9th July 2012
THERE is an irony that Simon Walton has left Plymouth Argyle during a rare pre-season during which the club has not shoved him towards the out-door at Home Park.Until Carl Fletcher vested the captaincy upon the Leeds-born midfielder following his own elevation to manager last season, Walts' Plymouth career had been spent largely anywhere but Plymouth.
Bought from QPR, as a callow but experienced 20-year-old, by Paul Sturrock on the eve of the 2008-09 Championship season, he could never quite convince the manager who signed him, nor his successor Paul Mariner, that he merited a regular Green shirt.
A sending-off at Barnsley - youthful impetuosity, rather than maliciousness - in only his ninth game did not help matters, and, in the next year and a half, he played just 10 times for the Pilgrims.
He ended his first Argyle season on loan to Blackpool and spent the entire 2009-10 campaign on temporary secondment to Crewe.
The subsequent season saw a similar move to Sheffield United end before it had properly begun with a cruciate knee-ligament injury in a pre-season match.
Few realised it at the time, but Walts' road to recovery also proved to be his pathway to redemption.
Time on the treatment table offered a pause for reflection and, by the time he regained his fitness, he was a more mature and rounded person.
Fatherhood - one of the compelling reasons for his move away from Home Park - helped. Those Argyle fans who were at Home Park for the Pilgrims' final game of last season saw for themselves his devotion to beloved Poppy.
Peter Reid brought a revised and updated Walts 2.0 back into the fold, starting him for six of the last seven matches of the 2010-11 relegation season. His first goal for the club - the winner in a 1-0 victory at home to Milton Keynes Dons - followed in his 16th game, more than two and half years after his debut.
Despite his restoration, there were more than a few raised eyebrows when Fletch flung him the captain's armband last season.
It proved to be an astute move: his 45 matches and nine goals (records will show that Craig Sutherland netted in the 1-1 draw at Bradford, but neither Walts, nor Craig, nor any of the Green Army at Valley Parade is having any of that) were key to the club's very survival.
If anyone had told Argyle supporters before the start of last season that Walts would be the man who would galvanise the Pilgrims - players, staff, supporters and all - with strength and passion and lead them through their darkest days, they would have been derided mercilessly.
But he did.
If, at the same time, it had been suggested to Walts that, when he exited Home Park for pastures new, there would be tears at his leaving, he would have laughed.
But there were.
Still only 24, Simon Walton has potentially the best part of his career ahead of him, and the finest tribute he can give to those at Home Park who will forever hold him in great affection is to reach, and, indeed, surpass, that potential.