After almost two months since my preview post of this save, I’m finally back. Christ. Thanks to the incredible work of The FMEditors Team, I can stop feigning my interest in short-term beta save ideas to pass the time and sink my teeth into the full-fat edition of Football Manager 2021. That’s right: the Level 10 database is out and – more importantly – The Pasty Men are here.
Meet at the Marsh
As soon as I received the call, I jumped straight into ‘Nobby’ – my 2002 Ford Fiesta – and drove the 2 miles west from my family home to Callington Community College and the adjacent Ginsters-sponsored Marshfield Park: my new home for the foreseeable future.
Since player-manager Sam Borthwick left The Pasty Men a couple of months ago, Callington Town had been in a bit of a slump. Desperation called as all boroughs of the Duchy trounced them weekly and it became time for chairman Shaun Earl to look for anyone who was willing to take the cursed reigns at Marshfield Park. ‘Anyone’, it seemed, includes 24-year-old Janners from across the bridge who have very minimal actual coaching qualifications but a half-decent history in management video games.
Upon stepping into the minimal home changing rooms at The Marsh, my soon-to-be assistant manager Jason Ramsay pulled me in for a gruff hug before introducing himself briskly. Jason handed me a dossier that looked as if it had been complied of notes scribbled down on the touchline during previous matches. “A bit of light reading before you meet the lads for pre-season on Saturday, ha! Once you’ve digested that – all the coaches are meeting down The Old Clink tonight for a couple of pints. We’ll properly initiate you!”
Despite all of the research I had to conduct into my future team, the anxieties I had about meeting the rest of the team lead to me putting down the dossier, chucking a jacket on and meeting Jason and the boys down the pub. Lo and behold, after a very messy evening, I woke up at home with a pounding head and a queasy feeling in my stomach. A cup of Smuggler’s Brew and a slice of toast later, I felt at least slightly ready to find out about my new squad. (If they are anything like my coaching staff, we’re in for a hell of a year…)
Tom Anderson – 21 – RM/CM
Former Forest Green Rovers youth player
Naturally a right-midfielder but plays best as a box-to-box midfielder
Amazing first touch, composure and stamina
A quiet lad who is currently studying marine biology at the University of Plymouth
Favourite TV show of all time: Top Gear
First-choice central midfielder
Jon Basford – 16 – AMR/WBR
Came through the Callington Town youth academy
Filling in as a backup right-winger while attending Callington Community College
Very quick and naturally fit
Enjoys going down The Fish Bar with his mates whenever he isn’t in the matchday squad
Lack of belief in his ability has lead to Jon considering packing in the amateur game and focusing on a different career
Jay Burke – 22 – DM/CM
Callington Town youth product and club captain
Used to come to games with his dad whenever The Pasty Men were playing at The Marsh
A rock at the centre of midfield, breaking up attacks and maintaining the heart of the squad
Works 4 days a week in the Callington Tesco stacking shelves
Once got very drunk at a sponsorship dinner and insulted Ginsters pasties in front of Ginsters CEO, Flor Healy
Dominic Claxton – 25 – CB
Only took up football this season in an attempt to make it into the pro game at the ripe age of 25
Half-decent centre-back but not someone who will be making the starting line-up every week
At 6’0″, his impressive 11 jumping reach should do a decent job at this level
As I turned the page to the next of the famed ‘Pasty Men’, my eyelids started to droop and my vision started to blur. Back to bed for a bit I think. I’ll check up on the rest of the squad later, I’m sure.
The Master Plan
Of course, the ideal plan is to eventually become a dominant force in world football, however the fact that it will take at least 10 promotions before Callington even reach the pinnacle of English football means that ‘the dream’ could be very far away. As I stated in my previous post, the initial aim is for The Pasty Men to find their feet as the most successful Cornish club. Truro City – currently in The Pitching In Southern League Premier Division South – are 4 promotions away. Luckily, the local press believe that Callington have a very high chance of finishing top of the South West Peninsula League Premier Division West this season. Hey – another 3 consecutive promotions after that and we could be facing The White Tigers one-on-one!
My usual fare when managing a team far lower down the football pyramid is to go for a late-1990s Manchester United-style counter-attacking 4-4-2, however I wanted to try and be more adaptive to the limitations of Callington and play to the strengths of the players already at the club (in addition to the new arrivals). Although we were to play a 4-2-3-1 instead of a 4-4-2, the aim was still to counter-attack and hit the opponent quickly on the break with some aggressive counter-pressing and fast movement. Against the likes of 42 year-old pub landlords playing Sunday league, the might of my frontline should run rampant.
Pre-season went fairly successfully: creditable draws against decent local teams such as Plymouth Parkway and Weymouth were real highlights while we slowly learned how to keep clean sheets towards the end of August.
To add to the good news, the board agreed to fund a coaching course for me to attend whenever I’m not teaching in my day job or coaching The Pasty Men, making me potentially one of the best coaches in the South West Peninsula Premier Division West…
Next time in ‘The Pasty Men’, we take on our local rivals Launceston in the opening match of the South West Peninsula Premier Division West; face Snodland town in the first qualifying round of the FA Vase; and we see how far we can take The Pasty Men in this first half of the season.
As always, thanks for sticking by and giving this a read.
P.S. If you’d read my prelude you may have noticed a slightly different logo for Callington Town! I decided to give the club crest a fresh, modern re-brand to make the quality-of-life while playing the game that little bit better. It will be a lot nicer seeing the clean lines of my new logo 20 seasons into the game!
So then…FM20 is over! I’ve had a great time in my first year trying my hand at blogging my favourite game, Football Manager. Instead of relentlessly pestering my girlfriend with the latest story of how I took my beloved Plymouth Argyle from League Two to the Premier League by replicating Ryan Lowe’s attacking 3-4-1-2 system, I decided to take the plunge and share my ramblings with my fellow addicts. Last November rpwfm.com was born and I spent a good seven months regularly releasing updates on the progress of my young Pilgrims through the English football pyramid and I absolutely loved it! I cannot thank those of you who read any of my blogs enough for putting up with my constant in-jokes, irreverent characters and writing style which eventually became part-save update, part-complete and utter nonsensical fantasy.
As I reached the back-end of May 2020 I decided to take a step back from Football Manager for a bit and spend some time pursuing my music while off work and in lockdown. A couple months later and having released my debut solo EP (another thing I did not expect to come out of 2020!) I had a hankering to get back to FM. I had the exciting – albeit over-ambitious – idea to try and tackle the Pentagon Challenge to keep me going until FM21 releases in November. Although I had completed two seasons with Swedish minnows Norrby IF, the save file corrupted and I unfortunately lost all my motivation to pick the save back up again from the ashes. I decided to pack in my FM20 journey and prepare for an even bigger and even better year with Football Manager 2021, and with that came the first hurdle: who do I start with?
The Pasty Men – Callington Town Football Club
Callington Town Football Club are a non-league semi-professional club based in Callington, a small town in East Cornwall. Affectionally nicknamed ‘The Pasty Men’ due to their close proximity to the Ginsters factory and headquarters, Callington play in the South West Peninsula Premier League West in the 11th tier in the English football pyramid. The club play their games at the Ginsters-sponsored Marshfield Parc, situated on the grounds of Callington Community College. The question is: why Callington?
In FM20 I chose to go with my hometown and favourite club Plymouth Argyle, whereas Callington Town are local to me in a different way. Although I grew up in Plymouth, my family moved a forty-minute drive into Cornwall when I was 17 to look for a nice house in the countryside. They settled in a small hamlet down the road from Callington and – despite moving back to Plymouth when I moved out a couple of years later – I still regularly visit Callington to see my parents and know it as my second home. I’ve never been a supporter of the big clubs further up the line in the Premier League and have never considered myself a ‘glory supporter’ so it made sense to me to try a save with the only other club that is personal to me in Callington Town!
Callington are certainly not a club that is cemented in local folklore as being a highly-reputable and ‘winners’ club; no, as long as I have been following them Callington have struggled amongst some bigger rivals in the South West Peninsula Premier League and I regularly see updates of the latest drubbing they have received on their Twitter feed.
Despite often finding themselves near the foot of the league table, The Pasty Men faced a bit of a resurgence under the leadership of manager Sam Borthwick. Unfortunately, however, a string of bad results and a disagreement between the board and Borthwick led to the fan-favourite manager leaving Callington Town with a piece of pasty still in his heart.
That is where I come in. Back in FM16 I managed to take Callington as far as the Vanarama National League South before losing my job and ending the save and in FM21 I intend to go far further. My goals while in charge of The Pasty Men are simple:
Stop being sh*te: The first – and hopefully easiest – goal is to simply stop losing. Callington made the drop from the South West Peninsula Premier League to the South West Peninsula Premier League West in recent years and it is important to stop this downward trend fast.
Become the most reputable club in Cornwall: While Devon houses a number of semi-professional teams higher up the pyramid, most Cornish football clubs languish around level 10 or lower. The only anomaly to this is Truro City, who have floated between the Vanarama National League South and Southern Premier League in recent seasons. As I stated earlier, I had previously been sacked as Callington manager on an earlier edition of Football Manager while managing The Pasty Men in the VNL South and I look forward to (hopefully) growing bigger than The White Tigers and becoming the most reputable football club in Cornwall.
Be the first Cornish football club since Truro City to win a piece of national silverware: We’re not obsessed with being better than Truro, I promise… One step on the path of becoming the most reputable football club in Cornwall is to match (and hopefully exceed) the successes of our local-ish rivals. Back in 2018 The White Tigers won the F.A. Vase for the very first time and I intend on winning more national silverware to raise the reputation of Cornish football.
Get a Cornish football club into the English Football League: Again, see previous points. The highest a Cornish club has been up the English football pyramid is the 6th tier and it would be nice to finally make those extra jumps and have Callington in the EFL. Devon have had three such clubs in Argyle, Exeter and Torquay in the EFL recently and it would be nice to make Kernow football more reputable rather than simply being the location of everyone’s favourite staycation.
Expunge quality young players at the same rate that Ginsters pasties leave Cornwall: I’ve sort of carried a gripe that I’ve had with my own club (Argyle) across the Tamar Bridge to Callington. While the bigger cities and more heavily populated regions of England are hotbeds for the brightest prospects and young talents, many exciting youngsters prefer to avoid the isolation of starting their professional career in the South-West and as a result I haven’t seen many professionals come out of Devon and Cornwall. I’ll have to swallow my pride for a bit and give my most-hated club Exeter City the credit they are due; they are currently the only club in the South West consistently producing hot prospects from their academy. My beloved Plymouth Argyle are getting on the right track but are still very much behind and Cornish clubs – like in many aspects of life – are about 20 years behind everywhere else in the country.
The final thing I will say about the future of this FM21 save is that I will be trialling a different format of blogging while writing about my journey with The Pasty Men. While I wrote 3 or 4 updates per season while managing Argyle, Callington are much lower down the leagues and it may be a struggle making that long journey up to our goals. As a result, I will instead be writing one post for every season that I manage at Marshfield Parc. I will also endeavour to regularly release these fairly often, however due to the nature of my job I am putting less pressure on myself to put out any work that I am not happy with on time at the expense of quality.
Thank you for sticking with me for all this time so far – I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the new game in just over a month’s time and look forward to getting back to my nonsensical ways again, albeit with the flag of St. Piran wrapped around me.
Previously in The Pilgrimage, the Plymouth Argyle side of 2006/07 started their race from relegation and Gordon Sparks came a step closer to finding out who sent RPW FM into the past.
“RPW! I think I’ve solved it! There’s apparently some sort of underground criminal in the locker room – you’re gonna have to be careful mate. Janice down Dewdney’s said her bhey’s mate Pete has a cousin who works down the Pannier Market – you know the one who sells the knockoff DVDs – and they said they went to school with a bloke who walked past Home Park one day and saw a load of shady lads in dark clothing looking suspicious!” The dulcet Plymouthian tones of Gordon Sparks – local radio DJ by day, private investigator by night – rang out across the Central Park car park as he yelled at me.
“Cheers Sparksy, but what does that mean for our investigation?”
Gordon grinned before adding to his previous point, “Well basically I reckon those shady blokes were there on behalf of one of your team mates in the locker room…you’ve got to find out who!”
Leeds United vs Plymouth Argyle
With three games left of the season, we were currently 3 points from guaranteeing our place in the Coca-Cola Championship next season. Our fate was in our own hands, however two of our final games were against play-off contenders Leeds United and recently-crowned champions West Brom. A trip to Elland Road was always difficult and we had to be strong for the final run-in. We would of course be without midfield maestro David Norris due to his straight red card in the last game and so it looked likely that captain Paul Wotton would fill Norris’ place further forward than usual and vice-captain Nalis would sit at the base of the midfield three. The rest of the team was unchanged, however.
Leeds were on the attack straight from kick-off and attacked down the right-wing before Djordjic took out their right-winger and gave away a free kick with less than 20 seconds played. It was clear that Leeds were here to attack and try and pummel us into submission. Luckily the free kick came to nothing and Scott Sinclair spearheaded an Argyle counter-attack before shooting just wide. Both sides looked shaky in possession before the opposition counter-attacked, but it was Leeds who struck first. Capaldi lost the ball deep inside his own half and a swift passing move between Leeds’ attacking players resulted in space opening up for Antonio López on the left flank. López hit a daisy-cutter towards McCormick’s near post where the ‘keeper made a mistake and let the ball rattle in. 1-0 to Leeds. Although the home side were in control, Argyle looked dangerous on the break but unfortunately couldn’t find the back of the net due to solid defending from Leeds and poor finishing from the Pilgrims. At half-time we went in 1-0 down.
