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…
5: Carl Fletcher
Now that the decade is all but over, Carl Fletcher’s name is not one that will stick heavily in the consciousness among Argyle fans at present. He isn’t part of the present push for promotion. Nor was he part of our last great team, getting out of this league under Derek Adams. His time playing for (and indeed managing) the club was actually pretty wholly associated with misery, if truth be told, going from the championship to the bottom of the football league.
So then, why is he so high up in this list? In truth, the answer is that he fulfils the two main criteria we judge on for our best players from 2010-2019. On ability, there are few better than him who’ve played for us this decade. He was a domineering central midfielder who had had recent Premier League and international experience upon joining the greens,
On impact too, nobody can deny how pivotal he was. He won the player of the season award in 09/10, being arguably our best player in the first 6 months of the decade. He then was inarguably our best player over the course of the 10/11 season when Argyle battled against the threat of liquidation yet ultimately ended up succumbing to League Two.
The decade began with Argyle in turmoil. Paul Mariner had just taken over from the recently departed Paul Sturrock and he continued with Fletcher as his captain and lynchpin. Mariner’s improvement on our form under Sturrock was only marginal but the performances did notably improve and especially so did Fletcher’s.
He was at the heart of all the midfield battles, tackling with aplomb when needed but more often sitting deep in the hole and intercepting enough loose balls so that the amount of times he needed to make saving tackles was somewhat limited. He also scored a couple of very memorable goals in our brief push for survival, a belting long range effort right into the top corner levelling the scores at Barnsley early in Mariner’s reign. Argyle went on to win that game 3-1.
The Fletcher moment that truly sent fans into raptures, however, was a home winner against Bristol City in March 2010. After getting a two goal lead, we were pegged back to 2-2 following a brace from future transfer target Nicky Maynard. It took a 20 yard strike from Fletcher through a field of players in the dying embers of the game to send the Argyle crowd into hysterics.
Argyle in truth went down more due to tactical mistakes and deficiencies in other areas rather than the lack of a great captain. We lost our championship status but we gained a potential club legend in the making. So, on to our solitary season in League One.
A new season bought with it a new manager and Peter Reid had a similar role for his captain, sitting in the deepest midfield role in a 4-2-3-1. Again, few complaints could be had against him for a defensive point of view. He executed his duties well and against a lower standard of midfielders, his passing game, perhaps little limited in the Championship years was really allowed to shine through.
Where he truly thrived that season was in his off pitch leadership, however. When most players become club captain, I can’t imagine they ever seriously anticipate having to deal with anything like the magnitude of hell that Fletcher had to cope with. It all began in summer 2010 when Argyle players found that their wages hadn’t been paid, supposedly due to an administrative glitch.
We all know what happened next. Argyle’s hard working players and backroom staff went many months without pay and indeed more than an entire year passed from the day where they got their last full and timely pay packet of the old regime, to the day where they got their first one of the new regime.
This is a situation that would have been hard even if only for a couple of months, but to have the kind of instability for an entire year is beyond tolerable. Fletcher in that time amply demonstrated his capacity as a leader of men. For a group of players to get out on the pitch and put their heart and soul into those performances whilst not knowing if they had any job security was extremely impressive and credit has to go to the captain for that.
Furthermore, Fletcher as captain recognised his duty to the local community and to those suffering even worse. It was widely reported that he and other senior pros gave whatever sparse wages they did receive to younger pros and non-football staff and when administrator Brendan Guilfoyle did offer 40% of their March wages, the players led by Fletcher voted unanimously to give them to the other staff.
Finally, he knew how to fight dirty when needed. He led a strike campaign, threatening to withdraw the labour of him and his Argyle teammates for the game at Burton in September 2011 due to the length of time without pay. Whilst he only secured a partial pay packet, it was a damn sight better than what would have happened if he hadn’t taken action.
Fletcher, despite suffering a knock, was clearly too good for League Two in the season that we first went down there and it was actually a real blow to our playing side of things when he got appointed as manager just after James Brent saved the club. Fletcher the manager wasn’t so successful: that we all know. But, it was by no means from any lack of trying from the man who stood up at a time where nobody else would.
Argyle fans may not think about him much now but they’ll always remember him fondly. If not for the people who stood firm against unsavoury owners and financial vultures, we may well still not even have a club to be enjoying. And that’s without mentioning his consistently good performances on the pitch, far above the level he was playing at. Carl Fletcher was and remains an Argyle legend.