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In search of Argyle


In my role as mainland football correspondent for Radio Scilly, station manager Keri Jones always encourages me to do stories on Plymouth Argyle.   They undertake training for youngsters on the islands from time to time which is much appreciated.    As the nearest league club, albeit one that is difficult to reach, they have a number of followers on the Isles of Scilly.

As it happens, the last two days of last week saw me in Plymouth, so this seemed to provide an opportunity to take a closer look at Argyle.   I arrived in a rainstorm and it took 20 minutes to get a taxi: meanwhile Keri Jones was enjoying the delights of New Zealand's South Island in the southern summer.

Argyle fans proved more elusive than I had anticipated.    The football fan I had dinner with that evening turned out to be a mad keen Cardiff City supporter.    I did track down someone who had been an Argyle season ticket holder the next day, but it turned out that he had his own ticket for free.

Argyle came very close to extinction a few years ago.  They had been losing £8m on a turnover of £10m.  After a number of false starts in terms of prospective purchasers, local hotelier James Brent stepped in and he has endeavoured to break even on a £4m turnover.

Brent has a number of other activities, having recently been appointed chair of governors at Plymouth University.   Given that the university has recently gone through a period of turmoil in its governance, this will be quite a demanding role.  He spends half a day a week on the football club.

A lot depends on plans to replace the ageing grandstand at Home Park.   The most ambitious verison of the project would incorporate an ice rink, multiplex cinema and shops, generating much needed revenue for Argyle.   However, whether this project will get underway seems uncertain, given the level of funding that is required.

Brent reckons that there is a knock on effect from high wages in the Premier League to League 2. A premium has to be paid for real talent.   But then Argyle could probably not have attracted a player like Reuben Reid a decade ago.

Yesterday it was the Devon derby at Exeter.   Reid scored the first hat-trick in a Devon derby since 1929 in a 3-1 victory for Argyle.   According to The Football League Paper, 'Reuben Reid underlined his status as one of the hottest properties in the lower leagues, but the victory owed as much to a solid team effort.  The Pilgrims moved the ball quicker, were sharper in the tackle, showed how to defend and boast the firepower to mount a promotion challenge.'

Argyle have moved into the play off places and are third in the form table.  But can they sustain a challenge and, if they were promoted, establish themselves in League One?   They are a geographically remote club.   This was emphasised when the coastal rail line to London via Dwalish was severed by floods for some months (restoring the old Southern Railway route via Okehampton is being talked about), Apparently, they have a board at each match showing how many miles opposition supporters have travelled.   The miles travelled by the 'Green Army' formed the theme of a television advert.

Plymouth as a city has economic and social challenges.  The centre of the city was, of course, devastated during the Second World War.   A ruined church stood outside my hotel as a reminder.  I had a friend in Plymouth over forty years ago and one Friday afternoon we went down to the Dockyard and stood outside waiting for two other friends to go for a drink.   A big crowd came out.   Today the Dockyard is a shadow of its former self and the Royal Navy, whose ships you used to see on the train to Cornwall, has a much reduced presence.

The University, which has some 20,000 students, is now a big driver of the local economy, particularly the night time economy centred around the Barbican.   Even so, the service sector doesn't seem to be big by modern standards and there is a relatively small number of hotel beds for a city of this size.  A return of the football club to the Championship would boost the city's profile and its morale.