After the latest international break, we’re mercifully spared any further disruptions to proper football until March. This one was just as forgettable as any other, but at least this time we could bask in the Birmingham win instead of stewing over the Jarred Gillett-inspired Boro debacle.
I was keen to get back on the away day hype train, having missed the Swansea game to take my dad to see the Southgate tribute play Dear England for his birthday.
It’s a great show incidentally, with the dramatisation being far more entertaining than actually watching Gareth’s team play, though Henderson’s and Pickford’s “Mackem” accents were a bit too Ant and Dec for my liking.
In the entire EFL calendar, Plymouth Argyle (a) stands on its own as a rite of passage for away day enthusiasts. The fact that the Championship nerds from The Second Tier Podcast are imposing a coach journey from Sunderland to Plymouth and back as a forfeit for losing their prediction league speaks volumes.
Whenever Argyle are at home, football social media pays tribute to the hardy fans of northern clubs bravely cradling cans of lager on dimly lit coaches at four in the morning. It’s truly a mammoth journey, and as the old cliché goes you have to acknowledge those making the trip with a respectful “fair play from a [insert club here] fan”.
That being said, I was very f**king grateful to be travelling there from London instead of the North East. It’s still a fair old trek from the capital anyway, and I remember my last trip there in 2018 feeling lengthier than a back-to-back Oppenheimer/The Irishman/Killers of the Flower Moon marathon.
We broke up the journey by staying in Exeter on the Friday night, which is a lovely city, and would make a great away day in itself (though categorically not if that comes at the expense of dropping into League One again).
There was a generally friendly atmosphere on the train and in the pubs before the game; I’ve always found that there’s a mutual respect between us and Plymouth fans despite hailing from opposite ends of the country. We both consistently travel long distances to watch (until recent years at least) distinctly mediocre football, so there’s a certain kinship in that.
The Lads started the first half fairly brightly and controlled possession well without carving out any real chances, setting the stage set perfectly for the opposition to score with their first shot of the game – a bit of a running theme for this season’s away trips. In fairness to Whittaker, it was a great goal, and their second finished off a well-worked move. There was a tiny crumb of comfort in at least making the opposition score a couple of decent goals, rather than the usual header bumbling in from two feet out.
You always felt that just one goal for us would turn the match on its head, with Sunderland dominating the second half, but again failing to find anything vaguely resembling a cutting edge.
Every cross or corner seemed to be float agonisingly into their keeper’s hands, every final ball was marginally over or under hit. The frustration stemmed from our own profligacy just as much as Plymouth’s doggedness, and when the final whistle blew there was that familiar feeling that we could’ve played all night and not scored.
After the game, we trudged back to The Barbican to numb the disappointment with pizza and a few drinks, reflecting on yet another away trip to file under the “Everything Was Great Apart from The Result” archive.
The long journey back to the capital on Sunday felt even more gruelling without any points in the proverbial bag. I suppose it’s all part of the vicissitudes of following SAFC.
Thankfully it’s Millwall away next week, which is obviously a convenient one for the London branch, though perhaps not so great for the Met Police. See you there.