A Scottish Pilgrimage - Stephen's Story

From Glasgow Central to Stanley

GROWING up in the West of Scotland, an area dominated by two of the most famous football teams in the UK, many children dreamed of being the next Henrik Larsson or Brian Laudrup. My dream was somewhat different.  Although I admired these world class footballers playing essentially in my back garden, I looked south, to the Theatre of Greens to find my heroes. I know, to most people, the idea of a Scottish fan supporting Plymouth Argyle sounds fanciful but trust me, there are some.

My love affair with Argyle started at an early age. Having never been to Devon and having no family supporting Argyle, my family initially dismissed this new found love for the Pilgrims as a phase that one goes through as a child, but my continued commitment to the Greens saw me receive my first Argyle top at the age of ten – the first of very many now in my collection.

In the days when Old Firm football fans would look in advance for the derby fixtures making sure days off were put in the work diary ensuring they could watch the game, and Glasgow would come to a standstill as thousands flocked to the game or the pubs to watch, my priorities were elsewhere. For me, the key dates were when Argyle were playing in the north of England or being shown on TV. On such days, my plans were made and everything else took second place.

Despite this love for Argyle keeping from wanting to attend the Old Firm games (although I am a Celtic fan, too) it did not mean that my football love did not get me in trouble.  One of my first letters home was a note from a teacher saying that I had submitted an unsatisfactory answer to the “What do I want to be when I grow up?” question as, apparently ,“Paul Wotton” was not an appropriate or acceptable response.

It is amazing how you become attached to Saturday rituals. Each Saturday, I watch Football Focus then load up the Argyle Player to listen to Sparksy & Co. on the radio, but recently the TV remained off, the laptop unplugged and all rituals were traded for an early rise to begin the journey to Accrington.

A poor night’s sleep due to excitement of seeing the Pilgrims suggested that the journey down to Accrington could have been a tedious bore. However, the excellent company of my father and a conversation via Twitter with a fellow Argyle fan on the same Glasgow train kept me interested. It also made me realise we were not alone on my dedicated travels South to see the Pilgrims. Neil Manley, a former resident of Plymouth now living in Glasgow, had got in touch, ensuring that my Glasgow-to-Accrington pilgrimage was one my dad and I would not be taking alone.

Indeed, outside the ground I was again amazed at the number of Argyle fans who had travelled from afar. There were fans from the West Midlands, Manchester and, of course, Scotland – all to see the play-off push from the Greens. Our 12-hour round trip had been matched by dedicated fans across the country.

To add to the joy of seeing my beloved Argyle, I also had the pleasure of doing so at one of the most famous and historic sides in British football, Accrington Stanley, a founding member of the Football League. Stanley: the club that would not die. 

One thing I have particularly enjoyed about my time supporting the club is taking my father to the games. Having always followed Argyle since my obsession began, he has joined me on trips and described it as a “trip back to real football.” Growing up in the era of multi-million pound players and billionaire owners of clubs in the Premiership, you cannot help have the feeling that this is football played in the true spirit of the game: fans supporting their local team mixing with other fans and travelling side by side without any suggestion of aggression or violence. 

Visits to Rochdale, Carlisle on a cold evening, Morecambe, Accrington are hugely contrasting to Old Trafford, Hampden or Celtic Park in terms of scale of stadia and attendance, but the spirit is second to none. No matter where you are, from roofless to terraces to modern stadiums, you are all there together to support your team. 

Chris Webb, the club president, once went on a rant on BBC Radio Devon during Argyle’s 4-0 victory over Fleetwood about those who had decided to stay in and watch Manchester United away in the Champions’ League instead of coming out to support their local team. I soon tweeted him, stating that I was in Glasgow on my own listening to Argyle whilst the rest of my mates were in the pub watching the Manchester United game, so what did that make me? His reply was: “mad mate, ha” but, as I said at the time, there is always some love in madness.

Where to next?  Who knows, perhaps a trip to Fleetwood could follow if we make the play-offs. If not, it is a wait before examining the 2014-15 fixture-list. Until then, remember that Argyle is a family that spreads further than Devon, and England. 

Come on you Greens!