I was never originally going to make the trip to this game. In my four previous visits I’d never seen us beat Plymouth, either home or away. We’d come close mind you, but the post match celebration cigar has always been elusive as cunning eel in the reeds.
First up we had the throwing away of a 3-2 half time lead through goals from Jamie Ndah and Scott Partridge to lose 4-3 to a late Ronnie Mauge strike after Ian Baird had fouled Chris Curran in the build up. I still say to this day that their other 3 goals were offside. I sat in front of the TV on the Sunday after watching a suited Neil Warnock smugly gloat about the undeserved win and a shell-suited Don O’Riordan looking bitterly disappointed. Then we had the boxing day 2-2 draw in the old uncovered Barn Park end in which we had to tolerate a massive second half hailstorm. We almost pinched a win that day, diminutive midfield Mick O’Brien hit the stanchion with a last minute 30 yard free kick. As the ball trickled invitingly across the goalmouth, Torquay striker Eifion Williams missed getting his toe on the ball by the width of an anorexic gnat’s arse. I would have died a happy man if he’d scored. Thirdly we had an awful 3-1 defeat where the scoreline flattered us completely and where the coup de grace was delivered by a right footed Martin Phillips cross. A right foot which was used just for standing on. On the 4th occasion we got a lucky 2-2 draw. Eifion Williams dived at least a couple of yards outside the penalty area, the ref amazingly pointed to the spot and the on-loan Richard Logan scored a scrappy penalty. We gifted them a 2-0 lead in that game. All their fans, who were silent until then, started to sing like they had won the Champions League. I clashed with humourless stewards and the police for over-zealously celebrating Brian McGlinchey’s own goal to make it 2-1. The injury time penalty made it seem like a win.
Given there current predicament, the chances were that we would never have a better chance of beating them on their own turf. The 3-1 victory a couple of months earlier had flattered them completely but since then they’d been taken over, come out of administration, handsomely payed off their creditors (£0.07p in the pound) and had gone 5 games unbeaten. Something about the match at Home Park had me thinking that it was going to be another fruitless afternoon in that horrible city.
So there I was back in London after a brief Christmas break back in Devon. I wasn’t going to go. I feared this game. It’s not the despair I feared but the hope. I started to check out a couple of local games to watch instead. A Combined Counties morning game followed by Wingate and Finchley V Wealdstone seemed be a a sensible and reasonable alternative. But by Sunday morning and after a Facebook chat conversation with a fellow Torquay exile I’d changed my mind and took up the offer of a lift down to Plymouth with another couple of Torquay exiles in the Aldershot area.
So off I was down to Hampshire for a 9am start. Rob had ditched his beautiful but tempremental Alfa 159 in favour of a Volkswagen Scirocco (said best with a Welsh accent). My god, the roof is low in those. I had to adjust the seat to the same height as Lewis Hamilton’s and with that we were on our way.
The trip down on the A303 was the easiest I’ve ever experienced. The sturdy but punchy german diesel powered us relentlessly to the Cornish border. Mercifully Rob had set it up in “Comfort” rather then “Sport” mode in an effort to preserve our ageing spines.
We came over the brow of the last hill on the A38 (or Devon Expressway) and Plymouth loomed into view like some post-apocalyptical nuclear attack nightmare with a Sainsbury’s with “Tea Clipper” style sails for a roof and a flagship Carpet Right store. We rocked up at Home Park a couple of hours before kick off.
My two companions for the day had been invited to spend the pre-match in the Pilgrim Suite. Sounded ok to me until the Pilgrim Suite turned out to be a tent full of incoherent Jethro stalkers at the back of the crumbling Mayflower Stand, where back in 1986 I saw “Two” Andy Gorams strut his stuff for Oldham Athletic in front of almost 20,000. They had a good team at the time did Plymouth and we went to the odd game here and there. Anyhow I paid £5 to our Argyle arranger and gained entrance. The free pint of Tribute straight out of the keg was excellent and so was the free pasty. Both were needed badly. A man can not live on pop tarts alone. Subsequent pints were a reasonable £2.50.
We had a bit of banter with the bloke selling Green and Black scarves for a fiver. I offered him £0.07p and then the humourless old sod got lost in this sentimental mist about just how big Plymouth Argyle are and how they shouldn’t be in the same division as “pub league” Torquay. For years they’ve patronised us as being the friendly derby and they’re happy not to take us seriously. BBC Spotlight has been full of Plymouth Argyle bias for years. If wasn’t Dick Woodacre, it’s that ginger minger Natalie Cornah or the ridiculous Gordon Spaaarrrks. I despise them (Argyle) far more than Exeter.
