This past decade has seen players arrive at Home Park and demonstrate the potential to play top flight football – some of which have. Others have left a great impact on the club, as their actions have helped to positively change the club’s future. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve reviewed the past ten years to pick out the top fifty Pilgrims to have donned our Green and White.
It’s important to note three things: first, this is not a competition of the best players; we have not judged players based purely on their skill, but also their impact. Jake Cole may not be the most able goalkeeper in Plymouth Argyle’s history, but he left a greater impact than most, as his performances were vital in avoiding relegation to the National League for two consecutive seasons. For that, he gets a ranking higher than that of Alex Palmer, who is a better keeper objectively speaking but has had a significantly smaller impact on the club.
Second, players have been judged according to their ability across all the time they were at the club, not just their peak. For example, Conor Hourihane in his first eighteen months wouldn’t get close to this list, but the Hourihane of the final five months before his departure would probably outrank all but a select few individuals in terms of ability. This has been factored into his ranking, instead of merely taking him at his peak.
Finally, this list is not perfect. It is notoriously difficult to rank players, let alone more than 200 of them across a ten year spell. To build this list, we spent hours debating, ranking and re-ranking lists of players until we arrived on a list that we were happy with. There will be players that you believe should be ranked higher, lower, or shouldn’t be on the list at all. You can’t please everyone. Please remember that while you’re complaining on social media having read this list. Otherwise, enjoy…
40: Paul Wotton
A club legend? Absolutely. But whilst Wotton would have been up there in the players of the 2000s, his two years on the pitch this decade mean he only reaches this spot in our rankings. Those two years weren’t necessarily bad. Granted, his first season back was in the midst of a relegation battle in 2012/13, but he certainly played a role in keeping Argyle in the Football League with his set-piece prowess. He was in and out of the side in 2013/14, but a late run in the side allowed him to take his total number of appearances up to a princely 491.
Wotton’s legacy, particularly in this decade, may well have been tainted slightly by his fall from grace in Derek Adams’ management team in 2018/19. But as a player, there’s no question he had a positive impact, even as his professional career drew to a close.
39: Jason Banton
Currently: Braintree Town, National League South
Banton on a loan deal from Tony Pullis’ Crystal Palace, and the young winger was a vital component in ensuring Plymouth Argyle did not find themselves dropping out of the Football League. A rich vein of form helped propel Argyle away from the basement of League Two and gleefully to safety. On his day Banton was a tricky winger with lighting pace and a great touch. With bags of skill, he offered Argyle’s game a certain ‘X-factor’, which more or less single handily saved the Greens from the drop.
A particular highlight of Banton’s first spell as a Pilgrim came against those up the road. A first half strike proved the difference as Banton and his “Keep calm and pass to Banton” shirt finished the day with three points. The winger returned to Home Park in 2014 as a part of the Sheridan regime, which of course wasn’t quite so successful. He did, however, feature in the play-offs, and grabbed a goal during the first leg against Wycombe when for a brief moment we did not “worry about a thing.”
38: Lewis Alessandra
Currently: Morecambe, League Two
Lewis Alessandra will be relatively fondly remembered by Argyle fans for a solid if unspectacular period of time at the club. He became John Sheridan’s second summer signing of 2013, scoring 12 goals in 49 games in his first season and 13 in 51 in his second before rejecting new terms and returning north to join Rochdale.
His goalscoring form and general footballing ability will not exactly be the memory of him for most fans of the club, but rather the relationship he built with Reuben Reid in Sheridan’s 3-5-2 formation. The two forwards complemented each other and produced Argyle’s first consistently good strike partnership of the decade.
37: David Button
Clean sheets: 6
Currently: Brighton and Hove Albion, Premier League
The 2010/11 season was a pretty ghastly one on and off the pitch. One persistent bright spark, however, was David Button in goal. The towering keeper was signed from Spurs on loan on the eve of the season and he immediately demonstrated just how good he was with an eye-catching performance at Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium on his debut. He went on to impress throughout the season despite being somewhat harshly dropped by manager Peter Reid.
Ability wise, he was a solid all-rounder, not really having a weak area to complain about. He was commanding and assured when collecting crosses. His kicking was strong in both distance and direction, not to mention some excellent saves. We’d have got relegated by a worse margin had he not been at the club.
