Sometimes, help can come from the most unexpected of sources. Last Friday, it was announced to a mixture of joy and relief – probably more of the latter than the former, considering the shenanigans of the last few months – that Plymouth Argyle Football Club had been saved. After repeated broken deadlines and wage deferrals for the longest-suffering staff in British football, we were told in an official statement that, “Bishop International Limited has secured the necessary funding and everything is agreed between the numerous parties” in order to complete the sale of the club and its ground to the Gibraltar-based company, who would take ownership of its Home Park ground and bring in Peter Ridsdale as the Chief Executive of the club.
That, some might have thought, would be that. The vigil being held at the ground was called off, and perhaps a takeover which some had started to believe had no substance behind it could actually get moving in a positive direction. Seasoned Plymouth watchers, however, would have known that this story would not genuinely reach its conclusion until the fat lady began to sing, and that this deadline being “met” was merely the sound of said lady clearing her throat. Peter Ridsdale said, in a comment which subsequent events have somewhat undermined, that, “I think the staff are happy tonight – they’ve been through turmoil for months now and we’ve got light at the end of the tunnel.” Well, if there is the light at the end of this tunnel, there are few left at Home Park who genuinely believe that this will come from BIL or Ridsdale. Earlier today, though, the players of the club announced their stand, and this might be enough to actually force the club’s administrator, Brendan Guilfoyle, to end this seemingly perpetual cycle of broken promises and missed deadlines.
Some of the Plymouth players and staff have not been paid in full now for nine months. The players had been promised that they would be paid at the end of August. That date came and went yesterday without the players or staff being paid in full. So, Plymouth players Carl Fletcher and Romain Larrieu, along with manager Peter Reid, met the press earlier today to confirm that they were considering strike action for this Saturday’s League Two match at Burton Albion.”We’ve got bills to pay and houses to live in”, said Fletcher, “The only leg we’ve got left to stand on, really, to make a statement, is probably by not playing on Saturday. It’s getting to the point that people are going to have to move out and sell their houses”. Reid, meanwhile, told the BBC that he had attempted to find out where money from season ticket sales and gate receipts – which should have been ring-fenced – had gone, but had failed to get a straight answer. As such, he would be putting out a team at The Pirelli Stadium on Saturday, but “wouldn’t hold anything against these players if they decided they decided they weren’t in the right state of mind to play.” With this in mind, many betting companies suspended betting on the match this afternoon.
What, then, is the significance of this morning’s impromptu announcement? Well, firstly we should consider the seniority of those that spoke to the press. Fletcher and Larrieu are amongst the club’s most senior and respected players. That those two and the team manager should be those speaking to the press carries a weight of its own. There is also the matter of the attention that a strike on Saturday would bring to their plight. The Plymouth story has not received the attention that it deserves in the mainstream media, but we can be reasonably certain that – especially without any Premier League or Championship matches being played this weekend – the full glare of the media spotlight will shine upon The Pirelli Stadium on Saturday should a strike come to pass. Finally, it is worth considering that recent events are clearly a breaking point for a staff that has been pushed to beyond what anybody reasonable could ever describe as a tolerable position by its employers. To even talk of players striking is almost unprecedented in the recent history of English League football.
Peter Reid has stated that he will put out the strongest team that is available to him at Burton on Saturday and, although it is a very long distance to travel, Plymouth supporters who care about the survival of their club should travel to this match in order to protest – lawfully, of course – against recent events, but also to support their team and as a show of unity with those that have been treated so shabbily by their employers of late. Burton Albion supporters have a role to play in this as well. What is happening at Plymouth is another example of the rottenness at the core of English football, and we should all be protesting against situations such as that which is coming to pass in Devon at the moment. We noted in this site last week that it is a damning indictment upon the game in England that a word such as “vigil” should be necessary with regards to football. We can now add the phrase “strike action” to this unwanted dictionary. There is no acceptable spin or gloss that anyone can put upon this afternoon’s events in Plymouth. This evening, it feels as if we have finally reached a tipping point at this club, a point at which somebody in a position to do so must say “enough”. If that has to be the players then so be it, and if a few people have cause to pause and consider what has been going on there of late, then all the better.
Precise figures are hard to come by, but it has been reported that Premier League clubs spent in the region of £400m over the summer on new players, and the hysteria generated yesterday in the media by the last day of this transfer window added a new layer to a series of small stories that were treated with the reverence of a papal or presidential visit. Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle’s one hundred and twenty-four year long existence remains threatened and, while this might not mean much to millions, it is one of the most important things in the world to the hardy few thousand people that do support the club. The thing is, though, that there are many of these groups of a few thousand people supporting their clubs and, in this case at least, those supporters and even the players themselves seem to be being treated contemptibly badly. Throughout this lamentable saga, the supporters of Plymouth Argyle Football Club have acted in a way that credits the name and history of their club, and today their players equalled them. If only the same could be said for those that have been charged with its custodianship of late.
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