4 September ~ You could have forgiven Plymouth fans for being excited at the inclusion of their local football stadium in England's World Cup 2018 bid when it was announced last December. However, the team has since slipped into the third tier. To avoid the stadium becoming a white elephant, filled to only a quarter of its capacity, Argyle would need to be in the Premier League, or at least be strongly competing to move towards it.
The building work is on course, should England's bid be successful, to be completed in time for 2014-15. But with average gates of 10,316 in the Championship last season, and now playing in League One, the club needs to move fast in order to avoid the embarrassment of "doing a Darlo" and filling a paltry amount of seats in a 46,000-seat stadium, the final capacity when work is finished.
On August 12, full plans for the redevelopment were released. Estimated to cost a stunning £150 million, it will include an ice rink, a three-star hotel and a cinema. Should the redevelopment come to pass, the local rugby team, Plymouth Albion, will potentially share it and an adjacent arena will be used by basketball outfit Plymouth Raiders.
It can't be denied that if the council pulls it off, it will be a fantastic addition to Devon. Meanwhile, the venue's tenants have slumped to defeats at home to Peterborough and away at Walsall in the past month. Argyle have a lot to live up to and don’t have long to turn things around.
It seems strange to put this added pressure on a team that has never played in the top flight – but it is perhaps forgivable given that up to 2009, Argyle had improved their league position every year since the turn of the millennium. Peter Reid, out of management since 2005 barring a short stint as boss of the Thai national team, took charge in the summer and guided his new club to a shock win away at title favourites Southampton on the opening day. But Argyle haven't won since.
League One visitors to Home Park this season will see a top-of-the-range pitch, installed this summer (a whole phase of the redevelopment plans was devoted to the pitch, costing £500,000). But maintaining such a large venue, complete with concessions and corporate facilities, could be turn out to be a logistical and financial nightmare.
While fans in the south-west have a lot to look forward to should football indeed "come home" in eight years’ time, the first game at the redeveloped Home Park still seems more likely to be against Leyton Orient than Liverpool. Starting this summer, with every year that Plymouth waste their ground will get bigger. Ollie Taylor