We came out for the second half and were punished straight away for starting off slow out of the gates. Antonio López was the danger man again, getting past Barness on the left flank to pull a high cross across the box that found right-winger Kome who headed home past Luke McCormick. After 46 minutes, it was now 2-0 to Leeds. Holloway had seen enough at that point and made a triple-change in an attempt to force the game back into a competitive nature. A surprising lack of performance from Ákos Buzsáky and Scott Sinclair meant that they were brought off for Luke Summerfield and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake. Capaldi was also knackered, so Barness moved to left-back and I came on to fill in at right-back.
At this point, Leeds were constantly making surging runs into the box and a wrong-footed Barness (now at left-back) was struggling. Sebastien Carole made one of these runs before being scythed down by the natural right-back and Leeds were awarded a penalty. Things were going from bad to worse. Kevin Nicholls stepped up to take it and struck the ball straight down the middle. McCormick stood strong though and made the save to a rapturous cheer from the travelling Green Army. Could this spur on a comeback? Unfortunately not. Just five minutes later Kelly was finding even more joy on the right-wing and sent a pin-point cross high to the far post where left-back Lewis was waiting (after I failed to mark him correctly) and hit the ball on the volley past McCormick. 3-0 to Leeds. The game would end that way and we headed back on the long trip home from Yorkshire with nothing to show for our efforts.
Plymouth Argyle vs Norwich City
Our final home game of the season was the ‘most winnable’ game of our relegation run-in as the Canaries were not doing too much better than we were, despite them being in the top half of the league table. Of course, Norris was still suspended for the remaining games of the season but I was the lucky recipient of the unfortunate occurrence of a minor injury to Antony Barness and so made the starting XI at right-back. Apart from that, the team was unchanged from the Leeds defeat. The difference was that we were motivated to win our league safety. Due to some teams playing later, the natural flow of the table meant that if we picked up all three points today we would be officially safe. We didn’t want to leave this until we played away at the Champions on the final day of the season. We had to take this opportunity.
It was a slow start from both sides but you could say that Argyle slightly edged the opening moments. Capaldi, Buzsáky and Sinclair all went close before 20 minutes and Mocquet was the most likely to open the scoring after hitting the base of the post shortly before 30 minutes had been played. Although The Pilgrims were dominating possession and camping out around the edge of the Norwich box, the Canaries were sharp on the break with Dion Dublin (playing in the heart of the Norwich defence) sending accurate clearances down the wings. Both of our wingers were showing their workrate and tracking back to support me and Capaldi but unfortunately both Djordjic and Mocquet picked up yellow cards just before half time for their defensive efforts. Both players would then pop up at the other end shortly before the ref blew his whistle. Mocquet received a long pass from Nalis in midfield before pinging an accurate cross to the head of Djordjic at the far-post. Bojan rose above his marker and headed powerfully past Gallacher. 1-0! At half time The Pilgrims were one step towards securing safety.
Norwich kicked off in the second half and attempted to pass the ball around the Argyle box in an attempt to find an opening. A cross came in and I headed it away, with Mocquet picking the ball up on the edge of the box. Mocquet tapped it to Sinclair in bags of space who ran from the halfway line all the way to the byline on the right wing. I was getting ready for the overlap but Scott decided to pass it back to me instead. I passed it infield to Wotton who took a touch before sending it to Mocquet on the edge of the D. The French youngster dribbled past Shackell before smashing it into the top-left corner of the goal. 2-0 to Argyle! Norwich made a couple of changes to try and get back in the game but it really did not seem like it was their day. Their right-back and captain Gary Docherty finished off their chances of taking any points home to Norfolk after slicing a very simple clearance straight into his own net after a period of sustained pressure. Plymouth Argyle beat Norwich City 3-0 and our safety in the Coca-Cola Championship was guaranteed. One more game, then surely I’ll get to go home…
West Bromwich Albion vs Plymouth Argyle
I never made it to the final game of the season: a bit of a dead rubber against recently-crowned Champions in the Baggies. After the Norwich game I spent a bit of time debriefing with the gaffer and analysing my performance with the performance analysis guys and when I had arrived back in the changing room to grab my stuff and head home, I spotted there had been an unfamiliar looking shirt left on the benches. Unwrapping the yellow and blue jersey, I noticed a note had been left with it.
Mystery is solved. Get back home and put him away.
I put the note down and picked up the shirt. I noticed the badge of Chievo Verona before turning it around. Although the number on this older shirt was different to one that I knew from his position in this Argyle squad, I recognised his name:
“Ah…I really wish you hadn’t found that, RPW.” A thick French accent flittered behind me. I turned and saw my future assistant manager and friend Lilian stood there with three figures dressed head-to-toe in black behind him; these must have been the men that Sparksy had mentioned. In Nalis’ hand was one of the groundsman’s shovels – still fresh from sorting the pitch after the Norwich match. Before I could even utter a word of shock the veteran midfielder picked up the shovel and smashed it over my skull.
Next time: Will RPW FM wake up alive in the present or injured in the past? Will he wake up at all? Will his former friend ever be triedfor his crimes?
Last time in The Pilgrimage, Plymouth Argyle manager RPW FM woke up in 2007 and teamed up with popular local radio DJ Gordon Sparks to try and solve the mystery of how to get back home. If you fancy listening to a playlist defining the 2006/07 era while you read, you can find it here:
…was not an easy one, not by a long shot. Gordon [Sparks] and I had the hypothesis that if I helped Argyle survive relegation from the Championship, it may be the cathartic experience I needed to return back home to 2026. First of all, our position: the Pilgrims were in 20th; 6 points above the top of the relegation zone where Southend sat in 22nd. 6 games to play, 6 points clear. Not a bad position to start in, however, we had a very difficult task regarding our remaining fixtures. Of the remaining matches, 4 out of 6 were in the top 10: Preston (10th), Leeds (6th), Norwich (8th) and away to league leaders West Brom on the final day. Luckily, the two matches against teams outside of the top 10 were very winnable: Sheffield Wednesday were languishing second from bottom and Leicester were only a point above us in 19th.
After finishing the Wednesday training session at Harpers Park, I returned to the changing rooms with the lads to find a deerstalker-clad Gordon Sparks sat by my locker, notebook in hand.
“Sparksy, what are you doing here? You’re only meant to let me know if you’ve got a lead!” I sat down next to him and took my boots off.
“Yeah, well I’ve got an idea. If you focus on saving Argyle from relegation to League One, I’ll focus on working out who it was that attacked you in Barcelona. Now, in as much detail as you can, you need to tell me anyone who would have a gripe with you enough to potentially smack you over the head and attempt to murder you.” Sparksy clicked his ballpoint pen and stared intently.
“Right…um…well it could have been someone who was annoyed about Argyle winning the Champions League – any of the Bayern Munich staff and team? Or it could have been a member of the Camp Nou staff – we did leave the changing rooms in a bit of a state after our celebrations…it sounds stupid, but it could even be someone like Pilgrim Pete! I tripped over him early on, although I doubt that would be enough to irritate him so far as to commit attempted murder…”
“Hold on RPW – those are all fairly obvious. Even Pete. Think deeper – who could be secretly jealous under the surface? To a point where it eventually bubbles over into a fit of a rage?”
“Hmm…if I looked at people who were there on the night who wouldn’t have been the first suspects that come to mind…a couple of the Argyle legends were there and at the FA Cup final. Neil Warnock was there in particular – could he be jealous that I am now one of Argyle’s most successful managers, overtaking ‘Colin’? What about any of my staff: Lilian [Nalis], Rory [Fallon] or Romain [Larrieu]? Yes, of course they want Argyle to be successful, but do they want to go it alone and step out of the shadow that I’ve created?”
Sparksy sat there, mouth agape but accepting of my suggestions. “Right, I’ll get to my investigation while you tackle the matches. First stop, Ivor Dewdney’s on Cornwall Street. I can’t be investigating on an empty stomach!”
Plymouth Argyle vs Preston North End
Against 10th-placed Preston I was not expecting us to pick up any points. Holloway announced his lineup to the squad the night before the match and it looked like he was lining us up in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation (or simply a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder). The squad was a strong one, with Luke McCormick in between the sticks; a very much more-than-capable back four of Barness, Doumbe, Seip and Capaldi; a midfield masterclass of destroyer Paul Wotton, technician Ákos Buzsáky and non-stop runner David Norris; and a front three of on-loan duo William Mocquet, Scott Sinclair and tricky winger Bojan Djordjic. I made the bench, alongside my future assistant manager Lillian Nalis, Michael Duff, Luke Summerfield, Péter Halmosi and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake.
It’s safe to say we didn’t get off to the easiest of starts: Marcel Seip gave away a free kick on the edge of Argyle’s box with just 30 seconds gone. Chris Sedgwick stepped up and took the shot; the ball bounced off the underside of the crossbar and past a helpless Luke McCormick. With 50 seconds gone, we were already 1-0 down. The goal put the proverbial rocket up the backsides of The Pilgrims, where straight from the restart Djordjic forced Andy Lonergan into a superb save.
Despite the counter-attacking nature of Holloway’s system, we were picking up a lot of possession and found a lot of joy from long shots from outside the box: Buzsáky hit the base of the post with a screamer of a strike after 15 minutes played. Argyle continued to pepper Lonergan with efforts but it seemed like Preston were going to hold on until half time, at least.
No changes were made at half time, and early efforts suggested it wasn’t to be out day. David Norris missed an absolute sitter from a late run into the box and Buzsáky hit the woodwork for a second time before the clock hit 60 minutes. Holloway made the change, opting to bring off Norris (who was having an unusually poor game) and bringing on academy graduate Luke Summerfield. Djordjic also made way, with Hungarian Péter Halmosi going out onto the left wing. Argyle came into the game even more; dominating possession and forcing Preston back further and further into their own half. They just could not find the breakthrough. Things were getting desperate, and at 80 minutes Sylvain Ebanks-Blake replaced a very isolated Scott Sinclair at the spearhead of the Argyle attack.
It was shortly after this that the Green Army had a glimmer of hope. Summerfield won back possession from Preston in the Argyle half and sent a pinpoint through ball to Ákos Buzsáky. The Hungarian midfielder made an incredible run through Preston’s midfield before being met with a cynical challenge on the edge of the Preston area from Paul McKenna (no, not that Paul McKenna). A yellow card was awarded to the Preston midfielder for his troubles, and Ákos would take the free kick in the 89th minute. Buzsáky whipped the free kick to the far post where Sunderland loanee William Mocquet headed it straight past Lonergan to find his first goal for Argyle and to level up the scores! 1-1! The final whistle blew shortly after. It was a hard-earned point in Argyle’s quest for safety.
Sheffield Wednesday vs Plymouth Argyle
Almost a week later was what should have been our easiest clash of the remaining fixtures against a second-from-bottom Sheffield Wednesday side. In true Argyle fashion though, we did not make it easy for ourselves.
Holloway opted to keep the same starting lineup for this match but switched around his subs bench a bit: Nalis and I would keep our places but Halmosi would be dropped for CM legend Cherno Samba (I still can’t believe he actually played at Argyle for a bit). Again, we didn’t get off to the best of starts. Within 30 seconds, Barness took out Chris Brunt in the Argyle box with a mistimed challenge. Penalty. Sh*t. Kenny Lunt made no mistake and made it 1-0 to Wednesday with less than 2 minutes played. Holloway had to find a way to stop us from starting so poorly.
Luckily, the early goal conceded seemed to light a fire in every Pilgrim’s belly: From the restart Buzsáky passed the ball to Capaldi making a surging run from left-back down the wing. Capaldi looked up and curled a cross from the byline to the far post, where for the second time in two games, William Mocquet headed past a poorly positioned keeper to level the scores. 1-1! Argyle seemed to keep more possession now and seemed to hem the Owls into their own half. Wednesday were making wild clearances in desperation to sort their lines out, and one stray hoof of the ball found the feet of Paul Wotton in the centre circle. The Argyle captain simply laid the ball off to Norris, who ran through the Owls defence and placed a shot past the outstretched arms of Brad Jones. It was 2-1 to Argyle!
It always hurts more when old friends score against you. Just 5 minutes later, Glenn Whelan switched play to former Argyle left-back Peter Gilbert who swung a cross towards the head of Mario Licka. Licka simply directed the ball to the far corner of the net and took advantage of Luke McCormick, who had his feet all wrong and flapped at the header. Sheffield Wednesday had levelled up the scores and it was already 2-2 after just 25 minutes played at Hillsborough. This seemed to fill Wednesday with confidence, as shortly after a simple Gilbert throw in found the feet of Kenny Lunt, who whipped a ball towards the near post where Tudgay headed past McCormick and a Pilgrims defence that had seemingly disappeared. 3-2. Argyle were starting to lose their heads now, and another rash tackle from Mathias Doumbe provided Lunt with another opportunity from a set-piece: a well-placed free kick from the Owls midfielder nestled superbly in the top-right corner of Argyle’s net. At half time, we went in 4-2 down against fellow relegation candidates. Things weren’t looking good.
Holloway gave us a bit of a bollocking at half time. Told us to sort our acts out. Play for the shirt. A reality check that was very necessary for some members of the squad. The majority of the squad went back out after half time with two exceptions: Holloway had seen enough of right-back Anthony Barness and centre-back Marcel Seip. Both had very poor games so far and were arguably at fault for the majority of the goals conceded. I was called on at right-back in Barness’ place and Michael Duff filled the spot that Seip left behind in the heart of defence.
