An original, comprehensive and thoroughly researched account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.Important copyright conditions:
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An original account of Plymouth Argyle Football Club from its earliest roots to the present day.
This is a printed representation of one chapter of GoS's History of Argyle (www.greensonscreen.co.uk/argylehistorymenu.asp), provided for ease of reading and personal retention. Inevitably it lacks links to associated pages, including match and player records, and its layout has been simplified to allow page breaks. Note also that Greens on Screen's online History of Argyle will be updated and new material added from time to time.
COPYRIGHT: the strict conditions for use of this printed version are the same for the corresponding online page, as specified on that page.
Chapter 14: 1930-1934
The story continues into the 1930s, with Argyle's first taste of the Second Division. Big names, big scores and big attendances, but managing the club's finances continued to be its greatest challenge.
Authors: Colin Parsons and Steve Dean [about the authors]
THE SUMMER OF 1930
After a decade of near misses, the Second Division had finally arrived! New teams whetted the appetite – Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hostspur, Preston North End, Bradford Park Avenue, Burnley, Stoke - these were exciting times for a club that had never played regularly on the national stage. But for the Board of Directors the summer of 1930 was a time of considerable worry and pressure. The step-up to the Football League's second tier would bring a higher standard of football and bigger crowds, but also greater expectations. Income would increase, but so would expenditure, especially because of significantly greater travel costs.
Mr A.C. Ballard
Despite the unprecedented success of the promotion season, Plymouth Argyle remained in debt. Twelve months earlier the club found itself with an overdraft of over £7,000, with its players its only real assets. The board was under great pressure to sell, and when a First Division club offered a considerable sum for three of the forward line, the board found itself at a crossroads. Their decision, that the long awaited promotion could only be achieved by retaining their best players, resulted in the Chairman, Mr Elliot-Square, issuing a plea to the people of Plymouth and in particular, local businessmen. The club's faith in its supporters paid off; attendances rose and pledges came forward, with a particularly significant gift of 500 guineas (£525) from Mr A.C. Ballard, a wealthy philanthropist who settled in Plymouth in 1923 and who had built the Ballard Institute in Millbay Road, a club for boys from poor families. This gift to Plymouth Argyle marked the start of a long and generous association with the club, and a year later he was made president of both the football club and the supporters' club, roles that he held until his death in 1942. [Albert Casanova Ballard's name live on today in Ballard House in Millbay Road, The Ballard Activity Centre in The Crescent ('Ballards', as was), and The Albert Casanova Ballard Deceased Trust.] The promotion season ended with the club's overdraft halved and other historical liabilities liquidated. The board's faith in the people of Plymouth had paid off, but they were only too aware that serious challenges lay ahead.
MAJOR HOME PARK IMPROVEMENTS
Encouraged by the improvement in the club's finances, the directors, who were tenants of Home Park at the will of Plymouth Corporation, applied for a more secure lease. A 14-year deal was agreed at £250 per annum, plus £40 per annum for the land at Higher Home Park, but conditions were applied that required improvements to the sanitary arrangements, the introduction of modern drainage and the erection of new fences, which meant an immediate outlay of about £1,500. Further discussions with the Council revealed a need for additional entrances and exits, and the state of the Grandstand was thought to be so serious that the directors consulted Mr E. H. A. Barron, a well known Plymouth architect, to assess its condition. In the interests of public safety, Mr Barron advised that the continued use of the old stand was out of the question. The grand old structure, which has withstood Plymouth's winters for nearly 40 years, had had its day.
