Wednesday, May 07, 2008

2007-8 Season Review

What follows would have been absolutely impossible to complete without frequent reference to GoS/SV: Thanks, chaps.

When I, accidentally, started this blog the intention was to ponder on the greater picture. Not the minutiae of detail but The Big Idea. That's why I have never gone in for match reports or anything like that. Ian De Lar does that on Pasoti and there is little point in recording day-to-day events as Trev does that in his Semper Viridis Diary feature. They both do what they do with no little flair and distinction and I have never intended to compete with them and still don't. I'd like to think that I'm adding something vaguely worthwhile to the Argyle cyber-pot with what I do though and the pub reviews will keep coming (in fact there is a great deal of research to be added but I think I'll ration those out to fill in the dull days of the Summer break). After a season such as the one we have just had it would be remiss of me just to let it slip by without putting onto the record my thoughts about it.

It must be the most remarkable season that Argyle has ever had. I can't think of any to compare anyway. It had some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows that I can remember in all of my time as a supporter and for those who are new to all of this that takes me back to the early '70s so it is hardly a narrow perspective.

I have produced a graph which details our league position as the season unfolded so we may as well start with that:

It's interesting in itself for what it is and what it reveals. For a start we obviously had a comfortable season. We were barely in the lower half at all and never threatened a relegation spot. We all know about the financial constraints under which we operate and bearing them in mind we have to applaud what has been another successful season with yet another improved final league position compared to the previous year. That's the 7th year running that we have improved. If we aren't careful we will set a record ~ that's if we haven't already. Despite that there is a feeling that we have somehow not quite achieved what we might have. Somebody started a thread on Pasoti asking for a picture to sum up the season. I posted the darts one shown here. A dart in the outer bull seemed just about right. It hit the target and scored well but was not what we were aiming for and was, even though it was a commendable effort, a near miss and ultimately disappointing. We had hoped for most of the season to get a play-off spot and even going into the final few games it was on if we could just string a mere handful of results together. Sadly we could not.

As for the rest... where do you start? There has been a flatness to the season and this has troubled me for some time. The nature and character of Home Park as a venue seems to have altered. Now I may be muddling cause and effect here but that seems to have held us back all year and the feeling that something big, very big, was just around the corner never really took hold despite the fact that it actually was virtually all season long. Indeed it was within our grasp on more than one occasion but we failed to capitalise on it either by just not realising or by letting it drop like sand through our fingers. Why was that belief never there? I have to point an accusatory finger at our home form. It has just not been good enough and that goes back to the very start of the season.

The atmosphere inside the ground as a whole has been flat all year too. Recently there has been a groundswell of complaints against the stewarding at Home Park and the enforcement of the no-standing policy. I have some sympathy here with both sides. Whatever the rights and wrongs the season ended at the right time. The issue was getting too heated and fraught. I hope something can change for next season because we need the excitement and atmosphere in the ground that just is not there at present.

Our home record for the season reads W9 D9 L5 F37 A22. That looks OK, and it is if you want to finish 10th, but it ultimately disappoints. Historically our seasons have been built on the bedrock of our home form and this time that form was not good enough from the very beginning to the very end. From the start of the season when Ipswich, Leicester (more of whom later), Cardiff and Wolves all came to Home Park and all left with a point the seeds of dissatisfaction were sown. 4 points out of a possible 12. It was not until the visit of Palace in October that we managed a win. By now we were into the third month of the season and whereas we could justifiably blame bad luck we had to admit that we got away with one against Wolves for whom Michael Kightly was superb ~ poor Gary Sawyer must still be having nightmares about it and hopefully his blood has had time to untwist itself since.

Along the way we did win a couple of matches. This ought to be cause for celebration but even Argyle these days don't view the League Cup with any great fervour. We played weird line-ups and managed to beat Wycombe and Doncaster which got us into the third round against West Ham. Heady heights indeed and this was far more success than we had enjoyed in this competition in what seemed like decades. Sadly despite a good display we lost to an injury-time goal at the Boleyn ground. Still never mind. Chin up and onwards.

