Leaving Home Park on Saturday, my son mentioned how different the mood was compared to arguably the low point of the season so far (and there are several competitors for that dubious accolade) the defeat at the hands of Burton Albion on 20th October. That day, a crowd of just over 8,000 watched the Pilgrims throw away the lead twice to lose 3-2 in a truly toxic atmosphere. As we trudged away from the ground, Argyle were three points adrift at the bottom of the league and looking all out of ideas.
Three months on, while there’s still plenty to do to secure a League One place for next season, things are undeniably looking up. The 2-1 win over a Coventry side that started the day in 8th place means Argyle have taken 10 points from the last four games. We’re in the relegation zone only on goal difference and separated from the four teams above by just one point. No surprise then that we left Home Park with a decidedly lighter step than on that grim day three months ago.
That got me thinking. If the upturn in form continues, and I accept it’s still a big ‘if’, the crowds at Home Park will almost certainly pick up as well. Last season the gate for the last seven home games, after Argyle broke into the top 10 in mid-February, averaged 12, 311 (almost 2,000 higher than the average for the whole season). The Portsmouth and Rotherham games drew 14,634 and 13,407 respectively. As we all know, winning teams, particularly those challenging for a play-off place, draw bigger crowds.
It’s at this point that we often see the emergence of ‘plastic bashing’, criticism of supposedly fair-weather supporters by those who have suffered through the early, grimmer part of the season. Just to be clear, I am a great believer in supporting your team through thick and thin. And loyalty should certainly be recognised and rewarded by the club. When we draw a Premier League team in a cup competition (not an issue for the rest of this season, sadly) and ticket demand exceeds supply, season ticket holders and those who have attended the most games so far should certainly have priority.
But I’ve never understood the sniffy attitude towards those who don’t, or perhaps can’t, attend every match and hence are labelled part-time supporters, plastics, tourists or whatever.
For one thing, we don’t know their circumstances. Maybe they live a long way from Home Park and can only make a few games a season. Perhaps they work on a Saturday and only get a few weekends off or have family commitments that keep them occupied on match days. It could be that they don’t have the money to attend more than a handful of games a season or that their health only allows them to sit in the stands in the warmer weather.
Or perhaps, and here’s the really sensitive one, they just choose to go to some of the higher profile games or when the team is on a run of good form: which they are perfectly entitled to do. We might have the time, money and most importantly, the commitment to attend all the home games and some away matches, but it’s the height of arrogance to call the others out for not attending as many games as us.
In any case, how exactly is the presence of those occasional supporters spoiling the match day experience for those of us who are at every game? Is Home Park a better place with 12,000 rather than 8,000 shouting for the Pilgrims? Does the club benefit from the sizeable injection of funds from a few thousand occasional supporters? Is it possible that some of those fans could turn into the Green Army stalwarts of the future? Yes, yes and yes.
Having said all that, there’s no question that the joy of seeing your team win is all the greater if you have suffered through the losses. The sunshine is always sweeter when you’ve endured the rain. Did my boy and me enjoy the victories over Coventry and Oxford more because we’d sat with heads in hands as Argyle crashed to defeat at the hand of Peterborough and Accrington? You bet. Regular fans benefit enough from these enhanced highs without having to put down those who weren’t there when things weren’t going so well.
So if the team embarks on a 2018-style second half of the season run and unfamiliar faces start to appear next to us in our season ticket seats at Home Park, we should welcome them rather than looking down on them. And please, no choruses of ‘Where were you when we were sh#t?’. Aside from the financial benefits they bring to the club, we should, like proud parents at the school play, be happy to show off our boys to those who aren’t lucky enough to get to watch them every week.