Monday, April 17, 2017

Promotion 2017

As I write this I have to admit to having partaken in alcohol. Not that excessively, ‘tis true. I have to be up at stupid o’clock tomorrow so had to cut the evening short.

“Why might that be?” you may well ask.

Today Argyle sealed a promotion by way of a 6-1 thumping of Newport County and to honest we might have scored 10. I suppose a last minute winner might be better but this is pretty good.
Glory days don’t often come along to Argyle but today was definitely one of them. I’ve been going week in week out ever since I was a kid which is over 40 years now and I was there when we went up v Colchester in ’75, at Wembley in ’96, versus QPR in 2004 and today. In all that time only 4 promotions (there was a couple of others in 1986 and 2002 but I couldn’t make it to those games).
That is only the start of it though. As a club we’ve gone as close to disappearing as any and hung on. We’ve endured 6 years in the basement division  and only hung in there by the skin of our teeth on two occasions. Two years ago we failed in the play-offs. Last year we failed at Wembley. There’s been nothing to celebrate in any of those years other than our mere continuance and the disappointment has been crushing with last year’s Wembley capitulation a particularly gutless low despite the various calamities that had befallen us previously.

And now this…

The tsunami of joy, of celebration, of relief was like a force of nature at Home Park today: tangible; irrepressible. There was a vibrancy, an energy that simply must not be allowed to dissipate. We must build on this. It cannot be seen as an end to itself because, magnificent though it was, it is only a step on the journey.

But I don’t want to speculate about the future; I want to look back. Today’s team, management and owners will bask in the glory but that glory was only possible due to a level of dedication and sacrifice from a whole host of people: those who set up the Argyle Fans’ Trust with the very real intention of starting again from scratch somehow; the staff who went for months upaid; players (even if they were crap – and most of them were) who signed for us despite not knowing if they’d be paid or not – players who signed for us when nobody else would; Peter Reid for paying a heating bill; Carl Fletcher for keeping us up when all seemed lost; John Sheridan likewise; Vivien Pengelly (leader of Plymouth City Council at the time) for financing James Brent’s rescue package that allowed us to escape administration; everybody who put money into the club by chucking coins in buckets, buying season tickets when the next season wasn’t even likely to happen or buying merchandise they just didn’t need… Without them there would have been no Derek Adams; no glorious 6-1 promotion game; arguably no anything.

Argyle should never have been in this division and it should never have taken us 6 years to get out of it. Let us never forget how we ended up in “Division 4”; let us never take our eye off the ball and let us never allow it to happen again.

Today has been all kinds of wonderful and we’ve quite rightly celebrated the living daylights out of it but we must never, ever stoop so low again. The club, the fans, the city all deserve better than this and we should loudly, incessantly demand better.

No ifs, no buts, no excuses… this is not as good as it gets. All this is is a necessary stage that has to be gone through. We are nowhere near our glass ceiling, if such a thing exists at all; we must press on.

Greater glory awaits.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

How Far Do We Want To Go?

On the face of it it’s a silly question. Only one answer. “All the way to the very top.” And that has to be the way. If a football club isn’t striving to be the very best that it can be, and that means better than anybody else, then it isn’t doing its job. Equally it is fair to say that Argyle are absolutely light years away from that: currently we’re not even the best team in League 2. So that destination, if we can park the obvious fact that it is more or less completely unattainable for a moment or two, seems so distant that it may as well not exist.

That’s no excuse though. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Continuous improvement. Marginal gains. That’s the very least we can expect and in wilder flights of fancy we could see a whole paradigm shift such as that currently enjoyed by Bournemouth and, to a lesser extent Swansea and Burnley, as they ply their trade in what we are now supposed to call the English Premier League (EPL). After all if a club isn’t trying to win every game, every week and every trophy it enters then it should be. Whoever it is. That’s what it is for. What point is there being in a competition if you do not compete to win?

So let us assume, oh joy of all joys!, that that happens and a resurgent Argyle resurgams its way to hitherto unanticipated glory and that elusive EPL goal is scored and that the pipe dream of Argyle competing and winning at the very top becomes as common place as the old primula vulgaris is in our gardens, hedgerows and verges right now.

Consider the steps already taken, consider Rome rapidly built, consider further improvement unnecessary and consider gains no longer marginal but seismic; consider the paradigm to have permanently shifted.

Week after week Manchesters United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs arrive in town fearing for their once great reputations. Week after week we spank ‘em all and their worst fears are proven to be well-founded. Imagine that! (If you can.)

It’d be great, wouldn’t it! It’s exactly what I have hoped for for most of my life. The whole world would marvel and there’d be articles in Le Monde, the NYT, La Republicca and El Pais asking how we had done it and could it happen there. There’d be endless segues on Sky Sports News. We’d be first up on Match Of The Day every week. Hell! We’d be on MotD every week!! Think on that for a moment.

The question I am asking is: do we really want that? To which you might respond “why wouldn’t we?”

Well there’s a few reasons…

Difficult though it is to travel all over the country from Plymouth to wherever at least we can be fairly sure the game will take place at 3pm on a Saturday or 1945 on a Tuesday. That’d be gone if we were in the EPL with their massively variable kick-off times. Travelling to away games is difficult enough now but it would be worse once the paradigm has shifted.

Programmes. There’s another thing. £3 each they are now. Well not in the EPL they aren’t. More like £5 is common. That said we don’t have to buy them. Beer? £5/pint. Again we don’t have to buy it. Likewise the more expensive food on offer.

Entry costs. This is where it starts to get really worrying. £20 to get in could become £50. Can I afford that? No. My season ticket currently around £300 might be nearly £1000. Can I afford that? No. Putting it quite simply following Argyle would be too expensive for me. I wouldn’t be able to go. I wouldn’t be able to share in the moments I have spent almost 50 years yearning hopefully for and my seat would be sold to somebody else. Somebody who could afford it. Probably somebody with rather less time and emotion invested into the club’s fortunes than me. I’d be an Armchair Supporter no more likely to see my team play in the flesh than the Plymouth Reds/Blues/Gooners/Spurs/’Gers/Celts etc are. It’d be the Saturday lunchtime/Sunday afternoon trip to a pub with Sky/BT Sports for me. That’d be as good as it got.

And let’s be vaguely realistic here. Argyle wouldn’t be sweeping away all opposition before them in the EPL (Argyle in the EPL realistic? Just play along, please, if you can.) They’d be scrapping like dogs to avoid relegation. The title would still be impossibly distant. All we’d have to celebrate is getting the 40 or so points needed to stay up and having half an eye on the European qualification places. That’d be it and where’s the glory, where’s the excitement and where’s the fun in that? We’d be a  West Ham United, Stoke City or WBA – and, let’s face it, who aspires to being one of them?
So maybe, just maybe, striving for success for its own sake, striving for goal-driven success is a foolish aspiration. Maybe, just maybe, the true joy comes not from the destination but from the journey itself. We should be offering 100% balls-out commitment to get there in every aspect of everything that we do.

We should never be accepting of stasis and mediocrity because that way we will inevitably fall back, in comparison to others, and eventually know more dark days than sunny ones. We should celebrate the Good Days like billy-o when they come and demand rather more of them because we’ve been starved of them for far too long now.

So back to the original question “how far do we want to go?” the answer is “we’re going to try our damnedest to go all the way, baby!” and there is no need to add the caveats. Just let them rest undefined and unconsidered like the proverbial elephant in the sitting room.