Plymouth Argyle have done it. Defying the odds, they have survived their first season back in the Championship. Set against the backdrop of everything the club has gone through this past year, this is up there with some greatest achievements in the club’s history.

The cards were stacked against us all season: the smallest budget in the league by a distance (potentially barring Rotherham); losing almost the entire coaching set-up at arguably the worst point in the season; losing quality players in January; witnessing a string of refereeing decisions inexplicably go against us, certainly far more than went for us over the season, costing at least five points.

That’s without acknowledging that, for the third year in succession, Argyle had to reach an implausibly high points total to achieve their goal. If the highest points total required to qualify for the play-offs in League One history wasn’t enough, that was followed by the highest points total to achieve League One promotion. This time around wasn’t quite so bad but, since the league was rebranded as the Championship, there have only been three occasions when the points total to stay up has been higher (2008, 2013, 2017).

It’s fair to say that Argyle shouldn’t have allowed it to become this close. The club threw away a comfortable position through strategic mistakes, of which Simon Hallett and Neil Dewsnip have already admitted to. Yet, who cares right now? The objective – the only objective – has ultimately been achieved. And at least the way they did it made for a dramatic, memorable climax to a rollercoaster season that in many ways mirrored the finale to the last.

I mean, you tell me if this sounds familiar: the sun shining down on Home Park for the final home game of the season; Argyle securing a deserved 1-0 win courtesy of a goal just before the break. All our competitors winning their games, meaning that nothing less than a win would suffice. The game ending with fans screaming for the full-time whistle that confirmed Argyle’s Championship status for the next season, then storming the pitch to celebrating with the players and staff. In so many ways, it was a repeat of that Burton game.

But none of that is story of the day. Nor is it about Morgan Whittaker probably playing his last game for Argyle, nor Neil Dewsnip’s redemption ark, nor any of the other narratives at play on the final day.

No, the story is about one man: Joe Edwards, Plymouth Argyle’s captain.

The story of Plymouth Argyle’s unsung hero during the rise from League Two to the Championship putting in a brilliant, player-of-the-match performance, capped by scoring the game’s decisive goal – the goal the kept us in the Championship. A goal could prove to be worth as much as £10m, maybe more.

This was just the latest of monumentally important goals scored by our captain, though. After all, just one year ago, Edwards scored crucual goals as his equaliser at Shrewsbury turned the tide in that must-win game before he netted the winner against a stubborn Cambridge to put Argyle on the verge of promotion. Nor was he done, as he emerged to score the title-winning goal at Port Vale shortly before lifting the trophy. However, those three pale in comparison to the significance of Saturday’s winner. Argyle needed a hero and he stepped up yet again.

It was vintage Edwards, too. A late run into the area timed to perfection; a back-post finish – particularly a header – nestling in the net past a despairing keeper.

The back-post header used to be Sonny Bradley’s territory, now it belongs to 5”7 Joe Edwards, who has scored a quarter of his 23 goals that way. His first goal? A back post header away to Crawley. Since then, he’s repeated the feat against Sunderland, in back-to-back games against Fleetwood and Doncaster in games that helped reignite Argyle’s play-off push in 2022, and for the vital equaliser in that Tuesday evening game in Shrewsbury last season. To that, you can add his crucial winner against Hull, which could end up being his last ever goal for Argyle.

More than just the goal though, the entire performance was everything we’ve come to expect from our captain.

No player won the ball back more than Edwards. Surely no other player covered as much ground or completed as many sprints. Despite being the oldest player on the pitch at the age of 33, he was absolutely everywhere on his flank. The epitome of leaving it all on the pitch. As late as the 87th minute, with most players on the pitch down to their last reserves, there he was: winning the ball back, exchanging a one-two with Whittaker, sprinting down the wing and drawing a foul to eek away another 30 seconds of gametime towards safety.

Throughout the 90, his defending was as close to flawless as you can get. And I mean that. Football, like most sports, has a tendency to massively overexaggerate, but I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that Edwards barely put a foot wrong defensively. I honestly struggle to think of a moment when he didn’t make the right decision and execute his defensive duties correctly.

What often goes missed about Edwards is his game intelligence. You, me, even Edwards himself, we all know that he has limitations. There’s a reason no Championship club has tried to sign him from us during the past three seasons. Just compare him to Bali Mumba on the opposite flank: Mumba is faster, arguably stronger, more creative in possession, a better dribbler with greater close control and more efficient with his passing.

How, then, does Edwards continue to hold his own and make an impact in such a difficult division? The reason is that he’s an incredibly smart footballer. He reads the game, identifying when to press and when to sit. He anticipates crosses and faints, fills gaps in the defensive line. He spots space and times his runs into attacking positions.

We saw all those features on show against Hull: the pressing, the blocked crosses, the last-ditch covering, that perfectly timed burst into the box. Add into the mix his leadership, work rate, and organisation, and you get a performance that epitomised his value to the club.

In this, he’s a living embodiment of what Plymouth Argyle are striving to be. We know we’re not as big or strong as the rest of the league, that we’re consequently going to be underestimated by our rivals, but by working smarter and harder we can redress that balance.

Mr Consistent used to be a moniker to describe the likes of Gary Sawyer and the same sort of constant 7/10 performers of the past, but Edwards holds that title now. Sure, he’s not found it easy playing at this level, but in a season when his teammates have often been error strewn and experienced extreme swings form, he’s more than held his own in comparison.

