I'm pretty certain that it was the Trumpton-esque surroundings of Torquay United's Plainmoor ground that witnessed my first foray into the dark, dangerous and, more often than not, deeply disappointing pastime of watching Argyle flounder away from home. I was 15 years old and my Dad drove us to Torquay as a treat. Up to then I had only ever watched Argyle at Home Park, so I didn't know what to expect.
Although it embarrasses me that I can remember very little about the actual game (including the score!) I have managed to narrow it down following some detective work. Firstly, I distinctly remember it as taking place on a Saturday evening, rather than the traditional 3.00pm kick-off slot. In the 60s and 70s Torquay were one of only two football league clubs (I think Southend may have been the other one?) who apparently had dispensation to play their Saturday home fixtures in the evening. I remember my father telling me that it was due to the fact that Torquay relied almost entirely on the holiday trade for its economy. With the vast majority of its fanbase working on a Saturday afternoon - selling ice cream at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting Londoners - they couldn't pop over to 'Trumpton' to watch a football match. How this argument held water in, for example, the middle of a freezing cold February afternoon, with the wind screaming and rain coming down horizontally, is beyond me - but just take it from me that for some time Torquay played all their home games on a Saturday evening.
Furthermore, I recall it being a relatively mild and sunny evening, suggesting some time at the beginning of a season – possibly August? That time of year would certainly correspond with my memory of the sun shining directly into our eyes as it slowly went down behind the stand opposite us. Thanks to the incredible database that is Greens on Screen I have been able to confidently narrow the match down to the 23rd of August 1969. I am also pleased to report that Argyle won 2-1, although why such a result in my first-ever away match doesn’t shine out like a memory beacon is a mystery.
The one thing I vividly recall is the cramped conditions where we stood to watch it. The official attendance was 10,946 and as the capacity of Plainmoor at that time was 11,099 I think it is fair to call it a ‘sell out’. My Dad and I were squashed in a throng of random supporters on one side of the ground i.e. not behind either goal. Quite amazingly, and difficult to imagine in this day and age, there was absolutely no segregation at football matches then. Home fans and away fans just bought tickets for any part of the ground and (in the main) co-existed quite peacefully without fear of being beaten up or knifed in a moment of tribal passion. Indeed, I clearly remember the early days of watching Argyle from the main grandstand at Home Park and witnessing at half time an exodus of Argyle fans walking from behind one goal, along the terraces to stand behind the opposite goal. Thus, they would be in the thick of the action of Argyle’s attacks for the whole match.
The other thing that stands out in my mind about that Torquay match was being surrounded by mainly home fans and vociferously decrying the actions of what I considered to be a biased ‘homer’ referee. Some Torquay guy standing in front of me disputed my suggestion of bias by pointing out that the ref had the assistance of two linesmen and neither of them saw anything wrong. I replied, ‘Yeah, but they're probably from Brixham and Paignton!’ I was still congratulating myself on my stunning wit and repartee when my Dad leant into me and told me to shut up or we were likely to get ‘done’. I must admit that in my naivety (all of 15, going on 10) I had not considered that miles from the safety of Home Park the risk of 'getting nutted' could, indeed, be a very real possibility. It had a salutatory effect on me and I was quiet as a church mouse for the rest of the game. It was a life lesson learnt - if you wanted to survive when following your team away from home in the late 60s, the 70s and the 80s, it was wise to watch your back and keep your smartass comments to yourself.
Does anyone else have a (hopefully) better recollection of their first away game?