OUR man Chris Groves made a life-changing move to Nottingham earlier this year. Joining us at Walsall he talks of a shorter drive to a game, missing Plymouth, and Eddy's special moment.
TRAVELLING south to watch an Argyle away game, rather than north, is going to take some getting used to.
After living in Plymouth for all of my 24 years, the decision was made earlier this year to move to Nottingham. Despite the challenges, the nerves and the naysayers, it was a change me and my partner had to make to keep moving forward with our lives. It meant leaving behind many things that are close to my heart – truly important things like family, friends, and the Cap’n Jaspers café on the Barbican – but there is always a point in your life where you have to take a leap of faith.
The move also meant leaving behind many of my roles within Argyle. Since I was 16, I have voluntarily helped out with the club’s media operations; from manning a camera in the Home Park gantry, to taking on DJ duties on home match-days, to writing for the club website and programme. It may have been a voluntary role that I balanced alongside important things like university and jobs, but I took more pride and enjoyment in my role at the club than anything else – and leaving that behind for a move up north was difficult to wrap my head around.
Ever since moving away in April, these fond memories had become all too distant. Not because they weren’t important to me or didn’t carry enough gravitas to remain in the forefront of my conciousness, but because the sheer insanity and – I’ll admit it – fear of a complete change of scenery had taken over. Being someone who has a tendency to be a little too eager to impress and get things right, I have probably placed too much attention on things like work and finances, whilst letting other matters fall by the wayside. Remembering where I am from – and what makes me so happy to be from that place – is definitely something I’ve overlooked too much since flying the nest for Notts.
Because of this, the excitement of Argyle kicking off their new season was something I was even more excited about than usual. It presented an opportunity to get reacquainted with something that defined my time at home. That being said, it is fair to say there was a little bit of reacquainting to do once the unusually short drive to Walsall was complete. A new-look squad in both attire and attendees looked relaxed and ready for the season ahead.
Five debutants kicking off the campaign, and a further two on the bench, gave a more youthful feel to our setup than I had last seen – which was far from on its last legs anyway. The kit was far from the only bright thing about Argyle, as we looked full of energy and ideas, with the inevitable chemistry issues for a new team on opening day.
The match itself followed a familiar script. Walsall were eager to impress from the opening whistle and were lively for the opening half-hour, without ever crafting that clear-cut opportunity. Argyle bent but did not break and grabbed the opening goal, which caused the game to completely open up. Matt Macey’s tremendous penalty save counted for nothing as the rebound was tapped in, showing the unforgiving nature of football. So, no change there.
And some things really will never change. At 2.40pm, the first true roar came bellowing out from the away end, which almost felt like the true signal that the new season was upon us. The guttural chants from the Green Army had some added effort behind them; an air of belief, possibly even expectation. The cry of discontent from the home fans when a foul is given against their team; that sick feeling in your stomach when your team go behind; the obligatory chat with the ref for a battling striker and defender after 15 minutes; it’s like we’ve never been away!
Absence makes the heart grow fonder and, I would suggest, so does distance. We often take so much for granted when we’re very much involved in what’s going on around us, unable to take a step back and gather a broader view. I loved my time working within Argyle, watching the football club totally take over the city through its success, the likes that I had only seen through archived footage and newspaper cuttings before. I understood the importance of it all, but probably began to treat it with less wonder and awe as time went on.
On this day, though, that all came flooding back, as did the memories of how Argyle defined much of my time living in Plymouth. I may have only travelled 70 miles or so south, but I suddenly felt more at home than I have in quite some time.
“Which Nottingham team are you going to support, then?” said a close friend of mine, just as I was settling in to my new abode. I laughed it off. Sure, I’ll keep an eye on the results of County and Forest, but the concept of supporting or splitting allegiances further had never crossed my mind. As I’ve talked about through this medium before, Argyle may not be my only footballing love, but taking anything more than a fleeting interest in another club was never an option.
Just like the near-1,800 fans who spent another glorious Saturday morning travelling to Walsall, Argyle simply means too much to me. Maybe it just took some time away to truly realise that.
The final word of any article centred on this match, though, should be dedicated to Ryan Edwards. I have talked a lot here about the familiarities and tropes that come with football, but here is a moment that managed to make me experience something this sport has never made me feel.
Even with all these narratives, both personal and shared, heading into the Walsall game, there was always one underlying story that was positioned to eclipse all others. Just a handful of months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Edwards was not just back in the Argyle squad, but very much in the running to start the match. An hour before the match, when his place in the line-up was confirmed, this was already enough to be the headline of the afternoon.
But it just wouldn’t be Ryan Edwards if he didn’t find a way to exceed expectations, would it? On 40 minutes, Eddy broke free at the far post for a free kick and volleyed in Argyle’s first goal of the 2018-19 season – and, one might suggest, one of the most memorable in the club’s history. When I knew for sure that Edwards was the scorer, the first feeling was one of shock; shock that this story had conjured up the sort of apt and idyllic plot twist that we would scoff at in a movie, for being too unrealistic.
I turned to my colleagues, all boasting beaming smiles. I turned to the Green Army, hand over my mouth, their cheers growing louder as they all realised who the goalscorer was. Ryan threw his fist into the as he returned to his position, and he was met with another roar that represented so much more than just celebrating a goal. I never celebrated, or talked, or typed, throughout that whole moment. I couldn’t.
Edwards and Derek Adams both understandably played down the gravitas of that goal after the game, considering it came in a 2-1 defeat, but those of us fortunate enough to not have to act so professionally are able to view it very differently. Eyes wide, mouth agape, I was unable to grasp what had just taken place.
All this nonsense I had been typing about moving away and losing touch with home suddenly paled into complete insignificance. Even now, hours after the match, I feel calmer and more composed about the whole concept of living away from home and balancing ambition with tradition. Eddy getting his goal served as a reminder that, one way or another, things work out, if you are willing to put in the effort and continue to do the right things.
Not exactly the main takeaway I expected to have from our opening match of the season, but I will take it. Thanks, Eddy.