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The Other Pilgrims from Plymouth

This article originally appeared in the November 23rd issue of our newsletter, The Raven. Subscribe HERE.  

Simon (right) and his brother enjoying one of the benefits of ownership: TUNNEL.

Simon (right) and his brother enjoying one of the benefits of ownership: TUNNEL.

The Pilgrims’ decision to leave England in 1620. Man was that short-sighted. If they hung around another 396 years, they would’ve seen their hometown football team smashing it in League Two. Plymouth Argyle FC, nicknamed The Pilgrims, proudly don the Mayflower on their crest and have a three point lead atop English Football’s fourth tier 18/46’s (9/23s) into the season.

The club’s partial owner, GFOP Simon Hallett, has witnessed The Pilgrims’ remarkable run from here in the New World. As you may recall, Hallett, an English-born, Bucks County, Penn.-based corporate investment officer, purchased part of his childhood club after listening to MiB Pod Specials with current and former English football chairmen, namely Barry Hearn. Hallett joined us in May, shortly after investing in the club to talk about the decision. [Listen to our Pod with him HERE]. On this, Thanksgiving eve, we wanted to again catch up with the Pilgrims’ part-owner to see if he's Living the Dream.

Simon's view from Plymouth's Directors' Box after PAFC defeated Portsmouth to make last year's League Two Playoff at Wembley.

Simon's view from Plymouth's Directors' Box after PAFC defeated Portsmouth to make last year's League Two Playoff at Wembley.

MiB: Your investment in Plymouth is no longer purely emotional. How has that changed the way you watch?

Hallett: I’m so much more engaged now. My emotional attachment, which was strong as a fan, is nothing compared to what it is now that I’m invested. I’m so tense during games. We can’t get a live TV stream, so I listen by taking my computer into the kitchen, where I pace nervously. It’s absolutely appalling. 

MiB: Give us a sense of some of your weekly duties at the football club. Is it more work than you thought it would be? 

Hallett: I’ve been much more involved than I anticipated. I thought I’d be a passive owner, but I guess I don’t have the capacity to be passive. So my relationship with James Brent, the chairman and majority owner, has been extraordinarily good. We have a cycle of formal board meetings every couple of months and then informal board meetings between them. We’ve made a lot of progress with the club. We’ve bought back our stadium from the Plymouth City Council, which puts us in a position to start to make some investments in the club infrastructure, which are really needed. Thinking about the club is a separate issue entirely. I’m a football fan, so I think about it a lot. I want to say I keep it to an hour a day, but it’s got to be more than that because I’ve been playing as Argyle on Football Manager 2017. I turned it on the other day and even though it’s only been out for a few weeks, it said I’ve spent 40 hours on it. I’d like to think that’s a software glitch.

MiB: The transfer window is coming. You have a gaggle of in form players. How much does that scare you?

Hallett: It scares me a little bit. We’ve got one guy who’s clearly a standout League Two performer, Graham Carey. He’s out of contract at the end of the year. He’s already said he doesn’t want to extend his contract when we offered earlier this year. I don’t know what’s going to happen if we get some crazy bid for him. The finances in League One and League Two are tight. To give a five, four, or even a two-year contract to a player is very risky. If you get it wrong, that’s a whole player that you can’t afford next year. So you’ve basically got to get it right, or stick to short-term contracts.

MiB: How thick-skinned do you have to be to have a stake in a football club? Have you faced additional scrutiny because you’re based in the U.S.? 

Hallett: I try not to pay too much attention to the negative comments on social media and remind myself that the vast majority of the fans like what we’re doing. But it does get a little over the top at times. One of my fellow directors was called a “pig-face ****.” This is a club that was nearly bankrupted out of existence because of some overambitious plans by the previous ownership. So I can completely understand why some fans are suspicious, but we’ve been setting things right for half a decade now. It’s a reminder that we need to be as open with fans as possible and ensure they know what’s going on. As far as my living in America, there’s been very little extra scrutiny, to my surprise. There have been one or two tiny little comments, but I think people find it rather amusing. And when you’re on social media, people don’t know where you’re sitting, so I think people have forgotten I’m partly a Yank.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Simon Hallett. As if the club’s name and the Mayflower-infused crest were not enough, Simon tells us that Plymouth hope to lure the USWNT to play a game at Home Park as part of the 2020 Mayflower celebrations. Stay tuned to this space for more on that.