Serendipity

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

vRogcast2

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Promotion 2017

As I write this I have to admit to having partaken in alcohol. Not that excessively, ‘tis true. I have to be up at stupid o’clock tomorrow so had to cut the evening short.

“Why might that be?” you may well ask.

Today Argyle sealed a promotion by way of a 6-1 thumping of Newport County and to honest we might have scored 10. I suppose a last minute winner might be better but this is pretty good.
Glory days don’t often come along to Argyle but today was definitely one of them. I’ve been going week in week out ever since I was a kid which is over 40 years now and I was there when we went up v Colchester in ’75, at Wembley in ’96, versus QPR in 2004 and today. In all that time only 4 promotions (there was a couple of others in 1986 and 2002 but I couldn’t make it to those games).
That is only the start of it though. As a club we’ve gone as close to disappearing as any and hung on. We’ve endured 6 years in the basement division  and only hung in there by the skin of our teeth on two occasions. Two years ago we failed in the play-offs. Last year we failed at Wembley. There’s been nothing to celebrate in any of those years other than our mere continuance and the disappointment has been crushing with last year’s Wembley capitulation a particularly gutless low despite the various calamities that had befallen us previously.

And now this…

The tsunami of joy, of celebration, of relief was like a force of nature at Home Park today: tangible; irrepressible. There was a vibrancy, an energy that simply must not be allowed to dissipate. We must build on this. It cannot be seen as an end to itself because, magnificent though it was, it is only a step on the journey.

But I don’t want to speculate about the future; I want to look back. Today’s team, management and owners will bask in the glory but that glory was only possible due to a level of dedication and sacrifice from a whole host of people: those who set up the Argyle Fans’ Trust with the very real intention of starting again from scratch somehow; the staff who went for months upaid; players (even if they were crap – and most of them were) who signed for us despite not knowing if they’d be paid or not – players who signed for us when nobody else would; Peter Reid for paying a heating bill; Carl Fletcher for keeping us up when all seemed lost; John Sheridan likewise; Vivien Pengelly (leader of Plymouth City Council at the time) for financing James Brent’s rescue package that allowed us to escape administration; everybody who put money into the club by chucking coins in buckets, buying season tickets when the next season wasn’t even likely to happen or buying merchandise they just didn’t need… Without them there would have been no Derek Adams; no glorious 6-1 promotion game; arguably no anything.

Argyle should never have been in this division and it should never have taken us 6 years to get out of it. Let us never forget how we ended up in “Division 4”; let us never take our eye off the ball and let us never allow it to happen again.

Today has been all kinds of wonderful and we’ve quite rightly celebrated the living daylights out of it but we must never, ever stoop so low again. The club, the fans, the city all deserve better than this and we should loudly, incessantly demand better.

No ifs, no buts, no excuses… this is not as good as it gets. All this is is a necessary stage that has to be gone through. We are nowhere near our glass ceiling, if such a thing exists at all; we must press on.


Greater glory awaits.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

How Far Do We Want To Go?

On the face of it it’s a silly question. Only one answer. “All the way to the very top.” And that has to be the way. If a football club isn’t striving to be the very best that it can be, and that means better than anybody else, then it isn’t doing its job. Equally it is fair to say that Argyle are absolutely light years away from that: currently we’re not even the best team in League 2. So that destination, if we can park the obvious fact that it is more or less completely unattainable for a moment or two, seems so distant that it may as well not exist.

That’s no excuse though. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Continuous improvement. Marginal gains. That’s the very least we can expect and in wilder flights of fancy we could see a whole paradigm shift such as that currently enjoyed by Bournemouth and, to a lesser extent Swansea and Burnley, as they ply their trade in what we are now supposed to call the English Premier League (EPL). After all if a club isn’t trying to win every game, every week and every trophy it enters then it should be. Whoever it is. That’s what it is for. What point is there being in a competition if you do not compete to win?

