Adventures in Football #63: Home Park (Plymouth Argyle)
August 27, 2022
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE vs. BOLTON WANDERERS (League 1)
Plymouth, with a population of 262,000, holds the record for being the biggest place in England to have never featured in the top flight of English football. They are the most southerly and most westerly club in the football league. They also have a unique name “Argyle”, which probably stems from military links (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, an army regiment with its own team) but no one knows for sure. The club is nicknamed “The Pilgrims”, after the religious group that set sail for America on the Mayflower. The link being Plymouth harbour, where the Mayflower launched. As a result the Mayflower appears on Plymouth’s badge.
Plymouth play their football at Home Park, dubbed “The Theatre of Greens” by locals, which has a handy capacity of 18,600. Plymouth have played their football here since 1901. Before WWII they cracked their attendance record with 43,596 for a game against Aston Villa. Numbers are nowhere near that big now and indeed the ground has been extensively rebuilt after suffering bomb damage in World War 2 and is now an all-seater stadium.
Plymouth play in green and white and actually have green on all three of their kits, which is frankly astonishing (what will they actually do when they play Forest Green away?). They joined the Southern League in 1903 and became a founder member of Division 3 (S) in 1920. Ten years later they were promoted to Division 2. Ever since they’ve been back and forth between the third and fourth tiers of English football besides a run from 2004-2010 when they were in the Championship. As for the cup, they made the semis of the FA Cup back in 1984 where they lost to Watford. In 2007 they made the quarters, where Watford once again ended their run. They’ve also made the semis of the League Cup twice in 1965 and 1974, losing to Leicester and Man City respectively.
We start our tale late on Friday evening. I’ve reinstalled Hitman (2016) on my PC and I don’t get to bed until 1am because I’m up trying to murder everyone in Sapienza. The idea was to get a nice early night so we could hit the road early and beat some bank holiday traffic. I fucked that up. According to Google Maps it’s 3h15m from home to Home Park. There is significant congestion due to people going south to the beaches of Weston-Super-Mare and Minehead. I must admit I forgot it was bank holiday weekend when I booked the tickets.
It’s the final journey for this little bitch. The car, not my wife. The magenta fizz Toyota Aygo has seen us travel to Portsmouth, Peterborough, London, Manchester and even Scotland. It’s getting traded in next week and I must admit, I’ll miss the old girl. She’s been remarkably easy to find in car parks. The replacement is a great big monstrosity, which will be hard to park, harder to find and fucking expensive. Not the best of years for a trade in, but I digress…we’re on the road.
We stop off at Taunton for services and go to Chozen Noodles over the McDonalds, unlike the throngs of people desperate for the worst cheeseburgers in the world. Chozen dish up a couple of bowls of Katsu Chicken to go. Absolutely banging food for a services. On the road we spot an AT-ST Star Wars walker literally standing at the side of the A road near Ashburton. It’s a thing apparently! Some dude called Paul built it and it’s just stood there. After marvelling at Star Wars in the wild we arrive in Plymouth, the Ocean City. It’s positively swarming with seagulls.
Yes, gentle reader, I did capture this spectacular shot of nature myself. Richard Attenborough can DM me at @arn_fm on Twitter. Cheers.
We check into our hotel, the Invicta, and stroll across Plymouth to Home Park. We walk past a busker ruining Dire Straits with his drum-along performance. Plymouth is hilly and covered in Mayflower symbols. The city seems really pleased with itself for launching the pilgrims off to the new world in 1620. The Mayflower Steps are a tourist attraction and we spotted a few Septics roaming around there on Saturday night.
The walk to the ground is under 2 miles so I thought it’d be easier to walk and leave the car secured at the hotel then to drive it and find another parking spot. However, there’s a big fucking hill between central Plymouth and Home Park. Seriously, it’s a trek. See that big pointy building in the middle distance? That’s Berkley Point. We walked past that around a third of the journey in. At this point we’ve also passed the train station.
We arrive at the ground around 2.30pm, which is a bit later than I was hoping for. There are queues everywhere. The superstore has queues out of the door so we sit in the shade for a bit, blissfully unaware of another queue system for searches down the side of the ground. The Mayflower Grandstand is one of the most beautiful parts of the ground. It’s a proper old stand and the only reason I didn’t want to sit in it, is that I wanted it as my view for the game. The backdrop for the match day experience.
I also wanted to look at the Superstore and the turnstiles going into the Mayflower as they’re the best looking part of the outside of the stadium. I’d seen them on other pictures of the ground and felt the urge to check it out. Genuinely beautiful features on the outside of the ground. We sat there for about five minutes, just soaking it in.
Next to it is this stand, the Devonport End, where the ultras go. This was the noisiest part of the entire ground and I’ve selected our seats so we can eyeball them and see how much noise they make. After passing this, and another little outdoor shop, we hit the security lines. Maria expressed an interest in a foam finger but wants a generic one with no team name on it so she can take it to all games. I briefly look for the third shirt as it bangs but sadly, they don’t have it.
I spot an Asian gentleman with a Malaysian shirt picking up the away shirt. I love that every time I go to a stadium, I seem to spot someone from another country here for football tourism.
We round the corner and hit the queue. First there’s a pat down/bag check. I don’t get patted down because I don’t look suspicious enough. I respect it. Once we’re passed the bag check we head into gate L9 and the Lyndhurst Stand, the biggest stand in the ground. We’re scanned in by a cheerful lady with a scanner and we’re into the concourse. It’s probably too small for the sheer volume of people but the friendliness compensates for it. A somewhat intoxicated Irish gentleman insists on shaking my hand because I’m wearing a green shirt with “Ireland” emblazoned across the front. I feel like Irish gear is fair play for anyone that plays in green.
