Owning a football club must be easy. Or so it seemed from an hour in the company of Plymouth supremo Simon Hallett.
The 68-year-old was recounting the journey from League Two to the Championship in a candid tone that made it all sound simple.
Of course, that is far from the truth. Many good businessmen and women have tried their hand and failed, despite their best intentions.
But Plymouth are one of the best-run clubs in the country and regularly sweep up awards for community activity and fan engagement.
From spending a day in Devon on a famous afternoon in which they won promotion in May, it was clear that Plymouth Argyle as a football club is much more than just the 11 players on the pitch.
Plymouth Argyle celebrate a goal in their recent 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough, having returned to the Championship last season for the first time since 2010
Owner Simon Hallett has helped steer the Pilgrims from League Two back to the second tier
Argyle fans celebrate after promotion from League One was confirmed last season
It is the heart of a community and Home Park is much more than a sports stadium.
‘One of the reasons we’ve been successful is that we’ve made decisions well,’ says Hallett, who was born in Bristol but moved to Plymouth aged 10.
He made his money in the United States as an investment manager and has grandchildren in California and Pennsylvania.
‘I thought it might be a fun idea to have a share in Argyle. What I thought was going to be a small slice of money and a bit of fun became more serious as I became majority owner and chairman.
‘It remained fun but I became more involved than I imagined.’
Hallett first got involved not long after Plymouth entered administration in 2011 with debts of about £18million.
They were relegated to League Two and then-manager Peter Reid even paid fuel bills for staff to stay warm and sold an FA Cup runners-up medal to raise funds for the club.
James Brent rescued the club from oblivion with his takeover and Hallett is keen to emphasise the role his predecessor played in helping Plymouth to where they are now.
Plymouth manager Steven Schumacher lifts the League One trophy at the end of last season
Hallett takes a moment with the League One trophy at Port Vale on the final day of last season
‘The club was run on a shoestring,’ says Hallett. ‘The facilities, the look and, to be frank, the culture was mediocre.
‘We tried to change the culture and set realistic ambitions. But it did take money. We had this straightforward vision that we wanted to be supported and respected by everyone in the South West. It sounds dull but it was quite a challenge.
‘Despite the fact we have had two promotions and are now in the Championship, what I’m proudest of is that we’ve gained respect of everyone in the area and beyond.
‘We get awards for community activities, our stadium, for our fan engagement project called Evergreen.
‘If you don’t have money — I’m not talking millions, we lacked literally a bit of spare cash — you can’t even put a new lick of paint on the steps.
‘So having a little bit more money helped us to be known as a good project. Football isn’t just about winning matches on the field.’
Plymouth are currently 19th in the Championship but expectations have been revised upwards
So four years ago, Hallett and the board of directors set out with a five-year mission. ‘It’s not a plan, it was a mission to be a sustainable Championship club within five years. That means financially sustainable and good enough to stay in the league.
‘But we also wanted to be values-driven, to focus on our fans, our community, demand respect towards minority groups and also towards our staff with a zero-tolerance policy. Above all we have been transparent.
‘My personality is transparent… I’m open, I go to the pub and talk to fans. We are always close to the first club to publish our financial reports in full, we have a fans’ forum to discuss it.
‘If we say we will do something we will do it — or at least try — and if we don’t we’ll tell them why.’
Four years into the five-year mission, Plymouth have completed their target of becoming a Championship club.
As Hallett proudly says, Argyle are holding their own, five points clear of the relegation zone. So, what happens next?
Ben Waine scores for the Pilgrims at Elland Road in their latest Championship game with Leeds
‘We didn’t want to just accept that this is as high as we can go, so we’ve revised our mission. We want to be a team competing in the top six of the Championship with Premier League aspirations. Those last four words have got everyone talking!
‘We used to operate like an island in Plymouth, but now we’re part of the fabric in the city. We’ve improved our financial strength and become more data-orientated in recruitment.
‘In football you don’t need to run faster than the bear, just run faster than the guy next to you.
‘We want Home Park to be a destination for the community throughout the week. We put on concerts for Muse and Rod Stewart with 20,000 people last summer.
‘We played Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup and we were gobsmacked at the matchday experience. We got to the ground early but it was a hive of activity.
‘It’s no coincidence that in charge of Anfield at the time was a bloke called Andrew Parkinson… who is now our CEO!’
Everyone at Argyle hopes Home Park will be hosting Championship football for years to come
The two longest-serving managers in the Championship after Coventry’s Mark Robins are former Plymouth boss Ryan Lowe — now at Preston — and the man who replaced him at Home Park in Steven Schumacher.
With Schuey at the wheel, Plymouth have motored to success.
Hallett insists the statistic is no surprise. ‘We’re not the kind of board that goes around firing managers, the hardest thing I’ve done was to sack Derek Adams with us facing relegation.
‘That was brutal, I hated it. People see me as a tough American businessman but I’m a big softie!’
But Hallett finishes by saying: ‘The rewards you get from this are immense. Don’t do it if you think you’re going to make money, do it because you can do some good and make people happy and help the local community.’
ON WEARSIDE, MOWBRAY’S KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
There is a picture from the 2014 League Cup final between Manchester City and Sunderland which shows two young Black Cats fans cheering on their team.
Dan Neil, who has attracted Premier League interest, was one of those — and he captained the side to a home victory against Birmingham last Saturday.
Next to him in the picture was Sam Greenwood, who also scored a late free-kick for Middlesbrough — on loan from Leeds — to earn victory for Michael Carrick’s side against league leaders Leicester.
Sam Greenwood celebrates his match-winning free-kick for Middlesbrough against Leicester
Greenwood might not have too many fans on Wearside any more but it highlights a proud era for the Sunderland academy.
Tony Mowbray’s side have consistently fielded the youngest XI in the Championship this season, with an average age of just over 22.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail