25 February ~ The US writer Dave Zirin outlined in last year's Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love a manifesto for baseball and American football fans frustrated with poor leadership, concluding: "We all have a stake in breaking the passive pose of the fan. We all have a stake in demanding that our local owners live up to the dreams their teams inspire. There's a time to cheer and a time to seethe. We all have a stake in knowing the difference."
So let us seethe. The notification seeping out of Home Park this week that Plymouth Argyle intended to appoint an administrator to salvage scraps from a rising tide of debt came as no shock. In spite of increasingly bizarre denials from the club, the ten point deduction imposed by the Football League for an "insolvency episode" was greeted by fans with a shrug of inevitability mixed with gallows humour as odds on the Pilgrims surviving relegation plummeted. A protest march to the club before the last home game, however, a depressing defeat to Tranmere, showed that anger can be as constructive as forward thinking.
Argyle's nascent Fans' Trust has grown in stature recently, articulating an impressive demand that no one connected to the old regime should serve on a newly-constituted board. But it will take more campaigning to effect real, sustainable change, and the majority of fans would be satisfied with new investment in the club with little regard to its provenance.
Meanwhile, the politicking at Home Park has continued, providing fodder for national journalists now (and inspiring a leader in this week's Guardian that sympathised with our plight). The "informal football consultant" Peter Ridsdale has been busy saving the club/laying the foundations for a takeover on the cheap (delete as fits your suspicions). With the local members either inert, jockeying for a role in a new board structure or apparently on holiday in Dubai, and the much-vaunted but palpably crap duo of Sir Roy Gardner and Keith Todd stepping back from their roles as chairman and executive director, Ridsdale has been in the driving seat. His stewardship of player sales to raise money to pay a whopping tax bill was ruthlessly efficient, and the problems of a cripplingly low cash flow are not of his making, but Ridsdale has instilled fiscal competence and a semblance of communication with the fans (however much that might be pure spin), making him look more than competent in comparison to his predecessors.
On the pitch, the first game played under the yoke of the deduction was a seventh defeat in a row, a 4-0 drubbing at Brighton. The sales of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Craig Noone have shorn Argyle of flair and creativity, leaving only effort and a mixture of craggy if limited veterans and untested youth. Peter Reid is still given huge respect by the fans for the way he's handled the tribulations of the season, but seems powerless to come up with the goods to stop the rot. The outfit that was only a couple of years ago proudly touted as "the best in the west" is heading south, with little prospect of an arrest in the decline. Gareth Nicholson