Three relegations, two more near-relegations, one promotion, a playoff final defeat. It’s been a decade of more failure than success for Argyle – I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. On that exciting journey, we’ve had more than our fair share of banter moments. This is my collection of the best, both on and off the field of play.
Derek Adams was, much like his hero Sir Alex Ferguson, ripe for a quote. Perhaps his finest post-match excuse came after a surprising home defeat to mid-table Cambridge in December 2015. I think most of us have heard the excuse that a player had the wrong studs in after slipping on a wet pitch – Adams’ insistence that Hartley fell over because of “algae on the pitch” was novel.
Also just missing out on the top ten was BT Sport’s totally unbiased pundit Steve McManaman (272 appearances for Liverpool) insisting that we were wrong to go to Anfield and defend. Instead, the travelling fans wanted us to attack, he insisted – as evidenced by the air of disappointment in the away end after the final whistle blew. He surely couldn’t have foreseen those same fans suggesting McManaman enjoys pleasuring himself at the replay at Home Park.
10 – Rúben Lameiras vs. Lyle Taylor
A Tuesday night affair against AFC Wimbledon did not register highly on the potential banter scale. The Dons brought down few away fans on a cold February evening, and it was during one of the periods this decade where Argyle actually operated like a coherent football team.
However, a particularly obnoxious celebration by Lyle Taylor on netting the Wimbledon equaliser exploded the game into life. He crossed his arms, posing in front of the fans at the Devonport End.
Before this game, Lameiras had the air of someone who you’d want your daughter to marry. Popular for his skill and flair, he was occasionally criticised for his lack of assertiveness on the football field. He put that all to bed, however, when he scored and copied Taylor’s celebration. It was only when he embraced his wind-up potential that he became truly loved by Argyle fans.
To top it off, Taylor missed a penalty later in the game. If you begin to feel sorry for him, just remember his Twitter rants where he deplored having to pay a little more in taxes to fund the NHS and state education. All because he gets paid a lot for kicking a bag of wind around.
9 – Hamza Bencherif getting away with the most obvious handball of all time at Exeter away
I say this with great confidence – Hamza Bencherif is one of the funniest players in Argyle history. He was extremely big, and had one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen. His tactical and technical understanding of the game was…limited at best, certainly not good enough to play in behind the striker as John Sheridan tried to hilarious effect in a home game against Bury.
His finest moment was in the derby against Exeter. The Football League decided to appoint an experienced referee for this feisty occasion: Andre Marriner, who just six months earlier had officiated the FA Cup Final. Surely, having dealt with the pressure of the biggest game in English club football, he could cope with a Devon Derby attended by a crowd not far off fifty times smaller than the capacity of Wembley.
It was not a very good idea, therefore, for our hero Hamza Bencherif to launch himself, arm first, at the ball in the penalty area. A truly bizarre decision with the ball in a fairly innocuous area. It was a great save from a goalkeeper’s perspective, to be fair to the big lad. Surely Marriner would award a penalty for this egregious violation of football’s rules.
Except – he didn’t. Bencherif got away with it. While we still went on to lose the game, a common theme of our recent trips to St James’ Park, it was truly a blessing that Bencherif did not receive a ban and we had three more games of him manfully putting himself about. It is a shame our memories of him are lost to the sands of time now.
8 – Tafari Moore’s throw-in
In a contrast to the solid, steady and extremely un-banterful performances of Gary Sawyer on the other side, the right-back position has been filled by many players over the last few years. None have quite been able to make the position their own, except perhaps Oscar Threlkeld who quickly moved on to Belgium. Maybe he was just trying to use his soon-expiring free movement rights.
Tafari Moore was one of those players. The dreadlocked former England youth international is maybe Argyle’s only ever Rastafari player. I don’t know if the teachings of the Rastafari religion cover throw-ins in football, but it’s clear from Moore’s effort that they probably don’t.
This particular throw-in has to be seen to be believed. It has the appearance of a man holding a slippery fish up as a sacrifice for God, for it only to slip through his fingers and swim away. The only better throw in I can think of is at last year’s World Cup, when the Iranian player attempted the meekest somersault throw-in of all time.
7 – Getting beaten to the signing of Andy Kellett by Manchester United
John Sheridan signed Carl McHugh to be our starting left-back for the 14/15 season. The reviews from Bradford fans were that he was a good centre-back, but wasn’t much cop on the left side. They were right – Sheridan showing the tactical acumen that got Chesterfield to the heights of second-bottom of the Conference.
We signed Andy Kellett from Bolton on loan to solve the issue at left-back, moving McHugh into a back three. While he wasn’t the best defensively, he was a force to be reckoned with going forward, capping his strong attacking performances with a goal against Northampton following a mazy solo run.
We thought there might be interest for him when his loan expired in January 2015. A lot of other League Two clubs would be interested in a vivacious, attacking full-back. We just didn’t expect it would be Manchester United. But, as is written in black and white in The Guardian, they pipped us to his signing. I can only think that Louis van Gaal’s scouting relied solely on watching “Andy Kellett Wonder Goal” on YouTube.
6 – Nick Chadwick at Port Vale
Kevin Nancekivell and Romain Larrieu took joint-caretaker charge for the trip up to Burslem. We weren’t expecting much: Tom Pope was on one of his typically high-scoring seasons, Port Vale were near the top of the league and we were in the relegation zone following the sacking of Carl Fletcher a few days earlier.
The 4-0 defeat, therefore, didn’t come as a surprise to the brave/insane (delete as appropriate) fans who travelled to Staffordshire. Nick Chadwick’s conduct did. Off the ball, he decided to stick his elbow directly into Ashley Vincent, for no apparent reason and in an obviously premeditated attack.
