Lifelong Plymouth Argyle fan Ray Rogers became a VIP for the day when he was treated to prime seats for the match against Blackburn Rovers last weekend thanks to a heart-warming new regular guest ticket arrangement between St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth and the club.
The 77-year-old grandfather, who is receiving care at home from St Luke’s specialist nursing team, was the first to benefit from the new initiative set up in memory of much-missed club ambassador and commentator Gordon Sparks, and sponsored by PLG Consultants, Devon-based disability and accessible property specialists.
In a move that makes it possible for fans like Ray to witness their team in action at Home Park, two privileged accessible seats have been reserved for a St Luke’s patient or family member and their guest for every Argyle home game in the 2023-24 Sky Bet Championship season.
Not only will they have a great view from PLG’s wheelchair accessible branded viewing platform in the Beacon Electrical Lower Mayflower stand, but they’ll also have the dedicated services of volunteer Elliott Darcy to make sure their visit goes smoothly, plus vouchers for refreshments, and regular check-ins on the day from St Luke’s nurse specialist and Pilgrims’ fan Debbie Hutchinson.
Ray, who lives at Southway, has been an Argyle fan since he was a child and his dad used to take him to Home Park. He’d been a regular season ticket holder until this year when his health deteriorated, and he was thrilled to be able to attend a match again.
“It’s difficult for me to get there now. I can’t handle the steps,” said Ray, who has been treated for colon cancer. He was accompanied on Saturday by his youngest grandson, Dylan, 19.
“Just being there was great. And they had a good result as well – 3-0 against Blackburn Rovers. I really enjoyed the day and the fresh air. I had a nice comfy chair. I shared a pasty with Dylan and had a cup of hot Bovril. Everything about it was wonderful.”
Ray also got to meet and have his photo taken with former Argyle Captain Gary Sawyer and was given a match programme.
Ray’s wife, Wendy, said they were delighted when St Luke’s clinical nurse specialist Alex Chapman visited them at home and told them Ray could have the tickets.
“She said they were VIP tickets and that he would be met, and they would provide a wheelchair,” said Wendy, who drove Ray and Dylan to the game. “Everyone was so helpful when we got there, including the car park attendants who found us a space. Elliott was a very nice chap and Ray was really well looked after.”
The seeds for the new scheme were sown when Sparksy was receiving care last year from St Luke’s both at home and in the hospice’s specialist unit. He chatted to clinical nurse specialist Ali Griffiths about their mutual love of Argyle and how he wanted to make it possible for patients who are Pilgrims fans to get to the club’s home games. Almost a year after the popular BBC Radio Devon broadcaster’s death the idea has now blossomed into reality, with the help of key partners and a willing volunteer.
Daniel Pippen, Argyle Supporter Relations Manager, said: “Our teams are passionate about delivering the very best experiences for our supporters, and this initiative will help us to do exactly that for those cared for by St Luke’s. We know this will make a real difference to those who will visit us through the scheme and hope it will stand as a fitting legacy for our beloved Sparksy.”
Phill Gill, PLG Consultants Managing Director, added: “We have been looking at ways of supporting the club in a way that fits the work we do. Having listened to and been friends with Sparksy for many years and seen the tremendous help St Luke’s gave to my best friend’s sister earlier this year it felt like a great initiative to be a part of.”
Purely by chance, 28-year-old volunteer Elliott, a boxing coach from Plympton, contacted Argyle to volunteer at exactly the right time to help get the programme off the ground. A keen Pilgrims supporter, he had been moved by the story of young Sunderland FC fan Bradley Lowery who had terminal cancer and was helped to get to as many games as possible, and he said he was keen to support something similar in Plymouth.
“I contacted Argyle to suggest this, and Dan told me about the scheme being set up in memory of Gordon Sparks. I never expected it to get to this point – it’s great that it is actually happening. I’ve agreed to be there on a voluntary basis for every home game to meet the St Luke’s guests and look after them from start to finish,” said Elliott. “Kindness costs nothing, but I haven’t done anything like this before, so it’s very new to me and I’m finding my feet. It was really great to meet Ray, and Dylan did a fantastic job looking after his granddad.”
St Luke’s Head of Fundraising, Penny Hannah, added: “This is very special! If someone is a fan and have been for years, they do not want to miss out and often one of their last wishes is to be at Home Park. All of us at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, and especially our nurses, are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown by Argyle and PLG, by creating this gift to the patients in our care and their families who wish to get to a match, just as Sparksy wanted.”