During Plymouth Argyle’s first foray into the Championship in the 2005-06 season, the club’s closest derby game was a 180-mile round trip to Cardiff City. Hardly on a par with the fierce derbies played out by teams sharing a city, but Pilgrims fans living in the South West take what they can get. It can be tough supporting a club isolated from the major cities and larger clubs of the country, but this can make feelings and loyalties to those lonely clubs even stronger.
The fiercest rivalry Argyle share is with Exeter City. 40 miles up the A38, Exeter are the most obvious choice for main rivals to Plymouth, and although in the previous few seasons the rivalry has dimmed a little given the gap in leagues and quality between the two clubs, Argyle’s dramatic slide in both league position and quality of football has served to reignite the spark between the two clubs, culminating in a fiery Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Quarter-Final clash which Exeter emerged victorious from and several arrests were made for crowd trouble.
The rivalry between these two clubs is only coincidental; there is no epic history tying the two clubs together, nor have there been any hugely controversial comments from managers or players that have stoked the fires of the rivalry further. Although both sets of supporters no doubt enjoy the banter and one-upmanship between the two clubs, neither could argue that they would still be rivals should the two cities be further apart.
Pilgrims fans, just like fans of any other club, thrive on rivalries that can be played out on the pitch at least twice a season. The 2001-02 season saw the Green Army turn their attentions towards Joe Kinnear and Luton Town, after post match comments from Kinnear following his sides’ defeat at the hands of Plymouth. Luton went on to finish runners up to the Pilgrims in the old Division Three, giving Argyle and their fans the last laugh. Rivalries and negative feelings toward managers rather than clubs can be something of a running theme with Argyle, as soon after anger at Kinnear died down, then-manager of the Pilgrims Ian Holloway deserted the club for promises of riches at Leicester City. After preaching to Plymouthians of his love for the city and his wish to change the colours of Smeaton’s Tower – the famous lighthouse on the city waterfront – to the green and white of the club, fans were outraged that he could simply pack his bags and leave midway through a promising season. Bad feeling towards Holloway was appeased after a 1-0 win at the Walkers stadium in the same season, and Green Army fans were surely delighted to see Leicester sink into League One under Holloway’s leadership.
As traditional local rivalries for the Pilgrims can sometimes be restricted to seasons in which the team has faltered and are playing in lower leagues, many Argyle fans must surely prefer picking their own battles with managers and clubs across the land, playing football in the Championship as they do. After all, were it not for Holloways decision to turn against the club, it could have been the Greens in the promised land of the Premier League last season, not Blackpool.