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Finding Netherlands - Day Five: Can A Man Be Brave When He is Afraid?

30 July 2016

WE sent pafc.co.uk's Rob McNichol on tour with the Argyle squad. His Day Four Diary sees him back home in Blighty, reflecting on cones, moans and thrones...

AT a little after 3.30pm, Dutch time, on Friday, I made it past the final passport check and into the final lounge - well, holding area - of Amsterdam airport, prior to making our flight home. 

To my right, I saw four members of the Argyle squad taking a photograph with a young lady. 'Good on the lads,' I thought, 'taking time out of a travel day to pose for a picture and making an Argyle fan's day. Nice one.'

However, when I was closer to them, I sensed a greater than usual buzz between them all. They huddled round Luke McCormick's phone, on which a photo had been taken. It struck me as a little odd that a fans' photo had also been taken on a player's handset, but I soon realised I had entirely misjudged the situation. 

The person in question had not requested a pic with the Argyle lads at all. Instead, they had approached her, and she had obliged, wedging herself between messrs Dorel, Rooney, McCormick and Carey. I had no idea who she was, but on questioning SuperLuke I found out that this was Maisie Williams, who portrays Arya Stark on the hit TV show Game of Thrones - a show which I appear to be one of seven people on earth that is not a viewer. 



I'll spare you the discussion that went on between the boys - mainly for fear of retribution if I give away spoilers - but it was a rare chance to see footballers getting excited about meeting someone they consider a star. Earlier in the week our fans on tour had posed for pics with the squad, and sought autographs. Now it was the players' turn to pay it forward, in a way. 

That circle is neverending. The power of Google means that I have searched for Ms Williams and found a show she did for BBC Radio 1 in which she picked her favourite tracks (she picked Bob Marley's Three Little Birds as one of her records, presumably inspired by that Game of Thrones scene where she and Jon Snow were 3-0 down to the Lannisters, but rallied to make it 3-2 late on). Maisie picked, for example, an Ed Sheeran song on her list, and I suspect her knees may buckle a little on meeting the flame-haired songsmith. I do not know that for sure, of course. I am just thinking out loud. 

Ed, for all I know, is a huge fan of former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, who in turn loves the films of Tom Conti, who is really keen to meet triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who once got very excited to meet JK Rowling, who I happen to know is a big Tottenham fan, and presumably would be buzzing to meet Micky Hazard, Graham Stuart or Goran Bunjevcevic. 

My point is no matter what you do, or how famous you are, you will still have someone you look up to. My dad, an ex-pro footballer, played in a charity match in the late 1970s that included, among others, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Bev Bevan of ELO. While enquiries were made about the production of Stairway to Heaven or Sweet Talkin' Woman, just as many came from the musicians about the values of playing 4-4-2 with narrow wingers and overlapping full-backs. The footballers wanted to be rock stars and the rock stars wanted to be footballers. 

I once met Julian Lloyd-Webber, brother of Lord Andrew, and world-renowned cellist. He has performed in every notable music venue in the world and is regarded as a leading light in his field. All we did was talk about Leyton Orient. 

My point is, we all have our levels where we are impressed or in awe. I barely want to admit this, because he will slaughter me in the office when he sees it, but Paul Wotton was a hero of mine. Now he is a colleague, and I just spent the week working with him. You can line up the main characters of Breaking Bad, The Wire and Peaky Blinders and bring them to dinner in my kitchen - but they ain't Wottsy. 



I wonder how strange it must be for footballers to balance the notion of being celebrities to some and nobodies to others. How does it feel signing your first autograph, or smiling in your first selfie with a fan? 

Do footballers even take in their surroundings? I noted at breakfast on our final day in our superb temporary residence at the Aparthotel Delden that I wonder how many of our current players can truly appreciate the position they have spent the week in? Three meals a day made for you; your dirty, smelly kit washed and returned post haste by the tireless Neil Lunnon; nothing to do all day but kick a ball about and hang out with your mates. Luxury, eh?

It is a good life, to be sure. But what of the other side of things? How must it feel to walk out in a big game knowing that the hopes of tens of thousands are on you? Or trying to have a good game on live TV? Or even just trying a decent pass when your Auntie Sheila is in the Lyndhurst Stand, Block 10?

You can say: "Diddums: they are paid well enough for it" - and you might have a point. But no amount of wedge in your wallet can give you heart, confidence, desire, bottle. While those players may not appreciate how good aspects of their life are, we probably cannot come close to realising the weight of expectation on them. If you fully understand it, please pop up to St George's Park, because goodness knows the England national team could do with a solution on that front. 

They say a tidy desk can lead to a tidy mind. Prepare properly and be organised, and good things can follow. That is one reason one has to believe that the five-night stop in the Netherlands will do Argyle the power of good. The organisation of Derek Adams, backed by the smooth-as-silk provisions from Aparthotel Delden, has seemed effortless, but I know it has come thanks to fastidious planning. 

There has been no point where a training session has been late kicking-off, or a packed lunch that has lacked punch. Now, we return home, and prepare - following Saturday's game against West Brom - for the season's opening. Greg Strong will have watched Luton; Matt Neil will have all their tapes; Derek Adams will have a plan. 

We will start, though, with Tony Pulis' West Brom. He of course was former the manager of Stoke City, who became known for Rory Delap slinging balls into the area. In fact, he was so effective that HBO are currently in talks about making that into the next major drama series. 

I cannot wait to see Game of Throw-Ins. 

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