The pretentions of a big club who’ve, in all fairness, never been that big. Sure they average a few more than both us and Exeter, but they only get big crowds for big games and then they disappear into their cornish caves again. Plymouth fans might argue against this but 97% of cars leaving Home Park after the game turn left at the A38 roundabout rather than turn right towards electricity, central heating and food caught for you.
We decided to get into the ground earlyish to avoid any possible disappointment. Then we had the ticketing debacle. Those who bought tickets were told to sit in their allocated seats. Those like me who bought a ticket on the gate were told we could sit where we liked. The main vocal yellow army sat together. People came into the ground wielding tickets trying to turf people out of their seats. The allocated/unallocated issue came to a fore when just 20 minutes before kick off stewards started ordering people out of seats. All they should’ve done was just tell everyone to sit where they liked and everything would’ve been fine. In the end I guarded a precious aisle seat (I’ve beaten anorexia and I needed the extra room) for 45 minutes until it was safe so I could go and relieve myself of the three pints of Tribute.
I heard our lot cheer a near miss but returned to my seat relaxed after sharing a joke about my teeth floating with a steward. Plymouth started with a bit of passion. Our lot backed off. Their front pairing of Warren Feeney and Nick Chadwick looked reasonably useful and started to made inroads. Encouragement from their lot. My nerves started to get tested. Chadwick, on loan from Stockport, then went off injured. He’s back an Arygle after a nomadic spell away (Hereford, Shrewsbury and Barrow). Plymouth once paid £350,000 from Everton for him. I saw him come off second best against Neville Southall in the pre-season testimonial game at Plainmoor. Big Nev came on for the last 20 minutes, took a cross off of Chadwick’s head with one hand and then rub his head with the other hand. Stylish as ever.
The game started to turn a little bit. All action centre half Mark Ellis went close with a header. Kenyan International Taiwo Atieno created a very good chance for himself only to power it a good 6 yards wide. A radar like Devon Malcolm that one. The match got scrappier and scrappier and then thankfully the ref blew for half time which gave me a chance to survey the sorry sight of the Mayflower Stand. The terrace in front of the elevated seating is now empty and condemned.
Martin Ling must’ve said something at half time as we instantly started to press Argyle into mistakes instead of just standing off them. Danny Stevens (Daniesta) went close but shot weekly after a delightful six-pass one-touch passing move. Eunan O’Kane went close. Torquay started to edge forward and the Plymouth defenders started to panic. Lumbering midfielder Simon Walton started screaming at the back four. We won a dubious free-kick which little Eunan floated in. Chris Robertson headed it back to Swindon loanee Sir Billy of Bodin and he despatched it in the bottom corner. Suspicion of handball perhaps but frankly I didn’t care. Our 1,938 fans went nuts.
They went nuts again a few minutes later. Little Eunan pulled the ball back to Lee Mansell who buried it into the same corner. Cue more delirious celebrations. I used up a few calories punching the air with delight. Was this to be “the win” at last? We went close again soon after through Daniesta who screwed the ball just wide of Jake Cole’s left post. The relaxing third goal never came. A few minutes later Warren Feeney hit a hopeful deep cross which was then headed back to Luke Young who headed past Torquay custodian Bobby Olejnik to make it 1-2 with 20 nerve wracking minutes to go. Clucking bell. Can’t we just have a nice comfy win please?
Annoyingly the 10,500 dozing Argyle fans started to find their voices. A couple of rousing renditions of “Aaaargyle, aaaargyle” was met with jeers from the Torquay fans. To which our “friendly” neighbours started to sing “You’ll always be shite, you’ll always be shi-iite, you’re Torquay United, you’ll always be shite”. Top work boys, you’re 2-1 down to a pub team. The mighty Argyle having to belittle themselves. If ever a league team could do with a spell in non league football to puncture a few delusions of grandeur it’s Argyle.
Apart from a few nervy moments we kept the ball well. Martin Ling brought on Chris McPhee and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner to bolster the flanks with a bit more physical presence just to be on the safe side. The minutes and seconds counted down. Plymouth were spent. The ref blew up and finally since 1971 we could celebrate not only a league win at Home Park but also the league double over them. A special day which I’ll treasure for a while.
I resisted the urge to return the “We’ll never play you again” song they sung at us all those years ago before they really screwed things up for themselves. They might well stay up providing the new owner wants to spend money on the playing side of things. I don’t think they are out of the woods just yet on that front. Never trust a chairman with a property portfolio and a lack of willingness to invest some of his own money. Although I can’t bear the city or the football club we do need them around to laugh at when they get above their station and think they are bigger and better than they actually are. Organic, sustainable growth is required my dear Janners.