The Spooner Stand (pictured in 1912)
Home Park had changed very little since its construction in 1893, except for the addition of the Spooner Stand in 1904 (also known as the Flowerpot or Small Stand), a small covered area in the north-west corner of the ground that gave shelter to some 700 standing spectators. Apart from the grandstand on the south side, Home Park was surrounded by uncovered and unterraced banking, which afforded little comfort for the paying public. There was no doubt that a new stand had to be built, and quickly, not just to provide basic comfort, but also for the club to benefit from the increased income that would follow. The condemned stand could only accommodate 1,270 spectators, a limitation that had had a significant effect in the promotion season. With seats priced at 2/- and 3/- (10p & 15p), a full stand would have brought in approximately £150 per game, but manager Bob Jack reported that the club lost an average of £100 per match in the promotion season because of refunds that had to be given once the stand was full. Ticket allocation, it seems, was not a sophisticated process. So over £2,000 was lost that season because of inadequate seating accommodation, and that must have been in forefront of the directors' minds as they considered their options.
It was a race against time, so the directors quickly commissioned plans for a larger grandstand with modern facilities. Contracts were signed with John Lysaght, an engineering firm in Bristol, for the steel skeleton; and with J.W. Spencer, a local firm, for the detailed building work. The overall costs was expected to be £11,000, and the vice-chairman and honorary treasurer, Mr Alfred Gard, issued a plea for guarantors to come forward at £1,000 each so that a bank loan could be secured.
Above: the original grandstand (photo taken around the turn of the century).
Below: a sketch of the proposed new grandstand by its designer, Mr E.H.A Barron, published in June 1930.
The new structure, 270 feet long and 53 feet deep, would accommodate 3,135 spectators in 22 rows, two and a half times the capacity of the old stand. The seating was designed in three sections: the Peverell wing (to accommodate 1,060), the Devonport wing (615) and the centre stand (1,460), which included a directors' box and a press box, with each seat having a back in centre section. The Peverell end and the rear of the stand was enclosed, but the Devonport side was left open.
Within weeks of the end of the season, the old grandstand had been demolished, and not a hard-hat or high visibility jacket in sight. In the background, the open bank at the Devonport end of the ground.
Alongside the rapidly extending steel frame of the new grandstand, a sale of timber from the old structure.
By the end of June the old stand had been demolished and the rebuild was underway. Men worked in three shifts, day and night, with a generator installed to provide rudimentary lighting. In early August the building company's bricklayers downed tools because of a dispute at another of the firm's sites near Ivybridge, and there was a real risk that the start-of-season deadline would be missed. But the dispute was resolved and after a great deal of hard work - and sleepless nights for the directors - Home Park's brand new grandstand was opened for the start of the new campaign.
From the pitch there was a gradual slope for the enclosure, which accommodated around 4,000 standing spectators, with the front seats of the grandstand about 11 feet above pitch level. Beneath the seats were dressing rooms for home and visiting teams, including baths, a third dressing room for the rare occasions when there was more than one match in a day, the referee's room, an ambulance room, a gymnasium, two large refreshment rooms, stores and other necessary accommodation. There was also a boiler room to provide central heating and ample supplies of hot and cold water, with the whole place electrically lit. On the first floor was the board room, a directors' room, secretary's office, and a ladies retiring room. An inscription in the new home dressing room read:
If you think you are beaten you are,
If you think you dare not you don't,
If you like to win, but think you can't,
It's fifty to one you won't.
A year later, when Mr Ballard was made the club's president, he marked the occasion with a gift of £500 to help build an extension at the west end of the grandstand, which provided a standing terrace for approximately 3,000 people under an extended grandstand roof. In less than 18 months, Home Park's southern side had been completely transformed. Sadly, it survived just 11 years, with the Luftwaffe's incendiary bombs making the most of its wooden flooring.
But the dramatic change to the south side of Home Park was not the only ground development in the summer of 1930. Independent of the club's new grandstand, the Supporters' Club decided to make its own mark by building a roof over the popular area behind the goal at the west (Devonport) end of the ground, so addressing one of the main complaints at that time: on wet days, for the ordinary working man, Home Park's facilities were totally inadequate. To meet the overall estimate of £1,700, the Supporters' Club contributed £800 from its fundraising collections, Mr Ballard once again made a contribution (£400 this time), and the remaining £500 was to be funded by a loan, repaid at £40 per month, plus 5% interest.
