LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Plymouth Argyle

Pilgrims progress to third tier as owner ups stake

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Their badge bearing an image of The Mayflower, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Argyle are a club of great tradition but no major honours to show for more than 130 years of football.

A Football League club since 1920, Plymouth nearly went under completely in 2011 and have only just recovered, reaching the League Two play-off final at Wembley in 2016 then winning promotion a year later.

Formed in 1886 as Argyle FC by old boys from local schools, the club played a series of friendlies then in the Devon Senior League and Cup during the late Victorian era. In 1903, having moved into Home Park, they turned professional, changed their name to Plymouth Argyle and joined the Southern League. Among the old hands hired for the new campaign was the legendary Jack Robinson, a major influence on goalkeeping techniques in Europe after his post-season tours with Southampton.

Home Park/Paul Martin

Another signing was Bob Jack, who would not only play over 100 times for Plymouth, including a memorable cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday in the club’s first campaign, but manage Argyle almost up to World War II. His son David began his career at Home Park, before joining Bolton to score the first goal in an FA Cup final, then become part of Herbert Chapman’s all-conquering Arsenal side.

Jack senior’s near three decades in charge of Argyle were notable for the Southern League title win of 1913 and the six consecutive runners-up spots in the Third Division South in the 1920s. Goal average and a solitary league point had been the difference on three occasions. Promotion was eventually achieved in 1930. Fittingly, it was Home Park hero Sammy Black, one of many compatriot Scots signed by Bob Jack, who was top scorer.

Linking up with him on the left was Jack Leslie, son of a Jamaican and raised in the East End. The pair continued to terrorise defences in the Second Division, Argyle’s 100-goal campaign of 1931-32 pushing the club to fourth place, a highest ever league finish the club have to yet to better since.

Home Park/Paul Martin

Jack’s surprise retirement in 1938 coincided with the departure of Sammy Black, and the end of an era. Jack died in 1943, his ashes scattered on a Blitz-devastated Home Park.

Goals from Maurice Tadman brightened Plymouth’s grim post-war recovery, Argyle winning Division Three South in 1952 and gaining another fourth-placed finish in the second tier a year later.

The Pilgrims survived later periods in Division Two thanks to goals from Wilf Carter in the 1960s, later England international Paul Mariner in the 1970s and lank-haired terrace hero Tommy Tynan in the 1980s. Mariner and Tynan also scored in Argyle’s two biggest cup runs, each to the semi-final. In 1974, Manchester City were held to a 1-1 in front of a 30,000 crowd at Home Park but won the second leg 2-0 at Maine Road to reach the League Cup final. A decade later, a solitary Tynan strike allowed Plymouth to beat WBA at the Hawthorns in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, but he failed to register in the 1-0 defeat against Watford in the semi.

Three points from a play-off place for the old First Division in 1987 would prove to be high-water mark for Plymouth’s league campaigns in modern times. Despite old boys such as Peter Shilton, Dave Kemp and Steve McCall at the managerial helm, Argyle hit the fourth tier for the first time in the mid-1990s.

Home Park/Paul Martin

Within a season, Neil Warnock had taken the Pilgrims to Wembley, a goal from Trinidad & Tobago international Ronnie Mauge beating a spirited Darlington in the play-off final. Within two seasons, the club was back down again and soon marooned near the foot of the League.

Taking over as manager from record appearance holder Kevin Hodges in 2000, Paul Sturrock lifted Plymouth off the floor, the inspired early signing of French goalkeeper Romain Larrieu the key. Winning the Division Three title with a record number of clean sheets in 2002, Argyle hit top spot in the third tier in the October of the 2003-04 campaign and barely let up. A few games away from taking the league title, Sturrock surprisingly left for a bizarre five-month stay at Southampton.

The Pilgrims won promotion with the first match in charge under Bobby Williamson, who kept Argyle up. Tony Pulis then instilled belief and established Plymouth in the Championship. Promising the Premier League, his replacement Ian Holloway controversially left for Leicester City in November 2007, Plymouth in near play-off form.

The situation called for the return of Paul Sturrock, the Home Park hero soon left without top goalscorer Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Finishing in tenth place in 2008, Sturrock’s Plymouth then struggled as the club’s financial problems slowly came to light.

Plymouth Argyle Superstore/Jonathan Cresswell

Despite the return of another Home Park hero, Paul Mariner, and a string of heart-stopping six-pointers in the relegation zone, Argyle went down in 2010 – then again in 2011, this time under Peter Reid. With spiralling tax debts, Plymouth entered administration in March 2011, ignominous defeats to south coast rivals Exeter and Southampton confirming the drop to League Two.

Selling Home Park to Plymouth Council, Argyle were taken out of administration by James Brent, who made stadium development a priority. A former banker with little knowledge of football, Brent originally outlined a Home Park complex with a hotel, ice rink and IMAX cinema, those plans later put on hold.

On the pitch, Argyle came precariously close to dropping out of the League altogether, then rallied under John Sheridan. Making the League Two play-offs thanks to goals from prodigal former Argyle youth striker Reuben Reid, The Pilgrims drew 14,000 to Home Park for the semi-final with Wycombe, only to lose 3-2.

Home Park/Paul Martin

Top for much of the 2015-16 campaign, Plymouth fell away in the spring, a late defeat at Exeter the bitterest of blows. Argyle still made it to the play-offs, where a frantic start to the semi-final at Portsmouth saw on-loan striker Jamille Matt pinch two early goals. With the first leg pegged at 2-2, 15,000 gathered at Home Park to witness Matt miss three golden chances to send Argyle to Wembley. A scrappy winner in stoppage time eventually put paid to Pompey.

