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Home Park
Plymouth Argyle v Rotherham United
League Two
Saturday, April 20th, 2013, 3pm

By Tim Sansom
(Neutral fan)

1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground (or not as the case may be):

Whilst living in the South West of England, I have wanted to visit all of the football grounds in the region, and a trip to Home Park and, at the time of writing, the furthest South West outpost in English league football had alluded me for too long. Something had stopped me from making the journey. This club has been in crisis for most of the time that I have been down in the peninsula, and it just had not felt right to visit a club that seemed to need some time to sort its own house in to order before visitors could be invited to any football match.

Plymouth versus Rotherham could be broken down into these simple facts. If Plymouth won, league football could be guaranteed for the Pilgrims for another year. If Rotherham won, then the dream of League One football in this part of Yorkshire was virtually in this town’s grasp. Wanting to drink in a bit of this excitement, which you cannot really get from a Saturday night TV reality show, I took the plunge and went to a game with the hope that big issues could be decided on the strength of ninety minutes of football.

I wanted the tears, and the cheers like you get during those ‘grand slam’ matches on the TV. However, when you are a neutral, you can go to a game without such an irrational regard for the big decisions, the dodgy tackles, the shirt pulling, the stamping, the arm biting, the red cards and the yellow cards. Life would have been totally different if my own team had been playing and I guessed that my irrationality would annoy the Plymouth faithful.  

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/car parking?

In these days of satellite navigation and internet, it is not impossible to find most football stadia in the UK, but if you have not done the research, like I did on this Saturday morning, you will find yourself at the bottom of the Saltash Road at a roundabout thinking that you are miles away from getting to this stadium. I arrived at Plymouth Station and took a right along Saltash Road under the railway bridge and to this roundabout in a suburb intriguingly called Pennycomequick. After stopping a bemused student who seemed alarmed at my sudden entry into his life, I carried on across the roundabout up the hill (Alma Road,) past endless Saturday morning buses heading into Plymouth, and obeyed the sign and took my directions across Central Park towards the football ground.

The ground appears from behind the trees and sits slightly embarrassed next to the grand complex of the Plymouth Life Centre. The Life Centre is not a self-help clinic, or therapy practice, but is the home of South West diving and the Centre dominates the skyline. This is where Tom Daley practices the art of stylishly throwing himself off a board for the sake of Olympic medals. There is a fairly large car park near to the Life Centre and some evidence of a Park and Ride facility near to the ground but at the time of writing, traffic was being frustrated by roadworks along the nearby Outland Road. From personal knowledge, Home Park is well signposted from the self-styled Devon Expressway (the A38,) and should not be a struggle to find even for the most directionally challenged fan. 

3. What you did before the game pub/chippy.... home fans friendly?

To tee yourself up for the game, you can have a game of pitch and putt, or have an ice-cream from the park café, but I had a look inside the Plymouth Life Centre to pass the time, because I had never seen an Olympic diving facility before. I was watching children bounce off the diving boards like ping pong balls off a tennis table, splashing into the pool to the cheers of their mothers and fathers. These young divers seemed to have endless energy to crash into the water, bounce out of the plunge pool, and then head back to the diving board without a care in the world. It was captivating to watch. I ate in the small Life Centre café which serves a range of sandwiches, and snacks which include some items that are not especially healthy considering that this centre was encouraging you to do thirty minutes of exercise per day.

There is a large pub beside the crossroads of Outland Road and New North Road, which sells a range of drinks and meals. At around 1pm, there were queues outside the pub with hungry fans from Yorkshire and Devon, waiting for a table, but if pub food is not quite your thing, there is the option of buying things from a small supermarket, and various local pasty firms, who make enterprising pitches with suitable meal deals to fill your stomach, but there is not much else. However, on this particular Saturday, the weather was beautifully sunny and you could sit out in the park to catch some early sunny spring rays and minutes will quickly tick by before you can take in your football.

From what I could see, the home fans were extremely friendly and there was a good cross section of people who had turned up to cheer on their team. It was obvious that I did not know where to find my seat, and the fans were very happy to guide me to the right stand. I had heard some bad reports about the Plymouth faithful but I saw no justification for those rumours on this Saturday afternoon. In fact, for the first time for a while, I saw parallels between the fans of my home town team and Plymouth Argyle followers. I began to wonder what could happen if my beloved club was close to crashing into the conference or close to financial oblivion. Tears would not be the start of my emotions.

