WE sent pafc.co.uk's Rob McNichol on tour with the Argyle squad. His Day Four Diary confirms there is no question about the Green Army's loyalty...
ON Thursday evening, the last of five nights spent here in Delden, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, I was handed a gift by two of the ten Argyle supporters who have travelled alongside us this week. I have to say I was taken aback, in a very pleasant way. I of course hope I have done my job well in helping to facilitate their trip, but I am simply doing exactly that - my job.
Do not get me wrong; it is a job I love and I have thoroughly enjoyed my week with the squad, but I am on the payroll and it is my job to represent Plymouth Argyle in best way possible. Part of that this week was to be a point of liaison with the supporters.
Key word that last one: supporters. I truly hate it when people bicker about how they are a bigger fan that someone because they have been going longer, or they go to more away games, or their lawn is greener than the other chaps's lawn. The ten people that are with us this week are not necessarily better fans than anyone else, but my goodness they are good ones. They care, they know their history, and they have been first class when around the players and staff.
It was fantastic to see so many Argyle fans at Maastricht on Tuesday night. Do not think it goes unnoticed. I know from previous experience that players often think it is pretty cool that so many fans turn up at away games all over England, and that was enhanced this week. On our staff table at breakfast, barely had I peppered my scrambled egg before someone mentioned the amount of the Green Army had showed up. It was agreed by all what a fine effort it was.
All of the ten with us seem to have had a ball, which is fantastic to know. They attended our training session on Thursday morning and, as they did on Tuesday, were able to interact with those taking part when appropriate.
I was filming Luke McCormick and Vincent Dorel doing a saving drill, with the help of our analyst Matt Neil - no mean five-a-side goalie himself, by the way - when Luke spotted a problem. Where I was standing meant a few stray balls came my way, and I flicked them back to the 'keepers as necessary. The think is, Vinny and Luke were saving the balls to either side of the goal, and therefore some were bouncing well away from the goal.
Easily solved - Luke suddenly yelled 'Ben! Ben!' My instinct was that he was calling Ben Purrington, who was busy doing a possession drill some 70 yards away, but he was not. He was in fact signalling to Ben Chapman, 12-year-old super fan and one of our intrepid ten. Luke made Ben a temporary ball boy, which may not sound much to you or me, but was a great moment for young Ben. He got to be a genuine help to an Argyle star - how often do people get that close to their heroes like that.
The incident was not a surprise though - that is Luke all over. It was a lovely gesture, I thought.
I have to also heap praise on our manager, too. Do not kid yourself - this is Derek's tour. I came here expecting to have do a lot of admin work, talking to the hotel and arranging all sorts, but Derek just takes command. From Bristol Airport and onwards, the gaffer is organised and in charge. Everyone here knows exactly who is boss - but in an approachable way.
His competitive nature came to the fore during our quiz night on Thursday, though. After a sumptuous barbecue - I'm still getting the meat sweats as I write and it was a few hours ago - I turned quizmaster for my finely honed quiz.
I took much care over the quiz. I am surely people appreciated the subtlety of the 'guess the club badge' round - the usually in-colour badges were printed in black-and-white, and I am sure everyone believed that was to increase the difficulty level. I am sure if I confide in you that it was because I could only work the printer in black-and-white, you will not pass that info on. Thanks.
My mistake may have been to place Matt Neil and Paul Wotton in the same side, though, because their team won at a canter. Wotton showing a football brain even now.
Teams were split, with two fans on each side, along with at least one member of staff and then a clutch of players. Bob Wright and his grandson and Leon Studden, who have brought a flag to Delden declaring that they are on tour, were also on the ball, and won the chance to select first from our range of prizes. They will get Derek's signed shirt from the trip, while others on the tour will enjoy a chance to be in the guard of honour on the pitch; director of the day experiences; the signed ball from the West Brom game on Saturday; and lunch in the Green Room with some of the squad.
Normally I abhor the 'everyone gets a prize' approach that plagues sports days and the like these days, but this was a totally appropriate time to ensure everyone got in on the act.
All ten will be our VIP guests at the West Brom game - and we hope you will join us at the game, too. The lads played very well at Maastricht when asked to up their game, and when taking on the Baggies and facing the toughest test of pre-season so far, will need to again.
I have found that there has been a common theme when you speak to the players this week. "How are you doing?" you enquire, and get the response: "Tired."
The lads have worked really hard, in several sessions, all week, and are understandably feeling it. However, that will stand them in good stead, and the underlying implication of their response is that they appreciate exactly why. When it is 1-1 at Morecambe in November, and there are five minutes to go, the determination in the mind will be matched by the willing in the legs, and it could be all the difference.
There is one more training session to go, on Friday morning, before we all depart this excellent facility, and get ourselves ready for the first game of the season.
And if the lads are not up for that - then I'm a Dutchman.
Dank je, Delden. Hartelijk bedankt.