There are signs that the Pilgrims are much stronger during their fifth season in League Two
11 October ~ After a few years of watching Plymouth Argyle being like forced to watch someone you're fond of get beaten up on a regular basis, suddenly we have a promising team playing fast attacking football. The last five years have not been kind, with the previous board seemingly gambling everything on the World Cup coming to England and Home Park being redeveloped into a 40,000-capacity stadium to host a couple of group games.
FIFA politics, apparently based around helping the game develop in outposts such as the Cayman Islands and Turkmenistan, proved less than beneficial to the Football League's most southerly and westerly calling point. To adapt a phrase from Monty Python, once the relegation trapdoor opened up from the Championship, we didn't so much fall through it as plummet.
Argyle fans have had to be content with their lot in recent times. The club are only still around because everyone worked without pay for ten months while we were in administration, during which time the gas bill only got paid because then manager Peter Reid got out his credit card so everyone didn't have to sit around in hats and gloves.
Since local businessman James Brent bought the club, with the aim of building a hotel, restaurants and a cinema on the car park to finance building a much-needed new grandstand (three years on, none of this has happened), the refrain of the club's loyal hardcore towards anyone who feels that a city with a population of around a quarter of a million ought to be doing a bit better has been "we should be thankful that we still have a club!”. And we should. We also ought to thank former managers Carl Fletcher and then John Sheridan for ensuring (on a couple of occasions only in the last game of the season) that the Green Army didn't become the Best Fans In The Conference.
Nobody likes the arrogance of a so-called big club who think they're better than the division they're in. But it's not unreasonable to expect the largest city never to have hosted top-flight football to be doing a bit better than stumbling almost accidentally into the League Two play-offs and giving Wycombe a two-goal start in both legs of the semi. Especially while we still regularly get gates of over 7,000 in the bottom tier.
When Sheridan parted company with Argyle in the summer, it was felt in many quarters that whoever came in needed to manage the whole club and not just the first team. They also needed to set about replacing the majority of the club's attacking talent who were either on loan or, in the case of Lewis Alessandra, out of contract.
Recruitment has always been a problem – Devon and Cornwall is a lovely place to live but the vast majority of professional footballers don't seem to see it that way. So appointing the former manager of Ross County, Derek Adams, used to persuading players to come to Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands, has been something of a masterstroke.
Jake Jervis, a peripatetic former Birmingham City trainee, ball-playing midfielder Graham Carey and former Rangers prospect Gregg Wylde have arrived from Scotland and hit the ground running. Jervis has already scored seven goals, Carey has bagged five. Sheridan's Plymouth Argyle had the best defence in League Two but it was a standing joke that once they went a goal behind, it was game over.
Under Adams, Argyle have proved a bit more three-dimensional and durable. Clearing out a squad bottom-heavy with defensive midfielders and supplementing the talents of 20-goal-a-season hitman Reuben Reid has worked wonders. A goal from Jervis at 2-0 down away to Wimbledon in the Football League Trophy set us on the road to come from behind and win a match, which was the first time we'd done that since beating Barnet 2-1 in March 2013. For an encore, with a pleasing amount of symmetry, we did it again against Barnet a week last Tuesday.
And so it comes to pass that, off the back of a surprisingly dominant 2-0 derby win at home to Exeter in the Trophy, the team travel to Notts County for a satellite-televised Sunday match finding ourselves going into a weekend top of a league for the first time since we won League One in 2004.
There's a bit more historical symmetry here, too. Back in March 2004, just after Argyle's greatest modern-era manager Paul Sturrock had jumped ship to try his luck in the Premier League with Southampton, over 2,000 Pilgrims travelled to the East Midlands and roared us on as caretaker boss Kevin Summerfield presided over a 0-0 draw. Argyle held on to top spot and went up as champions that season. It's far too early in the season to make such bold predictions about the 2015-16 model Argyle, but after a very long period in the wilderness, there's at least a chance that it might be our time again. Drew Savage
Photo by Simon Gill ~ visit WSC Photos for more