So let us assume, oh joy of all joys!, that that happens and a resurgent Argyle resurgams its way to hitherto unanticipated glory and that elusive EPL goal is scored and that the pipe dream of Argyle competing and winning at the very top becomes as common place as the old primula vulgaris is in our gardens, hedgerows and verges right now.

Consider the steps already taken, consider Rome rapidly built, consider further improvement unnecessary and consider gains no longer marginal but seismic; consider the paradigm to have permanently shifted.

Week after week Manchesters United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs arrive in town fearing for their once great reputations. Week after week we spank ‘em all and their worst fears are proven to be well-founded. Imagine that! (If you can.)

It’d be great, wouldn’t it! It’s exactly what I have hoped for for most of my life. The whole world would marvel and there’d be articles in Le Monde, the NYT, La Republicca and El Pais asking how we had done it and could it happen there. There’d be endless segues on Sky Sports News. We’d be first up on Match Of The Day every week. Hell! We’d be on MotD every week!! Think on that for a moment.

The question I am asking is: do we really want that? To which you might respond “why wouldn’t we?”

Well there’s a few reasons…

Difficult though it is to travel all over the country from Plymouth to wherever at least we can be fairly sure the game will take place at 3pm on a Saturday or 1945 on a Tuesday. That’d be gone if we were in the EPL with their massively variable kick-off times. Travelling to away games is difficult enough now but it would be worse once the paradigm has shifted.

Programmes. There’s another thing. £3 each they are now. Well not in the EPL they aren’t. More like £5 is common. That said we don’t have to buy them. Beer? £5/pint. Again we don’t have to buy it. Likewise the more expensive food on offer.

Entry costs. This is where it starts to get really worrying. £20 to get in could become £50. Can I afford that? No. My season ticket currently around £300 might be nearly £1000. Can I afford that? No. Putting it quite simply following Argyle would be too expensive for me. I wouldn’t be able to go. I wouldn’t be able to share in the moments I have spent almost 50 years yearning hopefully for and my seat would be sold to somebody else. Somebody who could afford it. Probably somebody with rather less time and emotion invested into the club’s fortunes than me. I’d be an Armchair Supporter no more likely to see my team play in the flesh than the Plymouth Reds/Blues/Gooners/Spurs/’Gers/Celts etc are. It’d be the Saturday lunchtime/Sunday afternoon trip to a pub with Sky/BT Sports for me. That’d be as good as it got.

And let’s be vaguely realistic here. Argyle wouldn’t be sweeping away all opposition before them in the EPL (Argyle in the EPL realistic? Just play along, please, if you can.) They’d be scrapping like dogs to avoid relegation. The title would still be impossibly distant. All we’d have to celebrate is getting the 40 or so points needed to stay up and having half an eye on the European qualification places. That’d be it and where’s the glory, where’s the excitement and where’s the fun in that? We’d be a  West Ham United, Stoke City or WBA – and, let’s face it, who aspires to being one of them?
So maybe, just maybe, striving for success for its own sake, striving for goal-driven success is a foolish aspiration. Maybe, just maybe, the true joy comes not from the destination but from the journey itself. We should be offering 100% balls-out commitment to get there in every aspect of everything that we do.

We should never be accepting of stasis and mediocrity because that way we will inevitably fall back, in comparison to others, and eventually know more dark days than sunny ones. We should celebrate the Good Days like billy-o when they come and demand rather more of them because we’ve been starved of them for far too long now.


So back to the original question “how far do we want to go?” the answer is “we’re going to try our damnedest to go all the way, baby!” and there is no need to add the caveats. Just let them rest undefined and unconsidered like the proverbial elephant in the sitting room.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

"If it wasn't for the 10 point deduction we wouldn't have got relegated."

This is always the mantra for fans of teams relegated as a result of administration. And it is true as far as it goes; it was seemingly true for argyle back along. Sadly it is a myth. It is self-delusion. The penalty is set so that it pretty much guarantees relegation for anybody “unlucky” enough to go into admin so admin leading to relegation is hardly a matter of chance more one of design.

