As I am sure anyone with more than a passing interest in football is aware, Plymouth Argyle are in trouble. Real trouble. The imminent danger of liquidation is all so prominent these days at Home Park. Stories of players not being paid, staff being paid by the manager out of his own pocket, administration, debt and the delays securing the new owners have dominated all news relating to Argyle since March of this year. This nearly came to a head this week when there was talk of the players and staff going on strike and refusing to play today's game at Burton. Fortunately strike action was averted when the players and staff agreed to receive 40% of owed wages now and the remainder on completion of the long overdue takeover by Bishop International Ltd on the understanding that the takeover will be completed by the 31st August 2011. Troubling times indeed for a club who just two short seasons ago were playing in the Championship having steadily increased league position including two promotions between 2000 and 2008.
Enter Brighton and Hove Albion. Back in 1997 Brighton were at their lowest ebb due to the shameful asset stripping of the club by Bill Archer and David Belloti. The club was run into the ground and evicted from its Goldstone Ground home (where they had played since 1902 and is famous for being the stadium where David Beckham made his Manchester United début as a substitute in 1992). The atmosphere at Brighton games during this period was less than warm and protests and pitch invasions were commonplace. A protest during the Lincoln City game on 1st October 1996 resulted in a two point deduction given by the football league in December. Relegation looked likely at this point and the fan forum (www.northstandchat.com) was overrun with anger directed at the Belloti, Archer and particularly the FA due to their perceived lack of support during this period. Fans of other clubs left messages of support on the forum but none resonated more than a post from a 14 year old boy named Richard Vaughan – a fan of Plymouth Argyle. His post was as follows:
“I see the scum FA have now taken 2 points who do they think they are they wouldn’t do this to Man United. It makes me sick what is happening to your club and it’s an insult to your fans. I’m a Plymouth fan and I think that one week when we’re away I`m going to come up and support your protest. I think it would be a good idea if LOADS of fans from different clubs turned up at Brighton (with their shirts on) and joined in it would show that we’re all behind you 100%”
The passionate post from the young man brought Albion fans and campaigners against Albion's treatment together and a date was set for the 8th February 1997 for the Hartlepool United game to be the first ever Fans United day. From the previous foggy and anarchic atmosphere that had dogged Brighton games all season came a revelation as thousands of fans from all over the country (and a party from the German club Eintracht Frankfurt) joined together to cheer on the Albion and provide a wonderful atmosphere that helped propel the players to a 5-0 win. Albion went on to survive relegation on goal difference by three goals. How different things might have been should Fans United had never happened! Fourteen years on Albion played Argyle in League One this past February and whilst Richard Vaughan was not able to attend the game, he managed to send Brighton a message which was read out at half time and was very warmly received by both sets of supporters.
Brighton has always felt a debt of gratitude to Argyle due to the snowball effect caused by young Richard's post and now in an attempt to repay them for the help they provided to Albion at their lowest point they are attempting to return the favour. In the last 24 hours on the very same forum where it all started 14 years ago, Fans Reunited has been born. A grass-roots uprising started by forum member Woodchip has become something of a phenomenon. In just 24 hours, 121 fans have already agreed to make the trip down to Home Park on the 24th September to cheer on Argyle in their match with Macclesfield. And with three weeks to go and the campaign only just getting started and spreading with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter the number can only multiply. In the day and age where the internet, and more importantly social media, has become an integral part of everyday life the message has a chance to surpass the impact it had all those years ago.
The knock on effect caused by the potential liquidation of Plymouth Argyle through football as a whole could be catastrophic. In an age where footballers earn huge wages and command bigger transfer fees than ever before, a domino effect for lower league sides is a strong possibility. Therefore, as football fans, we need to make this day the biggest event that we can to not only support Plymouth Argyle but also to support the beautiful game as a whole. No club with a history as long as Argyle's have been liquidated before and, whilst other teams have come close (notably Brighton's rival Crystal Palace last year), this would be and could become the first of many. We need to act now to ensure this doesn't happen.
So I implore you, if you are a fan of our great sport, please head down to Home Park, Plymouth on the 24th September wearing the shirt of your preferred team and lets show football that we still care.
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Remember how good Plymouth Argyle where to us when we were promoted?