The Argyle Way
As the day dawns on Argyle's third visit to Wembley Stadium for the Papa Johns Trophy final against Bolton Wanderers, Rob McNichol writes to set the scene...
Today is a day to enjoy.
Whoever you are, reading this, make sure you take a step back and take in your surroundings.
Perhaps you have been an Argyle fan for more years than you care to remember, through all of the stages of your life, living and breathing the Greens, and are now reaching this moment.
Perhaps you are a newer supporter, recently converted to the cause, possibly even heading to your first ever game, but ready to take everything Argyle into your life. You are very welcome, and I hope you find a home because, at the risk of making this all sound too spiritual, when you let Argyle into your heart, it is life-changing, and totally for the better. I promise.
You know what we love to do as football fans? We love to sound long-suffering, we tend to skim over the good days and dwell on the bad, but it is important to take a step back occasionally and realise what football gives us.
For almost 39,000 supporters in the West side of Wembley on Sunday, being in those seats means being part of something. You are part of the of biggest mass movement of Argyle fans in our history. You are part of the latest opportunity to demonstrate to the world what we have going on in our wonderful little corner of our fabulous little country.
And by the way, if you are not at the game, for whatever reason, this is for you too. We all have our reasons for being or not being at the game, including and not limited to financial, timing and logistical issues. Please watch on your screens, listen on Argyle TV and your radios, and share the experience. Our experience.
We will also be thinking of those who have not made it here, but we know would have cherished it. That sentiment is bigger than a single individual, but it feels epitomised by one in particular. You are with us, Sparksy.
Whatever some doubters may think, Wembley is special. The brick, mortar, steel and turf might have changed since Mauge in ’96, since Alan Sunderland or Ricky Villa or Stan Mortensen stamped their mark on FA Cup finals, or Hurst, Peters, Moore and co gave our country its finest footballing day.
The fact remains that Wembley is the focal point of our sport. The best to have ever played the game have played here, and even those acquaintances we all have who know absolutely nothing about football, if you tell them your team is playing at Wembley, they get it.
Who remembers that day in May 1996? Wasn’t it great? The day out, the celebration, the music afterwards, the sunshine…
By the way, the game was rubbish. Seriously, watch it back, it was rotten. But Ronnie scored, we won, the Greens went up and hang the fact that the 90 minutes of action stunk out the joint.
I was 12. I remember virtually nothing about the game, save for what I have watched back over the years. I remember the incredible sight of Wembley Way – Olympic Way, actually, to be technical – festooned with green and white. I remember the cheers from different crowd sections when the team ran back and forth towards them during the warm-up.
I even remember BBC Spotlight weatherman Craig Rich standing on an open-top bus near the ground, presumably delivering his forecast for the day. I believe I shouted: ‘what’s the weather like, Craig?’ which, even allowing for me being 12, is one of the least witty things I have ever come up with, and genuinely it still bothers me what a banal thing that was to shout.
Most of all, I remember a school pal who travelled with us for the match, who had only been to a few games with me at that point. “I feel like I made 33,000 friends today,” he genuinely said in the car on the way home, as we passed yet another green and white scarf in a car, bibbing down the M4 with delight. Damn his pithy soundbite, rendering my weather comment even more prosaic. Rich, and yet so poor.
It is almost certainly one of those false memories that innocent brains incorrectly retain, but I feel like the ‘Green Army’ became a thing around then. That’s very likely untrue, it was probably an expression founded many decades prior, but perhaps that is the day it resonated with me, the figurative clouds parted, and I felt like I understood.
We may not be an ‘army’, per se, but we are a corps; a band of people who are simultaneously like-minded and yet wonderfully diverse.
It is vital we wave our flags, belt out the Janner Song and roar on our heroes, whatever occurs.
Don’t fall into the trap that the result doesn’t matter. Of course it does. Why bother otherwise? Saying that defeat doesn’t matter is simply a defence mechanism we instinctively fall back on.
But context is king. If things do not go our way, the conclusion is that we won’t have that moment of a cup being lifted, a sing-along to end all sing-alongs, and the memories of a first ever cup final victory. But we will still have eight games to cement this season as one of our greatest ever, and that is a lovely parachute, should one be needed.
Finally, to the players. You have got to where you are today with spirit, heart and no little talent. There have been individual moments of glory and fabulous team efforts. An enormous number of players have got us to today, and we thank every one of you.
The same advice that I began with applies to our team as well. Don’t be afraid to walk on the field, then take a breath as you do a 360 and survey your theatre. Take photos, Facetime your kids, appreciate the moment.
And when it comes to business, know that 39,000 Pilgrims believe in you.