The Day I Made a Difference
Like many, many fans, I suffer from a ridiculous superstitiousness on match days. Whether it’s which part of my wallet I keep my ticket in, or making sure that every last possession in my house is lined up at strict 90-degree angles, I’m on it. I’ve gone through several phases with pants, and this particular “irrational” fear has led to a quite farcical situation whereby I have to cover my eyes before choosing which pair to go for. The logic being that it’s preferable to leave it in the hands of the Gods than to sully another pair of perfectly serviceable boxers with the stigma of being loser’s pants. All of a sudden those bobbles become so much more noticeable.
As silly as it sounds, I’ll keep on doing it. While others may doubt me, I’m positive that my team’s scraped points through my actions. There was a time when we scored a stoppage time equaliser against Coventry after I had the foresight to rub my PAFC pin badge at an opportune moment, not too early, or too late, as well as the succession of unbeaten home games where I, not coincidentally, happened to be wearing my bogey green Nike Air cap. A horrible accessory if ever there was one, but a precious part of Argyle’s armoury. Since I got out of the habit of wearing it, our home form has, quite predictably, nosedived.
In all seriousness, though, how often can a fan say for sure that they’ve tangibly influenced the result of a game? Generating a good atmosphere is of course vital, but that’s more of a collective responsibility. Investing money in the club is another way, but the consequences are more far-reaching with the benefits (or not) felt in the longer term. No, what I’m talking about is a one-off action that you can point to and say, “I affected that”. Such a burden fell on my shoulders in Argyle’s last game, a home tie against fellow strugglers Doncaster Rovers.
Played out mostly under a torrential So’Westerly, me and my co-ops, positioned in the open-air Mayflower Stand, sat through a fairly entertaining first half where the main objective seemed to be to keep our thighs dry. This we did by placing our hands on our knees and keeping our arms dead straight, but it was futile: we knew that by the end of the game we’d all be soaked through. We did it anyway. One player who I’d worried about ahead of the game was Martin Woods who, besides being Rovers’ captain and danger man, played a blinder for the Yorkshireman in a tormenting 3-0 defeat of Argyle at Home Park in April. Although I made sure to alter every aspect of my pre-match preparation and my attire from that day, I knew that he’d be a threat, so I unconsciously watched him closely. A half-decent free-kick and an indirect assist for Dean Shiels’ equaliser aside, Woods, however, spent most of the opening 45 recovering after he bloodied his nose defending a corner. With no replacement #17 jersey forthcoming, he had to make to with a numberless shirt, and I made a mental note of this when he cynically brought down our Irish winger Alan Judge right in front of me and clocked up a yellow for the greater good of his team. The Irishman was off, off and away, and Woods committed one of those fouls that deserved something between a booking and a red. A sin bin, perhaps?
A few minutes into the second half and, sporting a fresh #17 courtesy of the tardy kit man, Woods again went in recklessly and collected his second booking of the game. Not that the ref had picked up on this. Paul Taylor had up until that point been so shockingly bad that even my friend, the most mild-mannered tai-chi instructor you could ever meet, was reduced to expletives, and the middle man had no awareness that it was a second yellow whatsoever. Noticing this as he made his way towards the tunnel, the player thought that he’d try to pull the wool. No one seemed to notice, but I was incandescent, furious. “You’ve already booked him you ….” I cried solitarily, 25 yards or so from the intolerable man in lime. With nobody else seeming to pick up on it, I hesitated for a moment, calculating what was being played out before my eyes. “Did I imagine that?”, “What if…”, I wondered, but with conviction of mind, I continued my protestations. In split-seconds half a dozen others in the sparse crowd had joined me in my stand and, cottoning on, the fourth official’s attention was caught. We had him. 30 seconds or so later Woods was sent packing and the pendulum was all set to swing in our favour as I contentedly took my seat.
Or so we thought. As Donny manager Sean O’Driscoll said in his post-match comments, going down to 10 men didn’t change his team’s bright and open game plan and they continued to cause us problems. Keeping the ball superbly, Rovers profited from the added pressure placed on the home side, knocking the ball about with ease as Argyle players were left chasing. For all their triangles and two-touches Doncaster were, though, let down by profligate finishing and a general lack of punch up top. Billy Sharp’s star is currently wedged somewhere between Kevin Kyle and Matt Jansen’s (that is definitely going to come back and haunt me), and if this 90 minutes was anything to go by, then Rovers might suffer from over-playing it and lacking the character to kill off teams. After getting the home fans on their team’s backs and creating a couple of half-chances, the Red Hoops succumbed to an ugly winner, future New Zealand hero Rory Fallon knocking home an open goal 20 minutes from time. While an objective observer might suggest that a long-term injury to king pin Brian Stock and the loss of Matt Mills and Richie Wellens to rival Championship sides has taken its toll on Rovers, I’d like to continue thinking that my personal actions catalyzed the loss of these particular points.