A long rivalry that endures from Argyle's earliest days
THIS afternoon a team with a special place in the history of Plymouth Argyle makes a return visit to Home Park for the 73rd league meeting between the clubs.
However, all previous meetings with Northampton Town were not confined solely to the Football League.
From its formation in 1886, it was a relatively swift move that took Argyle to professional status. Exhibition matches were held in, what was then, the town of Plymouth.
Crowds in excess of 15,000 saw three of the biggest clubs in the country – Aston Villa, Notts County and Sheffield Wednesday – travel to the South West in order to fuel the interest of new supporters of football.
Home Park was a venue that was used for a variety of sports in a pleasant location on the northern outskirts of the town. But it was far from the built-up area we know today.
What is known today as Outland Road was a track called Tavistock Road, around which were fields behind the tree-lined boundary of the stadium. To see animals grazing in those fields was a common occurrence.
Strange though it may seem today, a sporting revolution was taking place very close to those idyllic scenes.
The Football League consisted of only two divisions, but with more clubs gaining professional status, there had to be another outlet for competitive football.
Argyle, along with Northampton, applied for membership of the Southern League.
The Pilgrims also took acceptance of membership to the Western League. Although seen as inferior to the Southern League, virtually the same squad of players competed in the competition which, in the main, saw fixtures played on weekdays.
The first competitive match for Argyle was on September 1, 1903. An away game at West Ham United saw a 1-0 win at the original Boleyn Ground in the London borough of Newham.
Scoring the only goal of the game against the club formed from the ashes of the defunct Thames Ironworks side, was Jack Peddie.
A tall, lean figure, Peddie was the very first to wear the 'number nine' shirt for Argyle in a match where points were at stake. He signed for Argyle with a proven track record, scoring at an average of just over a goal every two games in his 135 appearances for Newcastle United.
Four days later, the opening game of the Southern League season took place – a home fixture against Northampton.
Manager Frank Brettell was seen as the perfect choice to lead Argyle into unchartered territory with his own wealth of experience.
A former club secretary of Everton and Bolton Wanderers, he guided both Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth into the professional ranks as manager.
He had a contacts book like no other, and his persuasive powers with a determination to build a formidable team led to top quality players arriving in Plymouth, despite the fact many of them could quite easily have opted to sign for Football League clubs.
Brettell selected an unchanged team from the win at West Ham to face Northampton. Why change a winning format?
In goal, Jack Robinson. A defence of Jack Fitchett, Andy Clark, Billy Leech, Archie Goodall and Harry Digweed.
In front of them were Bob Dalrymple, Wattie Anderson, Jack Picken, Robert Jack and centre forward Peddie.
Jack was to become a legend in Argyle history. Top of Brettell's wanted list, the first player he signed would follow him into the manager's office, albeit punctuated with a short spell at Southend, where he would stay as boss at Home Park for an incredible 28 years.
Northampton were beaten 2-0 in front of a crowd of more than 4,438. The most expensive tickets were to gain admission to the stand at the princely sum of sixpence. Total gate receipts for the game swelled the coffers by £124.
Peddie led the way on the field, scoring the historic first Southern League goal for Argyle in a season that saw him score another eight goals, a total of five in the Western League as well as six in as many FA Cup games.
Scoring the second against Northampton was the former Bolton Wanderers forward, Picken, to underline Argyle had really arrived on the professional scene, and would be a force to be reckoned with.
The 18-team Southern League saw Southampton as the champions for the 1903-04 season, winning 22 of their 34 games. But one of their six defeats was at home against Argyle, who were 5-3 winners.
A finishing position of ninth, quite literally mid-table respectability, proved Argyle were to be a club of serious contention, winning 13 games, drawing 10 and suffering 11 defeats.
As for Northampton, they found life a little more testing as they won 10 games to finish 15th.
There are further statistical highlights between the two sides.
Northampton issued 8,000 shares at £1 each and became a public company in time for the 1922-23 season, during which a record crowd was recorded.
Also the home of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, an attendance of 18,123 at the County Ground watched the two clubs embark on their third season in Division Three (South).
Argyle were defeated 1-0 in the Boxing Day fixture in which another Northampton record was broken with gate receipts exceeding £1,000 for the first time.
Hard to believe in the modern era, but that game was played just 24 hours after the two sides met at Home Park on Christmas Day when Bert Bowler scored to give Argyle a single goal victory.
When a new attendance record at the County Ground was set seven years later, Argyle were again the opposition.
On October 19, 1929, 21,102 squeezed into Northampton's former home, an attendance that would not be beaten at the venue for 35 years.
Argyle were top of Division Three (South), and on their way to Division Two for the first time in the club's history.
Northampton were also early contenders for promotion.
The Pilgrims, now managed by Jack, came away with a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal by Jack Leslie – just one of his 134 strikes for Argyle.
In more modern times, and Carl Fletcher's side would welcome a repeat of last season's score when Argyle conceded only a last-gasp goal in a 4-1 win with Simon Walton, Nick Chadwick, Will Atkinson and Ashley Hemmings all on target.
Those with memories that are able to turn the clock back 47 years may recall an arguably better performance at Home Park.
Malcolm Allison was in charge of the Greens when Northampton were crushed 5-2 in the penultimate home match of the season.
Cliff Jackson scored twice and teenager Richard Reynolds, fresh into the team, scored his second senior goal.
Curiously, the other two goals were both penalties, scored by Johnny Williams and Johnny Newman as both demonstrated their prowess from 12 yards.
Perhaps another notable chapter could be written after this afternoon's encounter as the two foes lock horns in something very rare in the history of both clubs – a rivalry that dates back 109 years.