Semi Final Memories: Plymouth Argyle 1984
Second up in this week’s series looking back to non-top flight appearances in the FA Cup semi finals, we look back 31 years to a time when George Reilly broke Devonian hearts. Here’s Roger Willis:
In 1984 I was in my first year of higher education and living in Gloucester, Mrs Thatcher bestrode British politics like a colossus and unfashionable, unfancied, unlikely Plymouth Argyle made it to an FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park where a game against Graham Taylor’s Watford awaited – then on their way to becoming something of a power in English football and destined to eventually end up runners-up in Division 1.
In those days FA Cup tradition was sacrosanct. The competition format, including as many replays as required and the use of a neutral ground for the second rematch onwards, hadn’t been tinkered with at all – at least to the best of my knowledge and certainly not in my lifetime. In addition, a part of all of that was the use of a neutral venue for the semi-final.
As far as they ever did, the FA attempted to show some common sense and the choice of venue depended on who the teams were. There wasn’t really anywhere appropriate in terms of size and geography ‘twixt Watford and Plymouth, a London venue was adjudged to be too “Watford”, and so Villa Park it was.
There was the inevitable scramble to get a ticket to be overcome and given that I was neither a season ticket holder nor resident in Plymouth (which would have allowed me the opportunity to obtain a voucher at a home game) it looked like a tricky proposition. Luckily Mum and Dad entered the fray and one (both?) of them queued up for hours in the city’s Central Park when the tickets went on sale – and the deed was done. At least that was what they told me and since I had a ticket I was n’t too bothered about details. Except…
…Mum and Dad decided that they would go to the match too. As did a college friend of mine named Andy who came from nearby Looe. The plan would see M&D pick us up from Gloucester, drive up to the game and then take us all back home afterwards – I think it was the Easter break.
Hence, we needed 4 tickets – but unfortunately, they had obtained 3 for the Holte End and 1 for the Witton End. To this day I have no idea why.
Some time later they came up with the solution of swapping the 3 Holte Enders for Witton Enders so we could all stand together. The Witton End! I was not impressed. On arrival at the ground Dad didn’t much like the look of the terrace and swapped their 2 tickets for seats and so, on a gloriously sunny day, Andy and I stood in the end furthest from the passion, action and spectacle of the Holte End which was divided into two halves – one of them red and yellow, the other green and white.
Watford also had the side to our right opposite the TV cameras giving them about 40% of the crowd whereas plucky, little Argyle had filled an end, a side and our half of the Holte End. “We’ve got more fans than you” we sang – and we did. By lots. It doesn’t look like it on the telly footage though.
But the crowd battle was all we were to win. Despite bossing the game and putting in a display characterised by endeavour, commitment, application and no little skill John Barnes skinned Gordon Nesbit, our right back, banged over a perfect cross and the gigantic George Reilly beat Lindsay Smith to the header. 1-0 and, apart from an agonising last minute shot from Kevin Hodges that for all the world looked like it was going in until it hit a divot and turned like an off break to beat a left-hander’s outside edge, that was it. Had it gone in, extra time would have followed.
Would we have won? Yes – of course we would. No doubt about it. None at all.
Pride for both teams was intact; the one moment of real quality and glory was theirs; sighs of relief were heaved in the red and yellow sections; Watford’s players looked sheepish as they trooped off the pitch – they knew who the better team on the day was; green and white hearts were broken; our tears dampened green and white scarves; the bitter, jagged little pill of defeat, majestic defeat though it was, was ours.
We’ll do it next time. We will…
31 years and counting.