Silence is the new Plymouth sound at shell-shocked Home Park

Powered by article titled “Silence is the new Plymouth sound at shell-shocked Home Park” was written by Jeremy Alexander at Home Park, for The Guardian on Sunday 11th September 2011 21.59 UTC

Every game for Plymouth Argyle is a triumph of hope over expectation these days, whatever the result. It is the same for fans. They travel to Home Park unsure whether the club will actually be there, a community constant for over 100 years. On Saturday it was, but the result, too, was familiar, a record seventh successive home defeat. Port Vale won 2-0, leaving Argyle four points adrift at the foot of League Two with one point from seven games. On Tuesday they are at Barnet. Two years ago they travelled to West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United in September.

Argyle’s travails are well recorded. Last autumn players went unpaid. In December the club survived a winding-up order for unpaid tax. On 4 March they went into administration and suffered the 10-point deduction that nailed their second successive relegation. On Thursday the Football League rejected the administrators’ proposed purchaser, Bishop International, because a fresh sale and purchase agreement had not been signed, and settlement of a £3m football creditor debt, largely to players and staff, had not been reached.

The previous week, before the match at Burton Albion, the players came close to striking after not being paid. “It’s the only leg we’ve got to stand on really,” the captain, Carl Fletcher, said. “It’s getting to the point that people are going to have to sell their houses.” In the event, 40% of their monthly wages persuaded them to play but their other legs were found wanting.

Spirit has not been. “I am happy they’ve always given me everything they’ve got,” said Peter Reid, their embattled manager since June last year. “They’ve been terrific.” He has always carried the cares of the world with chirpiness.

Fans felt they knew enough to celebrate the League’s rejection. “If Kevin Heaney [the businessman behind the Bishop bid] had the money, it should have been handed over months ago,” said Chris Webb, chairman of the Argyle Fans’ Trust. Heaney’s plan is that Bishop would buy the ground and adjacent land and that Peter Ridsdale, acting chairman, would buy the club for £1 and run the football side. “In Peter Ridsdale the club are fortunate to have the best man in the UK to save a football club,” Heaney said. The trust, mindful of Leeds United, Barnsley and Cardiff City, is not so sure whether he is Messiah or Machiavelli.

“The staff and players are at breaking point,” Webb said and urged the administrators to engage with a Devon entrepreneur, James Brent, described as the people’s champion. The trust organised a Green Card Protest at kick-off, declaring “We want our club back”. Brent and Ridsdale are said to be meeting this week.

Plymouth should really be celebrating their 125th anniversary, and have elegantly redesigned their programme, The Pilgrim, with historic touches and typefaces. The present is too grim. Team colours are given in terms of shirts and knickers; Vale changed theirs to all grey in sympathy. Another writer hopefully recalled Harry Houdini’s visit to the Palace Theatre in 1909. Reid wrote: “It is my fault. If I can get a front man in, I honestly believe in this bunch of players.” The previous week he survived the threat of a strike. There was no risk of it this time; a 16-year-old led the line gamely but greenly. Vale had a midfield executioner, Gary Roberts, who scored in the 26th and 84th minutes.

Reid talked of short-term loans, which are allowed outside the window. Long-term investment is more to the point. The surrounds are run down, though the hospitality manager is promoting Christmas parties. “I think the players are shell-shocked,” Reid said. A lone trumpeter, in late fanfares, resisted the Last Post. But a fan of 32 years said it was the first time he could hear the players’ shouts. Plymouth silence is the new Plymouth sound.

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