While, in hindsight, it was quite a funny moment, I don’t think many would have been saying the same if we had been relegated that season. Although, a long ban may have not done too much damage to our chances. It would only have been more surprising if Chadwick had scored at Port Vale.
5 – The Striker Nonsense of Summer 2011
In 2011, we were up to our knees in administration chatter. Names like Ridsdale and Guilfoyle probably won’t be welcome to the ears of Argyle fans, reminding us of one of our worst periods in history. Thankfully we were saved, but sometimes it can be amusing to look back on our darkest hour.
Signing players, when we had no money to offer and no guarantee of a job beyond a few weeks, was a challenge. Liam Dickinson, the journeyman striker who surprisingly is still playing for eighth-tier Droylsden, left after just a week. Maybe he didn’t realise that joining a club in administration often involves not actually getting paid.
That, however, pales in comparison to how Tresor Kandol treated the club. The Congolese striker, who perhaps most famously played for Leeds in their banter era, was due to meet club officials at Plymouth train station but never turned up. We must never insult Craig Sutherland again – he may not have been the best player ever, but at least he played.
To be fair to Kandol, he had experience of playing for a club in financial trouble as he did with Leeds. Maybe it wasn’t the money that put him off. Maybe GWR couldn’t run a train on time again, or maybe he just had a particular aversion to pasties, Smeaton’s Tower or post-war brutalist architecture.
4 – Alvin and the Chipmunks-gate
In the football off-season, in a year without a major international tournament, fans can often be left empty. Maybe you follow a summer sport, or spend time with your family. But say you’re a single person with no interest in cricket. What do you do then?
Some of us will follow the endless mill of transfer rumours. While the Premier League is fertile with whisperings of who’s going where and for how much, the lower reaches of English football resemble more of an arid tundra. Therefore, us lower league fans will take any rumour we can get.
Therefore, when the official @Only1Argyle account tweeted a link to an Alvin and the Chipmunks video late at night, Argyle Twitter went into a frenzy. I can’t remember exactly why, but many of us were convinced we were about to announce then-Fleetwood striker David Ball, the video link being a cryptic clue.
Those rumours were put to bed the following morning, when the account tweeted that it was in fact just a younger relative of the Twitter admin being a bit keen with an iPad. I bet Ball is furious he didn’t move to Plymouth – he’s now at Wellington Phoenix. Even if he’s in the most liveable city in the world, according to Deutsche Bank, Argyle’s long away trips have nothing on the ten-hour flight needed to travel from Wellington to Perth.
3 – Forgetting to apply for international clearance for Nauris Bulvitis
The small Baltic nation of Latvia has not had the biggest impact on English football. Fans of the Premier League around the turn of the millennium may remember Arsenal’s Igors Stepanovs, or Southampton’s Marians Pahars. Other than those two, there have been few Latvians to make an impact in football over here.
Therefore, when we signed Nauris Bulvitis from Spartaks Jurmala, there were few clubs that we could ask for advice on how to deal with transferring a player from Latvia. You’d have thought that making sure clearance is sought from the Latvian FA would be top of the list, however.
Bulvitis missed the first game of the season for unspecified reasons. It was only when a poster on the fans’ forum Pasoti pointed out that you need to get international clearance for cross-border signings that he suddenly became available again. It’s not proven that Argyle forgot to apply for clearance, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
2 – McHugh to Motherwell-gate
Carl McHugh had a brilliant season in 15/16. He was voted as the club’s player of the season in a campaign that, while not ending in promotion, was by a long chalk our most impressive season in League 2 to date.
There was much speculation about whether we would stay, with clubs higher up the pyramid sniffing around him. While we would have been grateful to him for staying, there would have been few who would have begrudged him moving to League One or the Scottish Premiership, with its promise of higher wages and better career prospects.
It was surprising and heartening when Argyle announced that he had agreed a new contract to stay at the club in the summer of 2016. This was the rock in our midfield, the player who was perhaps the difference between getting a playoff place and slipping out, agreeing to help our promotion assault next season.
It was surprising to see Motherwell announce they had signed McHugh a few days later. But surprising in the same way that your girlfriend breaking up with you just before you’re about to propose might be surprising. It turns out that McHugh hadn’t actually signed the contract at Argyle and he chose to join Motherwell instead, who offered better terms at the last minute.
It’s a shame that Argyle’s over-eager press release soured the relationship between a player and fans who had such love for that player’s hard work, bravery and positive attitude. It is, in hindsight, pretty funny that we got promoted that season regardless, and he’s now playing for a team in India following his release from Motherwell.
1 – Kelvin Mellor at Wembley
The king of banter. The mad haircut, the bizarre Twitter profile pic posing with a tiger, his willingness to accept any friend request any Argyle fan offered him on Facebook, the Cruyff turns, the defensive errors, the occasional moments of magic.
Right-back is probably one of the most boring positions in football. As Jamie Carragher once said, it’s for people who were too small to be a centre-back and not good enough to play on the right-wing. They don’t even have the exoticism associated with being left-footed. Before anyone accuses me of holding a grudge against right-backs, I was one myself.
The ever-mercurial Kelvin Mellor turned the position into an art form. Nothing quite summed him up than, at Wembley, in front of 45,000 Argyle fans, deciding it would be a good idea to clear a ball on the ground with his head. He was ripping up the convention that you would usually use your feet, in typically Mellorian fashion.
It wasn’t cleared. We lost. But no moment over the last ten years really encapsulated our most banterous player of that period. And for that reason, it wins our countdown of the top ten biggest banter moments of the last ten years.