Has a Zoom call between various suit-and-tie officials ever led to such widespread ecstasy? It’s highly doubtful. But this week’s meeting of League Two clubs, which saw Plymouth Argyle officially promoted back to League One at the first time of asking, was met with widespread celebration amongst the Green Army. And yes, this is absolutely an occasion worth celebrating.
But now the cheerful Facetimes have concluded, the triumphant takeaways have been eaten and the drinks in the fridge have been joyously consumed, we have to start looking forward. The road ahead is littered with uncertainty; indeed, who knows when Argyle will take to the field again, let alone when we’ll be permitted to attend? But, if we analyse things as they are now, it’s undeniable that promotion, combined with the current situation, gives Argyle a massive opportunity.
The first reason for that is obvious. When it comes to attracting new players, promotion certainly offers a helping hand. The opportunity to play at a higher level makes Argyle a much more attractive prospect. And, having not had the chance to improve his Bury side following promotion a year ago, Ryan Lowe will be raring to go in the transfer market.
Owing to the lack of clarity on football in the near future, he won’t be able to go overboard once the transfer window opens. But there will surely be many targets Argyle’s manager will have in mind. They’ll have a tough time turning him down this time around. One wonders whether the likes of Jay O’Shea, Jamie Devitt and Nicky Maynard would have plumped to move elsewhere had Lowe been able to offer League One football last season. And, indeed, how good Argyle may have been with them in the side.
Argyle’s recruitment drive may be heavily tempered by matters on the financial front. But on the face of it, that’s exactly why Argyle fans have even more reason to be optimistic for the months ahead. Compared to many other sides at this level at least, Argyle’s boardroom situation is decidedly strong.
Most football owners either attempt to run a tight ship to ensure sustainability, or are willing to invest and cover the losses made with their own cash. The latter type may see some more short-term success, but the former is unquestionably more sustainable. However, in Simon Hallett, Argyle appear to have the best of both worlds. He’s always made sustainability his end goal, much like his predecessor James Brent, but has been willing to invest in certain exceptional circumstances, such as the sacking of Derek Adams, the hiring of Lowe, and in the current situation.
Hallett, in his mere existence, is Argyle’s difference-maker when compared to other clubs, particularly now. Tragically, there may well be many clubs fighting simply to survive. Others will have owners who will be able to cover the associated pandemic costs, but who’ll also have wealth connected to other businesses forced into struggle. The teams likely to be successful are those who have cut costs over many years, and have owners whose wealth is unlikely to be impacted as much by the current circumstances.
In other words, the most likely clubs to succeed at this level in these times are those most like Plymouth Argyle.
Hallett is hardly infinitely wealthy. Argyle may be in a better position than most but, as the chairman regularly reminds us, the Greens are not invincible. Should the nadir of this crisis still await, a whole host of clubs may have to rely on the generosity of their fanbases in order to remain afloat.
Fortunately, Argyle are again well covered in this area. Put simply, the magnificent Green Army are amongst the best groups of supporters in the lower leagues. That may sound a touch boastful, but on sheer numbers it’s undeniable. We know from the turbulent time of administration that Argyle fans can be trusted to rally around a cause – as much as we all hope it doesn’t come to it, the Greens will still be in a better position than most should survival be at stake. It’s just another tool Argyle may be able to utilise to steal a march on their rivals.
Granted, all of this is written from an entirely cynical viewpoint. In an ideal world, of course, we wouldn’t have a pandemic able to wreak havoc on football in the first place. Nobody wants to see any clubs enter liquidation as a result of the current crisis, and it’s important to note that if the situation does get worse, Argyle are hardly immune from the harmful consequences.
But, having secured promotion, Argyle are already likely to be the envy of many of their peers when the League One season does finally get underway. In operating in a surprisingly normal manner given the circumstances, Hallett has already signalled he is ready to compete. Argyle’s retained list was largely consistent with previous years, and giving those offered new deals just seven days to accept the guaranteed income of a contract extension shows Hallett isn’t shy of a power-play. It’s encouraging, and it needs to continue.
On and off the pitch, Argyle have to grab this opportunity with both hands and make it count. A better chance may never come along. Just imagine how successful the Greens may have been by the time we can watch them together again.