Maybe that was a match we could never win against opponents with a host of star names but we did play a strong team and if we could have nicked it... I know that our priority is, and must always be, the league but we are now an established CCC side and we just might get a bit of luck in the draw and go a long way in this competition. It's not impossible that we could win it and a place in the final might cough up a UEFA Cup spot even if we did not. Should we go close it would be a money-spinner for the club, build the club's profile and give everything and everybody a shot in the arm. The PL teams do not take it seriously and if we did then who knows. Maybe next year. One thing is certain and that is we need the favourable publicity that a Cup Run brings and it is the sort of thing that we ought to be achieving if we are to challenge right at the top of the CCC.

Ian Holloway has rubbished speculation linking him with the vacant Norwich City job and pledged his future to Argyle. He said: "I haven't heard a word from Norwich and all this kind of speculation is both news to me and entirely unwanted. It's not a surprise, because whenever your team is doing well, as mine is, and there is a vacancy elsewhere, your name seems to be inevitably linked. Yes, it's a feather in our club's cap that my name is on somebody's list, but I'm not interested in the post. I'm fully focused on the job I have here at Plymouth Argyle."

Back to the grind and we had a run of home inconsistency following the Palace game: WWLWLWDWD (Palace, Cov, Wednesday, Norwich, WBA, Scunny, Turnips, QPR and Stoke respectively) which took us up to the New Year. 17 points out of 27. A bit more like it but given the lack lustre start still not good enough to fully make up the lost ground.

Crowds just did not take off as we might have hoped. 10k v Scunny, 14k v. WBA. We struggled to 16k v. Turnips and QPR (Boxing Day). Stoke which was played between Christmas and the New Year only attracted 13k ~ even I didn't go to that one but family commitments got in the way and I have seen more than enough of a Pulis team to last me a lifetime. Those poor attendances were to haunt our season and led to seismic repercussions. Holloway banged the drum as much as he could but the crowd figure stayed resolutely low.

Ian Holloway was delighted with yesterdays 3-0 win over Norwich City. "Some of the football we played was terrific," he said. "If Plymouth have ever played better than that, I would have liked to have seen the team and I would like to have seen the game. It was exciting, bright, and we could have run away with even more goals." Lee Martin's overhead kick gave Argyle a half-time lead, before Paul Connolly and David Norris sealed the victory. "Lee scored probably the hardest chance - how he managed to do that, I just don't know," said Holloway. "We missed easier chances than that. Chuck's smashed his in. What a great strike, by the way. Anybody who tells me that boy can't shoot, have a look at that goal. How good is that boy, by the way? Lee Martin, Peter Halmosi, and David Norris - who was back to David Norris today - were absolutely marvellous; Lilian Nalis and everybody. Every one of my players had a good day today. You need that at this level. At Preston nearly every one of them didn't have a good day. But all you can ask is that they learn. I felt we have moved on from last week, when I wasn't happy with the set-piece lapse at all. I thought we could have won last week's game if we had been as focused as we were today, even when we were one-down. We didn't give anything away today - we really didn't - and I didn't think that Sheffield Wednesday were any better than Norwich City - and that's no disrespect to them. I think we have stepped on because we should have won last week like we did today. Sometimes we need to be a bit more clinical, but well done to the lads - some of the football was great and goals change games don't they? We have got a great bunch of lads, as I keep on telling everybody."

The apathy the people of the SW have shown for Argyle this season lies at the heart of much of the chaos that followed. It's fair to say that our results had not helped and that performances at home were not inspiring but the crowd figure stayed low week in and week out. Chairman Stapleton had made noises about the club running at a controlled loss and Holloway's hyperactive media whoredom got us regular press but it still did not attract the stay-away fans through the turnstiles. Something had to give and it did with the sale of Akos Buszaky to QPR. We got £500k for him. His contract was about to expire. He got a big pay rise. Everybody won.

