Touch of irony to Carl Fletcher's final act as Plymouth Argyle manager
Carl Fletcher’s tenure as Argyle manager ended with his sacking on New Year’s Day, after a 2-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers. Here, Herald Sport chief football writer Chris Errington reflects on Fletcher’s time as the Pilgrims’ boss...
CARL FLETCHER did not enjoy dealing with the media during his 15 months as manager of Plymouth Argyle.
Fletcher always seemed wary of what he said to reporters and, therefore, his interviews, before and after games, were not that illuminating.
For example, he rarely singled out players for praise, or criticism. Instead, it was all about the team.
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Fletcher would talk about them 'working their socks off' regardless of whether Argyle had won, drawn or lost.
He was also very reluctant to discuss any injuries to players, either the severity of them or when a comeback could be expected.
Fletcher would also always predict a 'tough game' no matter who the next opposition for the Pilgrims would be.
So there was an irony that it was Fletcher who broke the news of his sacking as Argyle manager to a shocked media corps during his post-match Press conference after the 2-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers on New Year's Day.
There was no clue as to what Fletcher was about to reveal when he started his interview, deep within the West Stand at the Memorial Stadium, around half-an-hour after the final whistle.
He talked about the game, and why transfer-listed captain Darren Purse had not been risked because of a hamstring injury.
Then, a couple of minutes in, in response to an innocuous question about the way forward for Argyle, he replied: "That's my last game today. That's me got the sack."
The revelation came before reporters had been told of a club statement which confirmed Fletcher had been fired.
After a brief pause, the interview with Fletcher continued – and took a completely different direction to what had been anticipated.
Fletcher answered all the questions put to him and did so with tremendous dignity. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
Only minutes earlier, he had been told by Argyle owner and chairman James Brent that he was being relieved of his duties as manager with immediate effect.
Yet, after informing the players he had been sacked, he fronted up to the media when it would have been all-too-easy for him to hide away.
After a question about how the players had responded to the developments, Fletcher took a short while to compose himself as a tear came to his eye before he carried on.
Fletcher is the 10th manager who has parted company with Argyle, either by their choice or not, in my 15 years reporting on the club for The Herald.
I can remember Mick Jones being sacked by mobile phone while on a family holiday in 1998, and Bobby Williamson being dismissed seven years later after a board meeting held at Home Park while a reserve team match was being played.
But I have never seen a manager reveal to the media in a post-match Press conference that he had been fired.
I found it difficult to get to know Fletcher, both during his time as captain of Argyle and later as the boss.
There was one occasion last season when he invited the media out for a lunch at a restaurant in Royal William Yard, but apart from that we only met each other at press conferences.
It was a far cry from Paul Sturrock's first spell as Pilgrims boss when he would regularly hold social evenings with the media.
Some would say that was a shrewd move to get reporters on his side, although at the time the team were winning so regularly Sturrock did not really need to do that.
I always try to ask the Argyle manager, whoever it is, questions that I think supporters would like to know answers to.
Fletcher's frequent reluctance to respond in any depth to those inquiries, whether it be from me or any other member of the media, made it difficult for the fans to take to him, I believe.
It is fair to say, I think, that Argyle's board of directors were prepared to give Fletcher a lot more time to try to turn the team's fortunes around than most of the supporters would have done.
Like it or not, dealing with the media is an important part of being the manager of a Football League club.
Of course, getting results on the pitch is the prime concern, but in this modern age the thoughts of the manager on a range of topics are of great widespread interest.
That is especially true in a city such as Plymouth where, although attendances have fallen considerably over recent seasons because of Argyle's well-documented struggles, there remains a lot of interest in the club.
The manager is also one of the best ways a club has of 'selling' their product.
That does not necessarily mean he needs to specialise in sound bites, as Ian Holloway did for example, but an open dialogue with the fans, via the media, is essential.
Fletcher's record as Argyle manager in league games does not make good reading – 15 wins, 24 draws and 24 defeats from 63 games.
His win percentage of 23.8 was lower than that of his predecessor, Peter Reid, who had to contend with the club's disastrous financial collapse in his stint as the Pilgrims boss.
However, Fletcher's time at Home Park deserves to be remembered for his overall contribution to the club, rather than for the struggle for results this season.
Remember, he was Argyle's player-of-the-year for the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons, putting in a series of consistent performances in the centre of midfield.
There are many who would argue one of the biggest mistakes he made as manager was not continuing to play himself, rather than watching from the sidelines.
Fletcher, when asked about that, did not believe he could do both jobs to the best of his ability.
Yet, it was interesting he raised the possibility of coming out of retirement as a player in his post-match interview at Bristol Rovers.
Fletcher also had an important part to play, as captain, during the seven months Argyle spent in administration.
As the leader in the dressing room, he maintained morale among the squad when he and his team-mates were not getting paid.
Fletcher also led a mutiny when the players threatened to take strike action before the game at Burton Albion in September 2011 unless the administrators came up with some wages for all of the club's staff – not only the players. That forced the issue and reflected well on him.
It would have been easy for Fletcher to walk out on Argyle during all their recent troubles, and they have been numerous as we all know, but he stayed loyal to the cause.
It is for that reason, 'Fletch' should be remembered as a great servant to the club and always be assured of a warm welcome at Home Park.
His time as manager did not work out as he, or anyone else connected with the club, would have hoped, but his endeavour, and his attention to detail, could not be faulted.
Maybe a stubborn streak did not do him any favours. Almost certainly, his lack of experience counted against him at times, but he did it the way he thought was best.