jim furnell

Ambassador's Argyle Archives | No. 9: Earliest Memories

My last article concerning the sights, smells and sounds at Home Park during my first years of watching Plymouth Argyle curiously got many of you reminiscing about your first game attended.  The response on our social media pages was staggering.  So I thought I’d follow that up with the earliest players I recall and perhaps rekindle some more memories for you.

Continuing the theme of being influenced by my Dad, one player that stood out to do any role asked of him was Steve Davey who holds something of a unique record. Remember, these were the days of players wearing numbers one to eleven - no deviation with squad numbers or personal choices.

Steve is the only player in Argyle history to have started matches having worn each outfield number from two to eleven on his back.  Never would I have believed as a young boy that Steve would become such a great friend. I can’t think of a player at any other club to have held that numerical distinction.  But when he played up front, he certainly knew where the goal was.

So did Mike Bickle, who could be easily described as an ‘old school’ striker. He took no prisoners, and even to my young eyes seemed not the sort to be messed with.  He took to the field with his hair immaculately groomed in Brylcreem.  It seemed to shine more under floodlights. When he scored, I clearly remember the pose often adopted. Standing still, arm raised awaiting the adulation of his team mates as he gave that beaming smile.

As my football education grew, I always thought we were well blessed at Argyle with a succession of great goalkeepers starting with Pat Dunne. He had played for The Republic of Ireland before joining The Pilgrims and I was rather star struck that we signed him from Manchester United. 

He was eventually replaced by Jim Furnell. A League Cup runner-up with Arsenal, he arrived in Plymouth from Rotherham United, and I’m afraid my earliest memory was how old he looked! ‘Big Jim’ was actually 32 but his grey hair seemed to deny that fact.

Like Dunne, he was a Player of the Year and was a member of the Argyle side that reached the League Cup semi-final and also a became a promotion winner.  He commanded his penalty area and had an incredible leap that must have oozed confidence around his team mates.

Another favourite of my Dad’s was Norman Piper.  Steve Davey revealed to me that Piper’s nickname was ‘Whizz’ because of his speed on the right side of midfield. Just about everyone had a nickname, right?

Piper, who became Argyle’s youngest-ever captain, was selected for the England under-23 squad that faced Bulgaria at Home Park in 1970. That team was managed by Sir Alf Ramsay who took charge alongside his senior England duties.

A similar call-up was afforded to Colin Sullivan, against Bulgaria again played at Home Park.

I think we’ve all had a player that we were devastated in seeing leave Argyle.  For me, it was Saltash-born Sullivan who made his debut at the age of 16.

A strong tackler and pacy going forward from left-back, he was later transferred to Norwich City for the very decent fee of £70,000.  The only TV highlights at the time were on ‘The Big Match’ on Sunday afternoons and it seemed quite surreal when The Canaries were shown and there he was plying his trade in the top division of English football.

I have to add to the list another Cornishman. Johnny Hore. Is there nothing he wouldn’t do for the Argyle cause?

Described as having granite in his boots, which in his early days reached past his ankles, he had no shortage of determination that opponents must have dreaded when going in for a tackle with him.  There would always only be one winner.

Derek Rickard, another from that era, who stood out because of his blonde hair, was also a player that would excite when on the ball, leaving the spectators wondering what trick or turn of speed he would employ next. 

Perhaps there’s a little favouritism here, but I always thought Argyle looked like the best presented team I had ever seen in the days of the classic strip of white shirts with the green and black band across the middle and club crest in the centre.

There was no mistaking that was my club. 

I hope this trip into the past is making you look back to the first players that left an impression with you.  If so, please leave a comment on the club’s social media feed to accompany this article and I’ll be sure to enjoy reading them all as no doubt will other fans.