We’re in the curva, up in the corner, with a good view of the action, and the ultras, and the Mayflower Grandstand. Plus, we’re out of the sun for the entire game. Fine planning from myself here. There’s green everywhere. It might be the largest percentage of replica kits I’ve seen in all my time as a groundhopper. There’s no doubting that Plymouth is green. As we wait for kick-off, I’m amused by the birds swooping in and out of the gang ways. Not pigeons, as you get everywhere else, nor seagulls, but rather swifts.
The ultras end is packed. It’s a bright sunny day and everyone is in a good mood. The kids they’ve got lined up around the pitch wave flags with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The one kid is absolutely pelting that flag around. I can’t take my eyes off the little lunatic. The flag eventually gets tangled up and he calms down a bit. We have a mascot sighting!
It’s Pilgrim Pete! He races to the top of my ‘mascot of the year’ standings for mocking the officials’ time-keeping and taking the piss out of the visiting goalkeeper. He also seemed to have plenty of energy, in spite of the heat. It probably helped that the crowd were nice and rowdy all game.
Here’s the Mayflower in all its glory. What a beauty she is. From the outside and inside, a work of art. The rest of the ground is more modernised and it’s a good ground but this grandstand is the crown jewel. The game gets underway and it’s not the most polished of performances from the Pilgrims. Nigel Lonwijk is particularly poor in both timing and location of his passes out of the back. It’s a major frustration to the Plymouth fanbase. He’s not the only Plymouth player that seems to struggle with the basics of the game, but he is the worst offender.
Somewhat against the run of play Plymouth take the lead. Niall Ennis, who was a nuisance all game, picks up a long ball (from Longwijk of all people), manages to shake off his marker and drives the ball past the advancing keeper. 1-0 Pilgrims! In a game where Plymouth struggled to get going and couldn’t retain possession, the goal is a godsend. Bolton finished the game with 58% of the ball and I thought it was more, to be honest.
We’re sat next to a group of, what I assume are, former servicemen. Two of them, John and Jeremy, make their past us just before half-time. “I’m his carer” says Jeremy. “I’m his carer” says John as he goes past. They’re both going to make sure they get a half time pint before the concourse gets too crowded. Fair play lads. At the far end I spot this banner behind the replay TV screen. “Love a bit of messy”. It’s spelt wrong. At least they recognise he’s superior to Ronaldo.
Also, at half-time we get a Neil Warnock appearance. Neil was Plymouth gaffer in the mid-90s and is still well liked here. The 73-year-old told us there’s no reason Plymouth couldn’t make it into the Premier League. Well, a competent pass completion rate would be a start, Neil. The second half kicks off and it has been a good game. Both teams are trying to win it and the action is end to end. Jack Iredale is subbed off and has the ignominy of having to walk in front of the home fans on his way to the bench. They unsympathetically chant “you’re fucking shit” at him. Poor bastard. Just before this Ennis is also replaced, by Ryan Hardie. Ennis has a really good record at Plymouth but Hardie’s is better.
The former Rangers man has 20 goals in 62 appearances for the Pilgrims and the Scot smashed home a second goal with two minutes left in the game. He did so right in front of us and celebrated with gusto. With the game wrapped up the Plymouth fans found another level and started singing the Beatles’ song “Twist and Shout”. 14,631 in the ground for this one and they were loud. Plymouth finished the game 2-0 winners, albeit somewhat fortuitously so, and raucously celebrated. The queues to get out were more painful than the ones to get in but made better by the stadium announcer running through the scores from the other games, including Liverpool’s shocking 9-0 drubbing of Bournemouth and Sheffield Wednesday giving Forest Green a hiding. Proper club, proper fans, great stadium 5, vanity club owned by vegan millionaire in a village 0.
FINAL SCORE: PLYMOUTH ARGYLE 2 BOLTON WANDERERS 0
We spent the night roaming around Plymouth and encountered a number of quite lovely people. There was a bloke who helped to push me up a hill (I was already pushing my wife, whose little legs were struggling), a guy who asked to charge his phone under our table at the pub (“oh, you’re famous” he remarked, on seeing my picture was my wife’s screensaver) and several other random pleasantries exchanged with complete strangers made the visit more pleasant. Maybe it’s the fresh sea air or the scenery that makes people so happy around here. Here’s a picture of a lighthouse!
The one worrying thing about Plymouth was the sheer number of homeless people. It’s staggering compared to just about everywhere else I’ve been bar maybe London. Nobody should be living on the streets in 2022. On a lighter note, here’s how Plymouth Argyle fared in the scores;
Outstanding. One of the most consistently loud crowds I’ve ever heard. The sheer passion got me caught up almost immediately. Is this the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced? I think it is. ****½
The ticket was £24, which is about right for this level. Most Championship teams around that too. I feel like it’s a reasonable amount or the ground wouldn’t be so full. ***
Despite the errant passing it was an exciting game and Bolton did their part too. Standard solid game from League 1. ***½
EASE OF ACCESS:
It’s about 15 minutes walk from the train station, albeit uphill. We didn’t have to walk it but we didn’t want to lose our parking space at the hotel. There is a free car park at the ground, which for this level is fantastic. The congestion on foot didn’t seem to be matched by the traffic either. ***½
The concourse was very packed and the congestion coming in was unfortunate. I did enjoy looking at the Mayflower Grandstand and there was a lovely welcoming feeling, combined with an electric atmosphere. All in all, a good experience. I didn’t even see any food, let alone attempt to buy anything. Maybe the ground does need more facilities. ***
Plymouth tie Brentford at the top of this year’s table. Both have been exemplary footballing experiences. I think Plymouth just about edges it for atmosphere.