And the finger of blame implicit in the statement is pointing in entirely the wrong direction. Clubs, from the boardroom all the way to the terraces, should man up and accept that the reasons they went into admin were avoidable and that it was a potent cocktail of bungling incompetence, Mikawberish hope, willful negligence and/or deliberate strategy that was responsible and “luck” had nothing to do with it.

The exact methodology involved will vary from case to case but essentially they all boil down to the same thing: expenditure has grossly exceded income leading to a build-up of debt which eventually can no longer be supported.

In Argyle’s case as a CCC club we recruited players on contracts that we could ill-afford. That led to a debt-level that in turn led to the sale of a host of important players who were replaced by players of lower quality also on contracts we could ill afford either in cash terms or duration. That relatively weakened squad was decimated by injury, results nose-dived, confidence collapsed, the manager was changed, he introduced more expensive players on contracts that proved to be unsustainable, relegation followed, TV income dropped, crowds dropped, admin followed, another relegation resulted.

The root cause of all of this was over-stretching financially while being successful on the pitch – and who doesn’t want their club to be successful on the pitch? Essentially it was the story of Icarus flying so high that he got too close to the sun that his wax melted and his feathers fell off recast as the fate of a football club for our modern times. I’m by no means a classicist but even I know the story. It is hardly a secret.

So the real problem was getting into debt to start with even though that debt actually built the best XI Argyle has had in decades. It was a problem that by virtue of some huge, for us, transfer income we could have avoided but the same core mistake (players earning wages that were too high on contracts that were guaranteed for too long) were repeated and eventually the wheels came off and we’re right back to admin, the points deduction and relegation again.

We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we paid lower salaries. But we didn’t. We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we stipulated shorter contracts. But we didn’t. We might have avoided the worst excesses of our meltdown had we exit clauses on the contracts. But we didn’t.

So through a mixture of panic, misguided ambition, reckless spending, soft negotiation all coated with either negligence or incompetence we recruited players we never should have signed and probably would not have signed had the offers been shorter, cheaper and less secure. And it was those players who won the points that “would have been enough apart from the points deduction” and those players should never have been donning our famous green shirts in the first place as those points were won.

“Cheating” is a strong word to use but what else is signing players knowing the wherewithal is not there to support them? The fact that we went into admin and were relegated was our own damned fault and not the fault of the Football League rulebook or some sort of freak vendetta. We broke the rules. We cheated. We were punished. And rightly so.

The fact that the dominoes toppled one after the other that did not need to topple and that our club was nearly extinguished forever as a result should never be forgotten and nor should the lunacy that prevailed in our boardroom at the time. A repeat must never be allowed and it is beholden to us as fans to place the blame fairly and squarely where it lies and that is most certainly not with the Football League for applying a sanction that everybody had known was coming for months before it did.

Never again should we afford our owners, whoever they are, the luxury of unquestioning, blind faith in their decision making because failure to question, scrutinise, complain and, if necessary, sound an alarm represents the same bungling incompetence, Mikawberish hope, wilful negligence and/or deliberate strategy in the fanbase as it did all those years ago in the boardroom.

Being vigilant about our club’s management is our duty as supporters not a treasonable activity perpetrated by Quislings.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Here's an idea...

I was reading about Leyton Orient’s current financial difficulties earlier. In case you don’t know it’s yet another variant of the uncaring/incompetent/asset-stripping owner running up an unpaid tax bill (the case is yet to go to court but I am assuming it is income tax related) and HMRC issuing a winding-up order. Usually the winding-up order gets dodged in some way often with the club then being forced into administration during which somebody will put up a token sum of cash in lieu of none at all for the unsecured creditors (of which HMRC is one) at which stage there is a vote the result of which, usually, is to accept the offer because nobody, HMRC apart, wants to see a club fold and vanish.