Contrary to public perception, Akos had agreed a deal with Plymouth Argyle on his wages. Then we came across a stumbling block, which was a fee payable to his agent, Sam Stapleton. We weren't willing to pay a substantial amount to the player to pay the agent because the rules are you can't pay agents directly if they are acting for a player. I spoke to Sam Stapleton about it and I told him I didn't think it was right. But, to that, he said Akos had signed a contract with him to say he would have to pay the agent's fee. I rang the manager and he was not happy and did not want to pay it. He had the same view as me but I had to get his view on it." QPR were willing to pay the agent's fee, however, and Buzsaky signed for them instead. Stapleton added: "Akos actually went to QPR and got slightly higher wages, but that wasn't the be-all and end-all of why he went there. I have got emails which say he was happy to sign for us for significantly improved figures, so it's not a question of Plymouth not being prepared to pay enough money." Stapleton, however, insisted he did not hold any grudges against his namesake Sam Stapleton, Buzsaky's agent. "He was the one who brought us Peter Halmosi and Krisztian Timar and I think we did reasonably well in those deals for the football club and those players," he said. "That has worked out very well, so you have to appreciate the fact that you may come across these people again." Stapleton has also wished Buzsaky well for his new career at Loftus Road. He said: "When Akos first came here, I helped him personally. We looked after him because he was a bit lonely. When the other two boys came in he was really, really happy. Now he has gone to QPR and I wish Akos all the best. In the cold light of day, it's a good deal for Akos and it's a good deal for Plymouth Argyle. No-one loses. Everybody's happy and we are all friends."

Well that was how it was sold to the general public but it hid much that was murky. Negotiations had been underway for some time between player and club. The prognosis in the Herald was encouraging. Then it all went sour. Seemingly for no reason at all. It appears that Buzsaky was holding out for a certain amount. Eventually Argyle offered it. Deal done? Not quite. Buzsaky's agent then makes noises about his cut. £35k all told, allegedly, but who was to pay it? League and FA regulations are quite explicit on this count: agents may only represent one party in a deal. Buszaky's agent, Sam Stapleton funnily enough, should therefore have been paid by Buzsaky because that was who he was working for. It seems as though a request went into the club for the money to cover this fee. Holloway said "no". He knew the regulations and there was no way the club could pay it even if they wanted to.

New Rules For Agents

"Take the weekend off and think it over" Buzz was allegedly told. The team set off for Preston without him. Lost 2-0 to a team that could not buy a point at the time and by the time they got back the QPR deal was done, the books were balanced and Buzsaky entered Argyle history which was a relief because I never quite got my head around whether it was "ZS" or "SZ" as you can probably tell!!

This deal split opinion like the departure of a player had never done before. Well not since Mariner left anyway. Was Buzz an expensive liability or the most talented player we had? A bit of both is the truth. He was brought to the club by Bobby Williamson and perhaps needed him to stay to thrive. I think he is a player that needs to be loved and trusted and he was never either, not completely, here. He was in and out of the side under both Pulis and Holloway and his goals per game ratio was not impressive. Sometimes his set piece delivery was brilliant and other times useless. What is Hungarian for "Curate's egg"?

All in all it was a strange and sorry business. Later other details were to emerge via an unprecedented press release from our Stapleton. Ollie did not rate him, he was unpopular in the dressing room and he had to go as a result. This was a bombshell. There had been no inkling that there were issues of this type with Buszaky although there did appear to be conflict between him and Paul Wotton about who should take responsibility for the dead ball specialist spot in the team. Wotton's injury last season put an end to that though. To this day I have heard nothing other than praise for Buszaky as being a most affable sort of chap with a friendly smile and a word for all. Buszaky was hugely popular with fans could it have been that Ollie couldn't bear to play second fiddle to anybody when it came to claiming the affection of the fans? I don't suppose we will ever know for sure. Since joining QPR he has been given their hallowed #10 shirt, relieved of defensive duty and has played in the hole and, natch, scored hundreds of goals for adoring Hoop fans. Why didn't we try that? It was obviously his best position. Hindsight is 20/20 they say.

Ian Holloway has distanced himself from a story in a national newspaper claiming he could be about to quit as Argyle manager. He said: "Ask anybody who knows me how I feel about Plymouth Argyle and they will tell you the truth. If you need me to say it again, I'm in love with the place. It's absolutely magnificent. Ask my players who I'm trying to talk into staying here how Ian Holloway feels about Plymouth Argyle. I think they will tell you the truth. It's all poppycock, if I'm allowed to use that word. It's absolutely pathetic. But the media is a very powerful thing and, unfortunately, a rumour can become a bigger rumour. I don't know how these things get in there, to be perfectly honest with you." Reports also suggested that Holloway was on the short-list to become the new manager of Leicester City. Asked about the story, he replied: "We are playing well and we are winning matches. That's all that matters. If we weren't, nobody would be saying these things anyway. There's not a scrap of truth in any of it. Every time I have wanted a player the Board have bought me one. It's as simple as that. Peter Halmosi was available and were we going to sign him? Yes we did. He was our record signing. We spent £1.1 million last season. If they hadn't bought me a player I would probably be moaning, and the first people I would moan to is them. That's how it is. These things just get totally out of hand and I can't understand it. The answer from me is that it's absolute rubbish. As far as I'm concerned, we are giving it power now by even talking about it. Let's move on. Next question please."

