MORE than 1,100 Plymouth Argyle fans took the chance to visit the AESSEAL New York Stadium after 18 months of crowd-free football on Saturday. Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley was among them — an away fan in his new(ish) home town
A 580-mile round trip to watch Argyle at Rotherham is arduous at best, but stuck on a coach?
“How was your journey?”
“Long. Been on the road since 6am and we got here about one,” says Joe from Ivybridge. “It’ll be well after midnight by the time we get home, but it’s worth it. I’ve missed this. What about you?"
“Walked it,” I tell him.
He looks at me for a second or two then he’s back in the zone — “Greeeen Aaaarmeee.”
The world of an Argyle fan is a mad one. As footballing outposts go, when Portsmouth (171 miles away) is considered a derby and there are nine journeys further than Rotherham, you know you are one.
Since moving back up north from Devon, following Argyle — nicknamed The Pilgrims — has mostly been about the away days and involved picking out games at places where you might fancy staying over. Given that I live here, there seems no good reason to break that habit.
Like many here today, it’s my first time in 18 months and I’m nervous, like I’m actually playing. At least I haven’t spent seven hours on a coach to get here though.
On the other side of the coin, a shout out to Robert Dix, a Rotherham season ticket holder who tells me he makes the journey up here from Tiverton in Mid Devon every couple of weeks or so.
Argyle home shirt (2017-18) on, a quick blast of Dave Banana’s Molly Malone — “pasties from heaven, the best team in Devon” (one part of that is just about true) — and I’m off out into the August sunshine.
I’m not superstitious but throwing a 180 with my Argyle darts just prior to taking the 3,664-step walk into town seems like a good omen and I smile at the sight of green-shirted fans from all over the country resembling the Irish diaspora you often see at football and rugby internationals.
It’s good to see the town so busy — mixed fans outside the Bluecoat; Rotherham around the High House, Sports Bar and the Cutlers’; mostly Plymouth around the Platinum Lounge; a sign next to a smashed window warning “Home Fans Only” at the Rhino.
A Rotherham fan at the back of The Bridge — where the board by the door somewhat confusingly advises “Families Only Football Supporters” — tries on his 2019 shirt to find it no longer fits, and an Argyle fan, Dan from Durham, expresses his delight that Strongbow is available. “At least they’re not selling none of those poncey ciders,” he observes.
A Millers fan asks a group resplendent in this year’s Argyle away tops: “You’ve signed a lot of players. How do you think you will do?”
The honest reply is: “Not very well, we haven’t paid for any of them.”
The pundits have Rotherham down for promotion and Argyle to tip back down to League Two, but no-one cares about that today — 18 months after a 2-1 defeat on a freezing day in Bradford marked my last away trip.
The Devon accents stand out like a northerner at Eton might. People looking for pubs, pasties and cider, men and women squeezed into dark green shirts — way too tight — and eating and drinking away the couple of hours before kick-off.
The characters in away crowds are more obvious than at home games. Take the three old guys we met at Blackpool, who told their wives they had gone to Germany because they knew they wouldn’t want to accompany them there, the 60-year-olds who get stuck in whenever there’s a bit of a ruck, the chap who spends a fortune in every opposition club’s souvenir shop — once buying himself a Lincoln City duvet set. Passion? Stupidity? Men never growing up? All of those.
Talking of which, at the top end of town a ball is being kicked between the Imperial Buildings and Market Street, bouncing off the windows of shops and bars, just missing cars.
The police turn up, some on horses, and I get filmed as I pass the ball back to the Argyle crowd. A good pass, preceded by skilfully taking the ball out of the air, thus preventing it hitting a parked car if you’re reading this Ryan Lowe.
A home fan confiscates the ball and is greeted by predictable chants of “paedo”. As we head to the ground “grim northern s***hole” — which isn’t really too much of an insult as it’s dished out at all grounds from Exeter to Carlisle — breaks out and someone points out that the lead singer is from Glasgow. “But Glasgow’s not grim or a s***hole,” he objects.
In the ground there’s hundreds queuing for pints (£4.20) — luckily they’ve already been impressed by Stella at £2.50 in a “dingy pub somewhere” — and Pukka Pies (£3.70), but I opt to head into the stand and row P.
Former Labour leader Michael Foot used to be our celebrity fan. Now it’s an elite club of Bastille drummer Woody, comedian Josh Widdicombe and Rotherham’s own, Muse bassist Chris Wolstenholme, who I once got out of the shower, but that’s another story...
Anyway, I’m just a row and a few seats away from “Pie Face”, once of Big Brother, who is unusually quiet and looks to have shed a few pounds.
I genuinely feel choked as a minute’s silence for all those who have passed since there was last a league game at the NYS is observed with respect (which is more than was the case regarding the players’ taking of the knee).
The teams emerge and the 1,104 away fans break into chants of “Aaaaargyle”, drowning out the home support, which remains fairly quiet (it almost always is at the NYS) even when footballing bad boy — I’ll leave out the rumours regarding his behaviour at Argyle — Freddie Ladapo scores against his former club and celebrates with a decent enough dance.
It’s 2-0 by half-time and Argyle offer little in the final 30 minutes as Rotherham fill in the gaps with some monumental time-wasting. Viktor Johansson, I saw what you said to the ball girl!
Within minutes of the full-time whistle, subdued and disappointed Argyle fans are already on the Tally Ho! coaches, which won’t reach Plymouth until at least midnight — but many of them will willingly put themselves through similar days of largely unrewarded dedication on an almost fortnightly basis.
“Ere, I hope they announce another lockdown now,” one says as he boards the bus. The sort of gallows humour that will get him through the journey. The bubble of optimism may have burst on day one, but we’ll blow another...