasping tightwad you could imagine. He turned out to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. For that I dislike him.

He also killed a dream. For that I despise him.


At 5:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post.

Happy, Sad and true. If it tells me anything it's how important the manager is to make a club successful. Clough, Shankley, Sir Robson etc etc. I think that's where Argyle need to focus for future success.

Great writing... sob

At 11:48 pm, Blogger Babararacucudada said...

Glad you liked it.

I wish you'd left some indication as to your ID even if a pseudonym...

Are you the same person who has made other replies today?

It's all rather exciting - no comments for ages and then a few all at once. It's just a shame I seem to have upset somebody.

Is it you?


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