This is an article I recently wrote for Groundtastic, a quarterly, subscription-based publication dedicated to football grounds.  Click here for their website and how to subscribe.

The 1990s? Don’t talk to a Plymouth Argyle fan about the 1990s, a dreadful decade when the club descended to the basement division for the first and second times in its history. Yet despite the chronic decline on the pitch, grandiose plans were afoot to build a new all-purpose stadium, leisure and commercial complex just a stone’s throw from Home Park. Enthusiastically proposed by the city council, who own Home Park, the plans were met with suspicion by Argyle’s controversial millionaire chairman. In a complete reversal of the usual story, the local authority wanted it, the supporters wanted it, yet the club stonewalled.

Just when the stand-off seemed permanent, and the club’s decline ominously terminal, there was a sudden and unexpected change of fortunes. In May 2000 a shift of power in the council chamber coincided with a mellowing stance from the enigmatic chairman, who, as we now know, was in the twilight if his reign. A new plan emerged based on wholesale redevelopment around the existing pitch. For some £9 million, a third of the original proposal, Home Park would be transformed. The green light came when the club and council agreed a new long-term lease for Home Park in June 2001, signalling frantic activity in the summer months. In July the chairman moved over and a new board moved in, all long-term Argyle fans, young blood and fresh ideas (well, mostly young, but to universal delight also included one of the Pilgrims’ oldest fans, the Rt Hon Michael Foot).

In August, Barr Construction (of St Mary’s Southampton fame) moved in. For the first six months of last season, home and away fans watched their football from just one touchline. In February 2002 Phase 1 was finished; three continuous stands seating some 13,500 fans. For the remaining games in a record-breaking season, attendances doubled (and more) and the facilities were warmly praised. Perhaps it was only after occupation that we really understood the aim of the redevelopment. Outside: a modest structure with low maintenance overheads, blending with the parkland surroundings. Inside: excellent views, comfortable facilities but with few extravagant touches. True value for money.

And what of Phase 2? The plan was to replace the remaining grandstand, built in the early 1950s and based on Leitch principles, with a new three-tiered structure to complete the bowl, beginning immediately after the last match of this campaign. Sadly, but no doubt wisely, the club has deferred activity for one year to allow the game’s financial turmoil to settle and for new funding opportunities to be explored, including the potential for a joint venture with the city’s educational establishments. So will it ever be built? Absolutely! The club’s change of fortunes has been staggering. Out with the old and in with the new, out with chronic pessimism and in with unprecedented optimism, out with relegations and in with our first championship for 50 years. The spirit and determination in every corner of Home Park is there for all to see. In 2003 a spanking-new, joined-up stadium seating 18,500 (and capable of expansion to 25,000) will achieve just one of the aims of the board’s five year plan to take the club back where it belongs.  

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