I’D warmed up for Plymouth by doing a mixture of watching and listening to Lincoln v Ipswich the night before. Great, wasn’t it? Full house, good footy, great ending. A journeyman striker, who was paid for by a crowdfunding scheme, becomes a hero. The BBC switching immediately to the drudgery of the news instead of staying with the celebrations was a bit annoying, like. Who wants real life at a time like this?
I’m growing tired of the FA Cup bashing, to be honest. I find it dull as hell. The world is full of people who can’t wait to tell you something used to be better than it is now. Rock n Roll? Better in the ‘70s. FA Cup? Better in the ‘70s. Incompetent right and left wing politicians? Better in the ‘70s.
I wish all these people would go and live in a 1970s theme park and leave the rest of us alone. There are obviously problems with the FA Cup now, most of them self inflicted by The FA themselves. But I’m very bored of people queuing up to tell me how little they care about the FA Cup. In fact, they care so little it’s just about all they can talk about. Sound. Just ignore it then, and let the rest of us enjoy it. Just don’t come crawling out the woodwork when we get to Wembley, alright?
Home Park was full of people who cared about the FA Cup. Our car was too. It was a real range of people willing to do the 600 mile trip for their love of the trophy and The Reds. One of the lads went to his first away game in 1981, another wasn’t born until 1995. Plymouth was a new ground for everyone. Another one to tick off. Mick Clarke counted he has done 55 of the 92 Football League grounds now. Ronan thinks probably more. I’ve just counted and I am on 38 (although only 36 of them were Liverpool games). I should get at least two more before the end of the season.
Mick had been persuaded to drive to Plymouth. Sat in the front with him was Princey. No-one loves the FA Cup more than Princey. Give him enough cider (on Wednesday’s evidence, four or five cans will do) and he’ll regale you with stories of how street parties turned to heartbreak for the final in 1977, elation in 1986 against Everton and plenty of ups and downs since. He says he’s not doing the League Cup final if we get there, he hasn’t been to any of the rounds so far so says he doesn’t feel right taking a ticket off someone who has. But he’d never miss an FA Cup game.
The middle row was Ronan, Josh and myself. Which would make a pretty decent front row of a rugby team. Well if Josh can sort his back out. On the back was Nevin and Lewis, two lads we hadn’t met before but needed a lift. After a few drops offs, possibly after realising how far Plymouth was, we had space. Luckily they were sound, and might I add excellent barmen. When you wanted a cold opened beer they had one to you in no time. Some of our usual mob should take note.
Mick’s went for Absolute ‘90s on the radio and we were loving it. When Feels So Good by Sonique comes on me and Josh contemplated getting off at Bristol and having a night out instead. “Reckon you can pick us up on the way back through, Mick?” Lads who don’t know each other bonded over stories of festivals and raving. It was a positive party bus.
We were there in no time at all. We left Morrisons in Speke at 1pm to be safe and were in a pub in Plymouth by 5:45pm. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We contemplated going for a curry, but were still a bit full from Princey’s butties. The Cherry Tree in Plymouth is a fine establishment to spend an hour or two though, if you are ever down there.
It was a short walk to the ground with a park to our left and some townhouses which looked like B&Bs but weren’t to our right. Under a bridge there were a couple of vans which smelled delicious. We walked on a bit before realising we had lost someone so we stopped and waited. Two fellas walked past us with pasties and said “best pasties in Devon them, lads, get on them” pointing to the vans. They didn’t look like they were selling anything, like, but we went back.
In the dark, under the bridge we did indeed notice that one of the doors at the back of the van was open. As we approached an Eastern European man came out and looked us up and down. After deciding we were legit he told us he only had large traditional left. We ordered three. The fellas were right, they were indeed brilliant pasties. I tell you what though, it’s the strangest pastry deal I’ve ever done in my life.
Lower league grounds are great. As we entered Home Park there were punch bags hanging up in the concourse. I’ve no idea why they are there. Maybe it’s a way to reduce crowd trouble. I did a few rounds on the bags, but they weighed a bloody ton. We moved past the discarded pool tables no-one has found a home for and went to our seats.
Their crowd were a bit mad. They couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to be our mates or not. They had a minute’s applause for Daniel May, who died a week or so earlier as his dad, Kevin, was at Anfield. Liverpool fans had been informed about it to encourage them to join in. Some Liverpool fans even made a banner for him, which they displayed at the front. The Plymouth fans applauded this. Then some Liverpool fans started singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and some Plymouth fans booed! I’m not sure they put two and two together there, but never mind.
The footy was crap, wasn’t it. The crowd were more entertaining. The FA Cup brings a fair few out who haven’t been for a while, as does a new ground. There was one very vocal guy who I hadn’t seen for ages. The story goes he used to get into London aways in the ‘80s by bunking in the night before and hiding in the toilets until the ground opened. Some stint that!
There were a few lads by me who have more recently stopped going too, despite being regular faces in the past. They’ve never had season tickets, and the online sales thing has passed them by. When window sales went they just ended up getting spares off people, without usually too much bother. However last season they couldn’t get tickets to either final, despite having been to nearly every game along the way, because the tickets weren’t on their fancards. So they have more or less jacked it in. Shame really. You’re losing passion from the stands. But they had to come out of ‘retirement’ for a new ground to tick off.
Liverpool won the game of football. Another nice thing about lower league grounds is that there aren’t many people in them. We were away in no time. In fact, Mick flew back to Liverpool and I was in bed by 3am. Turns out Plymouth wasn’t that far after all. I just had a couple of beers and got my head down on the way home. I’ve got Josh snuggled up to me and The Reds are in the next round of the FA Cup. Who could ask for more?
Up the counterfeit pastry Reds.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Hi John, just read your article for Plymouth away…..just so you have no more sleepless nights….the punch bags are part of a fantastic set up for kids attending Argyle games….The end behind the goal is sectioned off for away fans and home family stand….where you walk in on a normal match day is the punch bags, pool tables, football tables and a 2 a side mini pitch. Through the doors is about 20 computers for the kids to play games before the match and at half time making it a all round better fan experience and keeping the kids wanting to come every week. Hope that explains the punch bags