THIS weekend’s trip to Swindon Town in Sky Bet League Two will bring the second instalment of our dedicated minibus service for supporters with a disability.
Media assistant Nino Robertson took part in the inaugural match for this service at Crewe Alexandra on the opening day of the season and this was his account of a brand new experience.
A TRIP to the Alexandra Stadium was Argyle’s first in more ways than one. It was the opening Sky Bet League Two fixture for Ryan Lowe’s new-look Pilgrims, but also a first for some of Argyle’s disabled supporters.
A minibus was arranged for the five-hour trip to Crewe - a stone’s throw away from manager Lowe’s native Liverpool - by Nikki Francis, Argyle’s disability liaison officer. Along with two other wheelchair users (and their carers), Nikki and I set off at 7am from Home Park.
Although it was a long journey for all involved, this initiative shows that the club have made great strides in terms of inclusivity, aiming to offer this service to disabled people on a more regular basis.
Without the option of a supporters’ bus for disabled people who want to watch Argyle on the road, I’m almost certain, as a wheelchair user, that the opportunity to get to away games would be virtually nil, so this is certainly a step in the right direction for a club that holds its Vision and Values in such high esteem.
I can only speak for myself - although I am sure the others enjoyed it too - there is something special about an early start, an away day, and not least the first game of the season. All three factors made for a special day, and I am glad the boys got a positive result.
Of course, spirits were high as we left Plymouth, my only regret, in hindsight, was that I did not follow the others’ lead in getting a hot chocolate for the road to help keep warm on a crisp morning.
We made a stop at McDonalds after about two hours, to break up the journey. Pit stops are a regular feature on this coach, and a necessity for many of the supporters on board. I suppose it is a balancing act between wanting to get to the stadium as soon as possible and keeping the contingent, who have a number of different needs, comfortable.
Arriving at the stadium was obviously a welcome sight and the disabled section was located in the North Stand - behind the goal where Callum McFadzean smashed home his second, and our third, in added time.
Of course, such a convincing performance made the trip more memorable. I did not expect such a one-sided encounter - in the lead up to the game we were reminded that Gresty Road would be a tough place to go. On the field it was also nice to see a number of new Pilgrims make their debuts. For me, it was goalkeeper Alex Palmer who was the most impressive of the lot. I remember him pulling off a great double save at 1-0 – crucially retaining our lead before Joel Grant doubled it only a minute later.
During the break we mulled over what we had seen in the first 45 minutes of Ryan Lowe’s tenure, and I felt even with half of the game to go, that our first three points of the season were all but on the board. Callum McFadzean’s goal at the end of the second period simply added gloss to an assured display, and it was nice to get a good view of the strike too!
After the game, some of our travelling party wanted autographs from the victorious Greens, who happily obliged. Once the ink dried, we were on the road again. When you make a habit of trips like that, you realise what a commitment it is from the Green Army who travel in their numbers, week in, week out.
One thing I did enjoy on the way home though, was the sheer amount of fans in the service station just outside Bristol. There was a mass of buoyant Argyle fans but I spoke to a dejected Cardiff City fan; unbeknownst to me, the Bluebirds conceded a last-minute goal away to Wigan, losing 3-2.
Above all, I felt that it highlighted a snapshot of a diverse footballing community, occupying dozens of service stations up and down our nation’s motorways: some delighted, some devastated, and others happy to have taken a point on the opening weekend.
Despite the good work on the field, it was a long, long day for us, especially when you are not accustomed to that routine of travelling every other week. Obviously with our circumstances being a little different, in terms of more frequent stops, we arrived home at roughly 11:30pm.
I was glad to get home, but it was a very worthwhile exercise. I hope that similar trips can be arranged over the course of this season.
Next on the menu for Nino is this weekend’s trip to Swindon Town and you can book a place on the service planned for supporters with a disability by contacting Nikki Francis on Nikki.Francis@pafc.co.uk or call 01752 562561.