Sunday, 8 July 2007

Small Club in Cornwall

Plymouth Argyle is a contentious topic of discussion which can lead you anywhere - abandon hope all ye who bring it up. Depending on who you are taking to can cause anything from debates to bitching, and there is so much you could talk about.

Start with Home Park itself - you could cover topics such as "how good/bad the pasties are" then someone's bound to say that "Ivor Dewdney's from the van are better"; or "how much more expensive the food prices have got this season"; or "how long the queues are but thankfully the smoking ban means that the concourse'll be so much more bearable" but "how dare Argyle ban smoking from the non enclosed spaces of the ground and not allow you to go outside for a quick smoke and come back in again. I remember the old days on the terraces..."; "how dare the DCMS close our terracing", "why did the board wait so long? After all they knew the 3 years were ending soon", "at least they're putting seats down and not closing it completely", "this proves that phase 2 is never going to happen", "team first, ground later", "so are we settled going into the new season or has Holloway failed to strengthen by buying new players?", "why don't we compete like other teams do?", "why is there so little money", "such and such player is crap and doesn't deserve to wear green", "who chose yellow as the away colour? - Argyle are green, white and black, they ask us to vote and somehow it comes out as yellow?!", "at least they called a vote, normally we get no say", "the communication from Home Park is poor, call themselves a professional club", "look at the way the treat the fans! - the bricks are in a right state and they just ignore our letters and emails" "we've just been sold a pack of lies over the last few years", "this board's got no ambition - sack the board". And so on...

Football faces a big problems.

There are currently several generations of people who are not interested in league football because of its image in the 70s and 80s. Following mass hooliganism, riots and disasters many fans left football in disgust of being associated with it. Thatcher's children left football and football had to chance to survive. In order to do so it cleaned up its act to attract a 'better customer'. And whilst the industry was quite correct in doing so, it has led to another disease taking hold: money.

For a club to survive these days it needs money, and this has taken over from support as the raison d'etre for clubs. Clubs are now having to compete with players who demand more and more recompense for their services. The way the leagues are set up still has a very unbalanced distribution of money. Argyle who have never had a time in top flight football - have never had the benefit of parachute payments etc to provide them with a pot of gold. Football could be said to be a corrupt industry - and examples of 'bungs' and the number of clubs in debt but can still afford expensive players - back this up. Additionally the Westcountry is not a hotbed of footballing talent anyway, unlike clubs outside of the South West who have future stars bred on their doorsteps. Attracting players down to the remotest league club in the country has always been a problem, especially with the modest pay packet we can afford. So clubs have to look else where for funding.

TV: With the advent of Sky Sports (and for a time ITV Sport), and the growing number of sports channels which provide more and more capital than BBC or ITV ever can, a football club has to first compete with the Premiership Clubs and more specifically the 'Big 4' for coverage. Argyle had 2 televised Sky games last season (and the FA Cup quarter on the BBC) and with free to view channels no longer to compete for footage rites, fans are having to pay for subscriptions to watch their team. But this can breed fickle fans - if results are poor, people can seek wins elsewhere and has also led to a generation of so called 'plastic fans' who have never set foot inside their club's stadium, having followed them through the small screen.

Merchandising: Once it was realised that people will pay good money for an Argyle branded whatever, Argyle's merchandising has grown significantly to the point where a permanent city centre shop is being opened. This is one way of getting the club under people's noses, but once again supporters are being 'ripped off' - it costs between £35.00 - £50 to purchase a replica shirt. One thing Argyle are guilt of is the increasing trend to have new kits every season, meaning purchasing two new kits every August (it is obviously not compulsory to do so, but especially amongst younger fans the need to have the latest strip is paramount).

Sponsorship. This is one reason why kits are constantly changing - a new sponsor or additional sponsors. Players and stadia have become billboards for all sorts of companies and has lead to the ludicrous situation of stadia named after the sponsor - Walker's Stadium, Ricoh Arena, JJB Stadium , Emirates Stadium to name a few. Thankfully Argyle have not yet succumbed to 'Pasty Park' or 'Ginsters Arena', and it will be a sad day if Home Park ever became anything but.

Sugar Daddies. The majority of the Premiership teams have sold out to foreign investment. This has been debated in leading press publications recently. The lure of big bucks is attractive to billionaires-the Premier League being the wealthiest in the world-and a slice of the respectability and prestige is just too much to resist.

The need for more and more money is taking football further and further away from the reach of the people it was designed to serve in the first place - the fans. Increasing ticket prices, merchandising costs, TV subscriptions, mean fewer people can afford to follow. This leads to lower and lower gates.

Argyle are strange. We secured two promotions within as many years and have established ourselves in the current league and we have improved on our position with every passing year, and this has been done under the prudent guidance of the current board. Yet crowds are falling - or are they returning to their realistic level? There is division amongst supporters about where do we go from here - should we be happy stay put, slowly improving (though of course one day that isn't going to happen) or should be pull out all the stops and get in amongst the pack by taking some risks?

Whatever your view, you will find every Argyle fan has a different, and will find yourself going in circles for years discussing it. But does it matter when to everyone else Argyle are still that "Small Club in Cornwall"?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

PLYMOUTH IS IN DEVON NOT CORNWALL GET YOUR GEOGRAPHY RIGHT.

Prodigal Green said...

Yes I know that, it was a piss take of people's opinions of Argyle.