Premier League is a million miles away from the Plymouth corner of England but Pilgrimage there is good for the soul

NOBODY mentioned the Special One at the Theatre of Greens.

This is Plymouth Argyle’s world, 240 miles away from Jose Mourinho and Marco Ianni mouthing off at each other when Ross Barkley scored Chelsea’s equaliser at Stamford Bridge.

 Plymouth and Burton players walk out ahead of a match showing the reality of life outside the Premier League elite

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Plymouth and Burton players walk out ahead of a match showing the reality of life outside the Premier League elite

Argyle’s boardroom, borrowed from the nearby sports centre while the main grandstand is redeveloped, was showing repeats of old World Superbikes races before the League One clash with Burton.

The football is raw. The football is real. The football is honest.

There is nothing artificial about life at Argyle, or any of the other 71 clubs outside the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

Strip away the baubles and bright lights of the monied, corporate and heavily commercialised world at the highest level and the game still has people gripped in the lower leagues.

 Plymouth boss Derek Adams think some fans went so far but there was no doubting their passion for the club

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Plymouth boss Derek Adams think some fans went so far but there was no doubting their passion for the club
 Chelsea coach Marco Ianni sparked a row with Jose Mourinho with a celebratory jibe

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Chelsea coach Marco Ianni sparked a row with Jose Mourinho with a celebratory jibe

Portsmouth had 18,046 at Fratton Park last Saturday. West Brom, their first season back in the Championship, took 4,000 to Wigan. Plymouth convinced 8,190 to Home Park.

The Pilgrims run it all on a shoestring, operating with a tiny playing budget of around £3million a year.

Graham Carey, the best-paid player, probably earns around £2,000 a week.

Two divisions up Alexis Sanchez, raking in £505,000 a week, did not even make Manchester United’s squad at Chelsea.

Plymouth, who were propping up League One after their 3-2 defeat to Nigel Clough’s side, have never played in the top division of English football.

Stepping away from the bubble, a diary that had just taken in England’s games in Croatia and Spain, Thierry Henry’s Monaco bow — plus trips to Arsenal v Leicester and United v Juventus to follow — felt good for the soul.

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Taking the train to a far-flung place like Plymouth was a welcome reminder why the little boy inside of you fell in love with this sport in the first place.

Of away days, lurking at St Pancras, Euston or King’s Cross first thing Saturday morning waiting for the platform announcement and wondering whether you had enough layers on.

The spread of Saturday papers across the carriage table, the fresh coffee being served as the Plymouth service rattled along was a throwback and a thrill.

It led to conversations with “Digger”, the train manager who is well-known to commuters as his previous gig involved lowering coffins in a Devon cemetery.

 Plymouth is a far cry from the elite world, where for example Arsenal legend Thierry Henry has just taken over as Monaco boss

AFP
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Plymouth is a far cry from the elite world, where for example Arsenal legend Thierry Henry has just taken over as Monaco boss

Argyle were down among the deadmen on Saturday.

Digger does shifts on the railways so he can get time off to work the turnstiles for the 8,000-9,000 hardy souls who make the pilgrimage to Home Park.

They are isolated, with a 314-mile round trip along the coast to Southampton for anyone willing to fork out £42 to watch them play fellow strugglers Newcastle tomorrow in a Premier League game.

The locals prefer Plymouth, whatever division they are in.

Their programme brilliantly charts their away days on a map — 602 miles there and back for the 300-odd nutters who made it to Barnsley on a Tuesday night, 500 miles for the Carabao Cup tie at Millwall.

The Green Army travels, in numbers, wherever they play. Amazing.

 Argyle skipper Graham Carey applauds fans after a famous 0-0 draw at Liverpool

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Argyle skipper Graham Carey applauds fans after a famous 0-0 draw at Liverpool

Even so, the giddy days that followed their 0-0 draw at Liverpool in the FA Cup third round in January 2017 — losing 1-0 in a replay in front of 17,000 Plymouth fans — have disappeared.

The atmosphere last Saturday was militant. Some overstepped the mark, but nobody could doubt their devotion with their team bottom of League One.

Argyle manager Derek Adams later claimed there was a “yob” element in a prickly interview with local media.

Fair to say he would have been skinned alive had those comments been made as a Premier League manager.

 Plymouth have struggled since a heady start to last year, when they took Liverpool to this FA Cup reply, where Loris Karius punches clear from Sonny Bradley

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Plymouth have struggled since a heady start to last year, when they took Liverpool to this FA Cup reply, where Loris Karius punches clear from Sonny Bradley

As it is they are trying to survive.

Post-match was raw, like a bereavement, with guests searching clumsily for the right words.

Michael Dunford, their charming and affable chief exec, has seen plenty of defeats after a career with Derby, Everton, Birmingham and Plymouth.
Even so that boardroom was subdued, with Dunford, club ambassador Gordon Sparks and chairman James Brent doing the dignified thing by congratulating Burton’s officials.

They were worried about hosting Gillingham on Tuesday, a huge game after nine league defeats.

In the end, a 3-1 win took them off the bottom — you might say it was a special one.

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THE proposals for the reworked Club World Cup would be more appealing if it meant travelling to La Bombonera for Boca Juniors against Manchester United, or Estadio Urbano Caldeira for Santos v Manchester City.

Even so, it would also mean finding time in an already overworked diary for European football’s leading clubs.

Squeezing this expanded tournament in a single host country, with 16 or 24 clubs competing to be recognised as the best in the world, will be debated by the Fifa council in Rwanda today.

Jurgen Klopp has already made this point, complaining about the demands for his players to be at their peak every time they pull on the Liverpool jersey when they fly all over the world in different competitions.

 Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes the demands on top players and their clubs are already at breaking point

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes the demands on top players and their clubs are already at breaking point

City have done their own research into biomechanics, with scientists convinced they have found the optimum time for Pep Guardiola’s players to kick off.

Asking them to play in another demanding tournament in a crowded calendar — a competition they will be expected to treat with far more vigour than a glorified pre-season friendly in the Champions Cup — is too much.

Japan’s SoftBank is preparing to stump up some of the £20billion in prize money and participation fees that will be wafted under the noses of United, City, Liverpool and the rest of Europe.

When it comes to the crunch, money talks.

FRANK LAMPARD will get a magnificent reception from Chelsea supporters when he takes his Derby side to Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.

Lampard has always done the right thing by them, showing respect for fans who idolised and cherished him during his 13-year Blues career.

The great shame is that another big name from their recent past does not get the same treatment on the touchline.

NOBODY mentioned the Special One at the Theatre of Greens.