Argyle regained possession shortly after the Owls restarted and David Norris threaded a pass to Mocquet on the right-wing, the main source of our goal threats. Mocquet dribbled all the way into the box and took a shot from a very tight angle at Brad Jones. The Wednesday ‘keeper made the save, but the ball rebounded out to the penalty spot, where Scott Sinclair slid in and knocked the ball into the net. 4-3! Sinclair was getting more into the game, and shortly after he decided to reciprocate Mocquet’s favour. A very good dribbler, Sinclair ran into the channel on the left-wing and sent an accurate cross to Mocquet running in at the far post. The young French winger simply had to pass it into the net. 4-4. Could we come back to win this match?
The Argyle manager decided to make on last change in the 70th minute, bringing on Cherno Samba for Bojan Djordjic on the left- wing. Samba was immediately involved; the CM legend won back possession for the Greens before finding Scott Sinclair. Sinclair dribbled through the Wednesday midfield and passed it to Mocquet on the right-wing (who narrowly avoided the offside trap). There was some poetic justice that Gilbert was the one who then went to clatter the Sunderland loanee in the box, awarding a penalty to Argyle! While Wotton would normally take all of the penalties, Mocquet was on a hattrick and the Argyle captain afforded the youngster his chance. William Mocquet made no mistake, firing into the bottom-right corner of Brad Jones’ goal. It was 5-4 to the Pilgrims! Were we done? No.
With 5 minutes left on the clock, Capaldi took a throw in deep in the Sheffield Wednesday half and threw the ball to Scott Sinclair. Sinclair laid it off back to Capaldi who brought the ball infield for Ákos Buzsáky. The Hungarian magician then did simply what he famous for; turning on the spot, Buzsáky lashed the ball into the top-left corner of the Owls goal. I couldn’t believe it. It was 6-4 to Argyle now! The Pilgrims were not done yet, however. In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Capaldi took a corner which I leapt for and caused the Wednesday ‘keeper to make a save which he parried straight towards Mathias Doumbe. Doumbe made no mistake and headed the deflection past the Owls defence. 7-4! The party atmosphere on the coach home was palpable and we couldn’t wait to take the momentum back to Plymouth.
Plymouth Argyle vs Leicester City
For the third match straight, the gaffer decided to keep the same starting line-up; although I could see that players like Bojan (Djordjic) and Anthony (Barness) seemed to be on their last chances – another poor performance and they could be benched. Leicester were in a similar position to us in the league but had far more pressure from their supporters to stay in the Championship and eventually get back to the Premier League again. Of course this would be the team that Holloway would eventually leave us for – despite saying he wouldn’t – and I had a desire to beat the Foxes due to future events.
The match was very much a stalemate and a bore for the majority of the Green Army and so I will not go into too much detail. Argyle did have the majority of the chances, although Leicester hit the woodwork on five occasions before the end of the game. After 54 minutes, Norris let the occasion get to him and foolishly two-footed Iain Hume and rightfully earned his marching orders from the ref. Our task was made even trickier. Summerfield and Samba were the first to come on and try and make a difference, with both wingers Djordjic and Mocquet coming off. Samba went to the left-wing and Ákos moved to the right-wing with Summerfield acting as Wotton’s pivot in midfield. Leicester didn’t trouble us much despite being down to 10 men, although we couldn’t find a way through ourselves.
With 5 minutes of ‘normal time’ left, Holloway decided to bring me on for Barness who was tiring at right-back. Leicester were seeing a lot more of the ball and seemed to want to earn a smash-and-grab three points from us. A period of sustained pressure around our box resulted in Josh Low taking a pot shot which was blocked by Seip before the rebound was smashed into the back of the net by Gary Martin past McCormick. The Foxes were 1-0 up and we had dropped down to 20th. With the final whistle beckoning, Holloway was screaming at us to get forward more. Buzsáky made one of his incredible runs from deep into the Leicester box before reaching a dead-end when Hughes cleared the ball from Ákos’ feet. The ball found its way to my feet, and in a flash of adrenaline, I cut inside, played a one-two with Summerfield on the edge of the box and then ran straight into the Leicester penalty area with the ball before using the outside of my foot to spin it around Rab Douglas. 1-1! It was a fair result, and it meant that we were very close to safety with three games left to play.
We were so close to safety now with three fixtures left. It was a shame that those three fixtures were against Leeds in 7th, Norwich in 12th and already-promoted West Brom on the final day.
Next time: Sparksy finds a hot new lead in his quest to find out who attacked RPWFM; Argyle battle to avoid relegation and RPWFM continues his battle to return back home…
Last time in The Pilgrimage, Plymouth Argyle lost another FA Cup final; won in an incredible Champions League final; and manager RPW FM was the subject of a vicious attack.
As I came to, I tentatively touched the throbbing pulse surrounding my mind and with my other arm lifted my body back to a sitting position, my limbs weeping at what should have been a menial task. The last thing I remembered – very faintly though I must say – in the back of my mind was Barcelona. The euphoric high. The trophy lift. That last look at the Camp Nou. However now, my surroundings were very different.
Different, yes; but unfamiliar? No. Through my bleary eyes I took in the sight before me. I was sat prone in the tarmac-laden car park of Central Park. This was not the Catalan capital – this was Britain’s Ocean City. I was back in Plymouth. A plethora of thoughts ran through my head: Yes, I know I went out with the lads to celebrate our title triumph, but surely I didn’t party that hard? Never in my 29 years had I drank so much that I woke up alone in a different country. A moment of clarity came over me. A walk through the park normally cleared my head when my thoughts became tangled. I stepped slowly to my feet and rubbed my temple again. Yes, this was the car park outside The Theatre of Greens – Home Park. Something was different though.
In the car park was just one car, a blue 2007 Ford Fiesta – my car. I ambled over to the vehicle, noticing that the driver’s side window had been rolled down. This was not like me – I’m a bit of a security nut – but I clearly wasn’t in my usual mindset. Not only had I left my window open, but the stereo was on and the tinny speakers crackled with the sound of music: Paolo Nutini’s ‘Last Request’. I remember when it came out – it was on the one ‘Now! That’s What I Call Music’ CD that I owned – Now! 66. Upon opening the door, I was met with a cry of ‘ARPEE!’ from behind me. Striding across the car park with the grace of a gazelle, gym bag in hand, was the familiar face of Lillian Nalis.
“Lillian – what happened? The last thing I remember was Barcelona and then...” I was interrupted mid-sentence by the Frenchman.
“What are you on about? We’re due in training, come on mate otherwise Ollie will give us a bollocking.” Lillian replied, dragging my arm back in the direction of Harpers Park. I was dumbfounded.
“Ollie? As in Ian Holloway?“
“Who else? Have youbeen sleeping under a rock pal?“
I followed Nalis to the training ground and while walking past Home Park noticed that the Mayflower stand development didn’t look like it had even started yet…strange. After the short walk to Harpers Park, I realised that something was very wrong. In the training ground were faces I recognised, but they were faces from the past…Paul Wotton, Ákos Buzsáky, Rory Fallon, Luke McCormick, David Norris. It was the team that I knew from my youth.
“Come on RPW, get your kit on – you’re late!” The familiar voice of Ian Holloway boomed across Harpers Park. Things were strange, and it seemed like I was somehow in an entirely different era of Plymouth Argyle’s history.
A return to 2007…
To put it simply, we were back in 2007. Something happened that meant I was living through my own childhood, yet somehow achieving my childhood dream to be an Argyle player.
Unlike the reality of the 2006/07 season – where Argyle ended up finishing a solid 11th place – the Pilgrims seemed to be struggling with fighting against relegation and had a month to change their fortunes.
Holloway had foolishly sold first-choice goalkeeper and right-back Romain Larrieu and Paul Connolly in the January transfer window and as a result the squad was looking a bit thin in terms of depth. We did have some good players, however, and some stars of the future…
Mathias Doumbe – CB/RB
Arguably our star player in the heart of our defence is Mathias Doumbe. Equally proficient covering at right-back, the central defender will be the main man keeping the goals out at the back. Coming through the academies of A.A.S. Sarcelles and PSG, The Frenchman has a lot of pedigree coming with him to Plymouth.
Ákos Buzsáky – AM/CM
He’s the man that I’d hope you are all familiar with by now…my favourite ever Argyle player (and the protagonist in my own version of DoctorBenjy’s ‘Glory Hunter‘) is the Hungarian international midfielder, Ákos Buzsáky. The playmaker is equally proficient working in between the lines of the forwards and the midfield and the centre of the pitch, and can often be relied upon to come up with a moment of magic or a wonder goal to change a game.
Marcel Seip – CB
While Seip was never a player that really stood out to me during my time watching Argyle in the past (instead, it was Buzsáky’s fellow countryman Krisztián Tímár who shone at centre-back), the Dutch U21 international is rated highly on FM. Having joined from Heerenveen in the Summer 2006 transfer window, Seip is the most naturally suited defender to a simple centre-back role: defend and get rid of the ball.
David Norris – CM/RM
‘Doris’, as my Dad used to call him from the stands of the Lyndhurst end, was a brilliantly versatile midfielder who could do a job in the middle of the pitch or on the wings. Having joined Argyle from Bolton Wanderers in 2002, Norris started off mainly playing as a pacy right-winger but has since transitioned into a bit of a tireless workhorse in the box-to-box role in the centre of midfield.
Scott Sinclair – ST
Having joined on loan from Chelsea, an 18-year-old Scott Sinclair first impressed me during Argyle’s 06/07 FA Cup run. The pacy youngster was a constant threat dribbling at slower defences and managed to score a couple of good goals too. With plenty of room to improve, Sinclair is probably our first choice up front, although we have other good options in Barry Hayles and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake.
Tony Capaldi – LM/LB
Very much like the utility man Lee Hodges that was sold in the January window to Millwall, Northern Irish international Tony Capaldi can play anywhere down the left-side of the pitch, as well as do a job in the centre of midfield. More commonly known nowadays as being the other guy in the photo of Jack Grealish breaching lockdown rules, Capaldi is naturally a left-winger but is currently the only option to fill in at left-back (Youngster and future captain Gary Sawyer is just not quite ready yet).
Paul Wotton – CM/DM/CB
Finally, we arrive at our Captain and club legend Paul Wotton. Having been born in Plymouth, Wotton knows how important the club is to our fair city and had been in the first-team at the club for almost 13 years at this point. Originally impressing as a centre-back alongside Graham Coughlan, Wotton nowadays plays in the centre of midfield as a bit of an enforcer, recycling play to more technical players to bomb forward on the counter attack. He also takes a cracking free-kick (and a brutally powerful penalty).
Other top-class players featuring in the squad that I haven’t already mentioned include (my present-day assistant manager and 06/07 vice-captain) Lillian Nalis; the Swede Bojan Djordjic on the wing; youth product Luke McCormick in goal; and even CM/FM legend Cherno Samba is on the books. Future Premier League players Dan Gosling and Ashley Barnes are also in the academy, ready for a bright future.
Gordon Sparks, P.I.
Now then, I was sure that BBC Radio Devon DJ and life-long Argyle fanatic Gordon Sparks (otherwise known as Sparksy) was just that: a DJ and follower of the Pilgrims. However, after heading back home after our training session and having a gander through the Yellow Pages, I found that Sparksy had trained to be a private investigator.
You may be sat there thinking, “RPW, why on earth would you need to hire a P.I.?” My answer to that question was simple: I was not meant to be here; and I was relying on Sparky’s sleuthing prowess to get me back ready for the 2026/27 season, not the 2006/07 season. It was a strange request to put forward to the Argyle legend…
“You what mate? Had a bonk on the head and now you’re back in 2007? And you think I can help? Tell you what me ‘ansome: I’ll do my best, but you’ll have to tell me all you know, so that I have something to work from.” The Janner tones of Sparksy muffled down the phone.
“Well we were in Barcelona and we’d just won the Champions League against Bayern Munich…” I began in earnest, before a string of expletives interrupted my explanation.
“You’ve got to be sh*tting me bhuy! You must have had a pretty thick ear if you’re telling me nonsense about Argyle winning the bleddy Champions League!“
If I could have audibly slapped the manic DJ down the phone to stop him from being hysterical, I would have. “SPARKSY! It’s true! Honestly! Look, I’ve had a think about this myself and can only narrow it down to being someone who was in the stadium that night after the supporters left; whether that be someone from UEFA, Bayern, Argyle or staff at the Camp Nou. Sparksy? Hello? Gordon? Can you hear me?“
The line went quiet as it seemed like our connection was failing, before the familiar tones resumed from the Argyle fanatic, “Hold on for one second mate. Have you ever seen ‘Life on Mars’? The TV show? On BBC at the moment, couple episodes left of Series 2. Nope? Well, I hope you don’t mind spoilers mate because I’ve got an idea. In ‘Life on Mars’, the main character Sam – played by the incredible John Simm, may I add – is a copper that gets hit by a car and then is sent back in time to his childhood to solve crimes with a maverick sidekick called DCI Gene Hunt. Turns out Sam’s in some kind of coma and has to find the purpose of his ‘time travel’ so that he can wake up in the present day. Sound familiar?“
“I’m not gonna lie, Gordon, I’ve never heard any of that – but why are you telling me this?” I began to question the sanity and acumen of the budding private investigator.
Sparksy took a deep breath before continuing, “Well I was thinking, what if you’re actually in a coma from the bonk on the head and you’ve been sent back here for a reason? And the only way you can get back is to fulfil that purpose? I could be the Gene Hunt to your Sam Tyler!“
I racked my brain for a moment, thinking of why I would need to be here. “Sparksy,” I began, “Maybe my purpose is something to do with Argyle? They clearly need saving from relegation, so perhaps I’m needed to help with that?“
Thank you again for reading The Pilgrimage; especially when I decide to go off on a tangent with silly gimmicks, the likes of which you have just read above. I really fancied spicing the series up a bit – and as I really wanted to use tHeMAdSCienTiSt Fm’s awesome 2006/07 throwback database – the two converged to make this short interlude away from the main story.
