TT No.53: Andy Gallon - Sat 27th October 2012; Rotherham United v Plymouth Argyle; League Two;            Res: 1-0; Att: 6,938 (633 away); Admission: £20; Programme: £3 (68pp); FGIF Match Rating: ***.




Matchday images (10)


Football fans of a certain age will recall the Football League Review. During the Sixties and Seventies, this slim magazine was produced by the Football League and came free with club programmes, into which it was inserted. Looking at them now, design and content are equally bland, though when in vogue they added value to programmes short on interesting reading material. Team line-ups were a regular feature. Colour shots of squads would appear most in each issue, both on the double-page centre spread and inside the back cover. It was here, as a seven-year-old supporter of Doncaster Rovers, I discovered Plymouth Argyle.


I’ve always been fascinated by playing strips and unusual club names, and the Argyle line-up of 1972-73 caught my eye. Their classic kit - green back and front with white sleeves, white shorts and stockings (as the Rovers programme of the era described socks) - looked fantastic against Home Park’s impressive 1950s grandstand. Without a moment’s thought about the logistical problems such a request might cause my parents, I determined to have an Argyle strip for a Christmas present. A check in my well-thumbed Subbuteo catalogue revealed these colours (doubling as Hibernian and, I recall, a Maltese club) were available, therefore I also added this miniature version of Argyle to my ‘wants’ list.


I can only imagine replica kits were few and far between in the early Seventies. Mum’s initial gambit of asking in a Doncaster sports outfitter’s (as independents were then known) drew a predictable blank and, in the end, she had to write to Argyle for help. The club came up trumps, too, and on Christmas morning I unwrapped that superb green and white shirt, made from ‘silk effect’ material and complete with a Pilgrims logo and the PAFC legend woven into the centre of the chest. Brilliant! How I treasured that shirt. Being fairly skinny as a youngster helped extend its active life, and I was still squeezing into it by the time I was 13. On reflection, it must have been a few sizes too big for a seven-year-old!


Watching Argyle at The Shay, Halifax, and Leeds Road, Huddersfield, in the years that followed the family’s departure from Doncaster was fun, though their special place in my heart did not out-last a change in kit design. To green and black vertical stripes, seeing as you ask. When, much later, I worked for a short while on the evening newspaper in Exeter, I was able to get along to Home Park, in true hopping style just the once.


The only English Football League stadia I have left to ‘tick’ are the new ones - Brighton, Cardiff, Colchester and Rotherham. Oh, and AFC Wimbledon, who for some reason I keep forgetting. From my present home in York, Rotherham is a doddle of a drive and, when perusing United’s forthcoming fixtures a few weeks ago, I noticed Plymouth Argyle were coming up. Job sorted! So, off we (partner Emma occupying the passenger seat) went to Rotherham.


Rotherham, as most will know, is one of the least attractive towns in Yorkshire. The county’s armpit, some might say. Its tatty centre - left far behind by the bright lights of nearby Meadowhall – attracts only the most downcast of locals and on this particular morning was even grimmer than usual. There were police everywhere. Some were mounted, most carried batons and a hovering helicopter surveyed the mean streets from a few hundred feet. Appositely, it took me back to watching football in the Seventies. A polite enquiry revealed we had just missed (thankfully) a National Front march, but not the all-Asian counter march, which was in full swing. South Yorkshire plod were reinforced by officers from Hull, Lancashire and Leeds. None of these strangers-in-town could point us in the direction of anywhere we wanted to go. Ironically, the National Front march coincided with the Plymouth match being United’s designated fixture in the One Game, One Community Week, part of football’s Kick it Out anti-racism campaign.


Some visitor information: if heading to Rotherham to check out the Millers’ new home, make a point of seeking out the town’s Minster, a fine example of medieval Perpendicular architecture - and don’t bother with anything else.