I don’t really want to focus too much on Leyton Orient; I realise their plight is more complicated than I have suggested above and I’ll leave the detailed ins and outs of it all to their fans to describe but when my club, Plymouth Argyle, went through this process £100,000 was on the table. The unsecured creditors accepted this in place of the approximate £9m they were owed in total, some fees were deducted from the £100,000 and they ended getting paid 0.022% (yes – far less than one quarter of a of one tenth of one percent!) of the sum owed on a pro rata basis. So basically if your debt is unsecured then you’ve more or less had it.

There is something about this that really sticks in my craw. Everything about it sucks. At a stroke the club gets away with running up huge debts that it had long since known was unpayable. Effectively for a while before push comes to shove the club has been trading when insolvent, which is illegal, but nobody is ever brought to account and it is always the creditors that get stiffed. HMRC has been on the wrong end of this lots of times and over the years I’d hate to know how much due tax has been written off – it must be hundreds of mi££ions. HMRC knows though and HMRC hates it and HMRC wants to nail a football club to the mast as a warning to others but has so far not managed to get their trophy (although they went hellishly close to getting Argyle). Maybe they’ll end up with a Leyton Orient-shaped trophy this time. I hope not because I don’t want to see any team fold but I don’t blame them for trying.

The thing here is that HMRC is acting entirely properly. Everybody should pay their tax. I pay mine. Chances are the readers of this will pay theirs. Why should “Football” be any different and not cough up – there’s more than enough money in football after all? And this is not a victimless crime; schools get closed, hospitals are short-staffed, roads are less maintained and God knows what else is affected as a result. This is a very real and very big problem not least because it means either I, along with everybody else, pay more tax than I need to or get services worse than those I have paid for.
In League 2, where both Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle currently ply their trade, the clubs all have to meet the atrociously named Salary Cap Management Protocol (SCMP). In short the money available for team wages must be no more than 55% of income. The Football League monitors this and, so far as I know, nobody has ever been caught flaunting the rule.

This means that clubs have to project income and budget, on paper at least, accordingly meaning that the actual figures involved are known well in advance by both clubs, although it may vary wildly for each, and Football League.

So here’s my idea… At the beginning of each season clubs should pay in advance a sum of money, call it a “bond”, in order to be granted their Golden Share which in turn allows access to League and cup competitions. No Bond = No Golden Share = Nobody to play.
I’m going to make up some numbers now for a fictitious club to illustrate how this might work. If their 55% amounts to £1m then the income tax on that would be about 40% so they would need to put £400,000 into their Bond which the FL would then hold in Trust. No matter what happens to the club over the course of a season it’s tax bill would already effectively be paid. There would never be a mid-season HMRC winding-up order again and Football would not be able to dodge paying its taxes.

Obviously the clubs won’t like this. “Where the hell do we get £400,000 to pay for this?” they’ll say. So bring it in in increments over the next 10 years. Make that club pay £40,000 this time, £80,000 the next and so on. To put that in perspective the initial payment of £40,000 would be covered by the sale of the first 150 or so season tickets at most clubs which would be easily affordable if known well in advance.

This would mean the Football League would be holding a rather substantial sum of money on behalf of the clubs/HMRC (depending on how you look at it) which could be invested to generate an income which could go towards the next year’s Bond or be ploughed back into the game in some way.


And instead of Football being a venal, self-obsessed tax-dodging bastard of an industry it could hold its head high and proclaim proudly that it pays its taxes, that its league structure is financially sound, that the chaos caused by the mid-season liquidation of a club would be avoided and proud old clubs like Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle would be confident that their future was assured.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Apolitical



“The word 'apolitical' has to be the worst in the English language. EVERYTHING is political.” – Sam Down (aka @GreenSamPAFC)

What Sam has said is so obvious it hardly needs saying but his saying it has struck a chord with me. In an Argyle context one of the, rather weak it has to be said, oft repeated statements used to justify any number of topics is “nobody is interested in the politics; they just want to have a couple of pints, go to a match and watch their team play football”. Well I want to sink a pint or two and then watch my team play football but it hardly stops there, does it? Not if you are intellectually adult, for want of a better phrase, anyway.