I would also like to thank FM Grasshopper for his amazing post that I read years ago that inspired me to do something similar, as well the fantastic ‘Life on Mars’ that I may have taken a lot of creative licensing from (if you’re in the UK, both seasons are on BBC iPlayer and on Netflix at the time of writing).
Next time, we follow RPWFM and Sparksy as they try and solve the mystery of who orchestrated the attack at the Camp Nou and try to save The Pilgrims from relegation in an attempt to get back home.
Previously in The Pilgrimage, we finished 2nd in the Premier League in consecutive seasons; managed to reach our second consecutive FA Cup final and find ourselves in our first ever Champions League final against Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich.
The FA Cup Final – Plymouth Argyle v Liverpool – Saturday 23rd May 2026
Some sequels are better than the original. The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens. Suited and booted at home, I left for the short drive to Home Park where I’d meet up with my coaching staff and squad before taking our Target Travel coach up to London. Last year we came incredibly close. Bottled it by half time; almost made the impossible comeback by 90 minutes. Since then, we had grown as a squad. I had grown as a manager. We had grown as a club. We had to do better this time.
Sitting down onto the coach with Lillian [Nalis], Rory [Fallon] and Romain [Larrieu] – my closest confidants – we spoke about the upcoming match while the players settled down at the back of the vehicle.
[Noah] Delap and the boys were at the back, settling into their pre-game rituals: catching up on the latest Netflix craze; challenging for silverware on Football Manager; or simply sticking a pair of AirPods in and focusing their minds for the challenges ahead. I could not switch off as easily. I sat with Grant [Dawes, Chief Data Analyst] and meticulously reflected upon three matches on his laptop: our unfortunate 1-1 draw away at Anfield; our 1-0 win at Home Park later on in the season; and last year’s FA Cup final loss to Manchester City. Data would suggest that the minnows from the South West had the upper hand in this mammoth task, however we were facing the 9-time winners. We could prepare all we like, but cup finals are as much about mentality and luck as they are ability and statistics.
The next day, after a sleepless night in a hotel bed that was so soft that I felt like I was drowning in the mattress, I rose to a knock at my door. It was Lillian.
“Morning RPW, I just wanted to say a couple of words before we go out there today,” he began. His sunny disposition always saw the bright side of a tense situation like this afternoon’s match. “I know how disappointed we both were after last year’s defeat against City. Remember: the Green Army see us as heroes, whatever the result. I saw it back in my playing days and I see it now. The boys will do us proud, no matter what.” The Frenchman slapped me on the shoulder before heading down to breakfast.
Upon arrival at Wembley, we bundled through the players’ entrance (to quickly get away from the media fanfare) and settled into the vast expanses of the changing room. For a second time today, there was another knock on the door and in came Plymouth Argyle icon – clad in a tweed suit and emerald green club tie – Neil Warnock.
“Alright boys! Just wanted to say a couple of words of good luck for later – go out there and smash it. I didn’t want to add the pressure that I was the last manager to take Argyle to glory at Wembley, but…” ‘Colin’ broke off into a chuckle, shaking hands with Joey [Hermans] and Nathaniel [Chalobah] before heading up to his box.
The lineup for the match against Liverpool was the strongest I could have possibly made it. Due to the injuries to first-choice options Joey Hermans, Murphy Kalonji, Adrian Fein, Rob Down and the prolific Alan Carlos, I had to make some enforced changes. Ambrosius, Teze, Chalobah, Cassano and Hee-Chan were strong replacements though, and the lack of players available also gave young striker Alex Farrell a spot on the bench in what could be his first team debut.
As in many a cup final, the first ten minutes were edgy and resembled a stalemate. Liverpool had the first chance, with Marek Vagner picking up a yellow card and providing a promising free kick for taking out Diego Lainez to stop a counter attack from the Reds. Frenkie de Jong stepped up and forced an awkward-footed save from Chris Salz, who managed to tip the vicious set-piece onto the crossbar. The ball bounced off cruelly back into the feet of a very fortunate Declan Rice, who simply passed the ball into the net past the helpless Salz. 10 minutes gone. 1-0 to Liverpool. It wasn’t the best of starts.
From the restart, Argyle were fired up and immediately shot forward, switching play numerous times around the box before Paolo Cassano pounced on a loose ball just outside of the penalty area and smashed a shot just wide of the post following a deflection from Solet. The ensuing corner from Diaz came to nothing, and although the Greens dominated the next 20 minutes, Liverpool continued to be dangerous on the break. Liverpool seemed to get most of their joy from a well-played set-piece, with Salz keeping us in the game multiple times with some world-class saves. Liverpool had the corner now, and it was the dangerous Lainez who sent an outswinging cross into the penalty box. Oumar Solet leapt above both Delap and Ambrosius and headed the ball powerfully into the bottom left corner of the net. 2-0 to Liverpool. It was starting to look a lot like last year.
At half time, feelings were mixed. My right-hand men, Nalis and Fallon, stood leaning against the wall; almost crestfallen and looking at the dressing room with a blurred gaze. Marek [Vagner] looked pretty disappointed too, knowing full well that he did not have a good first half and was arguably at fault for both of the goals conceded. Alternatively, Luciano [Rossato] and Derek [Love] were showing maturity beyond their young ages, offering advice to the other lads and motivating the dressing room. After a few words of advice to the lads, Alan Carlos popped in to give them his trademark secret handshakes as they made their way back to the tunnel.
The young Pilgrims came out of the traps fired up in the second half, immediately pushing to be on the front foot but also having to appreciate the threat that Liverpool played on the counter-attack should we make any mistakes. Jan Mlakar came on for the struggling Jordan Teze at half time which meant that Hwang-Hee Chan moved back to the right wing from previously being up front. This allowed us to have a bit more of an attacking edge and stopped Francisco Ortega from making as many mazy runs up the left wing.
Nathaniel Chalobah was seemingly having the game of his life after being in an extended period of poor form. Consistently driving forward from midfield and offering plenty of final balls for the strikers to latch onto, Chalobah was unlucky not to assist a first goal for Argyle after Hwang Hee-Chan put a perfectly-weighted through ball from Chalobah just wide of the post. Pata was Liverpool’s main threat in the opening stages of the second half, twice finding the back of the Argyle net before being judged to have been offside. Our centre-backs needed to switch on, and fast. In the 63rd minute, Delap took a free kick following one of those Pata offsides, found Chalobah who flicked the ball forward and Cassano ran onto it and took a shot. Allison was unfortunately on top form though, and easily palmed the ball away.
Josh Arnold was brought on for the struggling Marek Vagner and youngster Alex Farrell came on for his competitive debut in place of Paolo Cassano in a last-ditch attempt at finding a goal somehow. Liverpool responded by bringing Bentancur on for Nikola Milenković, deciding to shore up the defence more and switch to a 3-4-0-3 system. Farrell almost scored with his first touch of the ball: Chalobah threaded an excellent pass through the entirety of the Liverpool midfield to find the youngster waiting on the shoulder of Troon and Solet and the youngster took a touch before losing his composure and smashing the ball into row Z. A disappointing chance to miss.
Liverpool seemed happy to pass it around in their half now with 10 minutes to go, keeping possession and only making runs forward if players like Alexander-Arnold found a bit of space on the wing without having to face the relentless press from The Pilgrims. Time seemed to be slipping away. A late throw in just before 90 minutes from Derek Love on the left wing led to a flick on from Luciano Rossato and a shot from Hee-Chan which was unfortunately straight at the Liverpool ‘keeper and it looked like we wouldn’t break through. A final corner came in the 3rd minute of added time – but you guessed it – Liverpool headed it straight back to the Greens and the referee decided to blow his whistle.
For two years running we had lost the FA Cup final.
The UEFA Champions League Final – Plymouth Argyle v Bayern Munich – Saturday 30th May 2026
We had a week to prepare for the Champions League final following the disappointment at Wembley. In that time we analysed our performance and looked towards what we could do to go one better than our recent cup final woes. Yes, it did take a little longer for the lads and even the coaching staff to get over the disappointing showing against Liverpool, but we were made of stronger stuff and set off on the plane to Barcelona fully prepared.
Well, sort of. Barring the horrendous amount of injuries we picked up in training the week prior.
My coaching staff and I didn’t plan on making too many changes from the Liverpool match apart from the additions of Down and Alan Carlos up front on their return from injury. Unfortunately, the injuries forced my hand a little and it turned out that first choice left-winger Angeliño and club captain Noah Delap would miss out altogether. (This of course was in addition to the long-term injuries of Murphy Kalonji and Adrian Fein)
Derek Love and vice-Captain Joey Hermans would take the aforementioned injured players’ places for the all-important clash. The only other change not noted was Connor Ronan coming in for Pedro Diaz. Although Diaz offered a lot from set pieces and was a more technical player, Ronan had once again been in brilliant form this season and offers more offensively and defensively. Four members of the U23 squad that weren’t out on loan made up the numbers on the 12-strong subs bench.
In comparison with the young Pilgrims, Bayern were an ageing side who did well to come back after a poor start to the league season to eventually win the Bundesliga title. The old guard were more or less gone; with Alexander Nübel (29), Benjamin Pavard (30), David Alaba (34), Corentin Tolisso (31) and Kingsley Coman (30) the only players left from the Bayern side that starts the game. Although Bayern had the reputation and the big-name players, the media made Argyle the slight favourites coming into the clash.
Upon arrival in Barcelona, the team coach was met by a mammoth crowd: The Bayern fans, flanked in Red and drinking the finest Pilsners; and the Green army, singing and necking bottles of Rattler.
Everyone had a newfound drive and determination to win. The pre-match rituals went much the same as Wembley just a week before: the usual sea of fans outside the Camp Nou; the bevy of former Argyle legends knocking on the door of the changing rooms to wish words of good luck. This time, however, time passed in a blur as the entire team and backroom staff focused on the goal at hand: we could be the champions of Europe.
As the lads filed off to the tunnel to the sound of almost 100,000 singing fans, Lillian tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a quick word.
“Arpee, I just want you to know that if we don’t win this tonight – if it doesn’t go like we planned – I’ve been thinking about moving back home with my family.” Nalis began.
I considered what he said, before replying, “Lillian, I completely understand! Win or lose, family comes first and I want you to be happy – I support you in whatever you want to do.”
We shook hands for a moment before heading out to the most important match in the history of Plymouth Argyle. As the Champions League theme played, I felt all of the nerves and emotion well up inside of me, reaching a crescendo as I made my way to my seat in the dugout. My journey was unfortunately interrupted after tripping over the stray oversized boot of Pilgrim Pete, perhaps a mistake due to my nerves about the upcoming match. I shook hands with Ernesto Valverde, dusted myself off and sat down next to Lillian and Rory. It was time.
Argyle were to kick off the all important final – and despite immediately getting on the attack against the Bundesliga champions – Bayern won the ball back and executed a devastating counter-attack. Kluivert sent a beautifully-weighted pass to Bayern’s main dangerman, striker Thomas Damm, who ran off the shoulder of Joey Hermans and barring a super block from Enrico Ambrosius would have scored within the opening minute. The following ten minutes were slightly more mundane as both sides attempted to dominate possession and control the game. During a Bayern attack, Derek Love (who normally isn’t too good defensively) managed to get the ball off of Vagnoman, then dribbled forward and laid the ball off to Connor Ronan. Ronan spotted the run of Alan Carlos, who evaded Corentin Tolisso but unfortunately unleashed a tame effort for Nübel to easily gather.
Argyle continued to dominate while Bayern couldn’t deal with our intense runs and pressing whenever we lost the ball. Both wingers, Derek Love and Jordan Teze, were seeming to have a lot of joy on the wings and often found themselves in the penalty box unchallenged. A couple of shots from the Greens went wide, while shots on target were easily dealt with by Nübel. The Bayern goalkeeper took the ensuing goal kick, finding Vagnoman on the right wing. Vagnoman sent it back infield towards Tolisso who took a touch and passed it forwards to Kinglsey Coman in an advanced position on the right. Ambrosius failed to get off the ground to respond to Coman’s cross and Damm powered a header into the back of the Argyle net past Chris Salz. 28 minutes had gone and it was 1-0 to Bayern. Things looked far too familiar to our lack of success last week.
The next 15 minutes before half time were very much more open. It was a tale of two strikers, with Damm consistently getting behind my defensive line and lashing shots at Salz and Alan Carlos hitting Bayern on the break to create chances for himself or Rob Down. Chris Salz was keeping us in the game in particular: his world-class save of a Kingsley Coman free kick kept the score to just 1-0 before half time. Shortly after, the referee blew his whistle and we headed back to the changing rooms with a one goal deficit. We didn’t play badly at all but we also knew we could step it up another level. Rory seemed less positive; a trodden clipboard was left in his wake following his walk from the dugout.
Bayern kicked off the restart and there were no changes for either side. Argyle shortly won back possession from the German champions and Jordan Teze found some space on the right wing. The Dutch wing-back pinged a cross into the box where a Rob Down shot was snuffed out by Baumgartl. The deflection lead to Chalobah picking the ball up on the edge of the box and smashing a shot at goal, narrowly going wide of the post. We decided to refresh the team and sent Josh Arnold on in place of Enrico Ambrosius, who had been struggling after being at fault for the opening goal. Argyle were in possession again and Rossato switched play to the left wing where Derek Love was just outside of the box. Vagnoman failed to intercept Love’s floated cross to the far post and Jordan Teze rose above David Alaba to head the ball first. The ball smashed against the underside of the crossbar, bouncing into the goal past a floundering Alexander Nübel. IT WAS 1-1! With just under half an hour to play, we were back in the game!
