Being a Pilgrim

I began to follow football in 1959, the year after my family moved away from Plymouth. The probable trigger for this was watching the FA Cup Final live on TV that year. I distinctly remember that it was between Nottingham Forest and Luton Town, and won by Forest 2-1. Roy Dwight scored the first Forest goal, but broke a leg after 33 minutes so they played much of the game with only 10 men.

Genteel Gerrards Cross didn’t have a football team so I must have decided then to follow the club from the city we had recently left. We did still have a connection with Plymouth since every summer we used to return to the West Country for a holiday, and therefore spent many wet days driving the 50 miles from Polzeath to go to one of its many cinemas.

Such was my enthusiasm at the beginning of my first two or three seasons as a fan, I started a scrapbook in which I dutifully pasted Argyle results and match reports. Given that I usually only had access to the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Express, the latter hardly ever appeared. However, when we were on holiday in Cornwall I could get the reports from Plymouth’s very own Sunday Independent, a welcome addition. My enthusiasm for scrapbook compiling usually waned by Christmas, however, so I don’t think I ever managed to complete a full season.

Nevertheless, I’ve been a armchair supporter of Argyle since, “through thin and thin” (to quote a eulogy given at the funeral of long-time fan Michael Foot). (See also this lovely interview which Foot gave to a fan website at the age of 90.) But I had never been to Home Park until a couple of Saturdays ago, when I headed off with my son and my brother to see Argyle take on another habitual lower division side, Crewe Alexandra. (Also, incidentally, another team with a unique suffix.)

Plymouth 1955 and 2020

Andrew was lucky in finding a parking space in a street near the ground and Storm Dennis did its best to both soak us and blow us over as we walked up. The ground staff had been working hard and were still prodding at the surface with forks a few minutes before kick-off. It seemed as though everyone had agreed that they wanted the match to go ahead. Which was good news for us.

Before the match. Pic: PAFC

Fortified by Ginsters pasties and cans of St Austell Tribute, we found our seats near the back of the recently rebuilt Mayflower stand, where we were pretty well sheltered from the worst of the storm. It seemed as though we were surrounded by other middle-aged and elderly men, all with Devon accents.

Both sides had chances in the first half: indeed Argyle had the ball in the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside. Crewe also had two shouts for penalties unanswered. The Devon voices all around seemed to agree that it had been a pretty even session. “Come on Jephcott lad”, kept repeating one of the older men. They all liked young Luke Jephcott, because he’s a local lad. He actually hails from Cornwall rather than Devon, but in this city whose hinterland straddles the border between the two counties that means he’s a home town boy.

A few minutes into the second half Crewe went ahead, and the few hundred travelling fans in the stand to our right went berserk. But five minutes later Byron Moore got away down the right wing and sent in a terrific cross for Jephcott to head home. We rose as one from our seats to show our delight.

Then followed a bizarre moment as a Plymouth defender tried an ill-advised back pass to the goalkeeper. The ball slowed to a trickle on the heavy surface and a Crewe forward intercepted it and rounded the keeper. He squared it to a team mate running in towards the far post who, somehow, scuffed his shot wide from two or three yards out.

The lad Jephcott making a run. Pic: PAFC

The day got worse for the visitors. Antoni Sarcevic, another Green Army favourite, had a shot from inside the box blocked. The ball dropped to Danny Mayor, who was then brought down by a Crewe player. “Penalty!” everyone screamed, and it was duly awarded. Sarcevic took it with aplomb – 2-1. Another few chances followed, but that’s how the game ended.

A good result and a great afternoon. There was a passionate but friendly atmosphere, helped by the belief that the club now has both a dynamic young manager in Ryan Lowe and a bunch of good players. Argyle are pushing for automatic promotion from the bottom tier this season, and on the form they showed against Crewe, they may well make it. The crunch match may well be that against local rivals Exeter, who are currently one point and one place higher in the table. That is coming up on 21 March.

To round off the visit, there in the Exeter Airport newsagent the following morning was the Sunday Independent, still in a print edition some sixty years since I last saw a copy. One for the scrapbook, I think.

In my second full season of being a football fan, a friend’s father took him and me to White Hart Lane to see a Spurs home match. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who was the opponent. However, this was of course the Glory Glory Season in which Spurs won the Double. I was hooked on the glamour of that side – think Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Bobby Smith, John White, Cliff Jones – and have supported Spurs ever since. I’ve never had a problem following two teams as their paths have only crossed once in my lifetime, when they met in a Fourth Round FA Cup Match in 1962, and Spurs won 5-1.

But Argyle has always been first in my affections and I was proud and happy to sit in the stands at Home Park and see them for the first time.

[Special thanks to Andrew, who’s more of a rugby fan, but still gave up a Saturday to drive us into the town of his birth. Always a Janner!]