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Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 18:09 UK

Pilgrims arrive in unpromised land

Newcastle and Plymouth board members
Contrasting fortunes for the Newcastle board members (left) and Argyle's officials including Paul Stapleton.

by Philip Tuckett

Shortly before 10 o'clock on Monday night, a jubilant band of fans rushed onto the pitch at Home Park, eager to join their team in celebrating a glorious season.

In sharp contrast, the majority of those inside the stadium made a hasty retreat for the exits or stood quietly on the sidelines, watching enviously.

The moment brought the despair of Plymouth Argyle's newly-relegated Green Army face-to-face with joyous Newcastle United fans, of whom 2,341 had made the long trip south to witness their team win 2-0 and claim the Championship title in the process.

Both teams are now heading for the exit door of the Championship, albeit in different directions.

In August, Plymouth Argyle will be plying their trade in the third tier of English football for the first time in six years.

Argyle fans 'gutted' by relegation

The reality of their new position will come as a bitter blow for many fans, who barely three years ago, were daring to dream of promotion to the Premier League under the stewardship of Ian Holloway.

The demise in Argyle's fortunes could indeed be attributed to the impromptu departure of Holloway back in November 2007, when he left Home Park to take up the golden purse offered at Leicester City.

However, the travails of the current season alone have brought enough intrigue to give some explanation as to why the club finds itself dropping down a tier.

In July 2009, Plymouth's boardroom underwent its most significant surgery in eight years, with the arrival of investors from Japan, alongside former Manchester United PLC chairman Sir Roy Gardner and lifelong fan Keith Todd.

Bar Todd, the new members of the Argyle board have been conspicuous by their absence from Home Park this season and with financial issues arising on a regular basis, fans have questioned their commitment to the club.


Shortly before kick-off on Monday, BBC Radio Devon's Plymouth Argyle commentator Gordon Sparks, said: "How much does the board know about this football club? That is a huge question.

"It seems that so many things have gone amiss, as far as attention on the playing side is concerned.

"They're looking at a massive loss this season, and where's that going to leave them next year?"

And with the club posting a debt of £2.8m over the financial year 2009/10, a number of high-profile players sent out on loan, but still picking up their wages from their parent club, and a change in personnel at the top with Paul Mariner replacing Paul Sturrock, there are certainly more questions than answers emitting from Home Park.

If you add in the process of bidding to host World Cup matches in 2018, a high-profile spat between Sturrock and defender Marcel Seip, and the fact the club spent nearly a month under a transfer embargo around the turn of the year, then conditions off the pitch at Home Park have, by anyone's standards, been far from settled.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the club sold Home Park, their most valuable asset, to a new property company that they had set up.

Campbell 'angry' after relegation

This move makes any potential re-sale of Plymouth Argyle less attractive, as the ground is no longer owned by the club.

Things have been equally turbulent on the field, with a record of just 11 wins telling the story more simply than any tactical analysis ever could.

That this has been far from a perfect season for Argyle was acknowledged in the aftermath of Monday's defeat by the club's chief operating officer, Tony Campbell.

He told BBC Spotlight: "I'm angry that maybe we got things wrong this season.

"We all have to accept that if you get relegated it's because something's gone wrong and we all have to accept responsibility for that.

"We perhaps made wrong decisions at boardroom level. Maybe coaches have made wrong decisions and the players have made wrong decisions."

The admission of making 'wrong decisions' will provide scant relief to followers of the Pilgrims, for whom dropping into League One, where they could now face their old rivals Exeter City, is an ignominious thought.

With several months for reflection and regrouping before Plymouth start again, Campbell gave some hope that things will improve.

"There will inevitably be changes coming for next season. There has to be," he concluded.

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see also
Plymouth 0-2 Newcastle
19 Apr 10 |  Championship
Argyle defiant despite relegation
20 Apr 10 |  Plymouth
Mariner wants to stay at Plymouth
20 Apr 10 |  Plymouth
In pictures: Plymouth relegated
20 Apr 10 |  People and Places
Plymouth announce Home Park plan
09 Mar 10 |  Plymouth
Transfer embargo lifted at Argyle
07 Jan 10 |  Plymouth
Plymouth set to prosper from bid
17 Dec 09 |  Plymouth
Sturrock's fall from grace at Argyle
11 Dec 09 |  Plymouth
Mariner in for Sturrock at Argyle
10 Dec 09 |  Plymouth
In pictures: Paul Sturrock
10 Dec 09 |  People and Places
Mariner set for Plymouth return
18 Oct 09 |  Plymouth
Where does Argyle's future lie?
02 Jul 09 |  Plymouth
Consortium takes over at Plymouth
02 Jul 09 |  Plymouth
Holloway resigns as Plymouth boss
21 Nov 07 |  Plymouth

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