Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #26 – Last Request

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.

The car park just outside of Home Park

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 you been 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…

The new system that Holloway has adapted for the final run-in of the season

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…

Player Overview

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.

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