Santos and Pelé. Ronnie Mauge at Wembley. Mickey Evans against QPR. Securing the title at Port Vale . These are just some of the unforgettable moments no doubt etched into the memories of Argyle fans.
However, intertwined with those magical moments, there have also been plenty of weird, wonderful and downright strange things that have happened involving the Greens over the years. Dan Ellard takes a look at five of these, which may have slipped your memory…
[Header Image: www.pafc.co.uk]
1. Donaldson’s Freak Goal
Argyle v Colchester, 2016
Despite holding the rare title of one season, one promotion, it would perhaps be fair to say that Ryan Donaldson did not have the greatest impact. A modest return of goals and assists and the arrival of Antoni Sarcevic saw the midfielder knocked down the pecking order, resulting in his release at the end of the season, where he joined non-league Hartlepool – and is sadly yet to make it back into the EFL since. The ex-Newcastle player does, however, stake a claim to one of the most unusual goals the Devonport End can ever have witnessed.
15th placed Colchester were winless in seven coming into their trip to top-of-the-table Argyle, but with a stout performance (helped by a below-par one from the Pilgrims), looked set to come away with a very creditable 1-1 draw. A pair of Craigs had cancelled each other out on the scoresheet in the first half – Tanner for Argyle and Slater for the U’s – and with no further goals as the clock headed towards stoppage time in the second, the match looked to be petering out. This was despite a lengthy stoppage when referee Kevin Johnson was inadvertently poleaxed by Jimmy Spencer, resulting in Simon Knapp being required to don the whistle.
In the 87th minute, a flick-on from Spencer fell to Colchester centre-back Luke Prosser, who elected to play the ball back to goalkeeper Sam Walker. A combination of Prosser leaving his pass a little short, plus good closing down from Donaldson, meant that Walker had to rush. He attempted to blast the ball downfield, but succeeded only in hitting it straight at Donaldson. The ball careered back past the ‘keeper, bounced up, and dropped gloriously into the empty net. The Greens’ number 11 wheeled away, probably in half-celebration / half-amusement, and they had another three points in the bag. It was this moment that made one wonder whether promotion was just meant to be.
2. Injured by Your Own Fan
Chester v Argyle, 1999
We can all tell our own individual tales of an Argyle goal drought we’ve experienced. Yours truly recalls a run of ten away games attended where a mere two goals were able to be celebrated. Those who supported the Pilgrims during one of their lowest ebbs, around the turn of the millennium, may recall a similarly barren run in February and March 1999, where almost five hours of football passed without the opposition net being rustled. It was, perhaps, no surprise therefore that one supporter who made the long trip to Chester got a little over-excited at seeing that drought finally cease.
Argyle’s consistent returning of nil’s put them in danger of dropping out of the play-off race, but despite this, they were only four points shy of seventh place (with a game in hand) heading into their clash at the Deva Stadium. The supporters couldn’t have been in too high hopes though, given that their last goal had been over a month ago, curiously in the reverse fixture against City. However, the run was gloriously halted in the first half when Ronnie Mauge slipped a ball through to Dwight Marshall, who expertly finished to put the away fans into hysterics.
This was all too much for one fan. As Marshall stood in front of the away end, arms outstretched, the fan broke ranks and pelted towards the striker, intent on enthusiastically embracing him. The slippery Deva Stadium surface put paid to that, though, and just as he got to Marshall, he slid onto his backside, and straight into Marshall, who collapsed to the ground. Argyle’s top scorer lay on the turf, taken out by one of the Green Army.
Thankfully, Marshall was able to continue – but Chester came back after half time to win 3-2. Marshall showed he had been unaffected by the incident, scoring in all of the next three appearances, but ultimately the team was not winning enough games. A run of just three wins out of their final 15 saw them drop well away from playoff contention, and end up with a bottom half finish in the fourth tier – at that stage, the lowest in the club’s history.
3. You’ve Lost Your Glasses (and your card), Ref
Argyle v Scunthorpe, 2017
A picture too good not to share. Following a fracas in the Devonport End penalty area, Chris Sarginson attempts to send off Antoni Sarcevic – but finds his red card flying out of his hand.
Argyle had made a reasonable start to life in League One following promotion under Derek Adams. They had achieved four points from their opening three fixtures, and went into this matchup with the Iron having just secured the signing of highly-rated Celtic forward Nadir Çiftçi on loan. Unfortunately, however, a Paddy Madden strike put United one up on the half-hour – and things then got a lot worse for the home side on the stroke of half time.
