James Brent, a new version of Paul Stapleton!

I read this article about how Carl Fletcher backs the James Brent approach and it got me thinking about the similarities between Brent and former Argyle chairman and owner Paul Stapleton. A lot of younger fans won’t remember back to the dark days under Dan McCauley, in which Argyle found themselves in the old Div. 3 (currently League 2) with no hope of doing anything, then Paul Stapleton bought the club in 2001 and in his first year in charge, Argyle were promoted to Div. 2

Paul Stapleton, an accountant ran the club with tight controls on spending, very much like James Brent is doing today, gaining two promotions in three seasons under the stewardship of Stapleton and Paul Sturrock, until the Scot left Home Park for Southampton in 2003 as the Pilgrims were on the cusp of gaining promotion to the Championship (former Div. 2). Bobby Williamson took over from Sturrock guiding the Pilgrims to promotion, although Sturrock had done all the hard work. Williamson only lasted 17 months at Home Park before being dismissed due to a poor run of form at the start of the 2005/06 season. Then came Tony Pulis who had just been sacked by Stoke City! Pulis only stayed one season at Home Park before making a return to former club, Stoke!

Stapleton was keeping a tight reign on finances as attendances at Home Park started to fall; maybe because the lack of progress into the Premier League? This is when Ian Holloway came in; and Argyle started to see some success; sitting in the play-off places before Holloway left Argyle for Leicester City in November 2007 stating his reason for leaving as “Plymouth Argyle lacking ambition”. Which is where it all started going wrong, Stapleton came under pressure from fans who had nicknamed the chairman as “Staplewallet” because he wasn’t willing to go spending crazy, started spending beyond the clubs means, also looking for outside investment, this was also when the ill-fated return of Paul Sturrock as manager took place and investment from Japanese businessman Yasuaki Kagami, who we never really saw very much of; financially or physically after several attempts to bring Japanese players into the English game through Argyle fell-through.

Then came Sir Roy Gardner and Keith Todd, along with George Synan and Kagami as board members, and despite big words from Gardner and Todd about becoming a Premier League club in five years, very little was fulfilled with the club slowly declining until relegated to League One in 2010/11 with a series of managers passing through Home Park including Paul Mariner and Peter Reid. Argyle were heading for relegation in successive seasons when Gardner and Todd jumped ship; leaving the club in a massive black hole of debt, having to fight off winding up orders from the HMRC. And this is where administrators P&A Partnership came in and the whole administration debacle ensued before Brent eventually bought the club in October 2011 and the rest we know.

My point is that I don’t believe that Stapleton was such a bad man, he did a lot for the club before the pressure from fans for promotion forced him into spending more money than the club had on a bunch of signings that failed miserably, throwing good money after bad. If Stapleton stuck to his laurels and kept a tight reign on spending, maybe Argyle would still be a mid-table Championship club and not fighting for their football league survival. I don’t expect many will agree with my comments here but I believe that Stapleton was doing what he thought was best for the club!

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