Derby Day: Playing the Long Game

THE history between Argyle and Exeter goes back a long way...but what if it had all been one, long game?

Argyle 146

City 104

Venues: Home Park/St James’ Park
Attendance: 862,445 (approx.)

AFTER a gruelling 108-year match, spanning 9,360 minutes of game-time, Argyle prevailed over their Devon rivals by a 42-goal margin. 

The first whistle was blown on November 11, 1908, with the match kicking-off at Exeter City’s St James’ Park. 

After 90 minutes, it was City who had the lead. Charlie Clark’s goal for the Greens was merely a dent in Exeter’s two-goal advantage. The big question was: “Could City park the hansom cab and hold out for the next 107 years?”

Despite a particularly smooth first 90 minutes for City, there were still 9,270 minutes to be played, giving the Greens some hope of a comeback.

The Pilgrims did just that. By the time the game had reached March 30, 1923, with kick-off now being 14 years ago, the goals had begun to flow for Argyle who led 31-13. 

They extended their lead through goals from Rollo Jack, Patsy Corcoran and a Jack Fowler hat-trick and ome March 1, 1930, Argyle were in a commanding 59-31 lead. The Match was briefly delayed for 20 years due to the second world war, but when play resumed, Argyle goals were rationed, and Exeter became to make a comeback. 

Not for long. With some impressive goalscoring displays on January 5, 1957, Home Park saw the Pilgrims again convert five unanswered goals with Eric Davis bringing his goal tally to four against the Greens’ Devonshire rivals. 

When the half-time whistle came around in 1977, 69 years since the referee got the two sides under way, Argyle still had the lead. With 76 well-taken goals to the Grecians 48, Exeter started to look a beaten team. 

Half-time took four months, in which the highlights were all shown, and the 50/50 Lottery draw was made, with the winning ticket being drawn (by Steve Davey of course) from a tombola the size of the Civic Centre.

The restart was played, for the first time, under national league rules, with a national Division Three banner over the game. The final 720 minutes of the first half had been dominated by Exeter, although the goal-count in that period was only 8-4 in the Grecians’ favour. 

As we got to the business end of the match – the last 40 years – Argyle maintained their lead. To keep the decades-long match interesting, the competition rules frequently changed. From the League, to the FA Cup, the Associate Members Cup, the Milk Cup, the Autoglass Trophy and the Auto Windscreens Shield, Argyle maintained their general dominance, as the crowds fluctuated. 

Late in the game, players that had switched sides during the contest had a bearing. Martin Phillips, who watched some of the game from the Exeter stand, ran on to the pitch in an Argyle shirt, and dashed City hopes. 

Next, Marino Keith’s brace accompanied by a single goal by Steve Adams meant that the Home Park crowd saw Argyle score their 128th goal 675 hours after kick-off. 

Apparently, Exeter called a time-out to regroup at this point, and let Argyle do their own thing for eight years, but the time away allowed City to regroup, with Ryan Harley getting his first Derby goal, and Daniel Nardiello chipping in, too. Harley would later score more Exeter goals in the fixture, whereas Nardiello briefly turned to supporting Argyle, but only fleetingly. 

A hat-trick for Reuben Reid, on February 21, 2015, helped further cement Argyle’s lead, as the game reached the 9,000th minute. Reid had now scored five goals in this fixture, and whatever happened, would always go down as an Argyle legend. 

The most recent goal came from Argyle’s Arnold Garita, with a strong run and clean finish at St James Park, where it all began. His goal means that, with 156 hours of the fixture gone, Argyle finished their outing with Exeter with a resounding 146-104 win. 

Whilst both goalkeepers will be disappointed not to keep a clean sheet for the full match, it’s safe to say the highlights will be well worth a watch. We’re clearing some hard drive space – and converting some old cine footage - on Argyle Player as we speak.

Post-match, speaking for the previous Argyle managers to have taken charge in this fixture – that is, John Sheridan, Carl Fletcher, Peter Reid, Paul Sturrock, Kevin Hodges, Neil Warnock, Peter Shilton, Dave Smith, John Hore, Bobby Moncur, Bobby Saxton, Malcolm Allison, Mike Kelly, Tony Waiters, Billy Bingham, Jack Rowley, Jimmy Rae, Bob Jack, and a management committee – Derek Adams said: “Devon is green and white tonight – and it always will be.”

Exeter, though, are interested in a replay. The next match, possibly another 108-year epic, begins this Saturday…

Our thanks to Greens on Screen, who assisted greatly in the research for this report, simply by being there…