ARGYLE chairman James Brent has a vision of Home Park being at the forefront of Plymouth’s 2020 festivities.
In four years time, the city will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower from Plymouth, bound for America, where they established a colony from which the nation of the United States can trace its roots.
Celebrations are planned in Plymouth, as well as in other British, Dutch and American cities, places vital in the Pilgrims’ historic voyage.
The football club that bears the Mayflower on its crest, says the Chairman, should have a major part to play in a major year for the city of Plymouth.
“I was fortunate enough to be invited to the American ambassador’s home,” said James, “and 2020 is a really important year for the city. Home Park, Plymouth Argyle, should be the centrepiece for the sporting and leisure activities for the city.
“We need to be bright and shiny, and in a very good place, well before that date, in my view.”
The chairman has an anniversary of his own, coming up. The end of October will mark five years since he completed his takeover of the club and became owner and chairman, bringing the club out of administration.
Some five weeks short of the anniversary Argyle, managed by Derek Adams – the third manager of James’ reign – are top of Sky Bet League Two. When the takeover was completed, half a decade back, the Pilgrims were bottom of the league, five points adrift of safety.
More troubling was the crippling financial burden the club was saddled with, but as the milestone approaches, James has allowed himself reflection on the progress the club has made under his stewardship.
“It’s the fifth anniversary in October, of acquiring the club,” he said. “We will have dealt with all the legacy debt – £5m-worth of debt; we inherited some very onerous contracts. I couldn’t understand, when I first came to the club, why we had 36 very expensive first-team players, most of whom weren’t playing for us!
“From small acorns, big oaks grow. We’ve started investing back into the club, in terms of a new surface of the pitch, and new training facilities. They were the two most important things for Derek. There’s a huge amount more we need to do.
“The physical offer to our fans – who are also customers – is not acceptable. Our staff do a brilliant job in terms of looking after fans within the constraints of, in particular, the grandstand. We are starting to put these things right. It does take time, and I am very, very grateful to our supporters who have given us the time to get it right.
“One of the reasons – probably the primary reason – for the success on the pitch is that we have a manager who is a perfectionist. He wants everything perfect. What he is achieving on the pitch is ahead of where we need to be off the pitch. There is some catch-up, there.
“We can now push some resource back into the infrastructure, as well as into the team. We want to bring the whole club up. We need to become exemplary. We need to become the platinum standard that our competitors aspire to get to.
“The three areas that I said I am keen to focus on, and what my custodianship of the club would be about, would be: to see us up a league – each year we are getting better; the second point was to sort out the finances, and we have paid of £5m of external debt with all the legacy contracts; the third part is the grandstand and, at the moment, I have clearly failed to deliver that. I am very conscious that it is part of the legacy.
“We had plans that were approved by the planning committee which were very well advanced. They cost about £1.5m – the club didn’t pay a penny into that – but that particular scheme can’t go ahead for reasons that are well documented.
“We are working very hard to put a plan B in place. It does require cooperation from others. I’m hopeful, but until we have something which is signed up and committed to I’m not going to make the same mistake by announcing something again.
“I’m very hopeful. I’m personally committed to it. It is absolutely right for the club and absolutely right for the city. We need to move that forward.”
James wants Plan B to be in a Home Park that is back in the ownership of Plymouth Argyle.
When money was needed to pay off historical debt, Plymouth City Council stepped to buy the ground, and lease it back to the football club. With Argyle now on firmer financial footing, the board are preparing to bring Home Park back into the club’s hands.
James said: “As part of bringing the club out of administration, to pay legacy debts we put money into the club and we sold the stadium to Plymouth City Council. They’ve been great partners, and we’ve rented it back from them.
“We’ve spent coming close to half of what we got from the council in rent. It is very, very expensive to the club. That rent actually goes up under the terms of the deal; every five years it goes up between 10% and 20%. That carries on for the next 25 years. It’s a very expensive arrangement for the club.
“What we spend on rent, we cannot spend on players; we cannot put into training pitches. The board unanimously believe that it is in the interests of Plymouth Argyle Football Club to own its own stadium, and to stop paying the rent.
“The cost of buying back the stadium is £1.7m. The lowest rent we would pay over the next 20 years, to not own our stadium, is twice that. It is more likely that it would be three times the cost.
“I think it’s a total no-brainer.”