What happened last season?
Before I start this I want to give a very brief, recent history.
On 31st october 2000 Paul Sturrock took over as manager of the club. We were 19th in Division Three and going nowhere very quickly. In the 2001/02 season we won the Division Three championship with 102 points, a club and Division Three record. The club had rid itself of one of those suffocating, short-sighted chairman that most clubs have experienced at some time, a new stadium had been built and things were looking up.
The next season in Division Two saw us finish in a credible eighth place. During that summer most Argyle fans tried desperately to convince themselves that if we showed the right spirit and started believing in ouselves we could go one further and reach the play-offs. As you may know we went on to win the league by seven points, having retained the top spot for most of the season, beyond every green's wildest dreams.
However this by no means tells the whole story of last season. With ten games to go and our top spot looking a little precarious due largely to the form of QPR and Bristol City, our manager left us for the riches and ultimately, I fear, the humiliation of Premiership management. His departure was met with very mixed feelings in this part of the world. From the usual 'Judas' all the way through to 'you can't blame him with those wages'.
Although I don't really have much time for the 'Judas' calls the other opinion kind of made me angry as it typified the attitude of far too many Plymouth people. For me there is absolutely no reason why Argyle cannot be as big, if not bigger than Southampton in the next few years. I'm not saying it will happen but what I am saying is that if it doesn't it will be down to a negative attitude that seems to prevail in the South West concerning what Plymouth and its people deserve. This is potentially a massive club if for no other reason than the unrivalled catchment area of supporters we have. At the top of Divison Two we were regularly pulling 19,000-20,000 sell-outs. Our penultimate home game of the season, against QPR, sold out 2 months before the game was to be played and I actually saw a ticket on sale on e-bay for £500. Our away attendances were 3rd highest in the league which considering how far everyone has to travel to each away ground is a massive achievement.
If Paul Sturrock had got us to where we deserve to be and indeed have the potential to be then he would have been a real 'saint' down here. He could only achieve that status at Southampton by winning the Premiership and that is just not going to happen. I truly believe, in all my naivety, that he made the wrong decision. (Apparently, his wife thought so too as she refused to follow him. She still lives 20 yards from Argyle's ground and is a keen supporter).
Anyway, the coach, Kevin Summerfield took over and at first things continued as they were. However, the differences between being a good coach and a good manager soon became apparent as we started to struggle. Rifts developed between manager and players. He didn't have the respect that Sturrock had and at one point we were frantically analysing games remaining, possible points to be won and lost. In the nick of time Paul Stapleton, the chairman, appointed Bobby Williamson, manager of Hibs at the time. He was, and still remains an unknown to most of us despite all of our research. However, the 'new manager factor' kicked-in in a positive way and in the end we sauntered over the finishing line.
What's going to happen next season?
We really are going in to the unknown. Apart from being promoted to a higher division, we have a new manager and he has brought five players whose positions go throughout the spine of the team. We, without doubt, needed fresh blood. Although we were top scorers in all of the divisions last season, we haven't got a proven goalscorer. The goals were spread amongst the team which although is undoubtedly a strength often meant that we didn't have that poacher who could nick us a goal when we needed it last season. Also, at times last year we too often resorted to direct, route-one stuff when our real strength lay in a passing game. Trouble is that in that league it often paid off for us. I'm sure that won't be the same when we are playing teams of the calibre of Watford et al!!
Williamson has bought two strikers, one of whom is Scottish international Stevie Crawford, two midfielders, who are ball players and a centre back, Mathias Doumbe, who I am very excited about seeing. He has pace, is strong and good in the air, or so it appears from one or two pre-season friendlies I have witnessed. We had a solid defence last year without having much grace and he appears to be just the player we need.
So in terms of predictions for this year, it is very hard to say. If they are the types of players we are told they are and as good as they are supposed to be then I think we could be in for a very good season.
One of our strengths has been team spirit, Sturrock definitely fostered a great attitude amongst the players, and the new lads need to fit into that otherwise we have had it, no matter how good they are. I don't feel in the least bit overwhelmed by taking on the 'might' of Leeds, Leicester and Wolves - however, I am not either manager (unfortunately) or player (too old and fat). I have a fear, in my more negative times, that many people around the club feel that it is a privilege to be playing these teams and visiting their grounds, whereas I have complete and utter delusions of grandeur.
There is no reason I can see that Plymouth should not have as big a team as Leicester (having lived in both cities). We certainly have the fan base.
We should be aiming for play-offs or just below. There are many Argyle fans who think that avoiding relegation will be an achievement. I'm afraid it is not within my nature to think that coming 17th or 18th at anything is good enough and I expect more. I think we will finish 8th or 9th and when optimistic or just drunk I hope for a play-off place.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"Having gone through the Plymouth Argyle squad, it has transpired that i know absolutely nothing about my team and i bow my head in shame...A tad green about the green army!"
"Watford is a small and rather pointless village up north"
"Handicap betting next season with William Hills lump on Southampton (Big time)"
"prepare for the Green Invasion end of August!"
"Ego vos absolvo in nomine patri, filii et spiritu sancti"
"Do you know how hard it is to find a book in a comic shop? "
"your qestions are crap" (so's your spelling - ed)