Peter Ridsdale’s decision to change Plymouth Argyle’s manager now is kinder on Peter Reid than it might first appear.
Carl Fletcher will have more than just the Green Army cheering on his charges when his caretaker stint begins in earnest. The former Wales international has been handed the Pilgrims’ managerial reins on a temporary basis after the dismissal of Peter Reid, and his first test as boss is against Macclesfield at Home Park this Saturday.
The League Two fixture will see ‘Fans Reunited‘, as faithful followers of Brighton and other clubs descend on the crisis-hit Devon outfit to lend their voices and show solidarity for Argyle’s plight.
It’s a reciprocal gesture after a 14-year-old Argyle supporter inspired the original ‘Fans United’ day over 14 years ago, when the Goldstone Ground attendance was swelled to nearly 8,500 thanks to the presence of a mix of match-goers from up and down the country appalled at the asset-stripping, slow death inflicted on Albion by the notorious David Bellotti and Bill Archer. Brighton were subsequently forced into a long nomadic existence fraught with financial peril and only recently ended by their move to their impressive new Amex Stadium home.
Plymouth’s current plight has been well documented and although more optimistic noises are now being made about the club’s future, following the decision of the administrators to turn their attentions away from property developer Kevin Heaney’s BIL consortium to the more palatable proposal offered by local businessman James Brent and backed by The Argyle Trust, the Pilgrims are by no means out of the woods yet. The latest wage deferral agreed by the Argyle squad and staff lasts until next Monday, and their patience is now wafer thin.
But while Brent continues to negotiate with stakeholders, attention has turned in recent days to matters on the pitch – and the sacking of Reid by acting chairman Peter Ridsdale on Sunday. Looking back on the comments of then-chairman Sir Roy Gardner on the occasion of Reid’s appointment in June 2010, it’s clear with hindsight that the likeable Scouse was accepting a chalice laced with more poison than anything the England job ever carried. Even Dr Crippen would have baulked at proffering it.
Talk of ‘aspirations and ambitions’, a return to the Championship and the need to ‘move on’ from the disappointment of relegation provided scant hint of the financial abyss growing wider by the day under the Argyle directors’ feet, and into which the whole club and all associated with it would plummet a few months later.
The frantic scramble for survival in early 2011 resulted in Reid losing his best players, such as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Craig Noone, while a transfer embargo imposed on the club prevented him from even attempting to replace them. With no-one getting paid and the club’s coffers empty, he put his hand in his own pocket to pay the Home Park heating bill and later donated his own FA Cup runners-up medal to auction off for staff funds. Lest we forget, he would have kept Argyle in League One, were it not for the 10-point deduction imposed by the Football League for going into administration – and that should count as an achievement. The circumstances were horrendous and once relegation was confirmed, they got even worse.
It seems remarkable that any player would have agreed to join Argyle in the summer, with no guarantees of being paid until a takeover was completed. However, there were a few optimistic enough to put pen to paper and sign on – but not enough to give Reid a decent stab at fielding a competitive team again, even by League Two standards. Fletcher, long-serving goalkeeper Romain Larrieu (now caretaker first-team coach) and new arrival Warren Feeney are the only thirty-somethings at Home Park. Half the first-team squad are teenagers.
Reid’s stoicism and indefatigability cannot be questioned but increasingly, his task looked Sisyphean – a repetitive slog of drudgery, always ending in defeat (and referencing another mythic Greek figure seems appropriate for a club previously compared to Icarus on these pages). After an opening-day 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury (a result salvaged by a late Fletcher strike), eight straight defeats mean Argyle are already five points from safety a fifth of the way through the campaign, with a goal difference of -16. If football management is essentially one long game of ‘winner stays on’, then the frustrations of Fletcher and Larrieu at the losing sequence were always going to lead to cries of “let us have a go” until Ridsdale relented. That’s not to say there was any sort of dressing-room revolt against Reid; just that there were two senior professionals who were keen as mustard to step up.
That’s what makes Ridsdale’s decision a little easier to stomach. To outsiders looking in, it appears cruel and heartless; but you could argue the opposite too. However you dress it up, there is an element of putting a man out of his misery, and that can only be done out of sympathy. Reid had proven already that he would carry on whatever the circumstances, and as no income is currently available, it’s not like he’s missing out on anything. As a football creditor, he will get his two-year contract paid up in full when a takeover is completed. If Ridsdale had left Reid in his post, there is little to suggest the poor form would have abated – and if you’re still dubious, hear Reid’s own words. In his only comments to the media thus far, he told the Western Morning News:
“I’m disappointed I couldn’t see the job through. The results haven’t been good enough, whatever the extenuating circumstances. But I’m really proud to have been the manager of Plymouth Argyle.
“I know what the club means to the area and the priority, as I have said all along, is for it to keep going.
“I was embarrassed we kept getting beaten, because losing is just not in my nature, but the supporters have kept getting behind us.
“I have been privileged to play for and manage some so-called big clubs, but none have had fans as loyal and passionate, and who travel so far to away games, as those at Argyle.
“It’s just amazing, and that’s why this football club has got to keep going. I wish everyone well.”
An admission of failure, yes. But not bitterness; only goodwill and affection. Prolonging Reid’s tortured tenure, perhaps into the early days of a new regime, may have changed everyone’s sentiments when the time came for a parting of ways. Fletcher and Larrieu feel they can do a better job – they now have a chance to prove it. There is too much talk of legends in football, but Reid’s hard work and dignity in departure certainly means his name has been written into the mythology and folklore of Plymouth Argyle.
Argyle are still drawing an average crowd of 5,500 at Home Park, which is not bad for a stadium that’s only seen 21 home wins in the last 73 league games. On Saturday, the Green Army have to hope that the ‘Fans Reunited’ impact is similar to that engendered by ‘Fans United’ in Brighton in 1997 – a 5-0 home win over Hartlepool, which helped Albion avoid the drop out of the Football League.
Written by Jon Holmes, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.
Jon tweets at @jonboy79