Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #28 – A Moment Like This

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.

‘RPW –

Mystery is solved. Get back home and put him away.

G.S.’


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 tried for his crimes?

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.

Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #23 – ‘Can you write something like: Here’s a generic mid-season update. We go again!’


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:


September 2025

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.


October 2025

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.)


November 2025

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!


December 2025

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.


Transfer Plans

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.