A sketch of a proposed roof for the popular area behind the Devonport goal, to be built by the Supporters' Club.
The stand, 185 feet in length and 75 feet deep, comprised a steel frame clad with corrugated iron, and was enclosed at the back and at the northern end. At first it was envisaged that components of the old grandstand roof could be re-used, but that proved to be unrealistic because the materials were found to be in a very poor state. Unfortunately, the £1,700 budget did not allow for the bank under to roof to be terraced, but that was the intention when funds permitted. When completed in October 1930, the Devonport roof offered shelter for 6,000 spectators, rising to 7,000 when the terracing could be addressed. It was formally handed to the club, free of debt by that stage, the following April at a packed meeting of the Supporters' Club in the Co-operative Hall, Frankfort Street. Addressed by the famous Charlie Buchan (then pronounced "Bo-kan") of Sunderland, Arsenal and England, the meeting heard that the final cost of the stand was less that estimated (£1,511) and that the debt had been finally discharged 14 days before. There was special mention of the Ladies' Committee for their "yeoman work" in raising funds.
By the end of 1930, a new grandstand with standing area in front, and a roof for the Devonport end of the ground, dwarfing the Spooner Stand in the north-west corner.
In early 1932 the Devonport cover was extended at a cost of £373 to give it its distinctive shape at its southern end, and taking it to within touching distance of the so-called Ballard extension of the grandstand, which had just been completed at a cost of £1,450. The Devonport roof lasted nearly 50 years and formed a special atmosphere for generations of 'Devonport Enders' until it was demolished in 1977.
The earliest known aerial photo of Home Park, taken in August 1933, showing the dramatic changes in the Home Park landscape, including the Devonport and Grandstand extensions. Also by this time, all of the standing areas had been terraced, and three years later the iconic main entrance was erected.
1930-31: ARGYLE'S FIRST TASTE OF THE SECOND DIVISION
The opening game of the season: police constables order fans down from the Spooner Stand roof.
Harry Cann battles against the Everton firepower, with the legendary Dixie Dean in the centre.
The new era could not have begun with a better fixture: the visit of Everton, who had just been relegated but who went on to win promotion that season. Unfortunately, Argyle lost the game 3-2 but the Everton side, who included famous players such as Dixie Dean and Warney Cresswell, won the division with 61 points, and went on to win the First Division a year later and, the year after, the FA Cup. However, in that first game there was little between the sides, with Tommy Grozier and Jack Leslie scoring the Argyle goals. 34,236 eager spectators packed a very different looking Home Park on that last Saturday in August, a record crowd which was all the more remarkable because the roof at the Devonport end of the pitch was still under construction. The trek to Home Park must have been a cause for excitement too; seven months earlier the Mayor of Plymouth cut the first sod to mark the start of the transformation of farmland and other ground into the new 'Central Park' - heralded as "the jewel in the crown of the city's unbeatable beauty". Central Park's 234 acres, including the five acre car park, was officially opened in July 1931, but even at this early stage the new 'roads' through the park - the tree-lined avenues that we know today - were clearly evident. Sadly the return trip to play at Goodison Park served as a rude awakening in the Christmas week when Argyle lost 9-1 in front of a crowd of over 37,000. Dixie Dean bagged four in the game to remind everyone of the gulf between the top teams and the rest. However, in mitigation, Argyle had beaten Cardiff 5-1 in the Boxing Day fixture the day before, and then faced the gruelling 10-hour overnight train journey to Liverpool immediately afterwards. The Everton side had not played since before Christmas and to make matters worse, the game was spoilt by a very high wind and a dreadful pitch. Despite the avalanche of goals, Harry Cann's heroics kept the score down and he deservedly received a standing ovation at the end of the match. Everton came to Home Park two weeks later to knock Argyle out of the FA Cup in the third round by two goals to nil. On this occasion the crowd was 33,000 (and the receipts recorded as £2,664. 18s). In the 17th minute of that game, Everton were awarded a very dubious corner from which international Jimmy Dunn scored from a header just inside the post. It was later revealed that Dunn had broken his collar bone during the game but, with no substitutes in those days, he played on with his arm strapped to his side. Argyle conceded a second goal when Jimmy Stein beat Harry Cann with a shot into the top corner. The referee who had awarded the controversial corner was Watford headmaster Stanley Rous, later to become the long-standing chairman of FIFA.