4. What you thought on seeing the ground, first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

I was sitting right next to the Director’s Box on a wooden seat in, what I believed to be described as, the main Grandstand. There have always been complaints from Premier League supporting fans that Goodison Park cannot shine a candle against some of the more sleek modern stadia. I disagree because I like stadiums with a bit of character and not just a concrete bowl with as much atmosphere as a hypermarket on a Sunday afternoon. However, it has been a while since I have sat on a wooden seat to catch the action, and there seemed to be some talk that the Grandstand will be knocked down during the 2013/2014 season and a new stand will match the other three sides of Home Park which are decked out in emerald green seats, but the overall design is standard fare for most league grounds in the county but had a very smart experience on this sunny Saturday afternoon.

After beginning to realise that this match was more than just down to cheers and tears, I began to feel more attached to the home fans as the pre-match music blared out of the understated PA system. With a man in a grey suit by the two dugouts announcing the teams from a lecturn, I decided that I did not want relegation to be imposed on this group of fans. Relegation from the Conference was something that would take Plymouth Argyle Football Club into an unknown area. The announcer urged people not to run onto the pitch at the end of the game because the club would get a fine that they could ill afford. What would relegation to the conference do to this fine club as well as the lives of these devout fans?

5. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies, toilets etc..

I enjoyed the game, because with so much at stake for both clubs, chances had to be made and the forty five minutes of each half shot by. The atmosphere was fervent on both sides and when Rotherham scored, the Yorkshire fans went delirious. One young fan got particularly excited, ran onto the pitch, and was invited to spend the rest of the game away from the ground. The home fans became more and more anxious about other results around the country, as the minutes ticked by to the final whistle.

When you are at home, in the comfort of your sofa, watching those pictures of anxious fans peering at the watches or trying to catch some words of comfort from their crackling radios, is a comforting cliché. It is a nice contrast between the cold corporate face of modern day football, and the passionate fans of days gone by. When you are sitting amongst the anxious faithful, the clichés become nothing more than pointless vacuous statements. I like to think that I am a football fan and I would be distraught if my home town team was teetering on the brink of relegation out of the football league.

When I looked around the Grandstand, and saw the faces of those fans who were steeped in Argyle’s history and heritage, and had dedicated too many Saturday afternoons, which they could dare to remember, to their beloved Pilgrims, and were now watching their hopes disappear down the league plughole, I began to earnestly feel for them. Relegation is not a cliché and could really hit Plymouth in a way that Home Park has never quite seen in the past.

With talk about the Grandstand being replaced in the 2013-2014 it is probable that you will not come into contact with the toilets that have a certain character about them. Only one of the fast food bars was in operation within the Grandstand selling usual football ground food and drink at a usual football ground price. Cheery programme sellers were flogging the match day brochure and you can buy a raffle draw ticket too, and you do feel that you need to buy something from one of the operatives for the sake of the club’s financial future.

6. Getting Away From The Ground:

After Rotherham had scored, the atmosphere abruptly changed. The club had been asking their fans to maintain order in readiness for the player of the season awards and the lap of honour that would celebrate the final home game of the season. I am not too sure that there was much need to worry, but I felt that it would not be right for a fan of another club to intrude on another club’s end of season celebrations, especially in these particular circumstances that had greeted me that Saturday afternoon.

I left at the final whistle and made my way across the park towards the railway station. The park gives you a fantastic panoramic view of the railway station and most probably your train that is waiting for you to return north. It is about a fifteen minute walk towards the railway station and the city centre. After this game, the walk took on the mood of a slightly apprehensive route march but is a simple exit. If Plymouth are playing your team, who are a known rival for the Pilgrims, it is possible that you will be taken a different way back towards the city or your transport home.

7. Overall Comments on the Day Out:

The train back home was full of Plymouth fans wondering whether if this team scored and that team lost, could Argyle still be playing football in the Football League when the 2013-2014 season begins. Most of the fan decamped from the train at Totnes and Newton Abbot and as I descended along the sea well through Dawlish, along probably the most picturesque stretch of railway line in the UK, I was left to think about a game that had been fun to watch but left me slightly uneasy in the sense that I had spent Saturday afternoon with a group of fans who were supporting a club on the brink. It certainly put the struggle into context, which my home town has faced in the Championship this season.

Despite the problems, it was a pleasant trip to Plymouth. It had been suggested to me that there would be a range of issues associated with a visit to Home Park. None of these issues were thankfully realised and I enjoyed my time with the Argyle fans. Whether you are just going to Home Park because at this present time, it is the furthest South West output of league football in the UK, or your team are actually due to play Argyle, it is an enjoyable place to go. However, it will be interesting to file a match day report on 20th April 2014 because Argyle fans are enjoying the football that they see on a day by day basis.  

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