Bayern now decided to make two substitutions in an attempt to change their fortunes: Jonathan González came on for Vagnoman (who was being beaten far too easy by Love) and Zeki Güngör was the straight swap for Justin Kluivert. After a chat with Nalis and Fallon, I decided to make a change too. Rob Down had been a little threatening so far but was seemingly ineffective against a torrid Bayern defence, so I decided to bring young Paolo Cassano on in his place for the final 20 minutes.
Bayern had a corner, but it was easily defended and the ball was cleared by Marek Vagner. Alaba had the chance to send the ball back into the box from a deeper position but the heavy press from Cassano led to the long-standing Bayern defender rushing a pass which was intercepted by Chalobah who switched play to the left wing where Derek Love was spearheading the counter-attack. Love dribbled all the way into the box but the fresh González managed to barge the Scottish winger off the ball and forge a counter attack for Bayern. He passed it forward to Coman on the right wing, who sent another amazing through ball through to Damm who was one on one with Salz. Damm took the shot, and Salz made an incredible save which was then headed away by Josh Arnold.
With 10 minutes to go, Teze was becoming tired after running up and down the flank for 80 minutes in such a high-pressure game. Our equivalent to Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Hwang Hee-Chan, was brought on in place of the Dutch winger on the off-chance that the South Korean international striker could nick a goal at the death. I could have moved Josh Arnold up from centre-back as a more defensive option but I felt we really had to go for it now. We’d lasted this long and played really well – we deserved to win this. Bayern were pressing higher now and with more intensity, and even though my ball-playing defence were normally very good at forging passing lanes from the back, they were buckling under the press and were lucky not to concede from Coman winning back possession and shooting wide. Luckily, Coman was offside and Argyle had the free kick from deep inside their own half.
Vagner took it, playing a 1-2 with Joey Hermans before laying the ball off for Chris Salz. Salz passed forward to Arnold, who found Rossato and the Italian midfielder found his partner in Connor Ronan. Ronan decided to switch the play to the right wing, where Hwang Hee-Chan cut inside, evaded the press from Alaba and created space for Paolo Cassano to run into. The South Korean striker sent a perfectly-weighted ball to Cassano, who ran wide to the right and sent a high cross over the head of the back-peddling Alaba to Alan Carlos, who was stood more or less on the penalty spot. The Brazilian striker barely stepped off the ground, simply using all of his neck muscles to redirect the ball towards the right side of the Bayern goal. Nübel went for the dive to keep the ball out of his net but it was too late – he wasn’t expecting the header and got his footing all wrong. The ball rippled the back of the net and Alan Carlos tore off towards the Green Army going absolutely ballistic. WITH 5 MINUTES TO PLAY, IT WAS 2-1 TO ARGYLE!
From the restart, Bayern tried to go nuclear and go for a strategy of hitting long balls over the entirety of Argyle’s midfield but it left their talisman Damm constantly fighting a losing battle against my defence’s solid offside trap. It was the 94th minute, and Damm had been penalised once again for straying offside. Hermans took his time with the free kick, sent a pass forward to Connor Ronan AND THE REFEREE BLEW HIS WHISTLE!
The entirety of the Argyle bench leapt to their feet as an almighty roar echoed around the Camp Nou. The players on the field fell to their knees; punched the air; ran with the bench towards the travelling Green Army. PLYMOUTH ARGYLE WERE CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE!
Following the trophy celebrations (and after finally being put down by the entirety of the first team squad), the lads and I headed back to the changing room where ‘Bringing on Back the Good Times’ by The Love Affair was belted out and beer was sprayed everywhere. I dried myself off, gave hugs to every single member of the footballing team that I managed and headed back out down the tunnel to the pitch.
Camp Nou had been emptied by now, although it seemed like the Janners were painting Barcelona green outside the famous stadium. I wanted to go out onto the pitch; take in the sight once more. We won here – it was always going to be a special place to me.
I breathed in the humid Catalan air and surveyed the horizon. This was the pinnacle of my managerial career; and I couldn’t have been happier to have achieved it with my one true love – my hometown club – Plymouth Argyle. A smile spread over my face before I turned back towards the tunnel to re-join the celebrations with the lads.
But no – it wasn’t to be. From what I recall, I never made it back to the changing rooms.
All I do remember was the feeling of cold metal cracking against my skull.
The smell of the freshly-cut pitch.
My view of the Camp Nou fading to black.
Thank you for reading The Pilgrimage so far. Next time, we look to solve the mystery of the attack on the Argyle manager in a different, yet very familiar setting…
Last time in The Pilgrimage, my young Plymouth Argyle side got through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. In this post – seeing as we looked out of the running for the Premier League title this season – we follow The Pilgrims on their journey to some of Europe’s elite clubs in a quest for glory.
While our form seemed to stagnate during the first half of the season, it suddenly looked like things were picking up. We picked up the maximum points available for January and progressed through to the 5th round of the FA Cup against Sheffield United following two 4-0 wins against both Brentford and Barnsley. Alan Carlos continued his hot streak of form, scoring two in the 3-0 win away at Everton; a 91st minute winner in the narrow 1-0 win at home to Chelsea; and joined youngster Paolo Cassano in the scoring against Newcastle. The young Italian striker had spent the first half of the season on loan at Nottingham Forest, bagging 5 goals in 25 league appearances. After re-assessing the squad before the January transfer window opened, I found that Cassano seemed far better than the experienced Jan Mlakar and decided to give him a chance in the first team. 3 goals in January backed up my decision to try out the Italian youngster.
12th January 2026 – IN – Derek Love – SL Benfica – £19m (£21.5m)
In terms of transfers, we noted in the last edition of The Pilgrimage that the board offered us a boosted transfer budget of £40m. With that budget, my backroom staff and I decided to strengthen on the left wing, probably our weakest position in the squad. In came Derek Love, a Scottish winger who had come through FCSM’s academy in France before joining Benfica in 2022 for £3.4m. Love is a winger that I had been tracking for a while, and he will most probably play a rotation role behind the excellent Angeliño.
21st January 2026 – OUT – Adam Lewis – Leicester City – £8.25m
Of course, with one winger coming in, one had to leave. Adam Lewis had been at Home Park for a massive six seasons before making the move to Leicester City, who are residing in the Championship at the time of writing. Initially joining on loan from Liverpool when we were in League 1 and the Championship, we signed the (then) wing-back for a fee of just £325k upon winning promotion to the Premier League. Lewis always played a rotation role in the squad but following a change to the 3-1-4-2 tactic he started to impress on the left side of midfield. While he has improved each season at the club, he had only 6 months left on his contract and wasn’t good enough to be offered a new one, therefore when Leicester stated their interest I decided to cut ties with Adam, making a tidy profit of just over £7.75m.
21st January 2026 – IN – Chris Salz – Schalke 04 – £43m
As soon as I identified the weaker areas of the squad, I’d assembled a list of potential wonderkid goalkeepers that could challenge the evergreen Mike Cooper in between the sticks. Despite only having a transfer budget of £22m before signing Chris Salz, I interacted with the board and told them about how important the Schalke goalkeeper could be for us. Mr Hallett duly obliged and set straight out to pay his £43m release clause to bring the German goalkeeper to the club as our record signing. Salz’s attributes are already ridiculous beyond his tender age and have plenty of room to grow. I look forward to seeing how Chris turns out after a couple of seasons at the club.
28th June 2026 – OUT – Josep Martinez – Norwich City – £3m (£3.7m)
Again, following the one in/one out rule, it was time for backup goalkeeper (and former captain for one season) Josep Martinez to leave. Martinez had always been fantastic whenever he made the odd appearance for Argyle (42 appearances across 3 and a half seasons) and often pushed Mike Cooper for the starting spot in the squad. Like Lewis, Josep didn’t have long left to run on his contract so we shipped him out to be a backup for Norwich City for a fee of £3m, potentially rising to £3.7m. After signing the Spanish ‘keeper for just £525k, he repesents another player that I have made a nice profit on after a few seasons at the club.
During the January transfer window, I had to make a lot of changes to my players on loan so that they had the appropriate playing time and the right clubs to nurture their growth. One of the players that did not need a change of scenery at all was Italian box-to-box midfielder Enea Romagnoli, who had spent the entire season impressing at promotion-chasing Stoke City in the Championship, and had his talents recognised with a Player of the Month award. Jesús García spent the first half of the season on loan at Sheffield United but barely played, however, when given the chance at Sheffield Wednesday the young defensive midfielder shone and only just came second to his academy teammate.
With February came a tricky run in the Premier League as well as a difficult away trip to Atlético Madrid in the Champions League. Despite that, we went another month with a complete winning streak! Fein, Kalonji and Alan Carlos dominated in a 3-1 win at home to Southampton before there was a 5-3 thriller at Elland Road that showed off our attacking talents more than our defensive nous. Ryōtarō Meshino levelled up the scores for Leeds at half time following a Paolo Cassano opener, and then 4 more different Argyle players found the back of the net in the second half (Angeliño, Teze, Hee-Chan and Mlakar). Late goals from Meshino and Arvin Appiah gave us a scare, but we went back to Home Park with all 3 points.
Alan Carlos brought the fury to Old Trafford, bagging two goals before Kristoffer Ajer was sent off for the Red Devils early in the first half. Delap and Fein continued their strong run of form to secure a 4-2 win against Manchester United. Hwang Hee-Chan has filled the role of a bit of an Ole Gunnar Solskjær figure at Home Park this season, often coming off of the bench to change the game and score important goals. This was no different against Liverpool, where we struggled to find a way through until the South Korean international found the net late in the second half.
2nd February 2026 – OUT – Tom Richardson-Brown – Everton – £3.8m
On deadline day, there was only one departure I wasn’t too sure about – the sale of young midfielder Tom Richardson-Brown to Everton for £3.8m. In the final days of the window, Crystal Palace and Everton were offering increasing fees for the Plymouth-born academy product, and despite his very nice looking potential star rating, I couldn’t see Richardson-Brown eventually playing a role in the first team in the coming years based on his attributes. Only time will tell if this was the right decision, and I hope Tom does not come back to haunt me.
UEFA Champions League 1st Knockout Round – Atlético Madrid v Plymouth Argyle (1st Leg)
You may have seen the result already in the fixture list above, but it certainly wasn’t one we were expecting. The side against Atlético was more-or-less full strength, in the hope that we could break down the torrid Spanish defence. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how it went down: Just before half time, Eustáquio picked up the ball in midfield and found Alan Carlos making a run between the Atlético centre-backs. The lethal Brazilian took a touch, rounded Oblak and slotted the ball into the goal to make it 1-0 to Argyle. Flavinho replied almost instantly for the hosts, receiving the ball on the left wing before dribbling through almost the entirety of my team and smashing a shot into the top-right corner past a helpless Salz to make it 1-1.
Early on in the second half, Pedro Diaz took a free kick on the left wing and floated a ball to the back post, where the towering Enrico Ambrosius nodded it back towards the near post. Joey Hermans leapt like a salmon and made it 2-1 to the Pilgrims. Madrid continued to attack, but in the 90th minute Adrian Fein won the ball back on the right wing and whipped in a cross into the Atlético box. Ironically, Rob Down was…downed…following a shove in the back from Lisandro Martinez. The referee had to go to the sideline pitch monitor to check on VAR if it was to be a penalty, and after a short wait, it was awarded. Up stepped Alan Carlos, who coolly slotted home past Oblak. We would take a 3-1 lead back to Home Park – and more importantly – 3 away goals.
Rightfully, Alan Carlos won the Premier League Young Player of the Month (with Murphy Kalonji coming in 2nd) and it was nice to also receive recognition as Manager of the Month following another winning streak.
Did someone say a three month-long unbeaten run?
The Pilgrims continued their excellent form in a month where the rest of the team had to step up in the place of Alan Carlos struggling to score goals n the league. Rob Down and Hwang Hee-Chan became the primary goalscorers in tricky wins against Brighton, Arsenal and Huddersfield. Although we had already reached the point that the board would be happy following a cup exit, a comprehensive 3-0 win against Sheffield United (with goals from Alan Carlos, Enrico Ambrosius and Rob Down) and a tight 3-2 thriller away to Spurs (with goals from Alan Carlos, Jordan Teze and Pedro Diaz) after being 2-0 down at half time meant that we were through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
UEFA Champions League 1st Knockout Round – Plymouth Argyle v Atlético Madrid (2nd Leg)
Feeling confident following the 3-1 win in Madrid, we made three changes to keep fitness up: Noah Delap, Luciano Rossato and Connor Ronan came into the team for Enrico Ambrosius, Stephen Eustáquio and Pedro Diaz. It was a tight game with both teams struggling to create anything, but my young Pilgrims managed to get the lion’s share of the chances. Shortly after half time, Angeliño found a bit of space on the left wing and simply floated a cross towards the back post. The in-form Rob Down shrugged off his marker and headed past Oblak to send Home Park wild. The rest of the match was a blur, with little highlights for either team. Following the final whistle, there were scenes of celebrations, as well as the draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals, should we get there.
Ideally, the best team we could have faced in the quarter finals was Porto, but instead we were to face the odds-on favourites to win the Premier League, Manchester City. If we managed to get past the Citizens over two legs, we would find ourselves against the only other one of two giants: Real Madrid or Juventus. Yikes.
Another year, another poor youth intake. There were a couple players of note that could do a job in the future, but ultimately none to (literally) write home about.
