Simon Hallett's Wembley Pride
The last time Argyle played at Wembley Stadium, Simon Hallett had been a director for about a month.
Just shy of seven years on, much has changed in the world of Argyle, not least Simon taking over as majority shareholder in August 2018, and now the latest crop of on-field Pilgrims will head to the famous arch on the cusp of history.
Sunday will see Argyle play in their first ever cup final, in the Papa Johns Trophy, against Bolton Wanderers, while before the weekend begins, Argyle sit on top of League One, with eight games of the season to go.
Argyle TV caught up with Simon, and as he thought back to the spring of 2016, when Argyle failed in their bid to win at Wembley in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final, he compared that to how he feels as the Green Army prepares to descend on the capital once again.
“I'm looking forward to it a bit more,” said Simon. “There's a bit less pressure.
“It was important that we won in 2016 and we didn’t. I really want to win this trophy, but if we don't, it doesn't define the season. The season will be defined by where we are in the league. If we don't win [on Sunday], there will be a little bit less disappointment.
“He says now…we'll see how I'm feeling on Sunday afternoon!”
“This has just been a great season already. We've been playing good football. We've been doing well relative to our budget. We've been doing well relative to teams that would be expected to outperform us.
“We've taken points off the best teams in the division. We've shown in the last few weeks that we can beat the teams that aren't doing quite as well.
“It’s just been a fantastic season on the pitch, and off the pitch as well, of course.”
More than 38,000 of the Green Army have bought tickets for the game and, televised live on Sky Sports, a national cup final in the national stadium will put our country’s footballing eyes on Argyle.
Hallett does not shy away from this, but makes his clear his love and pride goes way beyond one outlying day in the figurative sunshine. However, given that some among the 38,000 following are likely to be non-regular attendees, Simon welcomes the opportunity to organically grow the already-lifted fanbase.
“It doesn't need the rest of the world to look at Argyle for me to be proud of what's going on here,” he said.
“I'm just thrilled with what's been happening at Argyle in the last few years. I don't need the rest of the world to tell me how wonderful we are.
“I think [the number of tickets sold] shows that the people of Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall have rallied around the club and are starting to support us in even greater depth.
“A lot of the fans criticise fans who only want to go to big game. I really don't care. We'll convert some of those.
“Some of those that came to Wembley in 2016 are now season-ticket holders or are turning up for half a dozen games a year. I think it's fantastic that we can showcase Argyle for our potential supporters as well as for our present ones.
“Something that I'm pleased with over the last few years is that we went against the football mantra that it's only worth spending money on the pitch.
“People would tell us in football that all that matters is spending on the first team, that people won't come unless the team's winning. The team has been winning, but we've seen fans coming every year in increased numbers.
“Interestingly, when we started this season, we’d just finished the previous season in seventh after a failed playoff push, yet attendances were already up 30, 40%. Retail store sales are up; I think they've almost doubled in the last four or five years. Season ticket holders are up significantly.
“Ultimately, our success will be defined by what we do on the pitch, but in the interim, I think it’s terrific that we've built a club that more people want to come and see.”
On Sunday, Steven Schumacher will become only the third manager in Argyle’s history to lead his team out at Wembley.
Appointed by Hallett in December 2021, Schumacher’s season-and-a-half at the helm has quickly seen him endear himself to the Green Army. As well as positive results on the field, a large part of Schumacher’s appeal has been his work ethic and pride shown in his role.
Along with Director of Football Neil Dewsnip, Schumacher has masterminded a campaign on two fronts this season, with the run to the Papa Johns final not distracting from league matters.
If Schumacher has plenty of admirers among the Argyle faithful, he has one in the chairman, too.
“You asked me if I'm proud to showcase Argyle to the world,” he said. “I don't think there's going be a prouder person in Wembley Stadium than Steven Schumacher's parents.
“Steven's been so closely involved in football from the age of eight, at the international level, captaining international teams. Here he is, not even two years into his first managerial appointment walking out at Wembley at the front of his team. I think it's just fantastic. I’m so pleased for him.
“As Steven and Neil [Dewsnip] have talked about, we targeted the Papa Johns Trophy this year because we felt other teams weren't taking it seriously, and this was a big opportunity for us. To see that ambition fulfilled is great. The revenue we get from it will be helpful, of course, but if you'd asked me four months ago if I cared very much about the Papa Johns Trophy, I'd say: ‘yeah, I'll come and watch, but ultimately it's about the league.’
“As it gets closer and closer, it gets more and more important, at least for me to see Joe [Edwards] lift that trophy at the end of Sunday afternoon.”