Despite the Everton defeats, Argyle gave some impressive performances, including two wins over West Bromwich Albion, who were also promoted. Indeed, West Brom beat Birmingham City in the Cup Final and established a record as the only Second Division side to win the Cup. The home game in January was played in torrential rain and this suited Argyle rather than the Albion, whose short passes often stuck in the mud. In the event Argyle won the game 5-1 and Jack Vidler scored a memorable hat-trick. The other goals were scored by Sammy Black, who dribbled through the defence before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Harold Pearson, and Ray Bowden, who latched on to a back-pass that got stuck in the mud.
Promotion had seen the departure of stalwarts Fred Craig and Moses Russell – both of whom had been regarded as wonderful servants of the club. Harry Cann, the luckless goalkeeper who picked the ball out of the net nine times at Goodison Park, was Craig's replacement. Born in Tintagel in 1905, Cann signed for Argyle in 1927 and, having succeeded Craig at the turn of the decade, went on to make 232 appearances before moving on to Fulham in 1939. He retired after just one season in the wartime league and returned to play for his hometown club in Tintagel until he was 50. Also new to the side was Harry Roberts, renowned as a tough tackler who took no prisoners and frequently upset referees. The cry of "hang him on the railings, Harry" could often be heard across Home Park. He played 257 games for the club and scored 22 goals, often penalties, before he moved to Bristol Rovers in 1937.
The crowd were not used to defeats at Home Park (of which there were eight) and long journeys to away games often meant hours spent on trains. It is to the credit of those supporters that over 700 travelled to Tottenham by train and witnessed a creditable draw. Argyle attendances in that season averaged 19,262, putting them fourth in the division behind Tottenham (28,148), Everton (26,039) and West Bromwich Albion (19,816).
1931-32: THE PILGRIMS' BEST SEASON SO FAR
There was a recognition during the inaugural Second Division season that the rather academic brand of football to which Argyle's Scottish manager was attached was less effective against the faster, quicker-in-thought and more robust teams that the club now faced. They had managed to stay up (in 18th place) in their first Second Division season and went into the 1931-32 campaign with more or less the same team, although it was augmented by several additions. Bob Jack recognised the need for better quality players and the directors gave him a free hand. Bill Harper was signed from Arsenal, becoming Argyle's fifth international goalkeeper and the first to have played for Scotland. He was born in Lanarkshire in 1897 and trained as a blacksmith before entering the Scots Guards, where he became their heavyweight boxing champion and captain of their rugby team. He turned to professional football with Hibernian and gained 11 Scotland caps between 1923 and 1926, having left for Arsenal in 1925 for a fee of £4,500, where he played 45 times in his first two seasons. He missed the 1927 FA Cup Final through injury (the famous "slippery jersey" game), but went on to win a League championship medal in 1930-31 and then signed for Argyle at the age of 34, making his debut on Boxing Day 1932. Harper was bought primarily as a reserve player but he took Harry Cann's place for two seasons. He was no longer a regular after 1934 but still made an appearance at the end of the decade at the age of 42. After hanging up his gloves he became the club's trainer, groundsman, kit manager and, finally, barman in the reception area, where he was well known for his covert nips of whisky. Bill Harper died in 1989 at the age of 93 and his name lives on in the field named after him – Harper's Park. Archie Gorman and George Reed also arrived and performances became more consistent. Although Reed only featured in 47 games he went on to become a loyal and effective first team trainer.
