Today is the Day

TODAY is the day.

Fifteen seemingly interminable days since Peter Hartley’s pinball-table header ricocheted into Home Park’s Devonport end goal to defeat Portsmouth...

Two-hundred and ninety-seven stamina-testing days since Derek Adams’ new-look Pilgrims opened the 2015-16 campaign with the first of a club-record equalling 12 away victories in a season at – of all places – Wimbledon...

Twenty achingly distant years and six days since Ronnie Mauge simultaneously lodged himself in the Argyle record-book and the hearts of the Green Army by scoring the Endsleigh League Third Division Play-Off Final winner against Darlington...

...Argyle are back at Wembley.

However you measure the passing of time, the wait has been too long.

Today is the day.

Within minutes of Harts’ header plopping, almost apologetically, over the line to spike Pompey’s guns, I received a phone message. It was from a former Home Park colleague, one of many unknowns who had worked through the Stygian days of the club’s administration.

“That’s what we didn’t get paid for. Congrats! Enjoy it.”

It brought a lump to my throat. Then again, it had been an emotional few days. The far from simple logistics of prepping for and playing two knife-edge nervy games within a week of the regular season ending, heightened by the knowledge that the point of no return had been reached, had been a case-study in pressure-building. The late release-valve of Peter’s 91st-minute goal had yet fully to take effect.

Later, the lump returned when I heard the always entertaining Sky commentator Gary Weaver’s hyperbolic summation of the game: 

“From almost bust to Wembley in five years, Plymouth Argyle – who nearly lost everything – will walk out at football’s most famous landmark in May. Plymouth, a city that believes in its football club again...”

Plymouth has always believed in its football club, though, Gary. Clarence Spooner believed in it when, 122 years ago, the current club’s predecessor folded. He breathed life into sport in the city, becoming president of the Argyle Football Club, which he expanded into the Argyle Athletic Club, and driving the club into the then new professional era.

Fast forward to 2011 – different millennium; same old Argyle; similar solution. For Spooner, read James Brent, another believer in the importance of a football club to the community; another businessman who resuscitated Argyle’s near lifeless body after being spurred to by more believers – the club’s fans.

Recovery, forward momentum, has been sure and steady, with the Green Army’s sustenance during administration having metamorphosised into continued support from the Green Taverners since. The Football League’s outgoing chairman Greg Clarke recognised such this weekend when he congratulated the club on its recovery. “James, his fellow directors, the club’s staff, and its supporters deserve enormous credit for what has been achieved at Plymouth Argyle in the last five years,” he said.

In his seminal 1985 single, 19, Paul Hardcastle highlights that Vietnam veterans were held back in their recovery by being unable to consign their experiences to history. A decade after the conflict, they were “still fighting the Vietnam War.”

Argyle’s incomparably smaller battles against dissolution and disappearance were also won years ago; the wars are long since over; it is now time to win the peace. For the Pilgrims to progress, the bad experiences of the past should be consigned to the history books, to be remembered – never forgotten – but not recalled endlessly. Just as the incomparable second world war leader Winston Churchill was obliged to pass the baton to Attlee when conflict ceased, so Argyle’s focus has shifted from the off-field past to the on-field present.  The fight is now with Derek Adams and his players on Wembley’s famous lush grass.  

Today is the day.

When Derek became Chief Pilgrim on June 11 last year, his brief was to manage the club, not just the first-team. Had he not been so instructed, he would have done that anyway. It is in his DNA.

Those of us who have had the privilege of working closely with the gaffer can appreciate his attention to detail; his awareness; his almost fastidious planning; his concerns, not just towards those in his direct charge, but to everyone and every aspect of life at the Theatre of Greens. 

It has served Argyle well. He has created a bond that runs through Home Park like the word ‘Plymouth’ in a stick of Barbican rock, from his office to the ever faithful Mark on the top gate. He has taken the unity forged in the heat of the battles against closure and dragged it forward. There is no looking back now.

The club was unable to stage a screening of today’s match at Home Park because all of its staff will be at Wembley. Everyone, whatever their job description, has been drawn together by the man at the top and made to feel part an important part of the club, part of the occasion. If we win, if the lump returns, it will not be because of not being paid five long years ago but because there will be a feeling, a belief, that a small, but significant, part was played in this season’s success.

Different sport, different country, and pure fiction, but Al Pacino’s dressing-room Inch by Inch speech in the film Any Given Sunday nailed a lot of truths.

“You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes...You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows, when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.

“That's a team, gentlemen, and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys. That's all it is.”

Today, we are a team – players, staff, supporters; Plymothians; Westcountrymen and women; Pilgrims around the globe. Argyle United.

Today is the day.

Today is not about what happened five or 122 years ago or any of the highs and lows in between that help define our crazy world of football, with its arbitrary rules and arbitrary competitions.

Today is not about Bob Jack’s 1920s allstars; about the pre-Luggy Doldrums at the end of the old millennium; about Tommy in 1986 or Ronnie ten years later; or about what the Home Park staff did not get paid for.

Today is about new heroes, not past glories or old wounds.

Today is, to borrow from the cheesy student digs poster, the first day of the rest of our lives.

Today is about GC10’s sweet left foot; about Super Luke’s assured hands; about Nelse bringing the ball calmly out of defence.

Today is about Gregg chewing up Wembley’s green acre; about Carl and H taking no prisoners; about Gaz realising his boyhood dream of playing for Argyle at the Home of Football.

Today is about Harts heading every lofted ball; about Tanns getting his head down and gliding past opponents; about Jake and Kelv running the forward and defensive channels like they were born to do.

Today is about Reuben and Jammer impressing their awesome presence on the opposition; about Big Jord putting his body on the line yet again; and about young tyros Ben, Louis, Ty and Jordan hoping for the chance to become a hero before their time.

Today is about Derek, Brew and Wottsy urging, cajoling, bollocking from the Wembley touchline, knowing they will get a response from players proud to wear the shirt; and about the 35,000-strong Green Army cheering themselves to a standstill from the East end of the most famous stadium in world football.

Today is the day.