Plymouth Argyle: a history

September 28, 2017

The club was originally founded in 1886 as Argyle Football Club with the first match taking place in  October 1886 against Caxton, a team from Cornwall which saw the Pilgrims lose 2–0. Later that week Argyle won for the first time–beating Dunheved College (now Launceston College) in Launceston (where many of the club’s first members had been educated) 2–1. They played several friendlies against Plymouth United but poor performances on the pitch led to the club going out of existence in 1894 before being resurrected in 1897 as one part of a general sports club, the Argyle Athletic Club. In 1898, Argyle F.C. produced its first rulebook. The club’s ground was given as Marsh Mills, an area on the edge of the city of Plymouth, which still hosts sports.

Much speculation surrounds the origin of the name Argyle. One explanation is that the club was named after the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, an army regiment with a strong football side of its own. Another theory is given by the local geography–suggesting the name comes either from the nearby pub, The Argyle Tavern, where the founder members may have met, or from a local street Argyle Terrace.

The club adopted its current name when it became fully professional in 1903 joining the Southern League and their first professional game was on 1 September 1903 against West Ham United resulting in a 2–0 win for Argyle.Their first home game as a fully professional club was on 5 September 1903 when they beat Northampton Town 2–0 in front of a crowd of 4,438. Argyle went on to win the Southern League in 1913, then in 1920 entered the Football League Third Division as a founder member, where they finished 11th in their first season.

In the summer of 1924, a Plymouth Argyle team visited South America to play some exhibition football in Uruguay and Argentina. Argyle thrashed Uruguay 4–0 in their first game (Uruguay went on to win the first ever World Cup just six years later) before pulling off another shock by beating Argentina 1–0. They then held Argentinean giants Boca Juniors to a credible 1–1 draw. In the match against Boca Juniors the home supporters invaded the pitch after their team had scored the opening goal and carried all eleven home players shoulder high around the stadium. After a half hour delay the referee restarted the match but a further invasion was sparked when the referee awarded a penalty against the home side. When the match was again restarted, the Argyle players had agreed that Patsy Corcoran would take the spot-kick and miss, to prevent another pitch invasion but the ultra-competitive Moses Russell was not prepared to accept this and just before Corcoran was about to take the penalty he was pushed aside by Russell who took it himself and scored. This prompted a further pitch invasion by the Boca fans and this time the match was abandoned.

Back in England, uniquely, between 1922 and 1927 Argyle finished second in the Third Division (South) six seasons in a row, thereby missing promotion. Argyle eventually won promotion to Football League Division Two in 1930 when they topped the Third Division (South) with attendances that season regularly reaching 20,000.

After the Second World War Argyle’s 20-year stay in Division Two came to an end in 1950. However they were soon back in Division Two after winning the Third Division (South) in 1952. The closest they ever came to playing in the First Division was in 1952–53 when they finished in fourth place in the Second Division, their highest finish to date. In the 1954–1955 season floodlights arrived at Home Park, but in 1956 Argyle went down again. The Pilgrim’s reputation as a ‘yo-yo club’ continued after they won Division Three–by now a national league–in 1959.

The 1960s started with one of the most bizarre events in Argyle’s history. It came in the spring of 1963 when they went on a mini-tour of Poland and the Pilgrims were invited to play a game as a warm-up to an international cycle race. Amazingly, 100,000 saw Argyle that day, the biggest crowd ever to attend a Plymouth match.

In 1965 Argyle reached the Football League Cup semi-final, as a Second Division team, but lost to Leicester City. The decade ended disappointingly as Argyle returned to Division Three after relegation in 1968.

In March 1973 a memmorable moment in Argyle’s history was witnessed by 37,639 people at Home Park. Argyle played a friendly match against Brazilian giants Santos, who at the time were one of the best teams in the world. That day Santos also had arguably the best footballer of all time in their starting line-up, Pelé. However, Argyle, then a Third Division side, shocked the world with a 3–2 win. The Greens were actually 3–0 up at one stage.

In 1974 with future England striker and Argyle manager Paul Mariner now playing for them they again reached the League Cup semi-final, this time as a Third Division side. Argyle drew the first leg against Manchester City 1–1, but lost the Maine Road encounter 2–0.

After spending six years in Division Three  Argyle finally returned to Division Two in 1974–75, under the management of Tony Waiters thanks to strike partners Paul Mariner and Billy Rafferty, who scored a very impressive 46 goals between them. However, they were back down again in 1977.

In 1984 Plymouth reached the FA Cup semi-final despite being a Third Division side. After a successful cup run which saw them defeat West Bromwich Albion and Derby County along the way, they went down to a 1–0 defeat to Watford in the semi-final at Villa Park.

In 1985–86 Argyle finished as runners-up in Division Three and were promoted. The following season Argyle finished a respectable 7th place in Division Two just missing the division’s new play-off zone and the chance to move to the First Division (now the Premier League).

In  the 1990s a new face took over the club. Businessman Dan McCauley became chairman, and his first major decision was to sack manager Dave Kemp and appoint England’s record cap holder Peter Shilton as player-manager in the 1991–92 season but Shilton was unable to prevent relegation. In 1992–93 Argyle finished in mid-table in the third tier, but Peter Shilton’s side finished third the following campaign and qualified for the play-offs but Argyle were defeated in the semi-final by Burnley. The Pilgrims suffered even more disappointment in 1994–95 as Shilton parted company with the club, and they were eventually relegated to Division Three (fourth tier) for the first time in their history.

