Yesterday, Argyle announced that Graham Carey had made the decision to reject an improved contract offer to remain with the club. After four seasons, his time at Home Park had come to an end. As the Ryan Lowe era began, so too ended one of the most impressive spells in an Argyle shirt. When he signed for the club four years earlier, who was to know what a player Argyle had on their books.
When Carey joined Argyle, he became Derek Adams’ fourth signing as manager. Gary Sawyer had returned to the club, whilst wingers Jake Jervis and Gregg Wylde had joined from Ross County and St Mirren respectively. After Jake Jervis, Carey became the second player to reunite with Adams at Argyle.
Prior to joining the club, his career would have largely gone unnoticed by many in England. As a youngster at Celtic, he was loaned to Bohemians in Ireland where he would win the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2009. Struggling to break into the team at Celtic Park he was sent on loan to St Mirren and Huddersfield, before leaving to rejoin St Mirren permanently in 2011.
With St Mirren he would win the Scottish League Cup, appearing as a late substitute in a 3 – 2 victory over Hearts, before again finding himself released and searching for a club. It was at this stage of his career that Carey was picked up by Derek Adams at Ross County, a transfer that would ultimately pave the way for Carey’s future move to Home Park.
Carey played predominantly as a wing back during his time in Scotland. Clues as to the success he was to later have at Argyle were certainly limited, but there were a few hints as to the player he would soon become.
He scored just eleven goals during his time in Scotland and just three times whilst playing for Huddersfield. However, he earned a reputation as a good striker of the ball having won the SPL Goal of the Season in the 2012/13 campaign with an effort struck from 35-yards. It wasn’t the first time he had grabbed the headlines for a long distant effort either.
He scored notable goals from free-kicks with both St Mirren and Huddersfield and it would be a reputation he’d continue to develop whilst at Home Park. His last set piece goal for the club earned Argyle a point against Portsmouth in February 2019.
When he joined the club, few Argyle fans would ever envisage the impact he’d have. In 197 appearances in all competitions he scored 49 goals and made 58 assists. Combined, he scored a goal, or made an assist, every 1.8 games. To put that into perspective Reuben Reid, Argyle’s other talisman of the post-admin era, scored 50 goals and made 15 assists in 165 appearances – a combined total of one every 2.5 appearances. Impressive in its own right, but still not close to that of Carey’s return.
Carey made his debut for Argyle in the first game of the 2015/16 season, in an away fixture against AFC Wimbledon, and made his mark by scoring the second goal in a 2 – 0 victory. Fellow summer signing Gregg Wylde would also get on the scoresheet. In his first seven league games for the club he’d score or get an assist in all but one, a 2 – 1 defeat at the hands of Portsmouth.
With a total of four goals and four assists during this opening period, Carey had Argyle fans hooked, with his most impressive performance coming at Home Park against Carlisle United.
Argyle opened the scoring just before half time, as Jake Jervis cut in from the left wing, and belted the ball into the top corner from just outside the box. At the time, Carey was on the floor, remonstrating with the referee for an apparent foul near the centre circle. He’d be involved somewhat more in the second half.
Shortly after the break Carey would assist Reuben Reid from a corner, before chasing the ball down and hassling the Danny Grainger a few minutes later. The defender slipped under pressure, allowing Carey to win the ball and score comfortably when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He’d then complete an impressive evening by again winning the ball back – this time in the middle of the pitch. Running towards goal he isolated the centre back, sliding a neat pass into the path of Jake Jervis who finished for his second goal of the game.
Carey had another impressive run of form at the end of the league campaign with three goals and six assists in the space of seven appearances, before making a 12 minute appearance in the final game of the season at home to Hartlepool. With Argyle having already made the Play Offs, the decision was made to rest Argyle’s star man from the start.
Argyle’s season and Carey’s first with the club would therefore end with the chance of promotion and his contribution wasn’t over yet. Having earned a 2 – 2 draw in the first leg of the Play-off Semi Final against Portsmouth, the return fixture was finely balanced. Heading into stoppage time, it looked like extra time was guaranteed before a Carey corner was headed home by defender Peter Hartley. Argyle had made the Play Off Final thanks to a 91st minute goal, which at the time was the most important in the post-admin era.
Unfortunately, it would be the last telling contribution of the season for Carey, as Argyle limped to a 2 – 0 Wembley defeat at the hands of Wimbledon, the very same team the season had started so positively against. Nonetheless, and despite the disappointment, Carey was voted Player of the Season and ended with a career high of 12 goals and 16 assists in all competitions. With a policy of one-year contracts enforced at the club, many thought that would be that, but in the following summer he and the club would agree to a contract extension, much to the delight of Argyle fans.
