Pilgrims at the Euros

THREE former Pilgrims have taken to the pitch at the European Championships in France.

Defenders Kari Arnason, James Chester and Craig Cathcart have all played 90 minutes for their respective countries in the tournament so far, with mixed results. 

Kari’s Iceland side achieved a creditable draw against Portugal on Tuesday night, while Wales, with James in the heart of defence, won their opening game 2-1 against Slovakia. Craig’s Northern Ireland side did not fare as well, going down 1-0 to Poland. 

Portugal, with star player Cristiano Ronaldo, were held to a 1-1 draw by an ecstatic Icelandic side in Saint Etienne. Kari, 33, put in a positive display at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, however he could do nothing about Portugal’s opening goal, tucked away by Fenerbahce forward, Nani, formerly of Manchester United. 

Iceland equalised thanks to Birkir Bjarnason‘s goal early in the second half, and held on for a well-deserved point in their first ever European Championship finals match. 

In 2009, Arnason was signed by Paul Sturrock after a successful pre-season trial at Home Park. In the 2009-10 season, Kari found comfort in the heart of defence, despite naturally being a midfielder. After 32 league appearances and two league goals as a centre back under Mariner, the 33-year-old was offered a two year contract extension. 

Arnason was switched back to a midfielder by new manager, Peter Reid. During this season, Kari would make 39 appearances and score one goal – an absolute screamer at Milton Keynes Dons in a 3-1 win. 

After Argyle’s relegation that season, following the club going into administration, Kari was one of the victims of Argyle financial crisis. He left the club and joined Aberdeen, later moving back to England to play for Rotherham. 

Kari now plies his trade for Swedish side Malmo, for whom he played in last season’s Champions League. Iceland’s next fixture is against Hungary on Saturday at 5pm. 

Wales’ first game in a major tournament for 58 years saw them clinch a valuable 2-1 win against Slovakia in Bordeaux. Gareth Bale’s free-kick was cancelled out by Ondrej Duda, but Hal Robson-Kanu bundled home a later winner to give Wales the perfect start to the tournament. Chester, 27, played the full game in central defence, partnering Swansea’s Ashley Williams. 

The robust centre-back was a product of the Manchester United youth set-up before moving on loan to Peterborough in February 2009. However after only five appearances at The London Road Stadium, James was brought to Home Park in September of 2009 by Argyle manager, Paul Mariner. 

He made his Argyle debut as a substitute, replacing none other than Kari Arnason, but would only make three appearances for the club in total – all in the same week. 

A knee injury sustained in his third game, a 2-1 win against Scunthorpe United, forced James in a quick return to Old Trafford to recover. 

Finding first-team opportunities at United hard to come by, James moved to Hull City, where he made over 150 appearances, and scored in the Tigers’ 3-2 FA Cup final defeat against Arsenal in 2014. He now plays for West Bromwich Albion, under former Argyle boss Tony Pulis. 

Chester will face the likes of Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney next, as his Wales side face England on Thursday afternoon. 

Craig, 27, was booked late on as Northern Ireland went down 1-0 to a very creative Poland side in Nice. Another product of the Manchester United youth set up, Craig is considered by many as one of Argyle’s best ever loanees. The centre-back joined United as a trainee in 2005, in what turned out to be a successful year for him as he also bagged the Northern Ireland Youth Player of the Year award. 

Paul Sturrock brought Craig to Home Park in the 2008-09 season and he quickly became a first-team regular, making 30 league starts and scoring one goal, in a 3-1 loss at home to Ipswich Town. His impressive spell at Home Park was underlined as he won the Young Pilgrim of the Year award. 

After a loan spell with Watford, Craig joined then-Premier League side Blackpool, for whom he was a regular for four seasons. He then returned to Watford, this time on a permanent basis, and played in 35 of the Hornet’s 38 Premier League games in 2015-16. 

Cathcart and his Northern Ireland team-mates are in action again on Thursday, at 5pm, immediately following England v Wales. The boys in green take on Ukraine in Lyon, looking for points to keep their group qualification hopes alive. 

As we all know: once a Pilgrim, always a Pilgrim, so we wish all of our former players well in the rest of the tournament. 

That said – and James, you have our apologies – but we may be cheering against one of you this Thursday...