This season has been one in which I have seen Alan Carlos go from strength to strength and it has been nice to see other officials involved in the game recognising his talents: in March, he received the Brazilian Olympic Committee Footballer of the Year award. Shortly after this, he made his national team debut. “How did it go?!” you all ask. Scored twice on his debut. #JustAlanCarlosThings
April was a huge month for Argyle, and it was a shame that the three-month win streak had to end. Things got off to a good start with a 3-0 win against Wolves, with goals from Vagner, Cassano and Alan Carlos. Our customary disappointing loss to a side we should be beating considerably came in the form of a 2-0 loss to lower-mid table Norwich City. We were completely outplayed for 90 minutes and made them look good, which did not bode well for our confidence in the Champions League quarter-finals. We did, however, manage to turn things around in our FA Cup semi-final against Brighton, where we won comprehensively 4-1 at Wembley. Perry Ng’s Burnley were unfortunate to find themselves relegated after the final league game of April, a 3-0 win at Home Park with goals coming from Alan Carlos, Cassano and Angeliño.
UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final – Manchester City v Plymouth Argyle (1st Leg)
For our tricky trip to Manchester, we went for a bit of rotation to keep us fresh for our league campaign, with Teze, Love and Ambrosius making starting appearances for the Pilgrims. Adrian Fein was unlucky to pick up a season-ending injury in training, so it was time for Nathaniel Chalobah to pick up where the talented German midfielder left off. It was Alan Carlos who opened the scoring at the Etihad. During a sustained attack, Rob Down ran into the City penalty box and lobbed a cross at the far post. Missinho managed to head the ball out of danger before Connor Ronan could take a shot at goal, but following the clearance Laporte struggled under the pressure of Chalobah and headed it back towards his own goal. Alan Carlos leapt on the Frenchman’s mistake and tapped it home past Ederson. 1-0 Argyle. City struck back almost immediately from the restart: Kylian Mbappé threaded a wonderful pass to Lautaro Martinez through the entirety of my midfield before the Argentine striker slotted the ball past Salz in goal. Although we hadn’t conceded many this season, goals like this were becoming an all-too-familiar theme. 1-1.
Raheem Sterling was substituted off due to injury not long after their equaliser, and it looked as if that disrupted their groove a little. Again and again Mbappé tore us apart on the right-wing while we sprung counter-attack after counter-attack, and thus it was no surprise that our new January arrival, Derek Love, was sent off following two yellow cards trying to stop the legendary striker. At this point, I talked to my assistant Lillian Nalis about what to do. He suggested we hold on to the away goal and take a draw back home. I kept it tight, with Hwang Hee-Chan dropping back to the left wing to cover for the loss of Love. Following a City attack, Kimpembe found himself under a heavy challenge from Luciano Rossato, lost the ball to the Italian and then Rossato whipped the ball forward to Alan Carlos, waiting on the shoulder of the Citizens’ defensive line. Just like many an Alan Carlos goal I have seen before, his composure was unreal as he ran the length of the City half before smashing it past Ederson. 2-1, and the referee’s whistle blew shortly after. Massive result.
UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final – Plymouth Argyle v Manchester City (2nd Leg)
After the poor performance against Norwich between the two legs against City, I had to make some changes in defence, with Josh Arnold, (a returning from injury) Joey Hermans and Murphy Kalonji coming into the team. The goal was simple in the second leg: make the most of the two away goals, as I couldn’t see us keeping Lautaro Martinez and Kylian Mbappé quiet for 90 minutes. As expected, City came flying out following the start of the match with a vicious attack, and Chris Salz kept us in it in the opening moments with some stellar saves. Following a classic Rob Down head-on to the right wing, Kalonji picked up the ball and ran straight into the City box. Laporte – who was clearly starting to hate playing against Argyle – scythed him down and the referee immediately awarded a penalty. Yes! Even though Ederson went the right way, Alan Carlos swung it into the bottom-right corner to make it 3-1 to Argyle on aggregate after 20 minutes. Pretty much straight after, Hermans was taken off due to injury; clearly he was not quite fit enough to come back to a difficult game like this.
Just as a I thought that would be the final struggle we would have to face of our own doing, Murphy Kalonji was tackled and had to come off too. Before the second half had even started, we’d already made two of our substitutions. Despite this, we hung on until the 70th minute before the next big event happened. My centre-backs played excellent passes around the back line before Ambrosius pinged a pin-point ball to Hwang Hee-Chan (once again filling in on the left wing). The South Korean international headed it on to Alan Carlos, who brought the ball down, spun John Stones and smashed it past Ederson at the near post. 2-0 to the Pilgrims, 4-1 on aggregate. We were through to the bloody semi-finals of the Champions League. Against the most successful team in Champions League history: Real Madrid. Oh god.
I was gutted following the match to find out that Hermans would be out for a month, but even worse was that Kalonji had broken his leg and was done for at least 8 months.
UEFA Champions League Semi-Final – Real Madrid v Plymouth Argyle (1st Leg)
So, here we were at the Bernabeu, missing three key players in Fein, Hermans and Kalonji. I spoke with Nalis again before the match and told him that all I’d expect is for the lads to give it their best shot. Yes, we’d knocked out massive teams in Atlético and City, but Real Madrid are just another level. Against a team that boast Harry Kane and Erling Braut Håland in their squad, I could not see us keeping them quiet for 90 minutes, let alone 180.
To put it simply, it was a tale of two keepers. Thibaut Courtois did not find himself challenged very much apart from the odd pot-shot from Rob Down and Alan Carlos, but Chris Salz kept us in the tie and duly won man-of-the-match in the 0-0 draw. It seemed like Real’s strategy was simply to play dirty: with 6 yellow cards and countless fouls, their performance not only disrupted our attacking flow but also the talents of Kane and Håland who both had poor games. I was very happy to take a draw back to Home Park, but was oddly disappointed not to nick an away goal in Madrid.
We ended the season very nicely in the Premier League, although we technically had nothing to play for after Manchester City comfortably secured the title in the first week of May. Angeliño grabbed the all-important goal against a very defensive West Brom to secure all three points; Hwang Hee-Chan was the saviour of our side in another 1-0 win after Alan Carlos had to be taken off early due to injury – an injury that would keep him out until the end of May. Sh*t. Angeliño and Hwang Hee-Chan continued to shine in the final two wins of the season against Aston Villa and West Ham, with Paolo Cassano and Noah Delap also finding the back of the net.
UEFA Champions League Semi-Final – Plymouth Argyle v Real Madrid (2nd Leg)
Luckily, we had Alan Carlos for the second leg against Real Madrid. The plan was very simple: stop Madrid from scoring, or simply out-score them.
Real Madrid immediately seemed more dangerous than in the first leg, with Håland looking far more dangerous coming off of the left wing. Salz pulled off some more excellent saves before we managed to hit Madrid on the counter-attack. Lucas Hernandez cynically stopped Rob Down in his tracks just outside of their penalty box and received a yellow card. Pedro Diaz took the ensuing free kick, whipping the ball from the right side of the box to the far post, where Enrico Ambrosius out-muscled Fran Beltran and headed past Courtois. 1-0! Just before half time, Rob Down found himself free, turned Lucas Hernandez and ran at the box. Hernandez, who was having a poor game, mistimed his tackle and took Down (down) again. The French centre-back received his second yellow card and was sent for an early bath. Going into half time, we were 1-0 up against a 10-man Real Madrid. The stuff that dreams are made of.
Against constant waves of pressure from Argyle in the second half, Kane and Håland were kept completely quiet and their defence were making more and more mistakes in poor clearances and mistimed tackles. It was one of these tackles that provided our second goal: Josh Arnold made a mazey run into the box before Andreas Christensen knocked the academy product over. Penalty. Alan Carlos stepped up again and scored. 2-0. We were going to the Camp Nou for the Champions League final. Our opponents: Bayern Munich. While this was terrifying, my coaching team and I celebrated with a night out on the Barbican, where Nalis and I partied the night away in joy at our victory.
After beating Real Madrid, we were also told that we were going to play in the Club World Cup this year. At the start of The Pilgrimage back in 2019, I could not see little-old Plymouth Argyle playing in the CWC.
Following the completion of the Premier League season – another 2nd place finish – we were provided with information about next year’s budgets. The Champions League money had really rolled in this year, especially while we kept one of the smallest wage budgets in the league, and therefore we were given a massive transfer budget of £106m and a wage budget of £1.3m per week. Kylian Mbappé, who had a brilliant season for City, beat Alan Carlos to the Premier League Golden Boot bur it was still another amazing season for the Brazilian striker. One of the board’s newer plans as part of the Club Vision was to expand Home Park further to 46,000 seats, an ambitious plan from Chairman Simon Hallett. It was nice to once again win the Premier League Manager of the Year award – hopefully next year I can win the league, instead of just being nominated as the best manager.
Next time, we try and make up for our coming so close last season in the FA Cup final against Liverpool; as well as facing the challenge of 5-time Champions League winners Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Previously in The Pilgrimage, Plymouth Argyle found themselves fortunate in the draw for their first ever Champions League campaign and started their 3rd season in the Premier League. In this edition, we pick up where we left off last time and start our campaign in Europe.
In case you have no idea what I was referencing in the title, I really couldn’t think of one for this post so decided to reference the greatest football tweet of 2016:
To put it simply, it was another disappointing month for the young Pilgrims. We’ll start with the positives: we picked up a win against West Ham in the league and were lucky to have Alan Carlos pop up with a second half goal to boost a poor performance; and Newcastle were smashed 5-0 in the 3rd round of the Carabao Cup to make it through to the 4th round against Chelsea. It was against the Blues that we would lose at the end of September, bottling a 2-1 lead at half time to eventually go on and lose 3-2. We had a tough first trip in Europe away at Valencia where an early Gonçalo Guedes goal consigned us to defeat, however the most disappointing performance came from our away defeat at Bournemouth.
In many of these matches, the players just weren’t performing to the same standard as they were last year; they were making far too many mistakes. The only players I could really praise so far were Hwang Hee-Chan (who had seemingly been the only striker banging them in for us) and the youth boys who had joined the first team this year: Josh Arnold and Enrico Ambrosius. Both had performed admirably in their fleeting appearances.
Luckily, we managed to turn things around by October! We almost went the entire month unbeaten before crashing out of the Carabao cup following another 3-2 defeat against Chelsea. Josh Arnold scored his first ever goal for Plymouth Argyle in a 2-0 win against Everton that also saw Alan Carlos find his scoring boots again; we laboured to a dull draw against 10-man Newcastle in which it seemed the aim for the Magpies was to play as little football as possible; and a Jan Mlakar masterclass saw us come back against Spurs to win 3-2 as we moved 4 places up the table to 5th. We also tasted our first glory in Europe, beating Galatasaray at Home Park and scraping a 4-3 win away at Porto in a certified Champions League classic.
Josh Arnold’s performances rightfully won him the Premier League Young Player of the Month award for October and Alan Carlos’ upturn in form saw him called up to the Brazilian national team for the very first time. (Unfortunately he was never played, but it’s encouraging to see that his talents are being recognised.)
From that point onwards, we began to go on a bit of a run. Home Park turned into a fortress of the grandest of scales when Norwich City and Huddersfield Town were both decimated by The Pilgrims in the Premier League. Two more Champions League classics were also had at the Theatre of Greens, where we put another 5 past Porto courtesy of an Alan Carlos hattrick, Ambrosius’ first ever goal for Argyle and Josh Arnold scoring again from centre-back; and Valencia struggled to get through a torrid Argyle side reduced to 10-men following a second half red card for Enrico Ambrosius. An 88th minute goal from Iñigo Martínez resulted in dropped points for the Pilgrims against Aston Villa and Wolves completely outclassed us at Molineux through a Patrick Cutrone brace.
Alan Carlos’ 4 goals in as many games won him the Premier League Player of the Month award for November, with Josh Arnold coming a close second. Following our win against Valencia it was also confirmed that we had qualified for the first knockout round in the Champions League, and it was even better that we’d secured first place in the group too!
Whoever came up with the fixture scheduling for December must be some sort of sadist. Every English football fan knows how crazy December is in the football calendar, with a stupid amount of games played in a very short amount of time (for us, 7 matches in four weeks). To make things worse, 5 out of those 7 matches were against ‘the big six’. Alan Carlos and Pedro Diaz goals meant we came back from a losing position to win 2-1 against a struggling Arsenal side; a Stephen Eustáquio red card following a horror tackle did not put us off from comprehensively winning 3-0 against Brighton; and another Josh Arnold goal meant that a heavily-rotated squad won our final game of the Champions League group stage against Galatasaray.
It was after this that things got tough: we almost masterminded a smash and grab at Anfield through a Jan Mlakar goal just before half-time but unfortunately their Portuguese winger Castiano equalised in the 93rd minute. Manchester United were next and came charging out of the gates, scoring 2 early goals to take the points back to Manchester. The Boxing Day fixture was against their city rivals (and current runaway league leaders) Manchester City at Home Park. After going ahead early through an Alan Carlos goal, Kylian Mbappé scored a tremendous hattrick before Alan Carlos scored a final consolation goal late on. After that horrible run of games, what were we treated to? That’s right – two days later – an away trip to 2nd-placed Spurs. Although I am getting sick of seeing a lot of 3-2 scorelines this season, we were on the right side of one this time. After going in 2-1 down at the break, Alan Carlos scored twice to add to Murphy Kalonji’s first half goal to take all 3 points back to Devon.
Alan Carlos’ stellar performances not only won him another Premier League Young Player of the Month award, but he also won two other accolades: The Brazilian striker was voted FIFA’s Best U21 Men’s Player and recognised as Brazil’s best player based in Europe. I am by no means ready for when he will (probably) eventually leave me.
As always, it was a mixed youth intake preview. It looks like we could have a superstar midfielder coming from our affiliate club Botev Plovdiv but can’t exactly expect too much from this year’s crop of players.