In front of 58,000 at Wembley, a tense play-off final of few chances was settled by two late goals from phoenix club AFC Wimbledon.

Overcoming Reid’s departure to Exeter, Plymouth went on a 14-game unbeaten spell in 2016-17, winning 12. An emphatic 6-1 win over Newport then sealed promotion in a memorable season that also saw Argyle take Liverpool to a replay in the FA Cup. Nearly 9,000 Argyle fans followed the Pilgrims to Anfield to witness a brave 0-0 draw. A rare goal by Lucas Leiva was the only difference in the two sides back at Home Park.

As Plymouth-born, US-based majority owner Simon Hallett poured serious money into the club, average gates broke five figures in the run-up to the pandemic. Goals from Welsh U-21 international Luke Jephcott helped keep Argyle in League One in 2020-21, manager Ryan Lowe attracted by the challenge at Home Park after working miracles at Bury.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The Field of Greens – where golden-era St Étienne strangely played Manchester United in a Cup-Winners’ Cup game in 1977 – has been the home of Plymouth Argyle since the club emerged from the amateur era in 1903.

Still surrounded by the pleasant greenery of Central Park, the ground was completely modernised by a rebuild of three of its four stands in the early 2000s. Home fans in the Davenport End, away supporters in one half of the Barn Park End and regulars in the sideline Lyndhurst Stand have long sat in comfort, with an excellent view of the action.

Until recently, the main Mayflower Stand was a quaint grandstand rebuilt by according to an earlier blueprint by famed stadium architect Archibald Leitch, in the wake of war-time bombing. For decades, it looked the same despite ambitious plans to modernise it. 

In 2018-19, it closed completely for a complete rebuild, funded by majority owner Simon Hallett, who had upped his stake in the club. Opened in January 2020, it features a wide lower tier, new roof and row of executive boxes above. Capacity is 5,400, nearly a third of the overall one of 18,000.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The ground is a 20-minute walk from the train station up Alma Road – or you can cut through Central Park, past the Plymouth Life Centre for active sports. Part of the way is a steep climb so the less mobile should either get a cab (£5) or a bus.

It’s a far longer stretch from town, particularly from the waterfront. Several buses serve Alma Road but only one turns up to Milehouse Park & Ride, right by Home Park. Stagecoach 101 sets off from Royal Parade every 15mins Mon-Sat, not Sun, journey time 6mins. Plymouth Bus 34 also goes to the stadium from Royal Parade (every 30mins), but takes the long way round to the stop at Seagrave Road, journey time 30mins. On the plus side, it runs hourly on Sundays.

The sat nav code for Home Park is PL2 3DQ. The ground has free parking alongside, operating on a first-in, first-out basis. Places fill quickly and you can expect a good half-hour wait after the game. There’s also free parking at the Plymouth Life Centre (PL2 3DG) alongside, but again, spaces fill quickly. 

One affordable alternative is the Plymouth City Business Park (Somerset Place, PL3 4BB) with parking at £2/day. From there, it’s a 10min walk to Home Park, up Milehouse Road, with the Britannia Inn halfway along.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Except for derbies with Exeter and Portsmouth, and major cup games, availability is rarely a problem at Home Park and tickets are sold for months in advance.

The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9am-3pm, Sat 10am-2pm) is next to the club shop, behind the main stand. There are sales by phone on 01752 907 700 and online. Pay-on-the-day is available, but not for visiting supporters.

Prices are mainly set at an across-the-board £25, £20 for over-65s, £10 for under-18s and £7 for under-12s. Better seats in the Mayflower Stand are £35.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Behind the main stand, the Argyle Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-3pm, Sat 10am-2pm, match days) stocks the home kit of green with black pinstripes, away tops of white with a thick green chest band and bizarre third choice of black with lime and lemon spiral patterns. Retro designs from seminal seasons come in shirt, coaster, bottle opener and coffee mug form.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

If you’re heading to the ground from the Mutley Plain/Hyde Park Road side rather than Alma Road, you first pass Bulletproof Brewing, with its Tap Haus offering Liberty Lightyear double IPA and fruity 300 Laps Of Your Garden. Nearby, the historic Hyde Park sits on its own island. Dartmoor Legend and Jail Ale are served amid suitably retro décor, where menfolk drank in the 1890s before hopping on a passing tram. 

Further up, on St Gabriel’s Avenue just off the main road, the three-floor Hyde Park Social Club accepts non-members for a £3 weekly fee. Live music on Saturday nights, snooker tables and sport on three large flat-screen TVs feature in the main bar. 

Deeper and steeper into Peverell, on Weston Park Road, just off Peverell Park Road. the tap room at the Roam Brewing Company opens from noon on Saturdays, serving microbrewed Ruud IPA and The Nine stout, plus a range of pizzas. From here, it’s a 15min walk to Home Park. If you’re coming from Royal Parade in town, take Plymouth Bus 35, 35A or 48 to Beacon Park Baptist Church and you’re close.

On the busier Alma Road side of Home Park, only bar anywhere near the ground is the Britannia Inn, a large Wetherspoon previously an inn run by the family of Captain Scott of South Pole fame. On match days, it’s security controlled, allowing in sensible away fans. It’s at the junction of Outland Road, no more than 10mins from the ground.

Behind the Mayflower Stand, the supporter-run Green Taverners bar lays on a Fanfest on match days, opening at 11am, with live entertainment and personal appearances by ex-Argyle players. Home fans and neutrals are welcome to drop in for a pie and a pasty but the bar does get extremely crowded. Visiting supporters can also book a place on 0777 286 9958.

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