Plymouth Argyle legend Paul Wotton relishes return home

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Paul Wotton
Paul Wotton is revered as one of Argyle's greatest ever players

Football has seen some high-profile comebacks this January.

But while the eyes of the world have been on Thierry Henry at Arsenal and Manchester United's Paul Scholes, there was another man returning to his spiritual football home.

Paul Wotton three and a half years after he left a club he had been with since he was 17.

Having made 438 appearances and netting 63 times for the club, he played match 439 in the win over Burton.

Wotton grew up in Plymouth and his hometown club runs through the 34-year-old like a stick of rock you can buy from the nearby Devon seaside.

A supporter of the Pilgrims as a boy, his commitment to the Green Army cause has never been doubted.

"In short he is Mr Plymouth Argyle," said club president and life-long fan Chris Webb.

"When we were relegated at Burnley in 1998 we saw Paul come up in front of the massed ranks of the Green Army at Turf Moor crying - it showed us how much this club means to him."

He made his debut in a 3-0 loss at Crewe in September 1996 in the old Second Division.

He made 11 appearances that season, but from 1997 onwards he was a regular fixture in the team.

In 2001 he was made captain and led the club to the old Third Division title and two years later he led the club into the Championship.

In the seven years that followed he led the Green Army through arguably their best times as they established themselves in the second tier of English football.

But after 15 months out with a serious knee injury he was released in the summer of 2008 and signed for Southampton.

Loan spells at Oxford and Yeovil followed before the Glovers signed him on a full-time basis in January 2011.

Then 12 months on, with Gary Johnson taking the reigns at Huish Park, Wotton was told he could leave, and Argyle pounced.

"I'm not a great believer in fate," Wotton told BBC Radio Devon.

"But I'm thrilled that it happened and once I knew Plymouth was interested the contract negotiations were pretty non-existent to be honest, it was a case of getting back as quickly as possible and playing for the club I've supported all my life."

But the club Wotton left and the one he returned to could not have been more different.

Argyle were recovering from a year of financial turmoil. Staff had been laid off, players not paid and the club nearly went out of business as they were placed into administration.

On the field the Pilgrims had suffered two successive relegations and seen their status as the area's top club usurped by both their most fierce rivals, Exeter City and Torquay United.

Even worse, they were bottom of the Football League and facing the possibility of relegation to the Blue Square Bet Premier.

"I went through administration at Southampton but nothing like what the people here went through," he said.

"I don't know what I would have done in that situation, you can't thank the people who went through it enough because the club's still here and giving me the opportunity to come back and play for it.

"I'm in a very fortunate position in that I'm a fan of the club and I've got a chance to do something about it on the pitch.

"There's a lot of people who are powerless to go on the pitch and I'm very lucky in that I get a chance to do something about our league position."

When Wotton became available earlier this month manager Carl Fletcher, one of the players who ousted Wotton from his midfield role towards the end of his first spell at Argyle, had .

"Paul's experienced and he knows what the club's about and at the end of the day he's still a good footballer.

"He knows what this club means to the people of Plymouth and we're just glad to have him here," Fletcher told BBC Radio Devon.

And now Wotton is back he is thinking about just one thing - survival.

"In the short term it can only be safety this year, I'm not even thinking about the summer or next season.

"It's a cliche but all I'm concentrating on is the game against Crawley on Saturday.

"If we keep grinding out results and picking up points all of a sudden we'll creep up there."

Thierry Henry recently had a statue of himself unveiled outside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium - if Wotton can help Argyle stay in the Football League who knows what tribute Argyle fans will create in honour of a true local hero.