Paul Wotton has compared the team spirit at Plymouth Argyle in their successful fight for Football League survival this season to that of the club’s two title-winning campaigns at the start of the century.
Wotton has also hailed the Pilgrims’ escape from relegation, after picking up only one point from their first nine fixtures, as an “unbelievable” achievement.
The 34-year-old midfielder started his second spell at Argyle in January, after leaving Yeovil Town. Wotton had been a key part of the Pilgrims’ title-winning triumphs in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons, as they elevated themselves to the Championship. But he was then released by Argyle in the summer of 2008, before signing for Southampton.
The proud Plymothian admitted it had been an “absolute pleasure” to be part of the Pilgrims’ squad on his return to Home Park.
Wotton said: “I always said the team spirit of the two championship-winning sides would never be repeated.
“I thought we were lucky and it all just clicked. But the team spirit now is right up there with it. Honestly.
“They are real, good honest boys who are giving their all for Plymouth Argyle.”
The Pilgrims secured their npower League Two status with a 1-1 draw against Oxford United at Home Park last Saturday. Wotton captained the side in the absence of the injured Simon Walton as he made his 412th League appearance for Argyle.
That puts him joint fourth in the club’s all-time list with Johnny Williams, behind only Kevin Hodges (530), Sammy Black (470) and Pat Jones (425). Wotton said: “It felt like we had won the league on Saturday.
“It was great to be in the changing room after the game, sat back and watching all the boys celebrate. The boys and the staff deserve every single bit of credit because it’s an unbelievable achievement. They were dead and buried after nine games.
“Since the first day I came back into the club, I haven’t sniffed any defeatism or any hard-luck stories.
“It’s a great achievement, but we must never be in this situation again because it’s too good a club.
“I watched from afar, as a fan, at what has happened at this club and it was heartbreaking, but it’s onwards and upwards now. This club is too proud, too good, too big and the fans are too special.”
Wotton added: “The thought of this club in the Blue Square [Bet] Premier has been scary, and I think that drove us on.”
Argyle were bottom of the table, five points from a position of safety, when they exited administration at the end of October after the takeover of the club by James Brent. Before that, the players had not been receiving their full wages and had even threatened strike action.
Wotton has total admiration for all those who went through that experience. He said: “Those lads are heroes. They didn’t get paid for months, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like. I have come in late to it, but I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of them.”
Wotton has also been impressed by Argyle’s inexperienced management team of Carl Fletcher, assisted by Romain Larrieu and Kevin Nancekivell.
He explained the trio had kept the players focused on escaping relegation. Wotton said: “I can’t honestly say we ever felt the pressure because the gaffer, Ro and Nance have been different class. They have kept building us up, and we have worked tremendously hard on the training ground – as hard as I have ever worked.
“The gaffer [Fletcher] has done a fantastic job,” added Wotton. “The gaffer has done great, his staff have done great and the players have done great. There is a real togetherness here, and you can’t fail if you are together.”