Forget the Premiership. The heartbeat of our game lies in the Football League

After 80 years as a Plymouth fan, Michael Foot is as passionate about today's big kick-off as he has ever been
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The Independent Football

This summer has been full of major sporting events. We've had Euro 2004 and some great cricket. We still have the Ryder Cup and the Olympics to come. But for many hundreds of thousands of people all over the country, this is the day that really matters. The start of the new Football League season.

I've been supporting my team, Plymouth Argyle, for over 80 years. My father, Isaac Foot, introduced me, and also my brothers, to Home Park at the beginning of the 1920s. I was hooked from the very first day. Argyle were a very good team then, and they managed to finish second in the Third Division (South) six years in succession. Unfortunately only the champions went up in those days. They then slipped back to third, then fourth, before finally winning the division in 1929-30.

The left-winger from 1924 to 1938 was Sammy Black. He was the finest player I ever saw in Argyle's green shirt. I was delighted to meet his daughter at the club's Centenary Ball earlier this year. She's the spitting image of him, and quite charming, although I didn't ask her whether she could shoot with either foot, like her father.

He was supported by a very fine inside-left, Jack Leslie, who was one of the first black players in English football. Then there was Fred Craig, the goalkeeper who also took our penalties. And Moses Russell, a left-back who was as bald as Yul Brynner.

It was a wonderful period. Argyle went from strength to strength through the 1930s. I'll always remember going to watch Argyle at Tottenham, on Christmas morning 1935. We won, 2-1, with Black scoring the first goal. The very next day, they played the return match at Home Park. Again Argyle won 2-1. Again Black scored the opener.

Had it not been for the war, we would definitely have reached the old First Division. Plymouth and Devonport were, of course, very badly damaged by Luftwaffe bombing. But the people, as they always have done over the years, stood firm. And when football began again in earnest in 1946, they flocked to the matches in huge numbers. The club was one of the natural places for people to gather. And gather they did, in their thousands.

That's the real strength of Plymouth Argyle - and clubs like it the length and breadth of the country. A winning team can be a major driver of civic pride. Indeed, we know all about that at the moment, after two championships in three years.

But it's about so much more than just the match day. There's no better place in the community for people to get together, and discover and celebrate common ground. Especially in the Football League, whose football teams remain rooted in the towns and cities they represent. Clubs like ours are forces for unity, and are accessible to all. And everyone in the city knows exactly how we're doing.

So what of the new season? Well, at Argyle we have an excellent and honest group of professionals. They are in the habit of delivering exciting and winning football to our supporters. They in turn are real football fans, and loyal to the cause. They may follow Arsenal or Manchester United on the television but, in their hearts, it's Argyle that really matters.

Players like Graham Coughlan, Paul Wotton, Micky Evans and David Friio don't feature in the pages of the glossy magazines. But to the people of Plymouth, they are priceless.

I go to over 30 games a year. And I can honestly say that this is the most exciting time for Plymouth Argyle that I can remember. Because of the team, so brilliantly built by Paul Sturrock, now being taken forwards by Bobby Williamson (the latest in a long line of Scots to manage us).

But there are other good things happening. For example, I see many more families at the games nowadays - with everyone having a great day out. As ever, women prove a civilising influence.

I see the club getting so much more involved in local society, at all levels. Via the community schemes, and youth development, and educational initiatives such as Playing for Success.

We have a tremendous relationship with the local council, which is in the hands of the Labour group. They are our freeholders and have already helped us renew three-quarters of the ground. They understand just how important the club is for the city; as a result, they're committed to finishing the rebuild. The new main stand, when completed, will be a resource for the entire community.

Plymouth Argyle is on a sound footing, financially. That's good. It shows it can be done, and it shows that it can be done organically. We sold more than 10,000 memberships this year - so we should average crowds of around 15,000. And suddenly it seems that half of the young Plymothians have a replica shirt, which they wear with pride.

Finally, the quality of the football we put on at Home Park is as high as it's ever been. Even in last year's Second Division, we saw some wonderful games against strong opposition, such as QPR, Bristol City and Brighton. Football is faster, it's more skilful, and there are plenty of goals scored.

So I am looking forward to this season with great relish? Do I want Plymouth to reach the Premiership for the first time? Of course I do. It's every fan's dream for his or her club.

But for now I am delighted to be watching my beloved Argyle in the new Championship, taking on the likes of Millwall, West Ham, Sunderland, Leeds United, and Ipswich. What's more, unlike in the case of certain other competitions I could mention, it's not possible to predict the top three with any certainty. And that's the case throughout the Football League.

So I'll be at Home Park at 3pm today, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. Now that beats the Olympics any day!