Extra Time: Entertainment Value
Well, here we are at the relaunch of Argyle Life, and what a joyful first game we all have to write about. Argyle got their sixth red card of the season and shipped four unanswered goals against Oxford United as the recent unbeaten run came to the abruptest of ends. Lovely.
The biggest talking point of the game was undoubtedly the dismissal of Ryan Edwards on the quarter-hour mark which, with the way Argyle have dealt with red cards this season, effectively ended the game as a contest. Whatever reservations people may have about the decision (and goodness, I have many), the impact it had on the game was obvious, turning it from an encounter that was bubbling up nicely to, eventually, a glorified Oxford training session – and that is a real shame.
One of my hopes heading into the game was the idea that we may well see some exciting action, due to the nature of the visiting side. Pep Clotet’s team came into yesterday’s encounter averaging almost 2.5 goals per game, suggesting an attacking brand of football. However, that in turn has surely played a part in them conceding 22 over the course of the season, just two fewer than lowly Argyle before yesterday’s shenanigans. In short, goals were to be anticipated at both ends, and sadly the excitement in that regard was ruined, rightly or probably wrongly, by a major refereeing call.
It did, however, give me the opportunity to consider the issue in a more general sense. As Argyle sat back and looked to limit the damage, I considered whether, had I been fortuitous enough to be born around 200 miles away in Oxford, I would enjoy attending football much more knowing I was likely to be entertained by events on the field, even if my team didn’t necessarily win every week. Does the idea of entertainment enter the minds of fans when going along to support their team? Is it a matter of importance that footballers are seen as being in the entertainment business? Or does a ‘we’ll back the lads no matter what’ attitude prevail, and Saturday afternoons can be an enjoyable experience regardless?
Let’s look at this from an Argyle perspective. For the first twelve games this year, Derek Adams set his team up to play through the opposition, a style intended to be much easier on the eye than last season’s ultra-defensive setup. This, of course, had disastrous consequences, and after a thorough inquest, Adams switched back to his successful, more ‘boring’ brand of play. Aside from events yesterday, this has led to a remarkable improvement, with Argyle going on a six-game unbeaten run, taking the lead in each of those games. Suddenly, a much more positive atmosphere had engulfed Home Park, before yesterday’s game had us crashing back down to Earth quicker than Paddy Madden on the end of some of Antoni Sarcevic’s more boisterous antics.
But the fact it is a result which has changed the mood, rather than a change in the style of play, speaks volumes. You’d be hard pressed to find any Argyle fan who enjoyed Argyle’s diabolical run with slightly more entertaining football over the six-game unbeaten run which has seen the Greens recover in League One. Particularly after last week’s away win at high-flying Bradford City, there was a sense that Argyle were finally getting back to the good times we saw blessing last season, suggesting it is simply results, rather than the style of play, at the forefront of fans’ minds.
Does that apply to all fans? If certain Argyle message boards are to be believed, we have had fans in the past, particularly during the John Sheridan era, refusing to renew their season tickets until the style of play improved. Since we saw the back of Sheridan, these fans have turned their attention to the insistence that Adams has to play two strikers for fixtures at Home Park. That’s a debate to be had for another day.
But we can only speculate about the mindsets of these supporters. The only empirical measure of how much the playing style impacts upon fans is attendances, and yesterday the results were decisive. Over 10,000 Argyle fans filled Home Park, all knowing that the home side hadn’t scored more than once in a league game since the middle of August. That figure towers over the 8,064 who saw the 2-1 reverse against Fleetwood Town, when the style wasn’t quite so defensive. So why the rise? It’s obvious really. Argyle’s run encouraged fans to come along again, with the hope of another win, rather than a good game, in their hearts. Pleasing football is a nice bonus, but it is an insignificant extra compared to how much the result matters for supporters.
And yes, if I had been born in Oxford, I’d have got an awful lot more enjoyment out of yesterday’s game. But in the long run, would I give up living in this fine city on the off chance I might see a better game of football every fortnight? It’s not for me.