Then one afternoon via a 5LIVE news bulletin the excrement hit the air con. "Holloway to be announced as next Leicester manager". Couldn't be true could it? There had been speculation in the two week break for international matches that he may have been off but Good Old Ollie filled the front page of the Herald. "Poppycock" he thundered. "Complete nonsense!!" Mandaric was even interviewed and said that Holloway was not under consideration. Well that was that. Wasn't it? How could we be so naive as to think so. Mr High Profile dropped off the radar. Speculation mounted. Ollie said nothing. Nothing until the press conference at Leicester when he was unveiled as their new boss.

Milan Mandaric last night denied he is set to appoint Ian Holloway as the new boss of Leicester, and Paul Stapleton also confirmed that the speculation is incorrect. Mandaric said: "There is no truth in the rumour. I haven't contacted Plymouth and he hasn't been in my thoughts about getting the job." Stapleton added: "There is no truth it. I spoke to Ian at lunchtime today about loan transfers and contract talks for other players."

A City seethed in fury and indignation. Ollie had promised. He had given his word. His track record suggested that he a stayer but his actions proved otherwise. There was much rancour and that is putting it mildly. There followed a period where people said things that they quite clearly should not have and it was all played out in the unforgiving glare of the nation's media.

Ian Holloway has resigned as Argyle manager. The club released the following statement: "Plymouth Argyle confirm that Ian Holloway has tendered his resignation as manager of the club. The club has convened a board meeting for Friday this week where this will be considered. In the meantime, Ian continues to be employed by the club and subject to the terms of his contract of employment. No further comment will be made pending the board meeting this Friday.

Ian Holloway has broken his silence over his resignation as Argyle manager. He said: "It's a really difficult situation for myself. I feel like I was getting stereotyped in having no money to spend. I'm sick and fed up of losing my best players all the time because they outgrow what I can pay them, and I'm not sure that will happen at Leicester. It's a whole new role for me and it's something that I don't feel I could turn down. I have worked hard for 11 years and I have always been the bridesmaid, never the bride, to this type of thing. It's a challenge for me, and everybody needs a challenge, but that doesn't belittle the relationships I have had before. I don't know what the people at Plymouth are going to be feeling about me today but I'm ever so sorry. I just felt my heart wasn't there once I knew this might be here. What can I say." Lawyers have spent the morning thrashing out a compensation payment for Holloway, with Argyle thought to want £400,000. He added: "That's beyond me. That's for other people to deal with. All I am is a football manager. The people who are more experienced above me will have to sort that out."

Holloway walked out leaving us in 7th position and Argyle hit a season high in the next match when in a hugely exciting game (for me it was the season highlight) at Sheffield United we triumphed 1-0. Gary Penrice and Des Bulpin had stood in for Ollie and secured a famous win in their only match in charge. Before long they to were off to Leicester as was stand-in captain and Ollie fave Barry Hayles. We even got a fee for him: £100k. Not bad business again really. Then Ollie went Nuclear: "I'm coming back for all of my players" he said and said as though he meant it. Basically a state of war existed between the two clubs.

Ollie Interview

18 December: Leicester boss Ian Holloway attacks reports that he's using the press to unsettle Plymouth's Barry Hayles. 'I don't like it: it's very damaging. I was proud of what I did at Plymouth, and very proud of the Plymouth fans, so I'm not going to raid their team. I'm looking at other targets.' 1 January: Signs Barry Hayles for £150k. 'I'm absolutely delighted!'