As Jake Jervis prepared to take a free kick from wide on the left, a heated exchange broke out in the box, culminating in Sarcevic headbutting Madden. There was no option except the harshest punishment. Sarginson, who had (let’s say) “endeared” himself to the Green Army by failing to send off Leyton Orient’s Liam Kelly for pushing over a ballboy the previous season (despite replays indicating that he was looking directly at the incident), went to his pocket.
With a brandish that even Mike Dean would have been proud of, Sarginson thrust his red card up in the air, with such force that it slipped out of his hand, blowing over his head and onto the ground. His face now probably a similar colour to the card, he quickly collected it from the turf and repeated the gesture to Sarcevic, a little less enthusiastically this time. It was a solitary smile-worthy spot in an otherwise grim afternoon, as the U’s added three further goals after the break to wrap up victory against the ten men.
4. Match Abandoned – Snapped Woodwork
Chester v Argyle, 1981
What is it about away fixtures at Chester that bring out the unorthodox?
The summer of 1981 saw the introduction of three points for a win across the English leagues, intended to reduce bore-draws and promote exciting, attacking football. Regrettably… maybe the memo didn’t reach as far as south Devon. Argyle endured a rotten start to the 81/82 season, amassing zero wins, two points and six goals from their opening ELEVEN league games – plus failing to progress past the first stage of the short-lived Football League Group Cup.
Some respite was sought in the then-called Milk Cup (what is now the League Cup), where they would face Chester in a two-legged tie. The first of these was away at Sealand Road, a trip which only the most dedicated of Argyle fans would have made. However, with the clock ticking towards the 90, a bizarre incident meant that the journey would be completely worthless.
Chester goalkeeper, the wonderfully-named Grenville Millington, dived to try and save a shot, and clattered into his own post. Not only did he concuss himself, but he had snapped the base of the post clean out of the ground. With no replacements available and no facility to suitably repair the existing frame, the match was abandoned. Unfortunately, there seems to be no record kept of what the scoreline was at the time (maybe a more experienced Argyle fan can help us out, here). Given our form around the time of this fixture… it might be safe to say that we probably weren’t winning.
The Greens were forced to repeat the journey to Sealand Road a week later to replay the tie. Thank goodness for theirs and the supporters’ sakes then that a 1-1 draw was followed up by a 1-0 win in the return leg, meaning Argyle progressed on aggregate. The league form picked up, too; incredibly, having lost nine of their first eleven, only eight more were lost in the remainder of the season as the Greens finished a remarkable 10th.
5. The Hand of Rudd
Argyle v Leyton Orient, 2019
Having been on the wrong end of a refereeing decision against Leyton Orient two years earlier (as mentioned above), a controversial use of a hand once again came to the fore in this fixture when the sides met in October 2019.
Sarginson may have faced questions about “failing to see” the aforementioned incident against the O’s, but on this night, Craig Hicks showed the vision levels of someone destined to front Specsavers’ next advertising campaign, by not sanctioning the most blatant handball one will ever see.
With a quarter of an hour gone and the scores still level, George Cooper swung in a cross from the left, which Antoni Sarcevic headed towards goal. Dean Brill, true to his name, did very well to save, but the ball looped up towards Rangers loanee Zak Rudden, who looked sure to score – barely challenged and in tap-in range.
Rudden was, let’s say, not the greatest striker Argyle ever had. No goals in eight league appearances at that point suggested that he didn’t have a particularly great poacher’s instinct. However, surely he would simply head it or volley it home, wouldn’t he?
…No, he rather wouldn’t. In a moment which can only be described as madness, he decided to punch the ball towards goal. Brill scrambled back to claw it off the line, but the ball fell to Joel Grant who smashed it into the net, whilst the opposition understandably raised their arms as one, expecting a whistle. Incredibly, inexplicably, astonishingly, no whistle came. The goal was given.
Three questions arise from this incident. Firstly, what on earth is Rudden doing trying to punch it in when he is no more than five yards out with the goal at his mercy? Secondly, how has he managed to fail to get the ball over the line having elected to go with his hand? And thirdly, by far the biggest mystery: how, HOW, has Hicks not seen a handball so blatant that it makes Diego Maradona’s look almost legal?
Argyle put former manager Carl Fletcher to the sword from there, rolling to a 4-0 win and three more points in what would ultimately be a promotion season. Mr Hicks, meanwhile, is still refereeing in the EFL as of the start of this season.