Last month saw the testimonial of Romain Larrieu. In the midst of testimonials for recent retirees like Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes et al, perhaps not many people will not have heard of him. However, I feel it most pertinent to write a few words about whom can only be described as a Plymouth Argyle legend. A number of eulogies will have been written about him, but I wanted to add my tuppence worth.
To use the oft clichéd phrase, Romain Larrieu has been through it all. The good times, the not so good times, and the darkest of times… However, throughout there has been one constant. He has remained a gentleman, an inspiration, and an Argyle icon.
As much as I would like to avoid describing his Plymouth Argyle career season upon season, I feel it is necessary so that you can truly comprehend what he is about, it tells you so much about Romain the man.
Romain Larrieu was signed in 2000 after being released by Valence (‘the skirt thing that goes around the bed…’) and became the club’s regular first choice goalkeeper in 2001/02 during which where he kept a staggering 27 clean sheets and conceded just 28 goals as Argyle stormed their way to the (then) Division 3 title. The team started the following season in Division 2, where Romain remained first choice as Argyle finished a superb 8th position, and Romain was linked to much much bigger clubs due to his impressive performances between the sticks
In the early part of 2003/04, after damaging his knee ligaments, Larrieu was kept out of the team for the best part of the season. Argyle once again won promotion this time to the lofty heights of the Championship, but upon his return to fitness he found a new goalkeeper, Luke McCormick had cemented his place as first choice ‘keeper.
Not to be deterred, Romain worked hard and fought himself back into first team reckoning, due in no small part I am sure to his impeccable attitude. He reclaimed his status as first choice goalkeeper for the 2005/06 season as Argyle continued to improve their league position for the 6th consecutive year. He was due to maintain his position as first choice Plymouth goalkeeper for the 2006/07 season when, extremely unfortunately, his illness struck.
Despite the onset of such a debilitating illness, Larrieu made 6 appearances for Argyle during the time he was hit by testicular cancer. In the true spirit of the workhorse he was renowned for being at Home Park, he fought and beat the cancer, and returned to football towards the end of the season, but he was unable to dislodge Luke McCormick who had re-established himself as first choice. Larrieu was subsequently loaned to Gillingham in order to get some much needed game time.
Larrieu was once again loaned out during the 2007/08 season – this time to ‘neighbours’ Yeovil Town – but his performances led to him reclaiming the number one jersey on his return, only for the cancer to cruelly strike for a second time. Undoubtedly a bitter blow to a player who had worked so hard to get his career back on track at Argyle after such serious injury and illness, he maintained his dignity and grace, fighting once again the biggest battle of his life, all without fuss, without complaint.
Remarkably, Larrieu once again returned from his illness to regain the number one shirt at Argyle, playing almost every game of the 2008/09 season between the sticks, having dislodged new signing, and ex-Premier League goalkeeper Graham Stack after just a few games. With Plymouth narrowly escaping relegation from The Championship, Larrieu won the Fans Player of the Year for his efforts in keeping the Green Army afloat. Despite his heroics however, that season was just the start of the decline for Argyle. The following season, they were relegated from second tier in 2010, with Romain being made Club Captain thanks to his influence, both on and off the pitch.
‘When you first face problems like this, everything becomes less important and it gives you a different outlook on life and that’s the positive about it and it’s helped me in the last few years of my career.’
Needless to say, last season was a season Argyle fans and players will want to forget. With the club embroiled in huge financial turmoil, as a 10 point deduction, coupled with the sale of the better players from the club, led to a second successive relegation – back to where Larrieu started his career – to the basement division. Despite being Club Captain, Larrieu played second fiddle for most of the season to young Tottenham Hotspur loanee David Button.
However, as with every obstacle that the Frenchman has faced in his career, he did not complain, he did not throw his toys out of the pram. Instead he encouraged, influenced and willed the team on. Due to living further afield these days, I do not get to see Argyle as much as I would like. Yet, the longstanding image I will have of last season is Romain Larrieu, in his tracksuit, on his feet in the technical area, willing his team on as they ground out a 1-0 win against MK Dons to give them a glimmer of hope of avoiding relegation. Argyle lost their fight last season and went down through no fault of the players. In a time of hyperbole and narcissistic endeavour, it is the exploits of one player – determined to win the fight, just as he has won every other fight he faced during his Argyle career – who deserves respect from the footballing fraternity.
Despite financial instability in the corridors of Home Park, Romain was awarded a testimonial which took part on Wednesday 20 July against QPR. The game celebrated what has, without question or exaggeration, been a roller-coaster time at Argyle for Larrieu – one he wants to ride further:
‘Having been associated with the club for that long I do feel like I have more to do by staying than by going somewhere else. Especially if the club is in that much trouble. You never say never, but I’ve had a happy time here and I want to be one of the guys that sorts the mess out.’
In ten years he has been part of two promotions, two relegations, but most strikingly, two bouts of cancer. Furthermore, in a time when player wages has become astronomically perverse, he has supported his young family without a wage since November. He has never been ‘The Greatest’ goalkeeper in the world, despite his respective accolades, but he has continually worked hard to achieve everything he has in the last decade. It speaks volumes to me that whilst he, along with the rest of the clubs employees, has gone without pay since November 2010, they were able to put on a game for the great man, and that Larrieu will be donating all of the takings of the match, and all his other testimonial events to three charities. In a game where prima donnas, petulance and greed are becoming more and more commonplace, Romain Larrieu has remained dignified and positive throughout his career with Plymouth Argyle Football Club, and has overcome every obstacle he has faced.
Hold your head up high Romain Larrieu. Here’s to a true legend.