Following the completion of the group stages, it was time for the Champions League draw for the first knockout round. We were one of the teams that were seeded in the draw, and if I had the choice I would have happily picked a ‘nicer’ team such as Freiburg or Napoli to play. Nope. Atlético Madrid. Christ. I just hope we don’t lose by a heavy defeat and come out of this looking creditable at least.
As I may have already mentioned, at the start of December I normally pop all of my players into a spreadsheet to assess where we are strong, where we need to make some changes and where we need to recruit. I was lucky to also receive the message from Chairman Simon Hallett that our £14m transfer budget had been increased to £40m due to the very sound financial situation at the club. So, where do we need to invest?
In our first team, there were 3 positions that I looked to strengthen over the upcoming January transfer window and in the Summer. One of those positions was in goal.
Mike Cooper had been with us in our journey up the leagues but since being in the Premier League has performed well but increasingly made mistakes that I know stronger keepers would not make. Coops will definitely stay around as a backup, but we need a top-tier ‘keeper to keep more goals out in the future. Josep Martinez will likely be sold to make room for the new stopper.
On the left wing was another area for improvement. Adam Lewis has only 6 months left on his contract and has had increasing interest from Brighton over the past few months. Although he had a very good season last year, I will happily sell him in January to bring in an improvement, or release him at the end of the season to make room for a new winger.
The final position for more immediate improvement is a new box-to-box midfielder. New acquisition Adrian Fein has played more games than any other outfield player so far this season and whenever Chalobah has deputised for the German, he has struggled and put in a string of poor performances. Like Adam Lewis, Nathaniel Chalobah’s contract expires in the summer so I will be looking for a younger replacement as competition for Fein.
Next time, we hit the January sales, face off against the might of Atlético Madrid in the first knockout round of the Champions League and try and climb back up the table to secure Champions League football for next year.
Last time in The Pilgrimage, Plymouth Argyle completed their 3rd season in the Premier League, and it went pretty well. We secured Champions League football for the 2025/26 season and even appeared in a cup final. Can The Pilgrims keep their positive momentum going into the new season?
As was mentioned at the end of Part 21, we had three main aims going into the 2025/26 season:
Keep Alan Carlos
Don’t make fools of ourselves in Europe
Keep the core of the squad, only making improvements where necessary – midfield is our main concern, as well as depth on the right wing
So, going into the summer transfer window, was it possible to stay true to our objectives?
9th June 2025 – IN – Adrian Fein – FC Bayern München – £22m
First through the door was one of last season’s loanees, Adrian Fein, joining The Pilgrims permanently for a fee of £22m. Adrian did very well in his short time on loan last season, showing great ability in both the defensive midfield and central midfield roles while players such as Didier Ndong were out injured and following the sale of Luke Amos. I aim to use the former Germany U21 international as my first choice box-to-box midfielder, although his versatility could help us out as the season rolls on.
9th June 2025 – IN – Stephen Eustáquio – Cruz Azul – £12.25m (£13.75m)
Our second signing of the summer window was Canadian international Stephen Eustáquio from Mexican top-flight side Cruz Azul. Although Stephen is Portuguese born and represented them at youth level, he qualifies for Canadian nationality as well and has represented them 63 times on the international stage, scoring on 9 of those occasions. Eustáquio should add a fair bit of defensive strength to our midfield and will most likely be our first choice defensive midfielder.
15th June 2025 – IN – Murphy Kalonji – Atlético Madrid – £8.5m
The signings kept coming in, as next up was the excellently named newgen Murphy Kalonji from Spanish giants Atlético Madrid for a fee of just £8.5m – a bargain! The DRC Congolese international started his career off at his native TP Mazembe before moving to the Spanish capital in 2023. The right-winger then spent 2 seasons out on loan at Eibar and Espanyol – scoring 7 goals and creating 7 more in 48 collective appearances – before Atlético denied to give him a chance in the first team. I happily snapped Kalonji off of their hands as this signing should hopefully keep pushing Jordan Teze to keep up his stellar performances of last season.
23rd June 2025 – OUT – Gábor Bánhegyi – Újpest FC – £375k (£475k)
I get a bit sentimental seeing the young players I bought as a bit of an investment project early in the save leaving. Last season we had quite a few of those, and now it was the turn of Gábor Bánhegyi. Out of the three youth players I brought in after my very first season at Argyle, Bánhegyi seemed like one that would ‘get lost in the shuffle’ a little bit. However, in the past couple of seasons the once-capped Hungarian international has progressed well and made it to what seems like his full potential. It is unfortunate, then, that his top level is not quite good enough to make it at Home Park.
30th June 2025 – OUT – Didier Ndong – Free Transfer
This transfer felt less sentimental, especially in comparison to a young favourite at the club. Didier Ndong joined us back in our first season in the Premier League, and the fact that the Gabonese international only made 52 appearances over 3 seasons at the club tells you the story of how in favour he was with my management team. Ndong just never really got going, and apart from the odd screamer he scored once a season, his time at Home Park was largely forgettable. Ndong has now signed for SkyBet Championship side Swansea City.
1st July 2025 – OUT – Romain Fuchs – Celtic – Free
The free transfer of Romain Fuchs to Celtic (who have won every single league title since 2012) is one I’m still scratching my head about. Fuchs joined Argyle from our French affiliate club Sedan Ardennes for a tiny fee of £2.5k in 2023, mainly for the reason that he was a very cheap player who may have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, due to my changes in system around that time and a couple of poor loan spells out in the Football League, Fuchs never made the progress necessary to make it at Argyle or found a position that would fit my system. Therefore, I could not justify offering him a new contract (on very high wages, may I add) just for the sake of making a profit on the French youngster. Hopefully, this decision does not bite me in the bum later on down the line.
1st July 2025 – OUT – Iñigo Lekue – Granada – Free
Iñigo Lekue was a player that I always admired in his time in a green shirt: the Spanish right wing-back always gave 100% and I will always be grateful that he gave the last of his prime years at the top of the game to the Pilgrims. Like Ndong, Iñigo joined Argyle at the start of our time in the Premier League and was the first choice in his position for two seasons, even after a formation change. Now at 32 years old and having been ousted from the top of the right-wing pecking order by Jordan Teze last season, I decided it was time to let Lekue move onto ventures new. The ex-Athletic Club defender decided to move back home to Spain and signed for La Liga side Granada.
1st July 2025 – IN – Luciano Rossato – Frosinone Calcio – £15.75m (£19m)
In comparison to last summer, this window was to be a lot quieter for The Pilgrims, following on from our ‘build, not radically re-shape’ objectives. The missing piece of the puzzle was another player to offer depth and competition in defensive midfield, and my scouts identified Italian U21 international Luciano Rossato as that player. As opposed to the more experienced signing of Eustáquio, the aim of securing the signing of Rossato was to develop him and eventually have him be the first choice in his position. With a very solid foundation of attributes to build on, I hope Luciano can learn from the experienced heads around him and improve lots in the future.
9th July 2025 – OUT – Tom Trybull – Preußen Münster – Free
Again, just like Ndong and Lekue, Tom Trybull joined the club just as we were promoted to the Premier League and mainly played as a backup/rotation option in the central midfield and defensive midfield positions. Much like Ndong, he didn’t really have the chance to make a lasting impression in the squad (apart from his two absolute screamers to beat Liverpool two seasons ago). Trybull spent the majority of last season out injured, and so despite having a year left on his contract, I offered the German midfielder out on a free and 2. Bundesliga side Preußen Münster offered to take Trybull off my hands (and off the wage bill).
30th July 2025 – OUT – Gustavo Gomez – Free Transfer
I probably could have made an independent post all about the departures of players that joined us when we were promoted to the Premier League! Just before the transfer window slammed shut, Paraguayan international (and 6th choice centre-back) Gustavo Gomez came to have a word with me. With just one year left on his contract, he was worried that he would not be granted a new work permit (as he had not been called up for his national side in a while) and therefore wanted to leave. I was happy to oblige, and decided the best course of action was a clean break for both of us. Gomez left on a free, and has since joined Greek giants Olympiakos. I thought he was going to go back to Paraguay, but whatever…
As usual, a bevy of young players left to go out on loan to get Football League experience. The big difference this time though was the amount of players on loan at SkyBet Championship clubs: 50% of the players that went out on loan joined clubs in the second tier of English football. This is a huge increase on previous years and shows how many of the youth products are very close to first team action in the Premier League with Argyle. Following the departure of Gustavo Gomez, I did decide to bring Enrico Ambrosious back to the club to become our 6th-choice centre back.
Pre-season was the same as usual – no matter how big a club you play in pre-season, you normally end up winning! This summer, we went on a training camp in South Africa, while big games against teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow, Fenerbahçe and Inter Milan at Home Park drew large crowds. A couple of the more interesting tidbits that popped into my inbox during pre-season included the news that Alan Carlos was actually the top goalscorer in the entirety of Europe last year, and that he was now being considered as the 2nd favourite to win the Premier League Golden Boot again this season.
We had to wait a little longer than usual for our first game of the season as our home fixture against Leeds was the featured game on the first Monday Night Football of 2025/26. Our Pilgrims side was relatively unchanged from previous seasons: The back line was imperious last year and so there was no need to make any changes; our midfield looked a little different, with Murphy Kalonji and Stephen Eustáquio making their debuts; while an Alan Carlos injury means that Hwang Hee-Chan takes his place alongside Rob Down at the top of the pitch.
You may also notice on the brand new kits that a lot of the squad numbers have changed – this is due to the fact that with a lot of experienced members of the squad leaving, a lot of players’ favourite numbers were free so we had a wee reshuffle.
We got off to the perfect start against a Leeds United side that were pushing for top-six last season, with Connor Ronan getting both of the goals – the first being a standard Connor Ronan banger and the second a well-taken penalty after getting scythed down in the box. It was an easy 2-0 win which took us straight up the table.
The rest of the opening month was…mixed. In my opinion, we were given a relatively easy first four fixtures that I really would have expected 12 points from. However, one of these was against Southampton, who are always a tricky team to break down (especially without Alan Carlos), we shockingly lost to newly promoted West Brom after dominating the game, hitting the woodwork a million times, etc. It was a classic FMing. They scored late on and that was it. Luckily, we turned things around against another of the newly promoted sides, beating Burnley 4-1, where a dominant performance from Murphy Kalonji saw the young winger bag his first two goals in a green shirt.
The Champions League Draw
It was just after the shocking West Brom defeat that we were invited to the Champions League draw for the group stages. At a time where I wasn’t exactly full of confidence, I really did not fancy my chances against any of the best of Europe at that moment. Despite this, I was jumping for joy after fourth-seeded Argyle were drawn against Valencia, Porto and Galatasaray. Compared to what we could have had (with the exception of Liverpool and Wolves’ groups), we were very lucky. The hardest opponents would arguably be Valencia, but I would hope to at least pick up points in our fixtures against Porto and Galatasaray. Even if we do not qualify from the group, I will happily take Europa League football as we should not be finishing bottom of this group.
For a bit of context, here are the other groups where England is being represented in the Champions League:
Group A: Manchester City, Barcelona, AEK Athens, Roma
Group C: Liverpool, Celtic, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge
Group D: Juventus, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax
Group F: Wolves, Freiburg, Lyon, Basel
Next time, we hope to return to last season’s form as we continue our march on the Premier League; we play Plymouth Argyle’s first-ever matches in the UEFA Champions League and we assess the squad ahead of next year. Thank you again for taking the time to read The Pilgrimage.
In the previous edition of The Pilgrimage, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher covered three of Argyle’s matches from the first half of the season on Monday Night Football.
In this post, the writing style will be completely different again; think of this as the usual half-season recount of the 2024/25 season, but also as a bit of a ‘love letter’ to probably my favourite player on Football Manager since Vittorio Parigini on FM18.
So – January was a VERY good month! We went unbeaten following big wins such as the 3-2 comeback against Manchester City at Home Park; the 3-1 win against Chelsea at home in the 3rd round of the FA Cup spearheaded by an Alan Carlos and Connor Ronan masterclass; and a massive 5-0 win against West Ham in the 4th round of the FA Cup, with Rob Down, Marek Vagner and Iñigo Lekue finding the back of the net (as well as the customary brace from Alan Carlos). Argyle had really found their shooting boots, scoring a huge 17 goals and only conceding 3. As a result, the Pilgrims found themselves just 7 points off of first place Arsenal by the end of the month.
5th January 2025 – OUT – Jonathan – Shanghai SIPG – £19.75m (£25m)
There were a couple of transfers in this window that I wasn’t too sure about, and the sale of left wing-back Jonathan was one of them. Jonathan joined Argyle from Almeria for £850k in 2022 and despite having a rocky start, he really adapted to the left midfield role and was a creative force last season. Since August, a little ‘WNT’ by Shanghai SIPG status hung above the defender’s name and as soon as the window opened, they struck. I know it’s a bit of a cliche about how clubs in the Chinese Super League will literally throw money at any remotely successful player in Europe, but I really managed to get more than I should for Jonathan. The Brazilian defender had not hit the heights of his quality last season and was replaceable. One I’m sad to see go, but not one I regret.
5th January 2025 – IN – Angeliño – Burnley – £15.25m
We had planned for Jonathan’s departure as soon as we saw he was wanted, and as a result had been tracking Angeliño for the past six months. The ex-Manchester City left-back had spent a season and a half at Burnley, ending up relegated to the Championship at the end of last season. Unhappy about ending up in the English second tier, I was able to snap up the Spaniard for a measly £15.25m. Hopefully, he can adapt to the left wing-back/left wing role that Jonathan grew in to.
