Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where is the attraction in following Argyle?


Or, indeed, any other team as unfashionable as us?

Or any team at all that is relatively unlikely to actually win something? Anything, even.

For me there is a raft of reasons and although “success” may lie at the heart of the beginning of my support it doesn’t really sit that highly on the list anymore.

I’ve been attending home games regularly ever since I was about 7 years old. Away games too when I could but that has always been a far less frequently available opportunity for reasons all too familiar to Plymouth-based football fans: transport, cost, time, other commitments etc even for a length of time because nobody I knew ever wanted to go which applied to the lengthy sequence of games without an away win that preceded Sturrock’s initial appointment. The question remains why did I ever start to go at all and why have I continued to go pretty much ever since?

To start with it was something that quite simply I always wanted to do. I grew up in Peverell as a small child and matchday had always been there: the people, traffic congestion, lack of parking and, most of all, the sounds emanating from the stadium during a match: the signing*, groaning, moaning, cheering, the blast of a ref’s whistle… Just as the smell of Farley’s rusks being baked provided an olfactory backdrop to my childhood then so too did Argyle on matchday provide a soundtrack. Success didn’t come into it ~ I just wanted to go because the big boys went and I wanted to be accepted as one of them just as every 5 or 6 year boy does.

So I started going when I was about 7 and loved it even if I didn’t pay much heed to the game itself. I went lots of times and Argyle rarely lost; in fact I didn’t even really understand that they could until a Don Masson-inspired Notts County banged 4 past us to much loudly-voiced discontent from the Janner faithful on the first, but not last, occasion which brought home to me just how ruined a day could be by a football match; on that day Don Masson broke a little boy’s heart and I can still feel the hurt, anger, resentment and injustice of it as I type this (not that it was remotely unfair in any way at all but that don’t matter, do it?).

I’ve described before how free tickets occasionally came my way and my first taste of success came in the Mariner/Rafferty year and I was completely lost to the cause from then on. So that was the success that dragged me in and I guess it is always success that cements the place of a team in your heart.

Various good bits have added layers to the metaphorical onion that is my support for the team: Dave Smith’s promotion year, Johnny Hore’s cup run, the Man City game during the 3 day week, Santos and Pele, Everton (more than once) and Sturrock-led rise from the doldrums that becalmed us for so long high on the list of the barbs that kept me on the hook once this fish had nibbled the bait.

So we are now where we are which is in the midst of a desperate struggle to avoid relegation with a team that, although improving, just might not be good enough to wriggle free from the peril facing it and any prospect of success or glory is still a speck on the horizon just as it nearly always has been, even though sometimes we dreamed of success being a speck on the horizon, during the near 40 years of my following the team. And yet still I go and I wouldn't want things to be any other way.

So it isn’t the glory, although that helps, and it isn’t living on the doorstep because I no longer do and it is not the odd free ticket because I am now a season ticket holder. So what is it?

I suppose the opportunity to meet up with mates is a very large part of it; maybe it is the chance to let off a little steam; maybe it is the chance to have a good grumble (almost the same thing as the last one, I guess); maybe it is the endless provision of talking points and memories; maybe it just kills a bit of free time; maybe it is the craic; maybe it is the excuse to travel to places I would otherwise never visit; maybe just a bit of me-time. In fact it is all of those things. They are not enough though: not individually or as any possible permutation and not collectively.

So what is it? I guess it is the optimism and the hope that Argyle will one day supply the success and glory that we Pilgrims all yearn for and for which I personally have been yearning for nearly 40 years now.

Supporting Argyle has amounted to a very long exercise in the triumph of hope over expectation but please never confuse that with my having an acceptance of mediocrity or lacking ambition. I’ll never be truly happy with Argyle until we are the biggest clubside in the world and we are winning every trophy in sight every year.

So that must be why I go: because it offers a goal from me to strive for (well not me, of course, because if it was me then it would be my fault for it not being achieved and that would never do, would it? Nobody wants to accept responsibility for their own failure or unhappiness after all) vicariously and a chance to wallow in the misery that almost relentless failure is sure to bring.

So I support Argyle not because they are good but because they are not and not because they succeed because they fail far more often. That is the contract that I unwittingly bought into when I was 7 years old and that still represents a contract that I couldn’t ever imagine breaking now. Besides it is having experienced the bad times that makes the good times so precious when they do come along no matter how rarely.




* Obviously I meant singing. “Signing” suggests hordes of deaf people simultaneously furiously gesticulating approval/disapproval silently (perhaps  ~which would be even better) in sign language which is imagery that pleases me so I have not corrected it even if it is wrong because it is completely impossible for it to resonate beyond the stadium as described.


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