Still every cloud has a silver lining and when one door shuts another opens and Paul Sturrock was appointed in place of Holloway. He left Swindon and came back to Plymouth and brought with him a couple of familiar faces in the shape of Kevin Summerfield and John Blackley. Could the events unfold and actually leave us in a stronger position? No. Further departures were on the way and the heart was about to be ripped out of the Argyle squad. Dan Gosling, our best youngster was off to Everton for £1.5m. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake was off to Wolves for a similar amount and Club Hero And Legend David Norris was off to Ipswich for £3m. Never had so much cash poured into the coffers. Never was so much angst portrayed amongst the support. We even lost Romain Larrieu at this time too due to a sad reoccurrence of his testicular cancer problems. Everywhere you looked there was disaster. It was carnage. Even supporters of other teams noticed what was happening and were wondering why we were selling everybody.

Paul Sturrock made his return to Home Park today, and has no doubt that what lies ahead of him is as tough as it gets. "This will be the hardest job I've ever had to take over," he said, "but I am very, very pleased and looking forward to the challenge." Argyle’s current situation is a far cry from the positions Sturrock has found himself in when appointed to his previous jobs. He said: "The bottom has been out of most of the clubs' trousers as far as the position they are in the league - all of a sudden, I'm taking over a team that's fourth in the Championship and flying. It's a difficult one. I do feel I have taken a difficult job because of the expectation-level. Plus, there's also the old onion that you should never go back to try again. But I feel very comfortable with coming back. I think I can fit right back in again, and the chairman and I have a relationship that means I am looking forward to working with him again. I'm just hoping to be honest, to make sure supporters know where I'm coming from." It is 1,363 days since Sturrock left Home Park and now he is back, he is aiming to complete unfinished business. "There was no way I would have left for any other standard than the Premier League," he said. "I've been to the Show. I've had a wee taste. I've pitted my wits against the top men. I think everybody has that ambition in them. Had it been even another Championship team, I wouldn't even have contemplated leaving because I have a dream for this football club, a long-term dream to take it where it would like to go. From then on, politics has been very much a part of my problems at every football club. The one good thing that I have done since I've been away is that I pride myself that I have left teams I took over in a better shape than when I took them over. So, at least I've done a professional job at every club. At Southampton, I had Rupert Lowe, who things didn't work out with; at Sheffield Wednesday, I got promotion and then had a taste of the naughty side of football. Then, at Swindon, it's been very zany, getting promotion and then having four months of turmoil when people have been taking over the football club, then not taking over the football club. Finances were very low, there was an embargo of players so you can't sign anyone - then, you wake up last Sunday and, lo and behold, we're three points outside of the play-offs. It's been hard, hard, work, but very pleasing work, but I pride myself that I and my coaches have done the job asked of us at the football club. It's really been off the park that the problems have been at the three clubs I have been since." Argyle have agreed a compensation package with Swindon, not only for Sturrock, but also Kevin Summerfield and John Blackley, and Sturrock is delighted to keep his team together. "They have done a fantastic job," he said. "I can trust them, and leave them to it because I know they are going to do things to the standard I would expect. Summers has got all the badges, now; Sloop has got all the experience, so it's worked very, very well. It's like what's happening on the football pitch - why break it when it's working?" When asked whether he will ever be a Premiership manager again, Sturrock replied. "That's what we're down here for. At the end of the day, we're going to have a go. I can't promise you anything, but I can assure you that everybody on the staff will be working towards that. With the backing of the fans, which has always been fantastic, and the attitude and work-rate of the players, and a very strange league - everybody seems to beat everybody else - if we can turn the home form to be a real fortress, and continue the way the team is playing away from home, who knows what we can achieve?"
Paul Sturrock believes Argyle fans should forget about the nature of Ian Holloway’s departure, and appreciate his legacy. He said: "The important thing is that he did a fantastic job here. There's no doubt about it. You just have to look at the squad of players he assembled. You just have to look at where we are at this moment in time." Sturrock has no intention of changing much. "Players can carry on doing what they have been doing," he said. "Why break up something that's working? I'll be indebted to Crudgie to tell me what their basic week is and we'll just go down the road of that until it doesn't work. But there'll be no dramatic changes to what the players have been used to doing. It seems to be working. There seems to be a good spirit among the players, I'm told, so that's great and there's a work-ethic. All the things I like about a football team seem to be being generated here. The manager before me has left a good taste in the mouth as far as performances are concerned and the standard of play at the club. I'm not going to change anything of that."
Paul Sturrock believes that his relationship with Paul Stapleton is the key to Argyle's continued success. "The chairman, the board, and I will have to sit down and discuss all that," he said. "I am a great believer in long-term plans for the simple reason that everybody then knows where we are coming from. We went on a five-year plan when Paul first took over, and they have achieved that - to win two promotions and then solidify yourselves in the Championship was something special. The three managers since me have done a fantastic job in allowing that five-year plan to work. Every time I've had a successful relationship with a chairman, I've had a successful team. At St Johnstone, I had five years, played in Europe and played in a cup final, and that was with a great relationship with the chairman. The first year at Sheffield Wednesday was very pleasing, and I had a great relationship with the chairman. Even at Swindon, things worked out very well. It's just that this take-over business, and lack of finances, has really affected the club. Paul and I don't see eye to eye on everything - he has an opinion and I have - but we know what direction we want the football club to be going in and we both want to achieve that: he through off-the-park activities and me on the park."

