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Every Little Thing

10 May 2015

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AFTER an emotional night at Home Park, in which two late goals kept Argyle alive in the play-offs, Rob McNichol looks at a comeback with roots in Kingston, Jamaica...

After Saturday's game, as several of the Communications Department, including me, were putting together the post match offerings for this website and for Argyle Player, the conversation turned to Thursday, and the starting eleven that might take to the field. 

Will John Sheridan make no changes? One change? Several? One (let's leave them unnamed) of the five people in the room said, with a straight face: "I don't think Shez will change a winning team."

The other four in the room looked at him curiously, as over the next five seconds realisation dawned on his face. "Oh," he said. "We didn't actually win, did we?"

He was instantly forgiven. The story above is not meant as a 'didn't he say a silly thing' story, but a serious illustration of the mood that enveloped Home Park at the conclusion of this first leg of the Sky Bet League 2 play-off semi final. Never in my life has a defeat felt more like a victory. 

Even at Rochdale, when survival was on the line and the defeat on the day was not the story, it felt totally different. Frankly, it was a relief that other teams were basically a bit more rubbish than we were that season. We lost our last game, and others helped us out. It wasn't really a day to be proud.

This was different. At 3-0 down things were so bleak, it physically hurt. Home Park fell into a stupor, with 800 Wycombe fans dictating the tune in the stands, and the Chairboys' players calling it on the pitch. After a first half in which our lads played well but got nothing for their endevours, Wycombe's third seemed to have killed everything: our hopes, the mood, our tempo - the lot. 

Then, in the press box, our almost hermetically sealed box at the back of the grandstand, we heard a rumbling. At first it felt like just a few hundred people clapping in rhythm, but then, almost imperceptibly at first, came a melody.

"Don't worry...about a thing..."

A song released in 1977, perhaps a couple of decades before many of those singing in the Devonport End were born, permeated the air. I was manning the Twitter account at the time, and I had to mention how apt it felt - I had no idea to what extent that would become true. 

Not 60 seconds after posting, we scored. Zak Ansah, taking a chance, hit a glorious ball into the net off the post. Had it finished 1-3, that would still have felt a darn sight better than 0-3. An early goal at Adams Park and hopes would still be alive. 

Speaking of still alive, after the euphoria of the goal, the rejuvenation of the song...

"Cause every little thing...gonna be alright..."

This time what had previously been centred on blocks 3 and 4, with plenty of others joining in, suddenly felt like a full blown community concert choir. Throughout the Devonport End, spreading into the Lyndhurst and even up into the Grandstand, more and more people thumped their hands together and joined in the refrain. 

Some bright spark then took their smartphone and raised it above their head, the torch facility being used as an auxiliary lighter, as if this was suddenly Woodstock and not the play-offs. The concept spread, and suddenly the ground was aflame with scattered light, swaying in time to the melody, which was still going. 

And so were Argyle. Jason Banton, similar to when he was introduced at Stevenage, was, appropriately, a shining light after emerging from the bench. More than once he tore down the left and put Wycombe under pressure, and in the last minute of regular time he did it again, cut inside and hit a speculative shot which found its way into the net. 

Euphoria. Frenzied celebrations across Home Park, Wycombe players looking dejected - and yet it was the blues who were still in front. 

I have no doubt - I have seen the comments on social media - that there will be plenty of folks shaking their heads at all this. 'Why the pride? You know we lost, right?'

Yes, we lost. I don't think anyone is denying that for a large portion of the second half we looked forlorn and did not play well, but if you were not there, then you just don't know what it was like at the end. That sounds a little like something a Vietnam vet would say, and I hate war being compared to mere sport, but this felt like a spiritual experience in some ways. 

From a sporting perspective, we should be proud, because our lads dug in and attained some respectability. More importantly, we have a lifeline going into Thursday. A one goal win forces extra time. A two goal win, such as we had in February in one of our best performances under John Sheridan, gets us through. 

One of the things that most breaks my heart is seeing supporters bemoan a lack of heart, or passion. It is almost always not the case; it is usually simply a mistaken observation on people having a bad day. We all have them - it is just that footballers have them in front of thousands of people. But when they do something about it and salvage something, I think they deserve credit. 

From a deeper perspective than sport, it felt like a beautiful coming together of like-minded people with a wonderful attitude. I stood, then sat, in the Devonport End for many years. We were usually Bob from Mutley and some sailors, not Bob Marley and the Wailers, but the galvanising effect that the song had was mesmeric. 

Not just the chant, but the sentiment. I've long loved that song, and it has never felt more apt than Saturday night. 

Another of our media contingent - all with Argyle deep in their heart - made a sterling point at the close of play. (I should point out that the following conversation took place over 10 minutes after the final whistle - and the song was STILL being sung in the ground and through Central Park) 

"This isn't just about tonight," he said. "This is about the last five years."

I thought he was so right. Argyle fans are fed up of - sorry for the crude analogy - being kicked in the balls. Relegation, administration, relegation and then clinging on for survival. It is hard for anyone to continue maintaining positivity. 

But whether or not the adoption of Mr Marley's opus was gallows humour, it felt a little like a realisation that although a 3-0 defeat in a huge play-off game would hurt, it was not Rochdale. It was not watching administrators asset strip the business and praying that HMRC did not get their winding up wishes. It would hurt, big time, but losing in the play-offs is a million miles from losing our divisional status, losing our league status. 

Losing our club. 

The upbeat nature of the lyrics being sung, as well as the way in it was conducted, worked the oracle. There are times where supporters - not just ours, anybody's - would have booed, heckled or simply walked out en masse. Had that happened, we would have lost 5-0. 

Instead, we did the right thing, and it produced the right response. We had one more go, we sang one more song and - as John Harbin impresses upon us all - we went one more round. 

Of course, we still need one more goal. Ultimately, we are losing at half time, and as special as Saturday turned out to be in its own way, I suspect we would all go back and replace it with a stodgy 1-0 win. 

We can't do that - but what we can do is head to Buckinghamshire on Thursday believing that it is not our last game of the season, and we can do it together. 

The players, the manager, the Argyle Fireflies - and Bob. 

"Every little thing..."

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