The view from inside the Plymouth squad
In September 2008 Plymouth Argyle, then a Championship side, signalled their ambition of pushing towards the Premier League by signing Belgium international striker Emile Mpenza following his release from Manchester City.
While City, bankrolled by their Abu Dhabi owners, have gone on to assemble one of the most expensive squads in history, crippling off-the-field problems at Home Park have left Argyle with a small squad of old heads and willing youngsters scrapping for the club's Football League survival.
"When I think about how we fought and worked so hard to get the club from League Two into the Championship and to see how quickly we have gone right back down, it is very difficult," said French goalkeeper Romain Larrieu, who has been at the club since 2000 and is their longest-serving player at Home Park.
"Considering the size of the hole that apparently exists in our finances, I do not even think that we got to live the dream. I have been through it all and I do not know what happened. Funnily enough, nobody has admitted to me that they made mistakes."
Plymouth is a familiar footballing story of financial mismanagement and a club living beyond its means. There have been winding-up orders and visits to the High Court and the club have been in administration since March.
Larrieu has endured the frustration of the club's slide down into League Two. Photo: Getty Images
Every month this year the players have had to accept at least a partial deferment of their wages. There have been months when they have not received any at all.
"I try to detach myself from it but it drives you mad," added Larrieu, who is now acting assistant manager at the club following the dismissal of Peter Reid on 18 September.
"If this had happened when I was younger I would be in very big trouble. Some months we have been given 20% or 30% and if you are on a good contract then that is still a decent wage, but for some of the younger players that does not leave them with enough to pay their rent.
"There have been so many deferred payments that I could honestly not tell you how much I am owed."
Larrieu laughed when asked what had been the lowest point over the last few months, pointing out that there were so many contenders. Eventually he opted for the day he found out the club were preparing to enter administration and had been issued with a 10-point deduction.
It was Monday 21 February and the squad had been at Home Park before heading off to Brighton for a league fixture the following day. At the same time there had been a meeting of the board at the stadium, during which it was decided to serve notice of the club's intention to appoint an administrator.
"Nobody from the board came out to tell us," added Larrieu. "We found out watching the news on the coach. Out of respect, we should have been told directly, we should not have found out that way."
That points deduction left Argyle eight adrift of safety at the bottom of League One. Perhaps not surprisingly, they lost 4-0 at Brighton.
During his time in charge former boss Reid sold his 1986 FA Cup runners-up medal to raise funds that he used to help pay the rent of some of his younger players.
He also paid the club's heating bill. There have been loans from the Professional Footballers' Association, numerous auctions, fund-raising events, bucket collections and donations as supporters of the club rallied to keep them alive.
Larrieu is keen to stress how difficult it has been for the backroom staff, the people who work in the office and have found the months of uncertainty with little or no pay incredibly difficult. He is also keen to emphasise how fantastic the Argyle's supporters have been. It is obvious that he cares deeply about the club and is desperate for it to survive.
"It has been a case of one broken promise after another and it has been very difficult on all the staff," he said. "As players we have never used the situation as an excuse but whoever says it does not play on your mind is an idiot."
Mpenza is long gone and last season ended in the club's second relegation in two seasons. The players that remained thought that a takeover would have been completed by the time they returned from holiday in the summer but the season started and nothing had been done.
Reid, who had to sell or release in the region of 40 players during his 15 months in charge, was left with only three senior players over the summer in Larrieu, Carl Fletcher and Onismor Bhasera. He attempted to bolster his threadbare squad at the end of August by bringing in defender Simon King from Gillingham on loan. King, whose wages are currently being paid by his parent club, was desperate to play regular football again after two injury-ravaged years.
"The first day I had a chat with the gaffer, who told me about the training session we were about to have," said King. "But the next thing I knew I was in a players' meeting discussing whether we would go on strike and not play against Burton the following Saturday. I was like 'what is going on here?' but if I had missed yet another pay day I'm sure I would have felt the same."
Fletcher, now in temporary charge at the club, said at the time: "You would not treat your worst enemy the way we have been treated." It was rumoured that some players were so broke they were considering selling their houses and cars.
The players called off the strike after they were promised 40% of their September salary and, almost two months on, there does appear to be hope for Argyle. A takeover by Devon-based hotelier James Brent has been agreed in principle with the club's joint administrators. Brent has requested a meeting with the players to explain his plans, a move that prompted Larrieu to wryly observe that "we will finally have some first-hand information."
On the pitch, the club won their first league fixture of the season last Saturday, a 2-0 defeat of Macclesfield. The starting XI against Macc had just four players aged 26 or over. Goalscorer Warren Feeney had the distinction of being the only player in his 30s.
Prior to that game the club had taken only one point from their opening nine games. King had noticed that the poor form was starting to affect some of the young players; their heads would drop when Argyle fell behind.
In the dressing after Saturday's victory there was a sense of quiet satisfaction. The players shook hands and congratulated each other. There is much hard work left to be done but for the club's battered and bruised players there is hope that better times lie ahead.
"So many players have been and gone over the last few years and they did not have the time to see what this club can become," added Larrieu.
"But now we have turned a corner. This week is better than last week and each day takes us nearer to being a normal football club again."