At the end of the 1995-96 season new manager Neil Warnock take Plymouth to Division Three play-off glory in his first campaign as manager. Argyle met Colchester United in the semi-final  and were 1–0 down from the 1st leg, but won the second leg 3–1 at Home Park. The Pilgrims were going to Wembley for the first time in their history and a header from future Rovers star Ronnie Mauge gave Argyle a 1–0 win over Darlington at the national stadium.

But Warnock was sacked within a year as the club narrowly avoided being relegated back to the basement,  The following season Argyle did go down and Kevin Hodges (the club’s record appearance holder) was appointed as manager and his reign lasted three years before a failure to attain promotion (or even a play off place) cost him his job. At this point Argyle were in danger of going bust, and it was the lowest point in their history.

The appointment of Paul Sturrock as manager in November 2000 marked a turning point in Argyle’s history. He saved the club from relegation out of the Football League (they were fourth from bottom when he became manager), and finished 12th in his first season.

The following campaign proved to be the most successful in the club’s history, as they went on to win the Division Three title with a club and league record of 102 points. It also saw goalkeeper Romain Larrieu gain a club record 28 ‘clean sheets’ that season.

In 2002–03, they narrowly missed out a place in the Division Two play offs and went one better the following season when they earned their second promotion in three years.

Plymouth retained their Championship for the next few seasons under the management of Tony Pulis and then Ian Holloway. In November 2007 Ian Holloway controversially resigned to take charge of Leicester City which led to a return to the club of Paul Sturrock.

Sturrock arrived at a time where many key players were being approached by other clubs. Sturrock could do nothing to stop Sylvan Ebanks Blake, David Norris and Dan Gosling leave for Wolves, Ipswich and Everton respectively. The January 2008 transfer window marked an important point in the recent history of the club.

With many more of the team’s key players leaving Home Park during the summer of 2008, the following season promised to be a challenging one for the club. The Pilgrims survived, finishing 15th but escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth the following season, finishing 21st.

Paul Sturrock’s second stint in charge came to an end in 10 December 2009 when a press conference confirmed he was relieved of his managerial duties due to two years of poor results and fan unrest and had taken up a ‘business-support’ role, working alongside Director and Chief Executive, Keith Todd. Head Coach Paul Mariner was placed in charge of team affairs but couldn’t prevent the club from being relegated.

On 24 June 2010, former England midfielder Peter Reid was appointed manager for the forthcoming season.In November, Argyle came from a goal down to beat fellow strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge 2–1 at Home Park but  just 4,960 were present at the game, Argyle’s lowest league attendance since they were in the bottom tier. Not long after, the Pilgrims were presented with a winding-up order by HMRC and appeared in court on 8 December, only to earn a 63-day adjournment so they could pay the taxes they owed.

Three days later, after their financial incident, Argyle picked up a memorable victory when they defeated fierce Devon rivals Exeter City 2–0 at Home Park. A total of 14,347 attended the game,  the biggest gate at Home Park in three years, and also a sell out.

On 21 February, the club issued a notice of intention to appoint an administrator and were immediately docked 10 points by the League which dropped them to the bottom of the League One table after poor results continued. The club officially went into administration on 4 March with  Brendan Guilfoyle of P&A Partnership being appointed to run the club and search for a buyer. With all this going on it was no surprise that the team would be affected and the club were relegated.

Plymouth made a poor start to the following season, and as a result Peter Reid was sacked on 18 September.

James Brent’s Akkeron Group agreed a deal with the Administrators to buy the club. The Football League banned any loan signings until the deal had been completed on 6 October. Further problems occurred with the Administrators threatening to quit the club.  The PFA agreed a repayment plan for the employees to receive their wages as well as former manager Peter Reid agreeing a deal. Argyle also agreed a deal to sell their Home Park ground back to Plymouth Council on 14 October for £1.6m and they had to pay £135,000 a year for rent. On 28 October the deal with James Brent was approved and he would take his seat at the club when Home Park was sold. Plymouth officially exited administration on 31 October, after the takeover was complete.The team’s form greatly improved after the takeover, and while the eventual League finish of 21st was the lowest in the club’s history, they still secured survival with three games to spare which was quite an achievement considering they had been well adrift at the bottom for the first half of the campaign.

In the following season Argyle started looking to climb back up the Football League but got off to a shaky start under manager Carl Fletcher who continued to take charge of the squad after the Summer. The club found themselves bottom of the table again at the end of the Christmas period and consequently Fletcher was sacked on 1 January and replaced on by John Sheridan. The club was again narrowly saved from relegation, finishing 21st for the second season in a row. Sheridan then agreed a three-year contract to continue as manager and in his first full season in charge the club finished 10th.

Argyle made a strong start to their fourth consecutive season in League Two. Derek Adams was appointed as manager and by Christmas Argyle were top of the league eventually settling for a place in the play-offs. After victory over Portsmouth Argyle secured a place in the play-off final  but after a poor performance in the final Argyle were beaten 2-0 by AFC Wimbledon

The following season saw Argyle for the second season in a row at the top of the table at the mid point of the season. Promotion was confirmed after a comprehensive 6-1 victory over Newport County.

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