Sporting media does love a fairy-tale story. Leicester City’s against-all-odds Premier League title win two years ago was lapped up worldwide, and events such as Greece’s European Championships triumph, Ronnie Radford’s famous goal for Hereford United (you know the one) and Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul are forced into our minds, whether we like to remember them or not. Outside of football, I personally recall Andrew Flintoff’s run-out of Ricky Ponting in his final Test Match being just about the perfect ending for any sporting star. These stories have a special place in our hearts – they help to retain or interest in any chosen sport, and lead people like us to write about them.
But whilst the media, and indeed most of us, love these stories, many also like to drum up drama when it simply doesn’t exist. Take Argyle’s trip to Fleetwood for instance – many would have you believe the encounter at the weekend was a grudge match as Fleetwood manager John Sheridan got a shot at his previous employers. Add to this former Argyle man Toumani Diagouraga being available for selection by Sheridan, and suddenly the game had drama written all over it. The only issue with that, really, is that it didn’t. This was Sheridan’s third encounter with Argyle since leaving Home Park in May 2015 – he lost the previous two in charge of Newport County and Notts County – hardly the first opportunity he’s had to get back at his old club. And as for Diagouraga? An unused substitute. Hardly the height of the world’s warped sense of excitement. Perhaps if ex-Town star Antoni Sarcevic was available, we’d have got the dramatic game most of the neutrals seemed to be after. Or perhaps, not.
The game itself did at least see one rarity we’d may have missed out on under normal circumstances, as a John Sheridan team avoided defeat after falling behind. Moses Makasi, encouraging on his full senior debut in place of Sarcevic, put Argyle ahead with a smart finish in the first half, before Paddy Madden equalised after a defensive mix up in the second. A share of the spoils then – a point that will have been more welcome to the Lancastrians than the Devonians, but a point nonetheless. On the road, that is rarely something which will see fans turning their noses up towards it.
And maybe, this could act as a signal that football is much more than the simplistic, “written in the stars” game some may have you believe. Yes, an ex-player may score against your side, and in the Pilgrims’ case even a player currently on the books – who can forget Marcel Seip scoring for Blackpool against Argyle in 2009 whilst on loan…from Argyle? Granted, a former Argyle player may have a good game against the Greens from time to time, but it’s perhaps worth us looking a little more into the issue, should there be one, rather than simply assuming that the player has that bit of extra motivation to score against his former side. After all, the player turnover at Home Park in the last decade has been extreme; when a player scores against Argyle, it’s almost a surprise if he hasn’t donned a green shirt at some point in his career.
Really, the point here is that whilst any player scoring or doing well against their former club makes for quite the story, it really is just that. Players themselves are, or at least should be, consummate professionals, aiming for success in every game whether it’s against their former employers or not. And on the other side of the coin, the player of note in the opposing team isn’t always the one who used to take to the field for your own club. If anything, managers should know these types of players inside out, playing on their strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps worrying too much about their actions being part of the script diverts attention away from the real threats elsewhere on the field.
And yes, John Sheridan did manage to end Argyle’s winning run. And yes, Fleetwood were ranked lower in the league than any of the six teams Argyle defeated on that run. But please, let’s not pretend that Sheridan’s time at Argyle had anything more than a trifling influence on proceedings. It’s a point Argyle will take, and perhaps if Sheridan introduced Diagouraga, and he scored the winner, it maybe would have classified as a less grandiose football fairy-tale. I guess we’ll never know.