The personnel changes were not all one way. There was the arrival of Steve MacLean for a new club record fee of £500k; Yoann Folly for £200k; Chris Clark for £200k; Patterson for £250k; Jamie Mackie for £150k. Gary Teale, Russell Anderson and Lukas Jutkiewicz arrived on loan to boost numbers and options too. Hectic times.

Jamie Mackie finally became an Argyle player yesterday after weeks of negotiation. "I am absolutely delighted to sign for Plymouth," he said. "It has gone on a lot time. I knew about the interest a while ago and I am so grateful for the chance to be here. I want to improve, get my head down and get in the team. I respect the rivalry is there but Plymouth are in the Championship and I am ambitious. As soon as I knew there might be a chance of me playing for Plymouth, it was all I wanted. All I saw was that Plymouth are a Championship and not that they are Exeter's rivals. Exeter gave me the chance to improve my game and I am grateful to everyone for the help they have given me." Mackie will have to wait for his debut because he is cup-tie, and added: "I have already played in the FA Cup, so I am cup-tied. I will get some work done this weekend while the lads are travelling and be ready for the next game. I can't wait. I know I have got to improve my game and that is why I am here. Everyone wants to be in the first-team and I want to show people what I am about. At this level there is going to be competition for places but I want to work with those players and learn from them." The Championship will be the place where Mackie will be looking to impress. He last played at this level with Wimbledon as a 19 year-old in 2004. He said: "I was put in the first-team at Wimbledon very young. I have had to take a few steps backwards before getting where I want to be and this is where I want to be. It was the right time to move on. Ever since I got to Exeter, I have said I wanted to move back to this level."

January (LWLDLD against Cardiff, Hull (FA Cup), Burnley, Southampton, Pompey (Cup again) and Ipswich where MacLean missed apenalty) was a disaster and frankly awful performances at Burnley and Cardiff matched the one earlier in the season at Preston for apparent hopelessness but was that not altogether surpising given the upheaval amongst personnel and the health scare to Larrieu which was just the cherry on top, really. If you are a manager then I guess you learn far more in bad times than you do in good and Luggy's learning curve must have been more or less vertical at this stage as we slumped to . February arrived and we won 4 in a row. We were back up to and hope, as ever sprung eternal with the prospect of the new players bedding in and Luggy instilling the virtues we knew so well from his first spell here. Indeed the first signs of recovery were there at Pompey where we narrowly and undeservedly lost. The stand out player that day was Pompey's Diarra who was recently signed for £6m from Arsenal and was paid £50k/week. If you pay for quality you get quality I guess and he was superb ~ that said he contributed to Pompey losing £30m over the season!! Maybe if we went £30m over budget we could do what they did and get to the FA Cup Final...

Then our best run of 4 wins was bookended by hugely disappointing defeats at home to Hull and away at WBA. What about those 4 wins though!! Leicester (won away for the first time ever), Southampton (first away win since 1963) and Burnley... There must be a word for it somewhere after all the history between us and them. I'll just go for "sweet". The other win was against Barnsley.