36: Danny Mayor
Currently: Plymouth Argyle, League Two
Arriving in the summer of 2019 after snubbing higher league rivals, Danny Mayor was welcomed with rave reviews. After all, the playmaker had previously excelled under Ryan Lowe. Mayor has more or less claimed the left sided central midfield role as his own with his influential dribbling being so key to the Ryan Lowe system.
Although perhaps we are yet to see the best of Mayor, there have been glimpses of his class, with a lovely goal against Salford City coming to mind. In truth, he is a tricky player with a wonderful ability to glide past players as though they are not there. Mayor has cemented himself in this list and is certainly to be considered one of the best playmakers to have turned out in green and white this decade.
35: Bobby Reid
Currently: Fulham, Championship
It’s fair to say that Bobby Reid and Plymouth Argyle have had fairly different circumstances since the two parted company. After Argyle’s gut-wrenching League Two play-off semi-final defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in 2015, Reid returned to Bristol City to feature heavily in three Championship seasons before £10m move to then Premier League side Cardiff City.
An energetic box-to-box style player at the time, Reid featured 38 times for Argyle, scoring 3 and assisting 9 across what turned out to be four separate loan spells at the club in one season. A pivotal member of Sheridan’s play-off squad who has only gone on to bigger and better things since leaving Home Park.
34: David Stockdale
Clean sheets: 3
Currently: Birmingham City, Championship
Stockdale was with Argyle for just half a season at the very start of the decade. In truth, his influence was fairly slender. He didn’t manage to prevent Argyle from going down and, competing with fan favourite Romain Larrieu, he was never really popular with the fans.
Why so high in our list, then? Simply said, his incredibly high ability level makes up for his somewhat underwhelming impact. Stockdale put in a consistently excellent level of performance across his time with us, frequently making blinding saves that kept fans on the edge of their seat. Distribution, an increasingly important skill for a keeper, was also a strong area for him. A few blooper reel moments aside, Stockdale was one of the best players we’ve seen this decade and competes closely with Remi Matthews for the best quality keeper.
33: Jamie Ness
Currently: Dundee, Scottish Championship
Jamie Ness could have been so much further up this list had his body allowed it. Instead, he finds himself languishing in 33rd due to injuries taking their toll. If he was able to stay fit, there’s every chance he’d still be at the club, or at the very least offered a new contract at Home Park. Instead, he was released at the end of last season, before moving back to Scotland.
We shouldn’t allow Ness’ injuries to distract from his talents as a footballer, however. In a couple of years which saw all sorts of midfield players come to Home Park, Ness was the one who could ‘do it all.’ Surprisingly good in the tackle, able to drive forward and with a solid passing game to boot, Ness was a crucial part of the 2017/18 surge up the league table. Perhaps if he’d been available for more of last season, Argyle would still find themselves in League One.
32: Darren Purse
Clean sheets: 11
Darren Purse and Max Blanchard were really two parts of the same story. They came in when Argyle looked doomed. Jettisoned at the bottom of the Football League with no seeming chance of recovery, Purse’s uncompromising brand of defending lifted us to League Two safety in 2012.
It would be remiss to pretend that he didn’t decline in his second season. Unarguably, he did. But in his first, he was probably the single biggest factor in our survival. In addition to his tough tackling, his calm head, leadership and communication skills and, when needed, composure on the ball all resulted in the form that was needed to retain our League status. He was also reported to have taken a serious dip in his wages to leave the club in January 2013 in order to help Argyle back into a surer financial footing, something which a lot of footballers doubtless wouldn’t have done
31: Joe Mason
Currently: MK Dons, League One
Joe Mason was at Argyle for 18 months at the start of the decade and, whilst they were some of the darkest days in our history, mason himself was one of a small number of bright sparks in a sea of darkness.
His dynamic and intelligent forward play was a joy to watch. He always looked to engage in a quick pass and move style of play and his anticipation in getting in the six yard box and always looking to score was a real threat to opposing defenders. He got us a good sum of money when he was sold to Cardiff and ultimately that may have been enough to keep the club going to allow James Brent to purchase it.