Argyle finished 1931-32 in fourth place in the second tier, only equalled once (in 1952-53) and never beaten.
The 1931-32 season became one of the best in the club's history. Argyle scored 100 goals that year and finished fourth in the league table. Football standards were high and Argyle began to establish a reputation at national level. They scored five goals against Nottingham Forest, Bury and Oldham and beat Southampton 6-0. On January 9th 1932, Argyle met Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup (United were then a mid-table Second division club, finishing the season well below Argyle). The match was played in a high wind and driving rain so there was a crowd of only 27,000; more than 9,000 fewer than saw a 5-1 victory over Bury a fortnight before. However, the stay-aways missed an excellent game which Argyle won 4-1 with two goals by Tommy Grozier and one each by Jack Vidler and John Pullen. United had been relegated the season before and the game did not attract the attention it certainly would have some decades later. Argyle were the younger and fitter side and thoroughly deserved their win. In the fourth round they drew the mighty Arsenal, then league champions, at Highbury. The game attracted a record crowd for The Gunners, over 65,000 spectators and receipts of £4,540, with the gates shut 40 minutes before kick-off and tube trains to the ground stopped. Locals tried to persuade young Argyle fans to creep under the turnstiles so they could acquire their tickets and there were many injuries on the packed terraces. Argyle opened the scoring when Jack Leslie hit the crossbar before Jack Vidler scored from the rebound. It was then Sammy Black's turn to hit the bar and Arsenal only equalised on 33 minutes when both Pullen and Reed were off the field receiving attention. They went on to score two quick goals before Leslie scored Argyle's second and a fourth just ten minutes from the end. The 2-4 defeat was full of controversy, especially after Arsenal had objected to the choice of Jack Wiltshire, as referee because he hailed from Exeter. Not only had Sammy Black hit the underside of the bar but Vidler had trod on the ball when he should have scored. This was followed by a succession of poor refereeing decisions. Sammy Black was felled in the penalty area and then another penalty was denied when Arsenal's John pulled the ball down with his hands in the penalty area and the referee did not see it. A foul was given for a tackle by Pullen on Alec James in which he clearly played the ball, from which Lambert scored with the back of his head. Pullen was then carried off, followed soon afterwards by Reed with a badly cut head. The game ended with Argyle storming the Arsenal goal, but to no avail. A defeat, but not such a bad result, especially as Arsenal had beaten Darwen in the previous round 11-1!
A team line-up in the record-breaking 1931-32 season. This remarkably clear photo was taken at Wolves on Easter Saturday in March 1932, with the players in suits having travelled to cover two away matches (Argyle played at Oldham the day before).
Back: Frank Sloan, Harry Bland, Harry Roberts, Bill Harper, Len Birks, Tommy Haynes, George Reed.
Middle: Tommy Grozier, Ray Bowden, Jack Vidler, Jack Leslie, Sammy Black, John Pullen.
Front: Norman MacKay, Alec Hardie.
Argyle' biggest margin of victory - equalled at Hartlepool in 1994 but never beaten - was secured on 16th January 1932 when they beat Millwall 8-1 in front of nearly 16,000 home fans. This was the week before the Arsenal cup-tie, having already beaten Manchester United in the third round a week before. Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman travelled to Plymouth to watch his Cup opponents, and he must have been impressed. The Pilgrims were only 1-0 up at half time after Jack Vidler had run from the half-way line to score, but they mounted very strong second half pressure and were awarded six successive corners, from the last of which Jack Leslie scored. Millwall drew back to 2-1 but Vidler, Bowden and Black made the score 5-1. The sixth was an own-goal and Vidler and Bowden added the final two.
