Behind Enemy Lines
BRIAN Knight is a 49-year-old Pilgrim, born and bred in Bideford, who enlisted into the RAF in 1989, aged 23.
He has served 27 years and is now an RAF Policeman who has completed operational tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Germany and Libya. He is also in charge of the exam cell at Defence School Policing & Guarding, a joint-Services training school where all UK military police are trained. It is six miles from Portsmouth, where, one day, Brian had an idea of how he could help his beloved club...
“IT all started on April 16, with the Argyle league game at Fratton Park. I attended with my son and a friend but, due to living in Hampshire and the possible difficulties of attempting to get tickets in the Argyle end, I sat in the North Stand amongst the Portsmouth fans. I obviously had to keep my emotions in check throughout the game, and having to stand and politely clap when Portsmouth scored was a moment I would never want to repeat.
“It was really tough not being able to celebrate our two goals until I arrived back at my resident station (20 minutes on a train full of Portsmouth fans). I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat throughout the journey and received many strange looks. The passengers on the other platform must have thought I had serious issues once my celebrations commenced.
“I have never done anything like this before but I was so pumped and proud of our players and fans that day, I felt compelled to send a random email to Argyle which Rick Cowdery answered sharing my pain, and relating his story of the day. I felt then that we would kick on and get automatic promotion. Then the coupon-busting result against Dagenham & Redbridge occurred and I felt we were going to play Portsmouth in the play-offs. Call it fate.
“I saw enough in the last 10 minutes at Fratton Park to know that we had the ability to beat Portsmouth. It was also very apparent to me, living and working alongside Portsmouth fans, how nervous everyone was and I really sensed that they didn’t want to play us. I decided that I was strategically very well placed to assist Argyle.
“I have realised, in my years as a player, coach and manager, that preparation and recovery is so important, so I sent an email to Argyle outlining who I was, where I was based and what facilities I had to offer. Being a military base we have a full-size football pitch, gymnasium, swimming pool and cardio vascular suite.
“My rationale was that it was important to keep the players occupied and just to get them out of the hotel room and try to switch off a bit and not worry about the game. It was also important to get the journey out of their legs as soon as possible, and just aid their preparation for a huge game in any way I could. I genuinely thought that my offer would be dismissed out of hand; however, Rick Cowdery obviously saw the mileage in it and said he would mention it to Derek Adams.
“Within an hour, Club Secretary Jon Back emailed me and started to ask questions about the facilities that where available, whether we could accommodate either play-off date, etc. and, although it was not a definite booking, he would discuss it with Derek who he was sure would be interested. It was decided to wait until the last round of league matches to ascertain the schedule of play-off games and further consultation could take place post that.
“I watched the final set of results on May 7 and knew that we would be away in the first leg so I could start to plan things in earnest. On Monday, May 9, I had an email from Jon Back confirming that the lads would arrive at 10.30 on the morning of the match for a training session. They were going to be staying overnight after the game and would return on Friday morning for a recovery session and lunch prior to travelling back to Plymouth. This meant that, rather than travel back to Plymouth after the first leg, arriving very late and being unable to do any preparation on Friday, a proper night’s rest could be obtained, allowing for a quicker physical recovery for the second leg, as well as keeping to a normal sleeping regime.
“Preparation then went into full swing. Our Service football season ended some time ago and the pitch was not in the best of shape so I had to call in a lot of favours getting it cut and prepared to the best standard we could make it. The email I received from Jon Back asking for it to be cut to 30mm was almost the final straw as I had visions of the gaffer on his hands and knees with a ruler berating me as it was 33mm! I had no idea such technology existed! Our goal posts are being replaced and were rusty so I found myself painting the goals on the Wednesday afternoon prior to the arrival of the squad. Military standards and all that!
“I am surrounded by Portsmouth supporters who were taking every opportunity to inform me how we would lose to them and it was very enjoyable knowing that, hopefully, I was assisting us to beat them. I was plotting their downfall in their own back yard and they had absolutely no idea.
“I loved the fact that I was being able to do something, which I hoped would be positive to help Argyle. I was always quietly confident that we had the ammunition to win the tie over two legs.
“Match-day arrived and, exactly on time, the coach pulled up at the main gate. I was like a kid in a sweet shop climbing aboard the bus and directing it to the training area. After an hour, the squad departed back to their hotel. I was taken with how positive and confident everyone was and I felt then that we would actually win both legs.
“What a battle the first leg was and I was delighted with the result even though the last 20 minutes seemed to last forever. The fact that Portsmouth were unable to score a winner in the second half when, to be honest, I felt we were under the cosh, would prove to be pivotal as I was sure we would win the match at Home Park. I was also praying that no retrospective action would be taken against Jamille Matt prior to the second leg as he had been outstanding in the game and was our main goal threat.
“Friday morning arrived and, again, the coach arrived on time. Derek had decided that the substitutes would train on the grass pitch whilst the players who had been used the night before had a recovery session in the swimming pool.
“I am not sure Paul Wotton appreciated me asking what had happened on EastEnders the night before as I assumed he had watched it after being dismissed! The legend took the banter very well to be fair, showing the calibre of man he is.
“The training session was a real insight into how professional players train and I definitely picked up some tips which my players will endure next season.
“I was taken by how interested the players were in my military career and they enjoyed witnessing the loaded march which a platoon was taking part in. They better hope the gaffer never got any ideas for ‘pre-season training’ next season!
“Eventually the squad was taken to Southwick House and a group photo was taken to mark the visit with some of the unit hierarchy, followed by lunch. This was prepared by the chef who is a season-ticket holder at Fratton Park and he could barely speak after shouting so much the previous evening. He even shook Derek’s hand, albeit begrudgingly, and some light-hearted banter ensued. Following a lunch of chicken, pasta, salad and fruit, the squad departed around 1.30pm to head back West and to continue preparations for the second leg.
“Due to family commitments, I was unable to attend Home Park for the second leg but I kicked every ball, watching it on Sky. I thought the players were fantastic on the night and fully deserved the victory and the 92nd minute was the perfect time to score. Was I alone in worrying that the game would go to penalties and we may regret the chances we had failed to convert?
“To be fair to the Portsmouth fans I have daily contact with, every one of them had admitted since the game that we fully deserved to win the second leg and they hope Argyle win at Wembley."
“I cannot wait to attend Wembley, where I am convinced the Green Army will roar the lads to victory, giving me the best 50th birthday present I could ever ask for.
“I was so impressed with every single member of the party. No request for signatures or photographs was refused and they were an absolute credit to Argyle.
“Huge credit must also go to Rick Cowdery, Jon Back and Derek Adams who broke with the normal tradition of post-match preparation and undertook something different which obviously proved the right decision. It is good to know we have lots of good people working throughout at our club.
“I do want to mention Portsmouth. They, like us, have been through the mill in recent times and their fans really are magnificent, with 16,000 attending every home game at Fratton Park. I am sure that they have the right man at the helm in Paul Cook and I am sure they will gain automatic promotion next season and begin rising back to where they deserve to be, just like Argyle!”