Another week, another familiar story with Plymouth Argyle. Two months ago, I would be writing this through gritted teeth. However, I have a humble grin on my face, satisfied in the knowledge that Argyle sit top of the form table following an excellent 0-1 win at Peterborough. I’ll be honest, I was dreading the forthcoming Portsmouth clash a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m thoroughly looking forward to it and even consider us slight favourites. Home Park will be full and no doubt in good voice.
However, instead of filling the away end at London Road, I spent the weekend in Bristol with my better half because we were offered tickets to go and watch Bristol City at Ashton Gate, thanks to a good friend of mine at the club. This was my second visit this season: the first being Argyle’s tie in the Carabao Cup back in August, a game in which we stole a 1-0 win thanks to a Yann Songo’o header. I was among the visiting fans that night, but this time around I was sat in the shiny new ‘Lansdown Stand’ named after City’s billionaire backer, which has been recently redeveloped and is in it’s third season. Swansea were the visitors and travelled in numbers.
We got to Bristol early and parked at the nearby Bedminster Cricket Club, then took the 10 minute stroll to the ground. When we arrived, the smell of hot food filled the air and there was a row of fast food vendors the whole length of the stadium. There was also a small stage area where a band was performing and the atmosphere was fantastic. My partner, pint in one hand, burger in the other, was in her element. As we entered the stadium and headed towards our seats, I could sense the tension. There was a sinister edge to the atmosphere, much different to outside the ground, which reminded me of Argyle’s clash with Exeter in The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy back in 2010. We took our seats, which were very close to the away end, and waited for kick off.
The first half played out amongst scenes of crowd trouble between rival ‘supporters’, and it ended 0-0 at the break. We headed downstairs, and grabbed another pint each and decided to have a look around the ground as we had VIP access to the various lounge’s and bars that Ashton Gate had to offer. There were screens dotted about which we could watch the half time entertainment and also catch up with the other scores, most notably Argyle’s. The second half saw Bristol score two goals to Swansea’s nil and that’s how the game finished. We stayed behind and watched the post-game wind down, which saw man of the match Andi Weimann interviewed pitch side to a rapturous applause from the home fans before the ground emptied out, which I thought was a nice touch. We exited the stadium and the music carried on outside on the same stage area and a lot of fans stayed and enjoyed more beer and food.
As we headed into the town centre we talked about the day and I asked my partner if she’d enjoyed herself. She isn’t a football fan by any stretch but she said to me she’d had a brilliant day, and if football was more of an experience like that she’d love to go more often. I came away thinking Argyle could learn an awful lot in terms of the whole ‘match day experience’ and with the new Grandstand on the way, it would be a perfect time to improve this side of the club. A bit of live entertainment or a public bar around the ground would be an inexpensive way of keeping people at Home Park for longer.
It’s hard to compare Argyle to Bristol City – they are backed by a billionaire which of course helps make all this possible but there are definitely steps we could take to help attract and retain new supporters. They are the most important aspect of a football club and ultimately, the more fans attending, the more income for the club. This week is a perfect example, when Portsmouth come to visit. It will no doubt be the biggest crowd of the season, with many coming to Home Park for the first time this campaign and there may even be a few for whom it will be their first ever match. Yet the dreary pre-match and half time chat will remain, Pilgrim Pete will doing whatever it is he actually does on the side-lines and many of the supporters, young and old will forget about their time at Home Park relatively quickly. Football aside, the experience will be lacking.
If fans had a reason to spend more time at Home Park, they would. Of course the facilities are limited with the ongoing work around the ground but moving forward I firmly believe Plymouth Argyle have a lot more to offer when it comes to the whole match-day experience. As the club moves forward, focusing on that element could be vital for attracting and – most importantly – retaining new fans.