1932-33: LIVING UP TO THE PROMISE
The Western Morning News on the 16th July 1932 gave a fascinating insight into the players' close-season activities. Under the eye-catching headline "Argyle Players Go To Sea In Trawler", it said: "There remain now but three weeks before the Association football players will be reporting for duty. As is customary, the Plymouth Argyle players will be reporting the day after the August Bank holiday, many of them, of course, having to travel down from their native Scotland, where they have been enjoying the close season. The few players who have been in Plymouth during the summer have passed the time in various ways. Most of them are keen cricketers, notably Jack Leslie and Fred Titmiss, and following the trip which some of the players had last summer, a week at sea with one of the steam trawlers is the attraction. Several of the Argyle players will be experiencing the adventures of a week's trawling in the steam trawler Stormcock. This week Fred McKenzie and Harry Bland are at sea with this trawler, and next week Jack Leslie and Bill Harper will follow them."
The 1932-33 season began with its usual optimism. Jack Hodge, editor of the Football Herald, predicted another successful campaign ending in promotion to the First Division. He felt that the directors were also buoyant and had invested in the team. Again, Bob Jack had scoured Scottish football for new players and brought in Jimmy Rae and John Simpson from Partick Thistle as well as left-back Willie Johnstone from Irvine Meadow – who only ever played one game. The season started well enough with seven wins from the first nine games including victories over Preston and Charlton. However, they managed only three wins in their next fifteen matches and dropped down the table. A key blow came in March when Raymond Bowden was transferred to Arsenal. He had been recruited as a 17-year-old playing for Looe, having scored 100 goals in a season. There were initial fears about his strength but he soon established himself as a real prospect and became a fixture in the side between 1928 and 1933, playing 153 games and scoring 85 goals. He signed for Arsenal for £5,000, then a club record, and went on to win six England caps, eventually opening his sports shop in Plymouth and modestly supplying local footballers with their boots.
In 1932, club president Mr Ballard made a ground-breaking suggestion to the Football League: that the Argyle players might travel to distant away games by air. The League Management Committee turned down the idea, but on 15th October 1932, when Argyle played away at Stoke, a party of directors and club officials did fly to the game, leaving Plymouth on the morning of the match and returning the following day. The journey was paid for by Mr Ballard and took two and a quarter hours, whilst the players travelled by train, taking eight hours each way.
Another innovation introduced by Archie Ballard at this time was for youngsters from the Ballard Institute to act as 'mascot ball boys' (also referred to as 'goal-boys'). Six of his charges were dressed in uniforms in Argyle colours to "stand at intervals around the playing pitch to fetch the ball when it passes out of play".
A novel attraction occurred on 28th January 1933 when Argyle hosted their second foreign visitors – First Vienna from Austria in front of a crowd of 16,000. The pitch was frozen solid and there was a very high wind. Argyle drew 1-1 and saw an exhibition of 'continental' football. The team moved from a defensive midfield formation to five attackers very quickly. Their wingers rarely crossed the ball but passed it to feet. They man-marked players religiously and Sammy Black was shadowed as never before. They had been warned of very strong English tackling but were pleasantly surprised by the honesty of the Argyle players – although the 'friendly' status of the game and the frozen pitch might have had a lot to do with it. Photographs of the game show shivering players and a pitch which resembled a ploughed field – although the Vienna players did go home with a silk handkerchief each as a memento of the game!
Above: the charred timbers of the Spooner Stand, badly damaged by fire in April 1933.
Below: the stand still standing, albeit truncated, in Home Park's first aerial photograph, taken in the August.
In the early hours of Sunday 23rd April 1933, a fire broke out in the Spooner Stand in the north-west corner of Home Park. Two fire engines arrived from Devonport and Plymouth fire stations to find flames reaching 30 feet into the night sky, but fortunately the outbreak was at the western end, which was on the leeward side, so with two jets of water playing on the blaze the firemen managed to contain the damage. It was presumed that the cause was a cigarette end that had been smouldering since the match with Millwall the previous afternoon. One third of the stand, which was made entirely of wood, was completely gutted but the remainder was re-opened for the following campaign. Bizarrely, reporting on the first match of the following season (at home to Manchester United), the Western Morning News described a fire that broke out during the game in the Spooner Stand. Presumed to have been caused once again by a smouldering cigarette, it was stamped out by spectators but drew the attention of police and ambulance men. Five years later, on a Saturday evening in September 1938, a fire broke out once again in the Spooner Stand. A hose was run from a hydrant in the corner of the car park, and but for the prompt action of the Fire Brigade, the stand would have been very badly damaged.
