The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Home Park and Plymouth Argyle

Malcolm Dawson writes…….whilst John McCormick is off to Sunny Spain Pete Sixsmith continues with his series recalling his visits to the grounds of upcoming opponents with his memories of Home Park, Plymouth which is quite apt as in a few weeks he will be doing a few “Ho Ho Hoes of his own”! Just less than twenty years or so back I too went to sunny Devon and made the games at Torquay and the real St James’ Park in Exeter but for some reason didn’t get to Plymouth. Peter did.


Playing away at Home

I have a confession to make.

I have only seen us once at Home Park and that was a Testimonial Match for Mick Heathcote. I have never seen us play a competitive game against the Argyle – and I won’t be there this Saturday.

When we played them for the first time in 1959 (a dreary 0-0 draw) I was more concerned about the fortunes of Leeds RLFC than Sunderland AFC. In fact, it is quite likely that Sunderland AFC had not appeared on the radar of this 8 year old at that time and that he had no idea of where they played, what colours they wore and, indeed, where Sunderland was.

The last one may not quite be true. My father was spending some time in Sunderland as the company he worked for (and who eventually moved him up here) had a base on Wearside so I remember him going there on a Monday and coming home on a Friday in his company Triumph Herald CCU 693.

Prototype Sixermobile

His interest in football was somewhere on a par with what mine is in The Life and Works of Ant and Dec so he did not return to Leeds 6 with red and white scarves or Football Echoes with the latest doings of Amby Fogarty, Jimmy O’Neill and Colin Grainger (aka “the Singing Winger”). Nor did he wax lyrical about Vaux Beers, pease pudding and Binns, feeling much more at home with Melbourne Ales, Yorkshire puddings and Schofields on his fleeting visits home.

Since that inaugural game in October of ’59, we have made 11 Football League visits to Plymouth, winning three, drawing three and losing five. The last time we played there was in February 2007 when goals from Anthony Stokes in the 69th minute and David Connolly two minutes later wrapped up the points as our Roy Keane inspired team moved comfortably up the league to end up as Championship Champions.

My sole visit came six years before that when Peter Reid took us on a jolly pre-season tour to the West Country. Games were arranged at Torquay United, Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City and it gave many Sunderland supporters an opportunity to tick off three grounds that we rarely, if ever, played on.

Pete Horan and myself travelled down on a train that contained one carriage (ours) that was like a sauna. The heating was jammed on, there were no windows to open and the population of the coach were sitting in their undies by the time the train reached Birmingham. Bottles of water were brought round at every stop, and we arrived in Torquay de-hydrated, tired and fractious after an uncomfortable 8-hour journey.

Don’t mention The Mags!

We located the hotel (which was not run by Mr and Mrs Fawlty) and I remember soaking in a long bath in order to re-establish my bodily equilibrium before finding a pub. The Wetherspoons was the first one we came across before we found The Hole in The Wall and that was where we drank for the rest of the stay.

It was here we encountered two Sunderland supporters from the London area who we named “The Intense Brothers” because they were brothers and wow, were they intense. Every game was discussed in fine detail and was stripped down to its bare essentials. They felt that Reid had probably done all he could and that it was time to move him on. I poo-pooed the idea and was convinced that we could push for a top four place. They knew more than me.

We won 5-0 at Torquay the next day and we spent the next two days stooging around Devon. One day was spent at Newton Abbot races where I did well and Pete went home in his vest, the next was a divine day where we took the steam train from Paignton to Kingsbridge, the ferry from Kingsbridge to Dartmouth and then a wonderful boat trip up the River Dart to Totnes where we had a mystical lunch in a New Age restaurant.

The next day we took the ALS bus from Torquay to Plymouth to see if the lads could retain their 100% record in the West Country. We did by 3 goals to nil.

The team lined up like this:

Tommy Sorenson; Simon Ramsden, (Darren Williams 46), Stanislas Varga, Emerson Thome, Julio Arca; Stefan Schwarz (David Bellion 46) Gavin McCann Nicholas Medina (George McCartney 66), Kevin Kilbane; Lilian Laslandes (Niall Quinn 46) Kevin Phillips (Danny Dichio 61) Unused subs; Jurgen Macho, Jody Craddock.

Super Kev opened the scoring in the 37th minute, doubled the score in 57th and then left the field to generous applause, allowing Danny Dichio to come on and round up the scoring in the 82nd minute.

Argyle were managed by Paul Sturrock and featured a slew of long serving players. John Beswetherick played 138 games for them despite sounding like part of the old Norse method of counting sheep into the pen (“Yan, tan, tether, mether, pip”) while Graham Coughlan, now defensive coach at Bristol Rovers played 177 times for the Greens.

