Schumacher's Port Vale Reaction
To the casual observer, it was the same Steven Schumacher who stepped in front of the Argyle TV camera just before 3pm on Sunday.
He was smartly dressed, he had a smile on his face, as he has done after a league victory 31 times this season, and he prepared to face post-match questions.
The biggest difference, though, was that he had a medal round his neck.
A few minutes earlier, he had joined his staff and his squad in lifting the Sky Bet League One winners’ trophy, after Argyle had won 3-1 at Port Vale to confirm the fact that were champions.
The celebrations were boisterous, safe, and memorable. It will have meant a lot to every single Argyle fan, wherever they tuned in from, and you can include Schumacher among that number, as this club – our club – has etched itself onto his heart.
“I can't even put into words what that means,” he said, gold medal glinting in the afternoon Staffordshire sun. “It means everything. It's the missing one in the collection. I've got a silver medal from promotion with Bury, a play-off medal, a third-place medal with Argyle a couple of years ago.
“Now we've got the one that says we're champions and I couldn't be any prouder. It's just amazing.”
Argyle’s promotion has been no less than remarkable. Competing with more established clubs, with more resources and seemingly better prospects, the Greens amassed 101 points, a staggering total, to win the league by three points from Ipswich Town.
The total was 21 points higher than the previous season’s tally of 80 points, which saw Argyle cruelly miss out on the play-offs. They were always going to aim higher – they could scarcely have dreamed just how much higher they would soar.
“The target was always to get promotion,” said Schumacher. “Could we get into the playoffs - which we managed to do. Then we said, okay, can we get an automatic promotion? A few weeks ago, when we were on a run, and Ipswich were on their run, we said: ‘come on, who's going to blink first? Let's go and win the league.’
“I said to the players before we went out to at Exeter, and we had just lost to Lincoln: ‘Come on, let's go and play like a team that shows everyone we can win the league and put a performance on that says that we're ready.’ On that day, and from that moment onwards, we've been outstanding. Everyone to a man has been so professional, we've got the job done and we deserve to be champions.
“For us to get 101 points in a season that's been so competitive. We've gone away from home against top sides and backed ourselves to beat the big teams this year. Last year we highlighted that we didn't beat anybody really in the top six so - could we address that? We did.
“So many times this season we've gone behind. We've had adversity, but the players have showed unbelievable character. I think the staff have been so calm, not to lose our rag and lose focus, just keep trying to move forwards and we've done enough. In my humble opinion, I feel as though we deserve to be crowned champions today.”
Argyle were forced to show character once again, in this final game, after conceded a goal very early in the game, to Vale’s James Plant.
The Greens rallied, though, and after equalising through Adam Randell, quickly went ahead with Joe Edwards’ third goal in five matches. In the second half, substitute Finn Azaz made it 3-1 and effectively ensured that the divisional trophy, which had been ensconced within Vale Park, was destined for the Home Park display cabinet.
It seems incredible to think that it was only five weeks ago that – also wearing the mint third kit – that Argyle went behind to a very early goal, at Wembley Stadium of all places, and lost the Papa Johns Trophy final to Bolton Wanderers. On that day, Argyle folded, and lost 4-0.
Since then, Argyle have won seven out of eight games, including the last six in a row, to finish the season in true style.
Schumacher said: “Conceding the goal in the first two minutes of the game, I thought: ‘oh no - another big day where all our fans are here, the occasion,’ but I feel like we learned from that experience at Wembley.
“We didn't panic. We shouted on to the lads to try to stay calm and just stay a little bit more compact. Don't let the game go away from us because at 2-0 then it's a mountain to climb. We weathered the storm for 10 minutes – I thought Port Vale were very good - and then once we settled into the game, we managed to find some quality to get the important goals that have won us the league.”
On Bank Holiday Monday, via Princess Yachts and CityBuses, Argyle will show off their silverware to the city of Plymouth. It promises to be a memorable day for a squad and management team who are now indelibly imprinted into club folklore.
“The players and everyone concerned will go down in Argyle history,” said Schumacher. “Our painting will be on the wall and all of that because that's what successful teams do. Everybody can say this year that they have given 100%; we've given everything that we could possibly have.
“We've gone above and beyond expectation. We've managed to get ourselves over the line. Everybody in the city, Argyle fans, all our sponsors, everyone connected with the club can go and go and enjoy this weekend again. Let's have another brilliant open-top bus parade tomorrow and then the summer's going to be an enjoyable one.
“[The parade is] going to be brilliant, because it's important that on these days you do recognise that you do celebrate with your fans. We wouldn’t be here without the fans.
“This club, especially with the times that we've had, our fans have to dig together and get us out of bit of trouble for 10 years ago. For us now to be where we are, back in the championship and to say we're back as champions, it's super special. I can't wait to celebrate with everyone.”