With Liverpool in town, Plymouth show what they and the FA Cup can offer
PLYMOUTH, England -- It has become the easiest thing in the world to talk up the demise of the FA Cup and speak wistfully of the days when the competition was taken seriously by the big guns and relished by supporters.
In many people's eyes, the cup is dying, with the Premier League overshadowing everything in its wake. And yet, a raucous Home Park, in the footballing outpost of Plymouth, suggested the FA Cup is very much alive and kicking, with Liverpool and manager Jurgen Klopp able to act as witnesses to back up the reality that it still matters.
Rewind 24 hours. The 9,054 fans who crammed into Sincil Bank in Lincoln to watch the city's National League outfit humble Championship side and previous FA Cup winners Ipswich would also argue that the cup means everything to those clubs and supporters who spend weeks, months and years waiting for the opportunity to take on and beat one of the giants of English football.
Don't waste time focusing on the 6,608 who turned up to watch Hull's all-Premier League third-round tie against Swansea at the KCom Stadium or the 5,199 who paid to watch Cardiff City lose to Fulham on the same weekend.
Those ties do not reflect the romance and luster of a competition that still possesses the ability to attract young and old to attend their first game in years, merely for the prospect of seeing their local club pull off the kind of shock which will be remembered in 50 years' time.
Plymouth, who reached the FA Cup semifinal as a third-tier team in 1984, knew this third-round replay against Liverpool was their moment in the spotlight and the night when manager Derek Adams' players could become legends.
The local newspaper, The Herald, devoted 10 pages to previewing the game -- mighty Liverpool's first visit to this corner of Devon since 1962 -- and every effort was made to ensure that Argyle would not waste their chance to strike a blow for the city and its success-starved population.
"I think tonight, we have put Argyle on the map again," Adams said after his side's 1-0 defeat. "We have shown a worldwide audience that this club can get back where it belongs. We took 9,000 to Anfield and filled the ground tonight. We had to put in temporary seating to accommodate the extra fans and we could have put in even more.
"It has been a hard few years for the club, but we want to get back to the Championship at the very least. We are building the blocks to get the club to where it wants to be."
Billed as "Britain's Ocean City," Plymouth's population of 250,000 ensures it has the enviable distinction of being the biggest city in the country never to have hosted top-flight football.
Had England won the right to host the 2018 World Cup, group games would have been staged in Plymouth at a newly built stadium as part of an initiative to not only revive and regenerate the area, but make it viable for this port city to sustain in the Premier League.
But England failed to convince FIFA of its merits as a host nation and so Plymouth continues to wait for the moment that its football team finally takes off, backed by the untapped potential of fans who yearn for the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal to visit Home Park on a regular basis.
Until things change, Plymouth remain a minnow and the Mayflower Stand at the stadium looks and feels as old as the Mayflower ship that carried the Pilgrims from Plymouth to the New World in 1620.
The temporary seating mentioned by Adams added an additional 2,000 spaces, taking the overall attendance to 17,048, and the welcome mat was laid out for Liverpool to the extent that a giant pasty -- not quite a local delicacy, but a symbol of Plymouth all the same -- was created for Klopp.
Adams' players were not taken in by the romance, however, and they set about inflicting the biggest humiliation on Liverpool since a 1959 FA Cup defeat at the hands of non-league Worcester City. There was bite in the tackles and renewed belief following the 0-0 draw at Anfield 10 days ago.
Klopp, whose young team was bolstered by the experience of Lucas Leiva, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, cut an animated figure on the touchline until Lucas eased nerves with his first goal in over six years to give his team the lead after 18 minutes.
Plymouth possessed the ability to pull off a shock and certainly had chances. Jake Jervis hit the post in the closing stages with an overhead kick before Divock Origi's late penalty was saved by Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick.
"I love this in football, that everyone can cause everybody problems," Klopp said after the game. "I could see my team was growing embarrassed by losing challenges to a fourth-division team, and it was something we had to change at half-time. But it is all good, we have done a job, no extra-time and we can go home."
Klopp was relieved to emerge unscathed and move on to a fourth-round tie at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 10 days' time.
Plymouth, meanwhile, will put this FA Cup night in the memory bank and use it as a platform on which to build something more permanent.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_