Kelloe lad Mick Heathcote, who played 9 times for us before moving on to Shrewsbury, Plymouth and back to the land of coracles, made 199 appearances hence the testimonial and Mick Evans up front had two spells at his home town club, making 221 appearances.

He was also at Southampton, signing before the old deadline in March of 1997 and playing a very important part in keeping them up at our expense. He scored three goals as Saints dragged themselves out of the bottom three, and finishing a point ahead of us. Their last day defeat at Villa Park mattered little as we lost at Selhurst Park to Wimbledon and descended the stairs to the old Second Division.

Nicolas Medina

The name Nicolas Medina appeared in that list. He cost us £3.5m from Argentinos Juniors and never kicked a ball in the Premier League. His sole first team game was an FA Cup tie at home to Bolton Wanderers when Howard Wilkinson selected him in midfield alongside Sean Thornton, Gavin McCann and his Argentinian chum Julio Arca.

After that he went to Spain then back to Argentina where he played for Rosario Central amongst others, Chile where he had a season at O’Higgins, a club named after the 18th century founding father of the country, before ending up in Peru where he fed bears on marmalade sandwiches and turned out for Union Gomerio and Sport Huancayo. He always looked a good player to me and I used to enjoy watching him at New Ferens Park when he played there for the Reserves in his time at Sunderland.

It’s a long way from Sunderland to Plymouth. The road mileage is 402.6 miles, taking 6.5 hours, not including stops at Woodall, Gloucester and Cullompton Services (other Service stations are available) and don’t even ask about the train.

Many are setting off early in the morning (or the middle of the night) while others are making a weekend of it. They will arrive at a tidy ground a good 30 minutes’ walk from the city centre, a ground that is 75% rebuilt with only one (demolished) stand to replace.

Argyle seem to have a predeliction for Sunderland players and managers for their hot seat. Billy Bingham, Mick Buxton, Bob Moncur and Peter Reid have all sat in it and Alan Brown assisted Argyle after his retirement to Devon in the late 70s.

Jake says “There’s more than one team plays in red and white in Sixer’s life.”

Martin Harvey was assistant to Moncur and stayed after the Scot was sacked. He was also Billy Bingham’s assistant for Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup finals and he settled in Devon. Alas, he now has Alzheimer’s and is very ill, a sad end to one of the coolest, calmest and most elegant players I have ever seen in a Sunderland shirt.

I shall be at Barton-on-Humber watching Shildon take on Barton Town in the FA Vase 2nd Round. I hope that John Marshall, who will be taking responsibility for the Sevens and the Soapbox is texting me on a regular basis with words like “Brilliant goal by Maguire”, “Another one for Maja” and “A blinder from Cattermole.”

We live in hope.

If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.

5 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Home Park and Plymouth Argyle”

  1. I’m sorry to hear that Martin Harvey is unwell. One of my favourite all time Sunderland players. I remember him, within a very short period in the early 1960’s, taking over from Stan Anderson in the Sunderland team, and from Danny Blanchflower for N Ireland.

    Super player, and was part of a great half back line –

    Harvey: Hurley and McNab – what we would give to have players like that now?

    Best wishes in your personal battle now mate.

  2. That was a hot train journey, despite Mr Branson’s free water. The first beer our Ian drank was a half of London Pride as a 15 year old in a lovely pub down a side street Sixer had found in Torquay. Then the bowls nearer the ground….a grand trip.

  3. (Oh Bother. Just wrote all the following but forgot to put name in and lost the lot!! Never mind the betting adverts that is something you could address for old folks like me!!!!!) ……..

    The “divine day” you mention is known as the “Round Robin” which I can highly recommend to anyone with a day to spare. The route can be joined at any point and similarly left and rejoined to suit your mood/thirst/hunger. My wife and I used part of it two weekends ago to access Agatha Christie’s former holiday home on the edge of the Dart estuary. Thus I was able to enjoy 20 degrees Celsius one Saturday and, at the SoL, 2 degrees the next! BTW., we stayed in Torquay, close to Farty Towels.

  4. The Flying Pig, the name of the three legged donkey that cleaned me out! 2 of his mates have just flown past my lounge window.
    Pete waved his winnings at me for the rest of the trip.
    A lovely memory of a great trip with several hundred wonderful Sunderland fans.

  5. I also saw all three of those friendlies. Torquay was scorching hot, Laslandes scored a fine header which filled us with optimism that he was a credible Quinn successor. Alas, it was not to be.

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