There are an increasing number of supporters for a winter break being introduced to the British football calendar but I don’t count myself among them.
Football is an intrinsic part of my Christmas routine. It’s so ingrained in my festive pattern that a Christmas without football would be a sad time indeed. Apparently it’s a big reason why the Premier League gains such a global audience; when everyone else in Europe is taking a break, the world of football turns it’s gaze to the UK and it’s gluttonous football fixture list.
This Christmas I didn’t find myself at a Premier League game though. Instead, I found myself by the sea in Plymouth, home to my wife’s family and Plymouth Argyle, or The Pilgrims as they are affectionately known.
It wasn’t until a few hours before kickoff that I even considered watching Argyle on the 23rd of December. In fact it was sheer luck that when we arrived in Plymouth, the first sight I saw off the train was a chap in a bright blue Oldham shirt. He’s a long way from home I thought to myself, before realising it was a Saturday and football is played on Saturdays.
In the car on the way to the house I googled the Plymouth fixtures and would you believe it, they were hosting Oldham Athletic that very afternoon. An hour later I had impulse-purchased two tickets in the upper grandstand of Home Park, Plymouth’s 16,388 capacity stadium. My father-in-law, a Naval man who has called Plymouth home for decades, had never seen the Pilgrims in the flesh so he joined me for the afternoon.
Upon arrival at the ground my first mission, as is my usual custom, was to pick up a programme. And Plymouth Argyle boast one of the best designed programmes in the game, courtesy of the talented illustration team at The Graphic Bomb. See below for their effort from the Oldham match, with Pilgrims star Graham Carey gracing the cover.
We then made our way to the bar, sank a pint of Tribute’s local Cornish Pale Ale, and began the climb upward to our seats in the old grandstand. Built in 1952, this part of Home Park is showing it’s age, especially in comparison to the rest of the modern stadium. Just take a look below at my seat for the afternoon.
Having said that, there’s a definite charm to old football stadia like the grandstand at Home Park. As uncomfortable as my seat might appear it served it’s purpose, and part of me admires that little bit of history still remaining in the modern game.
By the time the last Christmas song had faded away over the PA system and the players emerged from the tunnel, I had decided to align myself with Argyle. They were the home side, my wife’s hometown team (even if she detests football), and they played in green (my favourite colour). I had purchased an Argyle pin badge to stick on my jacket prior to kickoff, firmly cementing my allegiance for the day. Strangely enough I have a soft spot for Oldham, thanks to some successful years on Football Manager with the Latics. But on the day I put that aside in favour of the Green Army, and cheered on the home side.
Seated nearby were a small family of Plymouth fans, representing three generations of support for their local side. There was a grandfather accompanying his son, who also had his two children with him, the smallest still a toddler clutching her Pilgrim Pete teddy bear. Behind them were sat a couple of old timers, hard Devon accents making their conversation hard to decipher. It was a good bunch around us and we were all treated to a fine performance, one of the most enjoyable games I’ve been to in a while.
The Green Army didn’t have to wait long for an early Christmas present, as Argyle struck twice within the first 6 minutes to take a stunning 2-0 lead. Goals from Toumani Diagouraga and Graham Carey put the home side in front and Carey’s goal in particular was something special, a delightful chip over the keeper.
Despite Oldham looking composed in possession throughout most of the game, they struggled to break Plymouth down in the final third. The northern visitors were finally rewarded early in the second half when Anthony Gerrard headed home from a corner but the away fans’ jubilation was short-lived. Just a few minutes later Plymouth restored their two-goal lead with a set piece of their own, Carey putting the ball on Ryan Edwards’ head from a free kick to make it 3-1. Argyle put the contest to bed when substitute Jake Jervis scored with his first touch of the ball, rounding off a perfect afternoon as the Home Park faithful enjoyed their 4-1 victory.
It was Plymouth’s largest League One win this season and lifted them out of the relegation zone. I couldn’t have picked a better day to see them. For highlights of the game, see Argyle’s excellent Matchday Moments video package.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Home Park and will definitely be keen to see Argyle again next time I’m in town.