So, what of the New York Stadium, which has an all-seat 12,000 capacity and was built at a cost of £20m? It’s not bad, actually. Big plus is a location five minutes’ walk from the town centre. No outer ring road banishment here. Millmoor, the club’s home for 101 years, is a quarter of a mile to the west and very much intact. The pitch is neatly mown: apparently, its maintenance as a sports facility is a planning condition of Booth’s scrapyard, which embraces the site on three sides. Millmoor, rusting in peace, retains its four traditional floodlight pylons and a forlorn, ugly new main stand; never finished and destined to remain a skeletal frame of girders until the wrecker’s ball is summoned.


As many of you will know, the Millers quit the ground in 2008 after failing to resolve long-running disputes with Booth’s, their landlord. A four-year exile in Sheffield, at the unappealing Don Valley Stadium, followed. In the meantime, United worked hard to raise the money and secure the necessary permissions for the New York Stadium, named after the district of town in which it is located. The club came home in time for the 2012-13 campaign’s pre-season friendlies.


The stadium, squeezed into a wedge of land between the River Don and a railway line, is, for dowdy Rotherham at least, strikingly futuristic. Highlight of its sleek lines are two floodlight pylons on the east stand roof. With mounts angled steeply and bulbs contained in an unusual circular frame, they are as sexy as floodlights can be. The site was formerly occupied by a foundry, some of whose sheds (depressingly derelict) survive. There’s very little parking at the stadium, but its central location means most fans can walk to the ground: a pleasing link with the past. Many of the heavily glazed ground-floor voids are unused (perhaps poor parking means no businesses want to rent them), though the ones in the west stand are occupied in part by the ticket office and souvenir shop.


Inside, the stadium is quietly impressive. All the seats are red (save for white ones picking out RUFC and Millers) and contrast sharply with the vivid green of a half-natural, half-synthetic pitch. The roof panels are translucent, ensuring the arena and seats are bathed in light. The main (west) stand is the tallest section, with the tier above the seating deck given over to hospitality boxes. The other three stands (joined by ‘filled in’ corners) have a single tier of seats. Cascading (stepped, as at Kenilworth Road, Luton) roofs at each end deal neatly with the height disparity between east and west sides. A digital scoreboard (featuring silly graphics seemingly designed to confuse and irritate) is positioned on the south stand’s rear wall. From the west stand seats, tree-fringed high ground, dotted with houses, can be glimpsed above the stand opposite.


United employ G4S stewards, who, despite unfailing politeness, irritated the hell out of everyone with their dedication to maintaining a ‘sterile zone’ in the corner seats next to our block. Smokers will be pleased to hear you can leave the ground at half-time to enjoy a drag on the walkway above the railway line.


In light of the recent BBC survey of football pricing, I feel obliged to report the game didn’t represent value for money. Plymouth, happy to park the bus, came for a goalless draw. Keeper Jake Cole, with four excellent saves, kept them in it during the opening 20 minutes. Unmarked Guy Madjo, in splendid isolation up front for the unambitious Pilgrims, squandered a great chance just before half-time when he headed over from six yards. As neutrals, we’d have relished a goal for the visitors at this point. Constant Rotherham pressure had to tell, however, and with 17 minutes left Daniel Nardiello got to the byline on the right and pulled back a low cross swept in from close range by Kieran Agard. And that was pretty much that. Argyle, who brought a very good crowd of fans (though not all from the Tamar’s banks, I’m sure), were unable to change their tactics on the hoof and never looked like forcing an equaliser. 

I’m pleased to see Argyle have reverted to the green front and back with white sleeves strip that so captivated me as a child. The green’s a darker shade, but you can’t have everything. Shame they wore an alternative yellow and green number for this match. Two of the players on the back row in the aforementioned 1972-73 team picture, a young Neil Hague, sporting the obligatory glam rock haircut, and experienced keeper Jim Furnell, featured in the programme for the Rotherham game, as part of a ‘They Played for Both Clubs’ feature. It cheered me no end. I also learned that Argyle’s second-choice keeper of the time, Milija Aleksic, another player on the back row of the Football League Review shot, died earlier this month (October), which deflated me a tad and emphasised just how many years have passed since I was of junior school age. Where did the years go? 

contributed on 28/10/12