They lost again yesterday, of course, a two-nil reverse at Southend United which left them anchored to the bottom of the entire Football League and this morning, in an act entirely at odds with the slow, long, drawn out procedure of the take-over of Plymouth Argyle, Peter Reid paid the price for his failure as an alchemist with his job. He had been unable to muster a win in League Two following the club’s administration-spurred relegation from League One at the end of last season. There will be some that will argue that there was an air of inevitability about such a decision being taken, but many Plymouth supporters will this afternoon be likely to offer a small thanks to Reid for much of what he has done for their club over the last few months.
Whilst Reid has not been successful on the pitch (although he was obviously operating with one hand tied behind his back), it is the way with which he has carried himself away from it which has really impressed. In March, he donated his runners-up medal from the 1986 FA Cup Final in the aid of the club. He was also reported to have paid the club’s heating bill from his own pocket, after supplies ran out in December of last year and to have paid the wages of some youth team players. The club’s official statement on the subject from Peter Ridsdale states that “Ultimately however, whatever the challenges, football is a results business”, a phrase which, probably unintentionally, hints at the moral vacuum at the heart of modern football. Results mean everything, the treatment of individuals counts for little and an announcement of this sort can be made with what may reasonably be described as shamelessness.
It has been mentioned elsewhere that Reid had “lost the dressing room”, but it seems that one of the greatest surprises about the last few months of his tenure at Home Park is how he managed to keep the players anything like motivated when they were faced with wage deferral after wage deferral. If we are to assume that there is a psychological aspect to the performance of a professional footballer against other professional footballers, what, we could reasonably ask, is the effect of knowing that your wages are not being paid in full and that you might get sacked – as the former Plymouth midfielder Kari Arnason was during the summer – if you refuse the less than generous deferral offer that is made to you. If Peter Reid had “lost the dressing room”, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that much of the reason for this may have been circumstances beyond his control.
The timing of the decision may certainly be of interest to some. Peter Ridsdale may well be the acting chairman of Plymouth Argyle at present, but the ownership of the club is very much up in the air at present and there will be some that may be wondering whether this decision could be related to the beginning of talks between James Brent and Brendan Guilfoyle, the club’s administrator, over a potential buy-out. Brent’s bid has the backing of a large proportion of the club’s support, but there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust between Ridsdale and a large number of them, and if Brent’s take-over leaves Ridsdale in charge of operations at the club, it seems difficult to envisage that the atmosphere around the club will become a great deal less fractious than it has been in recent weeks.
We must, however, return to the matter of the club’s statement about football being “a results business”. This is, of course, true of any business, and the same stipulations should, in a just world, apply to everybody at the club. If we are to judge all of the roles at Plymouth Argyle as being a “results business”, which of the achievements of Peter Ridsdale over the last ten months or so should we be considering? It’s a question that is worth asking, because this afternoon Ridsdale is still conspicuously still very much in his job, in spite of having overseen the last few months worth of chaos at Home Park. If Peter Reid is considered unfit for purpose at this basket case of a club, how, we might pause to wonder, is Ridsdale managing to hold onto his position? After all, if his job is also a “results business”, it is difficult to see where he has been successful for the greater good of Plymouth Argyle over the last few months.
Next Saturday sees the Fans Reunited day at Home Park. This decision will add yet another layer of significance to a day which it is hoped will see the supporters of all clubs coming together in support of this one club and, in a broader sense, in support of the cleansing of the soul of football in this country. What is happening to Plymouth Argyle isn’t merely happening to Plymouth Argyle. It is happening to football in this country in a general sense and to protest for this set of supporters is to protest for all of us. It is impossible to say what effect upon the club Peter Reid may have had he been able to operate as a manager under normal circumstances, but what we do know for certain is that the circumstances of his tenure as the club’s manager were anything but normal. Reid will leave Home Park with the thanks of the supporters of the club ringing in his ears. It seems impossible to believe that the same will offered to the other Peter, if or when his time comes.
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