As the 2018/2019 football season approaches with the opening game at Walsall on Saturday, the results of the annual Close Season Survey reveal a great deal of optimism and expectation amongst the Green Army for the new League One campaign.
At Home Park, the long hot summer has seen the long awaited redevelopment of the Grandstand come a step closer with enabling works and the installation of a new club shop, ticket offices and other facilities significantly altering the landscape.
A similarly seismic rebuilding process is also under way on the pitch, as Derek Adams seeks to integrate a raft of new signings into his Argyle squad and attempt to improve on last season’s strong finish in League One.
It was a rollercoaster campaign for the Pilgrims, starting with a disastrous run of results and a barely believable set of injuries for the first team, particularly in the goalkeeping department.
That poor start was then matched by a tremendous series of victories that saw the Pilgrims flirt with the playoff positions almost until the last week of the season.
It was the campaign that proved pretty much everyone wrong at one point or another, so it’s worth assessing the responses from this year’s Close Season Survey to see what the Green Army think of the season past and the one to come.
Encouraged by the strong second half performance of the team, 60% of respondents expect another positive season, with 12% predicting outright promotion and 48% estimating a playoff berth, while just over a third suggest mid table safety as a likely outcome. Just one respondent predicts relegation.
Nearly a quarter of respondents said that they intend to go to more games next season while 82% agree that “they are optimistic about the future of the club” and 68% agreed that “they feel that they know where the club is headed”.
Some serious issues do persist, notably the longstanding gripes about lengthy queues for refreshments, the quality of the food and drink on offer and the level of communication from the club at times.
But when it comes to the playing side of the operation, Derek Adams and his team can bask in the warm glow of the Green Army’s high approval ratings.
More than 98% rate the performance of the management team as “good” or “very good” while the first team scored almost the same, but there is an interesting difference in the split between the “very good” and “good” marks – the first team have 49% of respondents saying they were “very good”, but the management team get nearly 72% at that rating!
Off-field, there are continued signs of improvement in many areas, although some enduring problems persist as well.
On the bright side, nearly two thirds give a “thumbs up” to the club shop team and even more to the turnstile operators (71%) while more than half are happy with the buying and collecting of match tickets.
54% of respondents approved of the match day programmes again this season, with only 1% disappointed with their match day reading material.
But the scores for Argyle’s communication and marketing aren’t quite as high, with 37% approving of the club’s marketing and 42% commending the dispatches to the fan base.
56% are satisfied with the club’s official website although its social media accounts score a little lower at 41% approval.
Praise for the stewarding team is well warranted – approval ratings have jumped 7% to 35%, while disapproval ratings have dropped 9% to 26%. An impressive improvement in an area of the club’s operations with historically poor responses in earlier surveys.
Getting a pint and a pasty at Home Park continues to be a source of great irritation though, with 46% stating they were unhappy with the quality of the offering and only 17% indicating satisfactory service. 60% of respondents think it takes too long to get served, a slightly worse score than last year.
Other parts of the “match day experience” could be improved as well, if the Green Army had its way. Less than one in five is impressed by the non-football entertainment, with another 19% are not happy with it – but 62% were neutral, or expressed no opinion at all.
A marginal majority of respondents are happy with the toilet facilities (38/35), while an equally minor split appears on parking concerns (24% satisfied, 22% not, with the rest being neutral or expressing no opinion.
Feelings about the club’s music policy have shifted a little from last year, with a 47/38 majority disapproving of playing music to celebrate a goal. A third enjoy the music played at other times, while 28% don’t seem to!
When it comes to ticket prices, £15-20 is considered to be the “right price” for an Argyle match by most, but there is still strong support for occasional ticket offers to boost attendance, with 75% approving of these promotions and only 6% saying that they’re unhappy – this remains pretty consistent over the years. Most Argyle supporters understand the benefit of attracting new or lapsed fans back to Home Park in this way.
A huge majority are in favour of “Safe Standing” with 78% supporting the concept, while 70% agree that having an Argyle women’s team is important.
When asked more subjective questions, there are some interesting results. Asked “how valued you felt” by the club, the average score has improved again to 6.52 out of ten, slightly up on last year, while more than 8 in 10 said that they would recommend Argyle to their friends and family.
The proposition “I feel a real part of my club” saw agreement from 59% – a 5% increase on last year – with less than 20% disagreeing, but a quarter are neutral in this question.
The idea of more closely identifying with the club by taking up the offer of a loyalty card was seized upon with great enthusiasm – 72% approved of the concept.
84% of all respondents agree that Argyle is important part of what Plymouth is about, something that may be reflected in the club’s potential role in the forthcoming 2020 celebrations.
A massive majority – 93% – agree that the “club should invest in youth”, with the remainder mostly being neutral on this issue.
The age old debate over the shade of green to be used on Argyle shirts continues to rumble on, with “mid green” and “dark green” locked on 44% and 45% respectively – an argument without end, it seems.
On the topic of away kit choices, just over third approve of the designs that they have been presented with recently.
60% of respondents continue to say that the kits should only change every two years, with the remainder split between once a year, or once every three years.
As in past years, the two most well-known supporters groups are the Argyle Fans Trust and the Green Taverners, with consistently high levels of awareness and name recognition (96% for the AFT and 97% for the GT’s). The regional supporters branches are known to 82% of all respondents, while the Senior Greens hit 94% on this measure and the Argyle Community Trust score 89%, but the Vice Presidents is known only to 61% of participants.
Positive opinions on each of the supporter bodies remain high, with the GT’s maintaining their place as the most popular (72% approval) with the AFT on 52%. However, there has been a slight rise amongst those who hold negative opinions about supporters groups, but overall, half of all respondents want supporters to have more involvement with the club.
Finally, in this fast moving, socially interactive, shiny and modern world, some old traditions still keep their place. Just over two thirds want Semper Fidelis to be played in full as the teams come out, with a fifth saying an edited version is acceptable and just 7% who say that it isn’t important to them.
Michael Dunford, recently reappointed as Plymouth Argyle’s Chief Executive Officer, welcomed these results saying “We are grateful to our supporters for providing valuable feedback across a wide range of subjects on your club.
“We always welcome the opinions of the Green Army, and we encourage supporters to express them to us.
“We will take note of these opinions as we continue to strive for excellence within your club’s vision and values.
91% of respondents were male, fairly evenly spread amongst the age groups, half aged between 46-65, with much lower counts in the 16-35 age range, two thirds are married or living with a partner, with just over a quarter having children at home.