6th January 2025 – OUT – Dawid Kownacki – Shanghai SIPG – £30.5m (£36.5m)
I said I wasn’t sure about selling Jonathan to Shanghai SIPG, but this was one was just laughable. I wasn’t prepared to get rid of Dawid Kownacki unless they offered at least £30m, so rebuffed their original offer of £15m and decided that suddenly I could find a way out of not having Dawid in my squad. The Polish international, who only joined Argyle from Fortuna Düsseldorf for £11.5m at the start of last season now becomes our all-time record signing. With Alan Carlos, Juan Diego Franganillo, Rob Down, Hwang-Hee Chan and a (eventual) returning Jan Mlakar, we had plenty of depth to cover Kownacki’s departure.
10th January 2025 – OUT – Rodri – Birmingham City – £1m (£1.2m)
A young talent that we brought in on a free transfer from a Spanish non-league side in 2021, Rodri had always done very well in the youth teams, on loan at Football League sides and on the occasions where he would be a fringe player for cup matches. Unfortunately for him, he was getting older and did not seem to be making any more progress. Therefore, I decided to cut my losses and try and make a profit on the Spaniard before his contract expired. Birmingham City came in with an initial offer of £1m and I was happy to make such a profit on a youth investment that I brought in for free.
11th January 2025 – IN – Adrian Fein – Bayern Munich – Loan Fee £150k p/m
It’s not often I do this, but the signing of Bayern Munich midfielder Adrian Fein was actually a bit of forward planning on my part for next season. Fein was unhappy at Bayern and wanted a new club, and so I decided to bring him in on loan with the option of him joining permanently at the end of the season for £22m. Adrian joined Argyle to try and offer us a bit more depth and quality in midfield and could be a potential replacement for Didier Ndong when the Gabonese international’s contract expires at the end of the season.
17th January 2025 – OUT – Perry Ng – Burnley – £1.2m
A player who gave his all for the shirt. Our one and only Captain during our rise up the leagues following Gary Sawyer’s retirement, it was finally time to let Perry Ng go. Ng joined Argyle from captaining his boyhood club Crewe in 2020 and went on to have 4 and a half stellar seasons at Home Park, winning 2 promotions and always being a solid rock at the heart of central defence. Since the step up to Premier League football, Perry performed admirably and always gave it 110% but has started to look out of his depth as youngsters such as Delap, Vagner and Hermans have overtaken him in the pecking order. Ng’s contract was due to expire in the summer, and when promotion chasing Burnley came calling, I thought it was only fair for Ng to go and get the game time he deserves. As a result of this, one of our youth products – Josh Arnold – returns from his loan spell at Millwall to offer us more depth at centre-back.
18th January 2025 – OUT – Miguel Arias – Bristol City – £750k
Joining from Getafe for just £92k in 2020 to add more depth to our youth sides, young Spanish goalkeeper Miguel Arias spent a lot of his time out on loan in the Football League and found great success in two spells at Newport County. Very similar to his counterpart in Rodri, Arias just wasn’t progressing fast enough to ever make it in the Premier League with Argyle and with his contract expiring, I decided to cut all ties and sell him to Championship Bristol City for a nice profit of £750k.
31st January 2025 – OUT – Luke Amos – Watford – £4.2m
This was a sale I really wasn’t too sure about making. Like many players that were in their heyday in the Championship play-off winning side of 2021/22, Luke Amos’ contract was due to expire at the end of the season and so when relegation-fighting Watford came in with a desperate bid of just over £4m on the final day of the transfer window, I decided to let the ex-Spurs youth product go. In reality, I had a lot of players in the youth squad ready to take a more important role going forward as well as the loan signing of Adrian Fein to cover in Luke’s defensive midfield position. I hoped that this would not leave me too short-changed, but it was a risk I decided to take.
Although not necessarily the same non-stop winning streak that January was, February was another good month for my young Pilgrims side. We continued to go unbeaten in 2025, drawing 0-0 at Home Park against Manchester United due to possibly the best performance Mike Cooper has ever had in goal; a 3-1 win against Sheffield United (in which Alan Carlos grabbed another hattrick) and a difficult 2-1 win away to Wolves where Alan Carlos and captain Noah Delap bagged the goals. As a result of his incredible goalscoring form, Alan Carlos won both the Premier League Player and Young Player of the Month for February. Not only that, but the progress chart that was sent to my inbox at the end of the month really demonstrated the incredible player that the Brazilian striker had become: our first truly ‘World Class’ player.
By the end of March, we’d already smashed last seasons’s final points total of 58 and continued to hold on to 2nd place. It was also another month unbeaten. We started off with another Alan Carlos brace sealing a 2-0 win against our nearest rivals Bournemouth; sailed through the 5th round of the FA cup by beating Aston Villa with a goal from Rob Down and an Alan Carlos hattrick and drew against Villa after previously playing them in the cup. Angeliño bagged his first two goals in a green shirt in the 2-0 win at home to Huddersfield, however the biggest result came in a 3-3 thriller away to league leaders Arsenal, where Connor Ronan and Alan Carlos were our saviours and we were unlucky to concede late on. We went one better though in a 3-2 victory over the Gunners at Home Park. The league leaders and current FA Cup holders bowed out in the quarter final following goals from Iñigo Lekue and yet another brace from Alan Carlos.
Alan Carlos rightfully made it two wins in two months of the Premier League Player of the Month award, however it was the board that decided to reward me for the club’s form and the loyalty in reaching 300 league games by offering me a new contract through to the end of the 2028/29 season.
As it was March, we also had our usual youth intake. Compared to the last couple of years, this one was little bit disappointing. How is that when you have the worst facilities you have little gems come through, but when you start to upgrade the academy you rarely receive a prospect?
Tom Richardson-Brown, Phil Jackson and David Corcoran were the pick of the bunch, but I doubt many will make it to the first team like former candidates Noah Delap, Josh Arnold and Rob Down. (Please make me eat my words, Tom, Phil and David!)
In April, we started to reach the tail end of our season and still clung to 2nd place in the league table. It began with a 2-1 win at Home Park to Luke Amos’ new club Watford, followed by an Alan Carlos brace sealing the 3 points away at Southampton. We also confirmed our place in our first ever FA Cup final following a 4-1 drubbing of Championship side Burnley through a goal from Jordan Teze and another Alan Carlos hattrick. Unfortunately, Manchester City would be the ones meeting us there, and they had far more history in the competition than Argyle did. April ended with a 4-1 win over Leicester, and the Green Army really started to dream of continental football with just four league games left to play.
I wish I could get tired of all of the awards Alan Carlos has picked up in this season, but my god – that boy can play. The Brazilian striker picked up another Young Player of the Month award in April. It was also nice to see that our transfer nous was confirmed when we were shown to be the club that spent the 3rd lowest amount during the 2024/25 season. Sustainable?
May was make or break in terms of a very unlikely title charge and after a difficult away trip to Anfield – where an 81st minute Liverpool goal consigned us to defeat – it looked more and more likely that the trophy was heading to the Emirates. We did however turn it around back at Home Park, where Alan Carlos and Jordan Teze found the net to beat Spurs 2-1; it was after this match that Arsenal were crowned Premier League champions, but we still maintained our fight to claim continental football.
Our last match at Home Park for the season was a 4-1 drubbing of Leeds United, with both Juan Diego Franganillo and Teze grabbing braces against the Yorkshire outfit. More importantly, the win against Leeds meant that we had secured 2nd place, and therefore Plymouth Argyle would be playing in the Champions League next season. As we had nothing to play for in our final match, I decided to rotate it a bit and play some of our youngsters away at Chelsea. Big mistake. In one of our heaviest losses in months, Chelsea beat us 4-1, with Diogo Jota, Joe Gomez and Callum Hudson-Odoi leading us to defeat.
Of course, with the Premier League season over, it was awards time. Unsurprisingly, it was Alan Carlos who would take most of the acclaim: the 20-year-old Brazilian striker found the net 25 times in 37 appearances, as well as setting up 13 goals for his teammates, taking the Golden Boot back to Home Park. Rightfully, Alan Carlos also won the Premier League Young Player of the Month after his stellar performances this season. It was also nice to receive some personal recognition as Premier League Manager of the Year, my first MotY award since winning League One back in 2021.
The FA Cup Final: Plymouth Argyle v Manchester City, Wembley Stadium, 3pm, Saturday 24th May 2025
Although the season was over, the big one was still ahead of us: The FA Cup final. As is customary, I donned my finest grey tweed and Plymouth Argyle club tie and prepared for what was going to be a very tough fixture against Eddie Howe’s Manchester City, current holders of the Champions League trophy.
I went into the final with all of the hope in the world (as we didn’t have much else) and my worst fears happened after just 13 minutes: Kylian Mbappé made an excellent off-the-ball run after a simple free kick within the Manchester City half to get off the shoulder of Marek Vagner and fire past Josep Martinez into the back of the net. 1-0 to City.
I decided to watch the whole game on ‘full match’ rather than my usual ‘comprehensive highlights’ and my lord, it just made the experience so much more stressful. Manchester City kept sending wave after wave of attacks at my young Pilgrims defence and our star players such as Connor Ronan and Alan Carlos were left completely isolated. We managed to hold on for another 15 minutes, before Kevin De Bruyne just did Kevin De Bruyne things and scored a goal completely typical of his talents from distance. It was 2-0 to Man City after less than half an hour.
Ten minutes later, Kylian Mbappé bagged his second of the match after we were exposed again on the wings. This time, it was Jordan Teze who failed to cut out the pass, allowing a ball to get into the box where Mbappé’s exceptional movement allowed him to neatly pop the ball in at the near post. We were 3-0 down, and I was starting to be reminded of the 2016 League Two playoff final where we absolutely bottled it on our big day out.
We regrouped at half time, offered words of encouragement and made one change: Nathaniel Chalobah went off for a more attacking midfielder in Pedro Diaz, to hopefully offer us more during standard play as well as being the best set-piece taker in the squad. I was optimistic as soon as the second half began, as we immediately began playing far better, keeping possession more and offering more of a threat in attack. It was massively unfortunate that this spark of hope was almost instantly snuffed out not long after an hour when Man City won the ball back on the wing before playing a simple long ball over the entirety of our team. Alfredo Morelos ran onto it, rounded Josep Martinez and smashed it into our goal. 4-f*cking-nil. Bottlers, the lot of ’em.
We made another change straight away, bringing on Tom Trybull for Jordan Teze at the right-hand side of midfield in the hope that he could stop any more City goals. Luckily, it was one of our substitutes who would decided to step up and at least get us a consolation goal. Pedro Diaz ironically got on the end of an excellent corner by Alan Carlos to head in at the far post. 4-1. A glimmer of hope?
Oh yes, we had hope. Hope, otherwise known as the left foot of Alan Carlos. The goal spurred Argyle on, where just 5 minutes later the wonderkid ran onto a one-touch pass by Adam Lewis on the left wing to run through the City defence and shoot past Ederson. 4-2, with 20 minutes left to play! Come on!
Adam Lewis, who picked up a knock early in the game, came off for youngster Phil Jezeph, who was always capable of bagging a few goals off of the left wing. Minutes later, it was the Brazilian maestro who popped up again: Alan Carlos made another fantastic well-timed run through the heart of the Manchester City defence to go one-on-one with his countryman and shooting past the Brazilian stopper. It was 4-flipping-3, with 10 minutes left to go. Christ. My poor heart.
As much as we probed and continued to put the pressure on a now slightly nervous-looking Citizens squad, we just could not find that final goal to level things up and send the match to extra time, and the match unfortunately ended 4-3 to the Champions of Europe. Despite the fact that we had just lost in our first FA Cup final ever, I could be very proud. Despite having a shocking first 60 minutes, our ‘never-say-die’ attitude brought us so close to achieving the best comeback since the 2005 Champions League final. After the whistle blew, and the travelling City fans celebrated the lifting of the trophy, there was still an almighty sound bellowing out from the onlooking Green Army:
‘ALAN CARLOS, BABY, ALAN CARLOS WOAH-OH-OH-OH!’
The Green Army’s chant for Alan Carlos, loosely to the tune of The Human League’s 1981 hit single ‘Don’t You Want Me’
End of Season Awards
After returning to Home Park as FA Cup runners up, it was time for the Plymouth Argyle end of season awards. You guessed it: Alan Carlos had the clean sweep of Fan’s Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season and Signing of the Season. The young Brazilian had also broken real life records at Plymouth Argyle, breaking the record for the most goals scored during one season, a record that had been around since 1926. Alan Carlos, Joey Hermans and Jordan Teze were all lucky enough to also break into the Players’ Premier League Team of the Season, which was dominated by Arsenal players apart from the three Pilgrims.
At the end of each season, I like to set objectives for the next season, and I think my target setting is very easy to work out:
Keep Alan Carlos at all costs. No explanation needed.
2. Don’t make absolute fools of ourselves in Europe. I don’t even mind coming third in our group and falling into the Europa League, I just don’t fancy being drubbed 5-0 in every match by much bigger teams than lowly Plymouth Argyle.
3. Keep the core of the squad and only make improvements where necessary. I have made a lot of transfers in my first six seasons at Home Park, and considering I have quite a few young first team players and prospects almost ready to make the step up to Premier League football, I need to have more faith in what I already have at the club, rather than spending millions every 6 months. Simon Hallett offered me a transfer budget of about £60m and a wage budget of just under £1m p/w for next season, and I would like to be savvy with that, considering that it isn’t a huge difference from last year’s budgets – even though we will be competing in Europe next year.
I really hope you have enjoyed reading the story so far, and in particular the great successes of the 2024/25 campaign with Plymouth Argyle. As the COVID-19 situation continues to roll on, all I want to do is continue sharing my escapism with anyone who decides to read this and take a little break from reality every now and then.
Over on my Twitter (@rpwfm) I am also currently taking on DoctorBenjy’s ‘Glory Hunter challenge, so if you fancy something a bit different from me, you can go and find that there.