How socialist Michael Foot became the oldest-ever footballer at 90

Michael Foot passionately argues for UK to leave EU in 1975

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On this day 13 years ago, the Labour Party was in mourning after its former leader, Michael Foot, passed away at the age of 96. Originally an MP for Plymouth, Devonport — the constituency’s first Labour representative — he enjoyed a long career in politics which saw him sit in Parliament between 1945 and 1992 for several constituencies, culminating in his resignation as MP for Blaenau Gwent in 1992.

Perhaps one of his biggest achievements, however, was away from politics. In 2003, the Plymouth-born Mr Foot was registered as a player for his beloved Plymouth Argyle football club on his 90th birthday.

He was a huge fan of the team, nicknamed the Pilgrims, and from the age of eight regularly attended games with his father Isaac.

In an official statement, Plymouth Argyle said Mr Foot had been given squad number 90 after his registration was formally approved by bosses in the Football League, which represents the four divisions below the Premier League.

It noted how the side’s manager, at the time Paul Sturrock, was “keeping tight-lipped about his unexpected swoop for Foot,” while “speculation is bound to centre on whether he will hand the new man his debut against Grimsby”.

Mr Foot spent eight decades cheering on the Pilgrims, watching as they reached what is now known as the EFL Championship three times, winning League One (formerly Division 3) in 1952, 1959 and 2004.

He also marvelled as Argyle, who currently ply their trade in League One and are well positioned for a promotion push to the Championship, also recorded their best-ever FA Cup in 1984, reaching the semi-finals of the tournament before losing to eventual runners-up Watford.

Ahead of their opening match of the season against Grimsby 20 years ago, Mr Foot was formally unveiled, with Plymouth’s then vice-chairman Peter Jones telling the Western Morning News newspaper: “We thought it would be really nice for Michael to fulfil a boyhood dream and become a player.

“It’s one of those gifts money just can’t buy. Now, whenever Michael goes to a game this season, he will see his name on the Argyle team sheet in the programme.”

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Seven years after his unveiling, Mr Foot sadly passed away at his north London home in Hampstead. Justice Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, informed the House of Commons of the news, saying: “I am sure that this news will be received with great sadness not only in my own party but across the country as a whole.”

Tributes were paid to Mr Foot, who led Labour between 1980 and 1983 and encountered many spats with his Conservative Party rival Margaret Thatcher, from across the political spectrum, and also by Plymouth Argyle once more.

The club’s then chairman, Paul Stapleton, described the “passion” Mr Foot endured for the sport often dubbed the beautiful game, and how he personally felt “very sad because we always promised Michael that we’d get him to the Premiership (now known as the Premier League) before he passed away”.

He added: “We went up two leagues, but we just couldn’t manage the next one. I remember his 90th birthday when he was registered for the season with a shirt number 90 – although he didn’t play actually.”

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His passing led to numerous stories emerging about his life, and the story of how he and fellow Argyle fans managed to take over the club in 2001 from Dan McCauley, a controversial figure in the club’s history.

The politician’s niece Sarah Burbury noted how watching the Pilgrims gave him solace in the years after his wife Jill Craigie passed away. Mr Foot had been married to her from 1949 until she died in 1999.

She added: “He loved being in this part of the world. Plymouth was his great love because he had been MP there and he was so attached to the dockyard, but also partly because of Argyle.”

Mr Foot represented Plymouth, Devonport, for 10 years from 1945. During World War 2, the former newspaper editor became heavily involved in helping Plymouth get back on its feet after being decimated by Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Lord David Owen, a fellow former Plymouth Devonport MP, spoke of Mr Foot’s passion in a tribute to the politician in 2010. He told the BBC: “He was a great West Countryman and he had a major role in the rebuilding of the city after the war and the city will always remember him.

“I remember him at the age of 11 speaking in Devonport with Aneurin Bevan on the platform when I went with my grandfather and my father, so I’ve known him man and boy. And I want to pay tribute to him in a way that Plymothians feel.

“He was a Labour MP with two others in 1945 and they made a massive contribution to helping to rebuild the city after the devastation of the bombing.”

Mr Foot secured his shot at leading Labour in 1980 after beating Denis Healey to the title. His spell in charge is often regarded as the most difficult in the party’s history, with many divisions carving out across Labour.

He famously penned his 1983 manifesto, described by critics as “the longest suicide note in history”, which laid out a plan for Britain to leave the European Economic Community (now known as the European Union), as well as the abolition of the House of Lords – policies many have backed in recent years.

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