Jimmy Greaves for Tottenham

Ambassador's Argyle Archives | No.6: Plenty in Reserves

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The faithful 4,000.

For quite a period it was a struggle to have that attendance figure surpassed for a first team game.

However, there have been occasions when much larger crowds have been at Home Park for reserve team matches!

Despite being very young, I remember one such match well from the 1969/70 season.

For many years, Argyle had a reserve team that played in the Football Combination League.  First team squads at the time only had 12 players on duty, so remaining players would be in the reserves.  Players coming back from injury, players serving a ban in Football League matches but could still play in the reserves, younger and youth players, and those simply out of favour for the senior team.

We were in the Combination League along with teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham, Fulham, QPR, and Spurs and with those bigger names there was always the chance of seeing ‘known’ players. I still have many of the team sheets, some of which I have autographs on. I used to wait outside the dressing rooms at the door of the official entrance after games to get them.

Mainly on Saturdays, the home games were played on days when the first team was away (and vice versa).

Of course, there was no internet or social media, and on the eve of the game at home against Arsenal, the Western Evening Herald, as it was then called, revealed that Arsenal would be giving a debut to Peter Marinello.

Signed from Hibernian for £100,000 he was the first six-figure signing made by legendary Arsenal manager Bertie Mee. His registration would not have gone through in time for the senior team that weekend, so he was to be given a run-out in the reserves – at Home Park.

Nobody in Plymouth had the slightest idea who Peter Marinello was. But he must have been good if Arsenal paid that sort of money!

Signed from Scottish club Hibernian, he was dubbed as the next George Best.  A skilful winger and with the long hair, he could well have been.

Also in the Arsenal side that day was Charlie George! What a double act. Normal attendances for reserve team matches would be a few hundred, possibly a thousand, but the mystery man Marinello drew plenty of interested spectators.

Thousands went to the game. Now here’s an odd thing. Arsenal, as they still do, played in red shirts with white sleeves. Hibernian played in green shirts with white sleeves, exactly the same design that Argyle had for the 1971/72 season and have delightfully recreated for this season.

Sadly, his career never lived up to the hype at Arsenal, and Marinello later played for Portsmouth and Fulham before a brief spell in the USA with Phoenix Inferno before playing out his career back in Scotland.

The second instance of a reserve match attracting a huge crowd had a similar circumstance.  A player signed but not in time for the next first team match, so was put in the reserves.

Saturday, 5 December 1961 (I was only nine months old so can’t claim to have been there) and a football superstar appeared on the Home Park turf.

Former Chelsea striker Jimmy Greaves had spent a very unhappy few months with AC Milan.  He made just ten appearances. Spurs signed him for £99,000 as manager Bill Nicholson said he didn’t want the pressure of Greaves being the first £100,000 player.

It was publicised that Greaves would play for the Spurs seconds and the attendance was a staggering 13,000. That must have frightened some of the Argyle juniors in the home team, let alone the fact they were in opposition to Jimmy Greaves.

In front of assembled national photographers and reporters, he scored twice as Spurs won 4-1.  Seeing the size of the crowd, Argyle chairman Robert Daniel (the owner of a well-known food business that supplied countless hotels and restaurants) saw a huge money-making opportunity aside from the money collected at the turnstiles as he arrived at the stadium.

He arranged a half-time raffle.  Argyle officials were frantically dispatched to go amongst the fans and sell the tickets with a cash prize on offer.

As the half-time whistle blew, Mr Daniel ran onto the pitch and got Jimmy Greaves to draw out the winning ticket!

But if Argyle fans thought that was the last opportunity to see Greaves, they would have been mistaken.

Not long after that fixture, the 4th round draw for the FA Cup was made. Argyle v Tottenham Hotspur.  Greaves was to return.

Argyle were going well in the Second Division, although Liverpool were running away with the title on their way back to the top flight (Argyle finished 5th). The Greens were in good form, having beaten West Ham 3-0 in round three.

Home attendances for first team games around that time were around 10,000, but for the cup match, that rose to 40,040.

Again, Greaves scored twice, and many saw the 5-1 result as a misrepresentation of Argyle’s performance in a thoroughly entertaining clash.

Spurs went on the win the FA Cup, and became ‘double’ champions, having also won the league title, but Pilgrims fans would never forget the part played by Jimmy Greaves who became acclimatised to the Home Park surface during a reserves’ match.

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