Time to take a step back here. I have blamed the poor attendances on our poor home showing. Well even with mediocre displays and iffy results we had hung in there just about all season. How? Well there was an almost unmatched set of away wins to celebrate. Apart from those already mentioned we won at all of the Premier League relegatees Sheffield United (first away win there since 1938), Watford and Charlton (first win there since 1974) despite their reputations, star names and parachute payments. Watford ended up play off candidates as did Hull (we won there too), The Turnips (another away win and the first since 1931) and Palace (we lost there but beat 'em at home).

The away win at Bristol City saw the return of Paul Wotton to the starting XI after a long period out through injury. Little did we know at the time that that would be the last Great Occasion that he was to be a part of as a Pilgrim. That was just one cameo amongst many others. There was the Rory Fallon rebirth after the speculation linking him to Southend; Kristain Timar's Player Of The Season award was well deserved after a succession of fine performances; Timar's horrific injury; Halmosi's brilliance and consistency; Jamie Mackie's effervescence; Holloway's book; the Youth Team's Cup Run; Dan Gosling in the u-17 World Cup; Marcel Seip's excellence, ambition for next season and eventual incredible truculence; SEB's court case; Jermaine easter signing; Leicester's eventual relegation...

Back to the run-in to the season: inconsistency and disappointment reigned as we took a step forward and two steps back. The sequence of results went like this: WLLLWDLLLDWL (Colchester, Sheffield United, Scunny, Turnips, Watford, Cov, Charlton,Wednesday,PNE, Blackpool and Wolves) which gave us only 11 points from the last 36. Unbelieveably we were still in with a chance to go up until that late Preston equaliser. Somehow it was apt that our demise should be confirmed in this way at Home Park. It was horribly appropriate and it was at Home Park that we let ourselves down all season.

You look back at the season and wonder at what just might have been. The early run of home draws; losing at home to Wednesday; Timar's crazy 15 minutes again at home against the Turnips; the penalty miss at Ipswich; dominating at home against Hull and losing 1-0 to their only (mishit) shot of the game; Watford's gamesmanship and Halmosi's red card and injury; The Super One's brainstorm when losing 2-1 at home to 10 man Charlton after being 1 up and playing 10 men for the whole match; PNE's equaliser with the last kick of the game... We really were that close. We could even have won the league had all of the crucial moments gone our way. But they did not. The league does not lie and 10th represents a fair final league position.

Still the bombshells kept exploding. As the season wound down Luggy released Paul Wotton, Lee Hodges, Lilian Nalis and Nick Chadwick. Paul Connolly refused a new deal and is off on a Bosman. In one way or another I'm sad to see them all go. Paul Wotton... what can you say? The thought of him playing elsewhere is hard to grasp. It's just wrong. On the other hand I can understand the reasons why they are all going. I can't bring myself to say a bad word about any of them. Good luck, guys, in all that you do. And thanks.

Which leaves the future. I'm not sure there is room for a "What Next?" in a season review such as this but there does appear to be progress off the pitch. The first glimmer came when Plymouth Council Leader Vivian Pengelly announced that Argyle could build a hotel on their land. This seemed to come right out of left field. A hotel? What was she on about? Further investigation revealed that PCC had commissioned a feasiblity study into including a hotel in their Life Centre project but had taken their plans no further. Now the hotel was back on the agenda. Was this how the club was to capitalise through having bought the freehold? PAFC could sell off a plot of pot-holed car park and nobody would mind but if PCC built over one blade of grass the Central Park lobby would rebel and politically it is just not an option.

A hotel would sit nicely adjacent to a nice new South Stand (as the P2 development seems to have been renamed), a new swimming and diving complex, a new ice rink and a new multi-sport centre to replace the existing facilities which need expensive repair or are in the way of the bigger urban regeneration project that will transform Millbay and if the hotel releases funds that enable P2 to be completed then all is well and good as far as I can see.


The last development off the pitch is the appointment of Yasuaki Kagami to the board. He appears to be a wealthy and welcome addition who may offer opportunities to the club that we have never before considered. His plans seem to be realistic and sensible and are not concerned with simply pumping money into the team in the hope of a quick fix.

Tony Campbell Interviewed by Vital

"The future's not ours to see" as Doris Day once sang in a tune known to football fans everywhere and all will be revealed in the fullness of time. I think only one thing is certain: the eventfulness (is that a word?) of this season will never be matched again ~ or at least it was never matched in the past.

I'll give the very last word to the Green Army (do not activate if easily offended):


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