Carey’s second season would be an improvement on his first, in a campaign that saw Argyle promoted back to League One. Again, he provided the team with 16 assists across all competitions but increased his goal return to an impressive 15. In a particularly good run of form Carey created seven goals in six consecutive games whilst scoring four in the process. Argyle would win each of those games, with the exception of a draw at home to Portsmouth
If Plymouth Argyle fans needed any more reminders that one of Carey’s biggest assets was his ability from set pieces it came away at Mansfield Town that season, where Argyle won 2 – 0. In the space of five minutes, Carey had crossed a free-kick for Sonny Bradley to head home, before scoring one directly himself. It’s a weapon Argyle will surely miss in the season ahead if he isn’t replaced adequately.
Whilst the league campaign and subsequent promotion were of great achievement for both Carey and Argyle, the highlight of the season came at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup. Having battled past Newport in the second round to record an extra-time replay victory, Argyle headed to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. In a game that Argyle spent the majority of their time camped outside their 18 yard box, Carey’s most notable contribution was a defensive overhead kick, that covered the back of most national sports pages the next day. Argyle would hold onto a memorable 0 – 0 draw forcing a Home Park replay thanks to a fantastic defensive display that frustrated the five time European champions.
Unfortunately, a giant killing wasn’t to be, as Liverpool beat Argyle 1 – 0 in the replay in front of a sold out Home Park, but the memory of holding one of Europe’s greatest clubs to a solitary goal over 180 minutes will live long in the memory of the Argyle fans that witnessed it.
Despite more rumoured interest for the player, this time from the Championship, Carey signed another deal and remained at Argyle for his third season, which would arguably turn out to be his best for the club. Playing in the higher division of League One, and combined with Ruben Lameiras and Ryan Taylor, Carey would find the net 16 times whilst providing 13 assists. In three seasons, Carey had been directly involved in almost 90 goals – a feat any player, at any level would be proud of.
He linked up brilliantly with Lameiras and Taylor, and their form together saw Argyle almost sneak into the play offs late in the season. During one stretch during the second half of the year, Argyle lost just one in 12 games, with victories over the likes of Blackburn (2nd) Shrewsbury (3rd) and Peterborough (7th). Carey was at the centre of everything Argyle achieved that season and would win his second Player of the Year award having just missed out to defender Sonny Bradley in the previous season.
The relationship that blossomed between the front three was perhaps best seen in a 4 – 0 home victory over Southend United. In front of 12,000 fans, Lameiras would score first from a Taylor assist. Lameiras would then assist Carey for the second, who would also score the third, before Lameiras would get a goal of his own late on. Argyle were flying, despite missing out on the play offs, and with Carey in contract, the 2018/19 season which would turn out to be Carey’s last for the club was lining up to be another impressive year for both player and club.
Unfortunately the optimism of the previous three seasons was short lived. Whilst Carey would again contribute valiantly with a combined total of 19 goals and assists in all competitions, he struggled to have the same impact on the team as in previous seasons. With Freddie Ladapo replacing Taylor in the front three, Carey saw less of the ball and was able to influence the game to a smaller degree.
Argyle struggled defensively too, conceding almost 100 goals across the entire season and inevitably they ended the season by being relegated back to League Two. Whilst Carey had not hit the heights he previously set, he still had an impressive season by most accounts. Memorable moments would also come at Home Park, such as when he scored a spectacular free-kick to earn a draw against Portsmouth, or when he set up Edwards and Canavan, both from free-kicks, to earn a 2 – 1 victory over Walsall.
In the end, Carey’s departure from the club came as some surprise when it was announced a week after the arrival of new manager Ryan Lowe. Whilst many expected it was likely to happen with the player, now 30 and out of contract once again, it felt as if no one wanted to believe it were possible. Carey had lit up Home Park for four spectacular seasons and across promotion, play off disappointment and relegation. He had been the club’s talisman.
Carey had spent years running defences ragged in the green of Argyle and was known throughout the Football League as a player that could win a game in an instant with a moment of sheer brilliance. Finishing his Argyle career with 49 goals from midfield and over 50 assists in less than 200 appearances is nothing short of remarkable and a feat very few at Argyle are ever likely to match. With pastures new in Bulgaria awaiting him, Carey leaves Home Park not just as a legend but as one of the very best to have ever played for the club. His record speaks for itself.
However, what really makes Graham Carey special is the way he made Argyle fans feel. Even during disappointing defeats and moments of frustration, Carey had the ability to get fans of all ages on their feet. His stat line was impressive, but the joy he brought thousands every week even more so. He could turn players inside out, spray passes across impossible angles and score goals that you only dreamt of as a kid in the park.
The reason he will be remembered so fondly at Home Park is not just because of the numbers but because he reminded Argyle fans what football could be. He reminded Argyle fans that despite the depression of the administration period before him, that football could be beautiful. Argyle fans needed inspiration, they needed belief and in Graham Carey they found that.
When one day Graham Carey returns to Home Park, whether as a player or a fan, he’ll be welcomed back with open arms as one of our own and rightly so. Once a Green. Always a Green.