In spite of his energy and consistency, questions have frequently been asked of Edwards throughout his time with the club. The comparison made so often to his opposite wing-back: first it was George Cooper, then Conor Grant, and finally Bali Mumba who each juxtaposed Edwards, the vigilant, secure, motivating leader, robustly balancing an otherwise off-kilter defence while threatening to profit at the other end from the left-wing’s creativity, while always giving his all.

As Argyle progressed year on year, fans have often wondered whether we should upgrade our right wing-back options. Was he holding that League Two promotion-winning side back? Could he do it in League One? Was he good enough for a side seeking promotion to the Championship? Time after time we find ourselves back with Mr Consistent, our leader, in his position, delivering for the club.

Never have those questions been louder than in the Championship. Not only would he have to handle the massive step up in opposition quality, but he was also moved out of wing-back into a back four with less protection behind him, playing an ultra-attacking brand of football highly vulnerable to counter attacks, and asked to progress the ball as an inverted full-back. The bar was set very high for Edwards to maintain his place, but he did, even with some solid additions like Kaine Kesler-Hayden for competition.

I remember the first away game at Watford. He was roasted by Martins three times inside the first twenty minutes. It looked like obvious evidence that this league – and style of play – was a step too far. Every fan around me was (quite correctly) identifying him as the weak link.

How did Edwards respond? The gutsy right-back pressed even higher. He got to Martins even quicker, anticipating the ball into feet as well as the long ball in behind him. He neutralised Martins for the next seventy. From that moment on, Martins didn’t complete a dribble past Edwards for the rest of the game, didn’t make another key pass from Edwards’ flank, and ultimately moved inside to try and find space. Argyle’s captain gave a show of defiance that day which proved he would be a core member of the squad in spite of the doubts.

It’s this footballing intelligence, his understanding of space, decision making, patterns of play – combined with his tutelage under Schuey – that convinces me Edwards will be a successful coach and quite possibly manage Argyle one day. To be honest, a part of me hoped he’d be made caretaker post-Foster. Regardless, I’m sure he was heavily involved on the training pitch and at the tactics board in the past month.

Though the is speculation on my part, it’s clear to see his influence on the pitch. Foster neglected Edwards, only granting him three starts, two of which were enforced by absences. Once Foster was relieved of his duties, Edwards returned to the team and his leadership skills were back on show, helping reinstall a sense of control and determination that was previously lacking in the team.

If you’re not quite sure what those kind of qualities look like (after all, those concepts are a bit nebulous), go watch his goal against Birmingham in the first Home Park match after Schuey’s sudden departure.

Argyle were lucky to be only 2-0 down approaching half time, barely able to piece together an attack, and the crowd – riled up by Jay Stansfield’s celebration – was starting to turn on the players. A longball to the isolated Ben Waine was dealt with by three Birmingham players who were bullying the kiwi all game. No Argyle player was attempting to press the ball; they appeared defeated and going through the motions to get to half time with no further damage. All except one.

Joe Edwards, playing at right-back, appeared from nowhere, pressing on his own, higher than Argyle’s striker, wingers, and midfielders. He pounced on a leisurely touch to rob the final defender of possession and showed the composure to finish a tough chance one-on-one.

When Argyle were down and out, there was one player leading by example, asserting themselves, rejuvenating the team, lifting the crowd, driving us all on to achieve more.

That’s been Joe Edwards ever since stepped foot in Plymouth. He’s been a leader. Go look at his goal against Bradford all the way back in his first season with the club. It’s the exact same. Edwards, leading from the front, pressing the ‘keeper, forcing a turnover in possession, and eventually profiting with a composed finish.

Vice-captain from his arrival, he took the captain’s armband in his second season after Sawyer’s career was cut short by injury and has maintained it ever since. Sure, Argyle have other leaders too, we shouldn’t overlook that, but Edwards is the man.

Ian Foster didn’t value that, and unsurprisingly he failed. Rumours abound that, when respectfully confronted by Edwards for freezing out Callum Wright and Dan Scarr within weeks of arriving, Foster told Edwards – the captain and one of the most popular players among the fans – that he could leave the club. Edwards’ stellar career at Home Park was nearly brought to an end there and then.

What a tragic mistake that would have been in light of how the season played out. Sadly, though, we’re very close to the days when we’ll no longer see our captain bursting up and down the wing anyway. Ironically, by scoring the goal to keep us up, he almost certainly reduced his playing time next season.

As he has once again proved, Edwards is the sort of player you need for high-pressure, backs to the wall circumstances. However, if the aim of the club is to establish itself in the Championship, we need to bring in upgrades for most positions across the pitch. That includes Edwards. Just as Paul Wotton’s time at the club came to an end, so too will it for another captain etched into the Home Park history books.

He has one more year on his contract with an agreement in principle for him to stay at the club as a coach afterwards. By then, he’ll be on the cusp of 35. Will he still be getting game time for the club? Will he want to continue his playing career elsewhere? Or will he be ready to move into coaching and potentially take a place on the bench in the dugout?

Cast your mind back five years. Who’d have thought that the first signing of the incredibly successful Lowe/Schumacher era would go on to write so many pages for himself in the club’s history and outlast not only those two managers, but countless great players too?

Joe Edwards won a place in all our hearts long ago, even before his title-winning and relegation-surviving contributions, but now he’s one of my favourite players of all time. I find it so hard to imagine the club without him. I badly hope he stays past 2025 as a member of the coaching staff.

He was never the poster boy of the past five years, and yet he so often found himself front and centre: winning player of the year, lifting the League One trophy, mobbed by players and fans alike on Saturday. As the years go by, he’ll be remembered as one of our all-time great players, the captain of one of our most successful eras.

A true Argyle legend.

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