Date: 29th May 2009 at 10:15am
Written by:

With the take over of Plymouth Argyle by Japanese businessman Yasuaki Kagami only days away it’s a good time to reflect and look back at the achievement of current Chairman Paul Stapleton.

With speculation mounting that Stapleton’s position at Argyle will change once the take over is completed it’s worth remembering the last 11 years since Stapleton joined the Board of Directors at Argyle.

Under Stapleton’s Directorship the club has been promoted twice and is currently experiencing one of the most successful periods in its history.

It was June 11th 1998 when Stapleton first joined Argyle as a director, working alongside chairman and owner Dan McCauley. Soon after Stapleton`s appointment the outspoken and controversial McCauley invited three more new directors to the Board with John McNulty, Roy Griggs and Ken Jones all joining on the same day in July 1998.

However, despite the formation of a new Board of Directors these were troubled times for Argyle with the club having just been relegated to the bottom division for only the second time in its history and the subsequent sacking of manager Mick Jones.
Pilgrims’ legend Kevin Hodges was brought in from Torquay United as Argyle’s new manager and was tasked with getting Argyle promoted on a shoestring budget.
But under Hodges Argyle finished the 1998-1999 season in 13th place in Division Four, the lowest ever finish in the clubs’ history and with an average crowd of just over 5,000 things were looking bad for the new Argyle board.
This proved to be the lowest point in Stapleton’s tenure as an Argyle director.

The following season showed a slight improvement with the team ending the campaign in 12th place but it still wasn’t good enough.
With the team struggling early in the 2000-2001 season Hodges was eventually sacked and Paul Sturrock took over. He set about rebuilding the club from top to bottom and steered Argyle to another 12th place finish but the average attendance had now dropped below 5,000.

Season 2001-2002 proved to be one of the most important in the history of Plymouth Argyle Football Club.

With McCauley becoming disillusioned with Argyle’s failure on the pitch Stapleton, an accountant and senior partner in Parkhurst Hill, suggested to him that he might be able to put together a consortium of wealthy fans and businessmen and form a new Board of Directors.

In August 2001 Stapleton’s idea began to bear fruit with Peter Jones, Phil Gill, Nic Warren and Michael Foot all agreeing to buy out McCauley with Stapleton taking over as the new Chairman. The deal was finalised in February 2002 with McCauley and his Rotolock company paid in full and ending his ties with Argyle.

McCauley did however leave a legacy behind and that was the demolition of three-quarters of Home Park and the construction of three new stands that partially opened on Boxing Day 2001.
On the pitch things were falling into place under the management of the canny Sturrock. The team were heading for promotion after dominating the league for most of the season and went up as Champions in a re-arranged game away at Darlington.
After years in the doldrums the feel-good factor was back among the fans.

The following season Argyle consolidated in Division Two with a respectable 8th place finish but another promotion (and Championship) was secured in 2004 when Argyle beat Queens Park Rangers 2-0 in a memorable game at Home Park. Bobby Williamson was now in charge as manager after Sturrock had departed to take over at Southampton with 12 games left in the season.

The Championship years under Stapleton’s Chairmanship saw Argyle improve their league position for each successive season finishing in 17th, 14th, 11th and 10th place, a superb achievement that was spoilt by a 21st place finishing position last season.

In 2007 the Argyle Board purchased the freehold of Home Park from Plymouth City Council with the help of a loan from finance company Lombard.

Since Stapleton joined as a director Argyle have had five managers (Six if you count Sturrock twice), two caretaker managers, two Championship titles, broken the transfer record four times, rebuilt three-quarters of Home Park and purchased the freehold of the stadium.

In his 11 years as director and then Chairman, Stapleton has seen many changes at Argyle. The club has gone from a Fourth Division shambles of an outfit to an experienced Championship team that has flirted with the play-offs. In those 11 years of progression Stapleton has been the only constant at the club, he’s seen players, managers and directors all come and go, indeed only Stapleton and Gill remain from the ‘new Board’ that took over from McCauley in 2001.

The 58-year old Chairman has often been criticised by the fans for his lack of communication and his refusal to spend on large transfer fees and wages. But with more and more clubs entering into administration and possible extinction it’s reassuring that under Stapleton Argyle will be around a lot longer than some clubs who gambled their future on instant success.

Stapleton’s latest challenge, should he stay as Chairman or even a Director, is to turn Argyle from an experienced Championship side into a team that is expected to fight for a play-off place each season. The latest chapter in Stapleton’s time at Home Park is the take over by Yasuaki Kagami.
Kagami’s buy-out of Argyle should open up the lucrative Asian market and help turn Argyle into serious promotion contenders.

History will show that Stapleton might just be Argyle’s most successful director ever!