Green Barmy: Pilgrims caretakers ushered in new broom at Home Park
WHEN Paul Sturrock recommended Bobby Williamson for the managerial hot seat at Home Park, a scenario unfolded that will, surely, never be matched again at Plymouth Argyle.
With John Sheridan taking charge of the Pilgrims squad for the first time this afternoon against Morecambe, there is no underestimating the size of the task ahead.
In complete contrast, when Williamson arrived at the club, the story of his first match at the helm was just waiting for accomplishment.
As the 2003-04 season was heading towards its conclusion, the delight following a 2-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday in March had barely settled when Sturrock accepted an offer to join Southampton.
His assistant, Kevin Summerfield, stepped up to familiar territory.
As the youth team coach, Summerfield won two of three matches when he was put in caretaker charge of first team affairs when Kevin Hodges' tenure came to an end in 2000.
But with Argyle chasing a second championship title in three seasons, this time in the Division Two, he once again became the temporary custodian until the appointment of Williamson.
The Glaswegian was a proven goal scorer with Clydebank and Glasgow Rangers, before finishing his playing career with Kilmarnock. He featured south of the border for West Bromwich Albion and Rotherham United.
It was at Kilmarnock that Williamson took his first steps in management, masterminding a Scottish FA Cup winning run in 1997 as well as another final appearance four years later.
There were also four years in European competition before deciding for a fresh challenge at Hibernian.
With the club struggling at the wrong end of the Scottish Premier League, Williamson steered the club to safety and would later make them Scottish League Cup finalists just before moving to Plymouth.
It was no understatement to say Williamson had to hit the ground running.
With Summerfield alongside Williamson in the dugout as well as defensive coach John Blackley, there was a small matter of a match for the leaders of the division against second-placed Queen's Park Rangers.
Just under 20,000 expectant supporters crammed into Home Park with Rangers fans having bought their complete allocation at the Barn Park end of the stadium.
Not only could Argyle clinch promotion with a win, but if third-placed Bristol City slipped up against Brighton and Hove Albion, the divisional silverware would also heading to Devon.
To add to the afternoon's drama, there were no goals in the first half.
However, that all changed late in the second period.
A move from the back involved Paul Connolly, Nathan Lowndes and David Friio.
The ball was played wide to David Norris who delivered the perfect cross for Michael Evans to head Argyle in front.
The second goal stunned Rangers.
French midfielder David Friio and Lee Hodges exchanged passes before the final delivery from Hodges set Friio on a mazy run cutting through the visiting defence to leave him with a one-against-one against goalkeeper Lee Camp.
A man of Friio's quality would not fail to seize upon such an opportunity and at that point, even the Rangers players knew their opponents had clinched promotion.
As the celebrations in the stands were officially started at the final whistle, there was still one piece of news needed to complete the afternoon.
Bristol City's game still had a few minutes remaining, but word finally arrived they had drawn 0-0 against Brighton.
Williamson opened his Argyle account with a record of one win; one clean sheet; one promotion, one championship.
After the match, he was quick to praise Sturrock, and labelled himself 'a gatecrasher'.
It was an achievement possibly unprecedented in world football.
More often than not, managerial changes occur when a club is in a run of poor form or battling relegation.
As mentioned in the case of Summerfield, caretaker managers are often installed to bridge the gap between appointments.
That was certainly the case a week ago when Romain Larrieu and Kevin Nancekivell selected the side that played at Port Vale.
It is a role a number of others have performed at Home Park.
The first on the list had quite a long period in charge following a poor start to the season in 1963.
Ellis Stuttard made way for Andy Beattie, who had twice been manager of the Scotland national side.
He agreed to come to Plymouth with the sole aim of maintaining Division Two status, which also gave the directors plenty of time to make the next appointment the right one.
Beattie succeeded in his aim – just. Argyle stayed up with a goal difference that was only 0.05 better than Grimsby Town.
The Scotsman then made way for Malcolm Allison. And with the kind of coincidence only football seems to provide, Big Mal's second stint at Home Park was again preceded by a caretaker manager in 1978.
The new incumbent enjoyed a first taste of management for a man who would eventually go on to be the boss of Charlton Athletic, Middlesbrough, Bradford City, Luton Town, Grimsby Town and Cardiff City.
Lennie Lawrence was on the Argyle coaching staff as assistant to Mike Kelly.
Kelly succeeded Tony Waiters, but failed to make an impression as the club struggled in the first season after relegation to Division Three.
Ironically, Lawrence was again in a caretaker capacity only last year at Crystal Palace.
Martin Harvey was another member of the Argyle backroom staff that stepped up after John Hore was sacked as manager.
When the masterstroke of appointing Dave Smith was made, Harvey remained at the club as his trustworthy number two.
The next caretaker at Home Park was in 1990 when John Gregory oversaw two matches between the reigns of Ken Brown and David Kemp.
But Kemp barely lasted two years, and before the Larrieu/Nancekivell combination was the first dual caretaker role.
Kemp's former assistant Alan Gillett and youth and reserve team coach Gordon Nisbet were installed as joint caretakers before chairman Dan McCauley made national headlines by appointing Peter Shilton.
Now, here's a conundrum: When is a caretaker manager not a caretaker manager?
When he is 'an advisor of team affairs'.
Russell Osman was exactly that, after being dismissed by Bristol City as their manager.
Because of ongoing settlement claims with Bristol City, Osman had asked to train without pay with Argyle, and found himself providing 'advice' after Steve McCall left the club.
It was McCall who allowed Osman to train at Argyle – the pair knew each other well from their playing days at Ipswich Town. Osman had originally offered to play without pay, but never put on a green shirt.
And finally, brought to Plymouth by Bobby Williamson as a coach, Jocky Scott stepped up to the top job briefly in 2005 before the arrival of Tony Pulis.
But let us hope that the 33rd 'permanent' manager in Argyle history, John Sheridan, has a long and fruitful time with Argyle.