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.