How might you have travelled to the game? Train, bus, car, coach, aeroplane, Shanks’s pony? Those things are fuelled by diesel or electric or petrol or pasties (other foodstuffs are available – so I am told). So there’s road tax, duty and/or VAT to be paid for them and that money comes out of your wages (also taxed of course). So if you think the price you pay is too high you need to pay less tax which in turn means that we can afford lower pensions for our elderly or fewer soldiers, hospitals or teachers. Don’t grumble about any of them being cut or under-resourced if you want a cheaper tank of petrol. Like it or not that’s politics.Or maybe it takes too long to travel. Maybe there is a poor bus or train service or maybe the roads are chockers with traffic. Politics again: it is our government at local and national level that sets transport infra-structure and that is paid for by taxes.

Once at a game political decisions have been taken to ensure that standing to watch a game is now all but prohibited everywhere. You aren’t allowed to stand should you wish to because politicians somewhere passed the law making it illegal to do so. We can’t drink a beer on the terraces at a football match (unlike at a cricket or rugby match – despite rugby, of course, often being played in exactly the same stadia with fans sitting in exactly the same seats) because politicians say we can’t.

The philosophy behind the way a club is run is political and you can see the differing models at different clubs of various sizes up and down the country. So the ownership model of your club is political. The profits and/or losses that your club makes impacts on the tax it pays and that affects roads, hospitals, schools, police, the military and everything else. All political once again.

Taking the politics out of football is impossible just as taking politics out of everything else is. I can’t help but wonder why anybody would espouse the “just watch the football” line unless their motivation lies elsewhere and they are saying one thing to achieve another all of which is very Machiavellian (and Machiavelli was, of course, a politician).

It is very, very clear that the Apolitical Thing is completely nonsensical on many practical levels but the real killer is the paradox that any decision to attempt to be apolitical is in itself a definably political one meaning that whatever the grounds for saying it and whatever the desired objective might be the cause is immediately lost as soon as it is mentioned.

Or it does in the post-child world anyway.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Tony Capaldi



I’m using Tony Capaldi here as an example here to make a wider point.

Tony Capaldi was once our left back. He didn’t ever really set the world alight but at our level he was steady and that was about as much praise as you could put his way. He wasn’t especially quick and he wasn’t great in the tackle. When it came to heading the ball he was basically weak. He was accursed by his natural body language too: his round shouldered loping up and down the pitch didn’t ever look like he was 100% going for it even though he probably was. His right foot was, let’s be honest, as weak as his heading.

So they are the negatives. There were positives too. He was pretty cool under pressure. His left foot was very good. His first touch was good. He played shape exceptionally well and could offer himself as a long-thrower at throw-ins.

After leaving us he played most of his football at a decent level with Cardiff and Leeds while we simply headed south.

He was never much of a crowd favourite despite winning over 20 caps for N Ireland while he was with us to make him our most-capped ever player.

So what do we want from a left back? Speed! Obviously. Tackles like a man possessed. Yep – that too. Got to be able to defend back post crosses and cover out-of-position centre backs so needs to be good in the air. He’s got to be able to offer width going forward and get a cross in. Maybe take corners? Will need a good engine to get back after foraging forward. Ideally have an eye for goal, a shot like Hotshot Hamish and maybe take free licks. Good first touch essential just because it is and a cool head too – we don’t want him getting sent off every week, do we?

So why doesn’t such a player play for Argyle? That’s because, if he exists at all, he’s far, far too good to play at our level! A player that ticks those boxes will be a PL player. Maybe even get recruited into Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.

All of the players we have are the best we can field with what we have. They are all limited in some way. They’ll all make mistakes. Quite simply we have to live with this because the perfect left back doesn’t exist and if he did he wouldn’t be playing for us.

As long as he is trying his best that is all we can ask. After that it is the manager’s fault for picking him or for squandering his budget or the chairman’s fault for setting a budget too tight to enable the signing of a decent player in that position.

So let’s not pick on Tony Capaldi, eh?

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