Argyle finished the 1932-33 season with 16 wins and 17 defeats in 42 games, with 63 goals for and 67 against. Overall this was disappointing after a promising first half of the season. There were a number of key injuries but the Reserves did manage to win the new Southern League Cup Competition. Attendances fell so that revenue was £2,500 below that of the previous season, and receipts from the FA Cup were £4,000 down. Season tickets also brought in £553 less, partly accounted for by an increase in Entertainment Tax to £4,363 5s. In view of this the directors decided to revert to the former season ticket prices for the new 1933-34 season of £1 for the ground and £2 or £3 in the stand. The club continued to pay out more in 'gate' receipts than it received from away games, the difference being £551 8s 9d. The final profit on the season was small: £175 7s 5d but over £700 had been written off in depreciation against the new stand and the directors considered the overall financial position to be sound.
1933-34: HOME PARK'S RECORD ATTENDANCE?
The summer of 1933 saw a hive of activity around three sides of Home Park. The enclosure under the grandstand had been terraced 12 months before, but after months of deliberation, Plymouth City Council agreed to terrace the two ends and the popular side in exchange for a rent increase of £150 per year over the following ten years, which the Supporters' Club agreed to pay. Watching from a slope, especially in large crowds, was an uncomfortable experience; over the years it was not unknown for spectators to climb the fence and go onto the pitch at half-time to relieve their aching legs, sometimes delaying kick-off in the second half. The Council was eager to find work for the long-term unemployed, so a terracing scheme was devised to create employment for 40-50 men for the four months of the close season, at an estimated cost of £3,682. Men were chosen from those who received assistance from the Public Assistance Committee, with preference given to the unskilled with the largest families and who had been the longest without a job. The work was completed in time for the new season, which began with two home games - a 4-0 win over Manchester United (who only just escaped relegation to Division Three North that season) and a 4-4 draw against West Ham United. By the end of August, over 50,000 had enjoyed eight goals and two much more comfortable visits to Home Park, which, in only three years, had changed out of all recognition.
Argyle brought in several new players for the new season, although some only played a few games. Jimmy Cookson arrived from West Bromwich Albion and scored a remarkable 27 goals from 29 games in his first season. In all nine new players arrived, including Tommy Black from Arsenal and George Briggs from Birmingham City. Bill Harper replaced Tommy Haynes as trainer and Fred Axworthy became the club masseur. The loss of Jack Leslie for most of the season through injury was undoubtedly a factor that accounted for little improvement on the pitch, with 15 matches won and 14 lost – finishing tenth in the final league table. The Reserves won the Southern League Cup again.
Jimmy Cookson gives Argyle the lead
In the January, Argyle met Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup. The Yorkshire side were a formidable team in those days, second only to Arsenal in the First Division, and fans poured into Plymouth from all over the South West, most notably from Cornwall where public transport ran non-stop. Queues at the ground began at 7 o'clock in the morning and the gates were finally opened early. The car park soon filled (in 1934!) and it took an hour and a half to clear it after the match. Jimmy Cookson scored for Argyle after 20 minutes, following a corner taken by Harry Roberts, and thoughts were already on the next round when Huddersfield equalised with just 90 seconds to go, scrambled in by George McLean following a cross from the right. Total silence greeted the goal and heads were bowed as fans left the stadium with a mixture of shock and disappointment. Sadly, four days later Argyle lost the replay 6-2.
The Huddersfield game drew cars from all parts of Devon and Cornwall, and it took an hour and a half after the match for the 1,800 cars to leave the park.
