Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughDocumenting the demise of Plymouth Argyle - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Documenting the demise of Plymouth Argyle - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Documenting the demise of Plymouth Argyle

When defender Ladji Sakouna inexplicably dallied on the ball in his own box and hauled down the incoming Rob Taylor of Port Vale to concede a penalty that wrapped up all three points for the away side, it was the madness of what is unfolding at Plymouth Argyle in microcosm. It was the panicky ineptitude of Sakouna that was woefully exposed in an act of helpless surrender and the latest batch of hope at Home Park was ruthlessly deflated by Gary Roberts from the resulting spot-kick.

Peter Reid likened his side to a “whipped dog” after the match and it is such a depiction of feebleness that encapsulates the current state of the club very well, five points adrift at the bottom of the football league after seven games in which only one point, a 1-1 draw away at Shrewsbury on the opening day, has been picked up. But unfortunately, the problems do not just lie on the pitch, but at board level where a sequence of dire financial decisions have played a part in a drama that has seen them drop through two divisions in as many years.

It has been a sharp decline indeed following their sublime promotion to the Championship under the guidance of Paul Sturrock in 2004, Home Park was rebuilt and they were very much on an upward curve. Ian Holloway targeted promotion to the Premier League in 2007 and it was that year that became pivotal in the recent history of Argyle; Holloway controversially departed for Leicester City with the club lying seventh in the second tier and the January transfer window saw the likes of Sylvan Ebanks Blake and David Norris leave, despite this, the return of Paul Sturrock ensured a safe finish of tenth place. However, the summer saw further departures, Paul Connolly left for Derby on a free after being a consistent figure in the side with 47 appearances in the preceding campaign whilst Hungarian winger Peter Halmosi was lost to Hull City and this caused them to struggle in the subsequent campaign, eventually finishing five points away from relegation in 21st.

Paul Sturrock lasted another four months in the job before taking a business support role on the board and he handed over the reins to Head Coach Paul Mariner in December. He went on to over-see the conclusion to a dreadful year in which they managed only five wins at home and only 43 goals in total, becoming the second lowest scorers at home behind Swansea which secured their relegation down into League One. Peter Reid then took over but could not stop a successive demotion occurring at the first attempt, and it is rock bottom where Argyle now find themselves, having fallen a total of 62 places in the football league over three years , in a span of just 145 league games.

It is the background to this dramatic decline that proves the most unsettling however, for Plymouth have been victim of financial errors of the most consequential kind; back in their final year of residence in the Championship, Plymouth posted an operating loss of £5million in March 2010 having seen the wage bill rise to an unhealthy £1.2 million, meaning relegation to the third tier catastrophic in that average gates dropped by 3,000 and wages therefore had struggled to be paid. The year spent in League One saw a wage bill higher than Ian Holloway’s Blackpool who were dining with the elite two divisions above, causing chairman Sir Rory Gardner to hand over £440,000 of personal money to help pay astronomic wages against dwindling crowds; now in the humbleness of League Two, midfielder Simon Walton remains on a gigantic £7,000 week contracted wage. Still, regardless of his personal charity, Gardner was not immune to question, the greatest contributor to March’s £5 million loss being a £4.99 million on “other operating charges”, leaving supporters wondering where exactly had the money disappeared to.

Peter Ridsdale, the former director of Leeds United, was summoned to the cause in December 2010 as an Independent Financial Advisor and immediately suggested an input of £3 million to avoid the impending entry into administration; that did eventually occur in March 2011 along with its customary ten point deduction. The players and staff had not been paid for the month before and a total debt of £1.1 million had arisen from that February alone. Other parties were also owed, such as a company that laid a new pitch at Home Park in the summer and Ridsdale warned the clubs’ total debts to be reaching  up to £13 million, and that £4-5 million would have to be inserted just to see the club to the end of the season. However, this fee was not forthcoming and 63 days after being issued a winding-up order by HMRC, they declared insolvency and an administrator was appointed on 4th March, ultimately subjecting them to the depths of League Two after the ten point handicap ultimately saw no way back.

It was not helped that a board member who appealed to the HRMC back in December did not pay a penny of the £2 million he had committed in the courts. Yasauki Kagami, who bought a 20% share in 2008, had sent £350,000 to solicitors but nothing in the way of contribution to the club until a loan of £1.4 million was invested in an act of desperation to avoid the loss of the money used to buy shares, and most of their loans, that would accompany the entry into administration. This was not only damaging to the club and its associates, the city council, who spent money in partnering Rory Gardner’s proposal of Home Park as a World Cup Venue in England’s failed bid of 2018, announced budget cuts of £10.6 million and the loss of 500 jobs, the week before its local football team sought administration.

The club currently are still no closer to securing a stable future, they playing staff are now in there tenth month of not being paid and have threatened strike action after Bishop International, a consortium that approached administrators in July, failed to raise the necessary funds in August. The head of that Consortium, Kevin Heaney spent £200,000 on exclusivity to a deal in June, but has since reneged on payments and continuously struggles to get approval from the Football League due to contravening rules on dual party interest because of his simultaneous ownership of Truro City. The Football league deferred a decision on Heaney’s interest as recently as last week.

On the 24th September, a campaign started by Brighton fans under the slogan of “Fans Re-united”, has invited fans of any club down to Home Park for the game with Macclesfield in order to raise funds and awareness to avoid the very grim prospect of one of England’s oldest clubs disappearing into the abyss of liquidation. Peter Reid has admirably toiled throughout the torment; he has personally paid a heating bill and contributed for travel costs to away games out of his own pocket, as well as auctioning off his 1986 FA Cup final losers’ medal to raise funds. It has started horribly for Argyle and it will be a long season for all involved judging by the depressing frustration of the Port Vale defeat, but as Peter Reid’s faith can envisage through the destitution of the current situation, if it means finding a way out of this horror and back on a straight road, every set-back will somehow have been justified.

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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