LUKE McCormick is likely to make his 300th appearance for Argyle on Saturday – 14 years to the day that he made his second.
Argyle traveled to the Deva Stadium, Chester in the LDV Vans Trophy on Tuesday, October 22, 2002, and manager Paul Sturrock decided to give the goalkeeping gloves to his reserve goalkeeper, who had not long turned 19.
“It was special to me because it was the first game my Dad saw me play,” said Luke. “He couldn’t get to the debut because he had tickets to Coventry v Villa. Coventry got relegated that day, so it was a little bittersweet!
“I remember the game at the Deva Stadium very well. Shelley (Paul Connolly) played as well. It’s amazing that it is 14 years ago.”
This was 18 months or so since McCormick’s professional debut; with Argyle ensconced in mid-table at the end of the 2000-01 season, Paul Sturrock had brought three 17-year-olds into his squad: Paul Connolly, Ryan Trudgian and Luke McCormick.
Connolly and Trudgian would make their senior bows as substitutes in the 0-0 draw with Rochdale, which would be as unforgettable as a football match is likely to be, save for the trio of teenage debutants.
Football can feature such contrast: Connolly would go on to play 177 times for Argyle; for Trudgian, it was his only appearance.
Both McCormick and Connolly watched on as Sturrock’s 2001-02 team swept all before them, with Luke typically doing so from the subs’ bench.
The following season, the pair got their chance at the same time. Sturrock shuffled his pack in the LDV, but Argyle’s patchwork team won 2-1. Before reaching for Greens on Screen – or indeed reading below – see if you can guess the starting 11 from that team. You have no chance.
Luke and Paul were lining up alongside some players who played with enormous distinction for Argyle. Marino Keith, Michael Evans, Steve Adams, Brian McGlinchey, Martin Phillips, Nathan Lowndes: title winners all, 1,008 Argyle appearances between them.
Others boasted more transient Argyle existences: Stuart Malcolm, David Beresford, Joe Broad and Osvaldo Lopes complete the players used that evening. Fifty-two Argyle games between them, including 27 as substitute.
Luke, though, now in his second spell, has outlasted them all. Only Evans of those mentioned has appeared more times in an Argyle jersey. When Luke makes it to 300, he will be only the 26th player to do so. He is the fifth-highest goalkeeper on the list, bested only by bygone club legends Fred Craig (467) and Bill Shortt (374), as well as his old rival Romain Larrieu (318) and coach and mentor Geoff Crudgington (385).
He will walk onto the field wearing the armband, too, which is an honour not lost on the popular goalkeeper.
“It’s a milestone that I will be very glad to reach,” said Luke. “I’m very proud to pull on the shirt every week for this club. To hit the 300 will be pleasing, and quite special.
“I arrived here when I was 15. I did an apprenticeship and found my way into the first team. I’m originally from Coventry but I’ve lived in Plymouth a lot longer than I ever did in Coventry. I consider Plymouth my home, and it is a place I have thoroughly enjoyed working and living in.
“The people around the town are absolutely fantastic. They were that way towards me the first time I was here, and probably even more so the second time. Not just the people around the town, but the supporters, and the football club. I feel very much a part of it, and it’s a big part of me.”
Memorable games and moments would be too innumerable to list. Luke picked out a couple of special days in his Argyle career, but also hinted that perhaps, as they say, the best is yet to come.
He may be about to hit his triple century, but he will not be looking up to the balcony and declaring.
“Your debut is something that will stick in your memory forever,” Luke said. “I knew the day before that I was playing. I actually had to phone Jon Sheffield to ask him for a pair of gloves, because mine were like Greengrass’ gloves! Fingers coming through the end of them!
“I remember all the little details, the feelings. Obviously it is a long time, but it will always stick with me.
“I’ve been fortunate to enjoy some fantastic times with this club. The standout one has to be the QPR game here which sealed our promotion and the title in fell swoop. The celebrations, the looks on people’s faces around the stadium, the euphoria of it all. That will never leave me.
“The next one to hit is 400. That’s the aim.”
Thank you to the peerless Greens on Screen for hosting some valuable information used throughout this piece, and to Dave Rowntree for the photographs.