The Western Weekly News gave a fascinating insight into the impact that the FA Cup tie had on the people of the Westcountry. Under the headline of "Cheers at Exeter", it reported: "The only cheers heard at St James's Park during the friendly fixture between Exeter City and Corinthians was at half time, when the scoreboard showed Plymouth Argyle leading Huddersfield Town. There could have been no better evidence of the friendliness which still exists between the City and their old rivals. Apart from that outburst, the crowd were singularly silent, even for a friendly. It may be that they found difficulty in keeping their thoughts away from Home Park. Many hundreds journeyed to Plymouth and there is no doubt that the majority at St James's Park would have joined the exodus had circumstances permitted."
Health and Safety, 1930s-style: a man with a megaphone packs the crowd into the enclosure in front of the grandstand.
The total attendance was 8,000 more than the ground had previously held; Home Park's record had been well and truly broken, but there is a mystery over the actual figure that day. The first report of the game came in the Football Herald, but no attendance was given, hardly surprising because the paper was hot off the press after the final whistle and no doubt before the gate was announced. Unfortunately, the focus of the report in Monday's Evening Herald was on Wednesday's replay so, again, no count was given. However, Monday's Western Morning News stated in four places that the attendance was 44,526, which was also the figure given by the Western Weekly News at the end of that week, and by that Sunday's edition of the Western Independent, albeit rounded to 44,500. The Times on the Monday following the game, under a heading of "FA Cup Official Figures", listed all the Cup ties of the day, and again recorded Home Park's attendance as 44,526, and receipts of £3,205. All seemed crystal clear until the following summer when the Directors' Report in the 1934-35 club handbook said that the Huddersfield gate was 43,426 (1,100 fewer), with marginally lower receipts of £3,178 4s 6d (which, incidentally, is a 2.5% reduction in attendance but only a 0.8% reduction in receipts).
The reason that this is important is that two years later, the league match against Aston Villa attracted a crowd of 43,596, and if the lower figure for the Huddersfield Cup tie is to be believed, the Villa attendance is Home Park's record. Indeed, football publications in general list the Aston Villa game as Argyle's highest turnout, as do most books on Argyle, although interestingly the latest book, 'Plymouth Argyle: The Complete Record' by Ryan Danes, bucks the trend by siding with the higher figure for the Huddersfield game. Perhaps the Directors' lower count was a correction issued after the Huddersfield match reports, but, if it was, the message did not get through to long-standing reporter 'Tamar' in the Western Morning News, who, in previewing the following season's third round tie against Bolton Wanderers, said once again that the record was 44,526. Even more puzzling is Tamar's preview of the Aston Villa match in late September 1936, when he speculated that the attendance record could be broken. It was nearly three years after the Huddersfield game, but he again said that the record stood at 44,526. The sting in that tail, however, comes in Tamar's report of the Villa game itself - written only a couple of weeks later - where he said that the previous record of 43,426 had been broken.
The answer to the confusion probably comes in a report in the Western Morning News on 9th August 1934, around the same time that the club handbook would have been issued, which gave details of the "revenue account and balance sheet of Plymouth Argyle Football Club for the year ended May 5th 1934". The report shines light on many aspects of the club's finances, and since no official club documents now remain, this seems as close to the truth as we are ever likely to find. In the details of the season it states the lower crowd figure for the Huddersfield tie that January. Thus, the Aston Villa attendance in October 1936 should be considered the record that still stands today, and, in all likelihood, will never be broken.
Sadly the profit of the previous year turned into a loss on the 1933-34 season of £2,656. Revenue from gates dropped by £4,314, even though there were record receipts from the Huddersfield Cup tie. The best league attendance was 25,700 against Manchester United on the opening day of the season and the lowest was 6,368 for Hull City. More was paid in transfers than was received, and benefits paid to Grozier, Leslie and Mackay all contributed to an overall wage increase of £1,800.
Once again the club's finances were a real concern, which, a year later, led to upheaval in the boardroom.
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