Plymouth is the biggest city in England never to have had a top division football team. This is despite the fact that Argyle have probably the biggest catchment area for fans in the country - there are only two other league teams within 100 miles1, and to the west of the River Tamar there is the entire county of Cornwall without a single league team. But Plymouth Argyle have always struggled against three factors - public apathy, lack of money and geographical remoteness.
It has to be said that the average West Countryman is pretty laid-back about most things. And recent history has shown that, when it comes to getting down to Home Park (Plymouth Argyle's ground) every other Saturday to watch the Argyle, not many of them can be bothered. Like a worryingly-large number of people in early 21st Century England, a lot would seem to prefer supporting2 successful teams from other cities such as Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. Recent history has also shown, however, that when Argyle are doing well, they have the largest casual support in the county. Over 30,000 travelled to Wembley in 1996 to witness Argyle's victory in the Division Three play-off final - and when the 'Pilgrims' (Argyle's nickname) won the Division Three championship in 2002, around 15,000 turned up for home games against the likes of Mansfield and Cheltenham. This compares to an average crowd of less than 5,000 just two seasons previous to that when the team was struggling.
Lack of Money
The people running Plymouth Argyle have never been particularly rich, and because the club has never been fantastically successful, no one has ever bought the club and spent huge amounts of money on it. The only man who tried, Dan McCauley, had bad experiences, employing managers like Peter Shilton and Neil Warnock, and achieving three relegations and one promotion before cutting the purse strings. He finally sold the club amid loud cheers in 2001. The club's record transfer fee still stands at just £250,000. To be perfectly honest, multi-millionaires aren't very thick on the ground in Plymouth and that record's not likely to be broken in the near future.
Having only two other league clubs within 100 miles might give you a large catchment area for fans, but it gives you all sorts of other problems. Plymouth's pretty far from most places and it's quite hard to persuade good players to come to the South West and stay there. A youth team or reserve player at Arsenal or Chelsea (in London) for example, would much rather go out on loan to earn a contract with a team like Watford or Reading (both near London) and stay at home, rather than travel the width of the country in the hope of getting a game. Persuading an experienced pro to uproot his family and move them a couple of hundred miles is even harder. And Argyle's comparative lack of money means paying over the odds to attract players has rarely been an option. It doesn't help that, over the years, the few good players that have wanted to stay at Argyle have often been badly treated by the board3 and have been forced to move on.
Being the Football League's most westerly outpost has been a mixed blessing in terms of results. Argyle is normally virtually invincible at home, partly because by the time the opposing side has travelled all the way to Plymouth, they've usually given up. But that's no advantage if Argyle are unable to win away from home, and that's where they usually struggle. Plymouth to anywhere outside Devon is a long trip, and when the side have been in the lower two divisions, they've often had to travel to matches on the day - and consequently arrived in far from the ideal frame of mind required to play a football match. This has always shown up in the results: Paul Sturrock, the only manager in recent years to overcome the away form problem, took the team to a record 102 points in a season and won the Third Division as a result.
The Green Army Experience
Watching Argyle at Home Park can be a great experience, but on occasions the expectation of fans used to winning - combined with the fact that many fans of other teams tend to give the trip to Plymouth a miss - can subdue the atmosphere. For the best possible taste of what it's like to follow Argyle, this Researcher would recommend an away game. Years of indifferent away form have developed a great camaraderie among the regular away support, along with the inevitable long distances for fans travelling from Plymouth. Games in the London area are particularly good, due to the large numbers of exiled fans from Devon and Cornwall living nearby. Once at the match, to enjoy the experience to the full, this Researcher can recommend participating in some terrace chants. Although, in these post-Taylor Report days of all-seater stadia, the chances of having a proper terrace to stand on are slim. The following list of chants are traditional to Argyle. It's by no means exhaustive - there are many common to all football fans - and many more relating to players and managers of the time. But the main thing to remember is to just let rip at maximum volume. And if you're at a ground where they want you to sit, make sure you stand up first...
'Green Army!' - This is always started off by one fan, responded to by many others with another 'Green Army!', and then another set of fans join the first in answering with another 'Green Army!' and so on until the whole thing spreads across the away end and, before you know it, you're out-singing the home fans. The 'Green' element of the Green Army is one of the great unique things about supporting Argyle.
'Come on you Greens!' - Rarely sustained for a great length of time, this is normally used to encourage the team when they've won a corner, or to rally them after they've just conceded a goal.
'Oooh arrr, it's Ambrosia!' - Inspired by the commercial brand of rice pudding with the slogan 'Devon knows how they make it so creamy!', this one is applied with a heavy dose of irony - normally as a sarcastic riposte to opposing fans attempts to brand Argyle fans as rustic simpletons.
'West Country, la la la...' - Frequently wheeled out in a show of regional superiority when Argyle are on top, often after the opposition have attempted to taunt the Argyle support.
'You dirty northern b****rds' - This is of course common to many clubs, most obviously London-based sides playing against Midland or northern opposition who've just fouled them. Argyle, on the other hand, can sing this one against any British team - even Torquay, Exeter, or any of the clubs from the South Coast or London... and they do, enjoying the irony on the way.
'Drink up yer cider' - Loosely based on the song by West Country legends The Wurzels, this is sometimes applied in a similar way as the 'Ambrosia' chant and sometimes used in the same vein as 'West Country, la la la'. Other occasions have seen it sung for just, well, fun.
Click on the link to find out more about the History of Plymouth Argyle.