GARY Miller is not exactly unfamiliar with footballing rivalries.
Born and raised in Glasgow – a city with arguably the fiercest rivalry in football – Gary has played for Partick Thistle against SPL giants Celtic, on top of his appearances in the Highland Derby, for Ross County against Inverness.
Those who interpret the word ‘Derby’ differently hold opposing views as to whether Plymouth Argyle v Portsmouth can described as a derby match. The phrase Dockyard Derby is more of a handy, alliterative soubriquet for a match between probably the biggest two sides in Sky Bet League Two.
Whilst not comparing the size of the matches, although geographically you may not feel that Barcelona v Real Madrid or Manchester United v Arsenal are derbies, the rivalries between the sides are palpable.
There is no denying that a rivalry exists between Argyle and Pompey. It simmered gently in the background for twenty years, while the teams were in separate divisions, but when the slide of both sides meant they came back into contact in 2013, in League Two, suddenly the two port cities had to eye each other up again.
For some, the rivalry is related to the cities’ naval history. Others – probably those in blue – may harbour a grudge over Argyle’s play-off victory. For many, simply wanting to beat the other in escaping a league that the fanbases of both clubs suggest they simply do not belong is the major motivator.
Either way, this is a rivalry born not of geographical jostling or deep felt animosity, but a good old fashioned sporting one: one wants to prove they are bigger, or better, than the other.
This typically leads to excellent contests. In the eight games the sides have played in the last three seasons, Argyle have won three, Portsmouth have two wins, and there have been three draws. Argyle’s 3-0 win in November 2014 is the only game where anyone has won by more than one goal.
Last season’s league fixtures, and subsequent post-season play-offs, were as fascinating contests. Portsmouth were probably the best side to play at Home Park last season, although it took two penalties to see Argyle off, in a 2-1 Pompey victory, then Argyle reversed the scoreline with a sensational comeback win at Fratton Park in April.
The play-offs will be more fondly remembered by the Green Army than their blue counterparts. A tussle that swung one way then another ended in a 2-2 draw in Hampshire, with Argyle bravely holding on, before Argyle’s dramatic 1-0 win in the home leg, with Peter Hartley’s last-ditch winner no more than the Pilgrims deserved for an excellent performance.
Miller was on holiday at the time, not yet a Pilgrim, but aware that he may become one. With an eye on his future, he watched the play-offs with interest – in particular the huge crowds on show.
More than 15,000 crammed into Home Park that glorious Saturday evening, and the crowd will once again be well into five figures when the sides meet this weekend, 21 weeks on.
“I’ve been made aware,” said Gary, of the rivalry, “I knew about the interest in me coming here in summer, so I watched a few games. I watched the play-off game [against Portsmouth] – it was won with a header, I think. I saw it when I was on holiday, saw the reaction, everyone going crazy.
“I grew up in a city that like a bit of a rivalry! It’s not something that’s strange to me! They’re certainly a big side, one of the biggest in the league. The manager will set us up and we will adjust accordingly. It’s going to be a good game, and we know it is a big game for us.
“It’s always good to have a competitive rivalry, teams wanting to do well against each other. It’s all set for a big game on Saturday.
“Hopefully all the fans will be out and we’ll try and do the same again.
“It’s always brilliant for us to have extra fans in the stand. It gives you that boost, and a lift. As you go along, you realise how good it is to be here. It is something that we all enjoy.
“It’s always an extra bonus when you have all your fans behind you. The adrenaline rush always kicks everybody on. It’s a great help. Hopefully everyone comes out in numbers and we can get the result we want.”