Saturday, 22 March 2008

Football's coming home

First published in The Grecian, 22 March 2008, Exeter City -v- Kidderminster

Back in 2003 the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust brought a dismal history of mismanagement and (as it turned out) misappropriation to an end when it took control of the Club. It would be daft to pretend that absolutely everything in the garden or on the pitch has been fine and rosy since then, but by any standards the progress made has been considerable.

Grecians fans and all involved in the Trust can be proud of what has been achieved so far, including a membership heading towards 2,500 and some £700,000 raised for the Club by its supporters. Sooner or later – and obviously, everyone hopes it’s sooner – that endeavour will be rewarded with a League place again. For in spite of some difficult spells, losses and injuries since that bruising loss in the play-off final last season, City have kept on pushing to be in contention again.

Others have not been able to do that. Oxford United, who boasted a huge fan base when they came down, and for most of 2007-8 looked as if they were going straight back up under their then manager, the wily Jim Smith, lost out to us in the semis and have not recaptured their glow since. It will be mid-table obscurity for them this year, something that the Grecians have not had to endure. We’ve been there or thereabouts ever since we kicked off in the Conference.

Of course, for the fans, “that’s not good enough”. It never could be. But if we don’t quite make it this time (and ECFC fans have to believe we can, with a powerful run-in this April), we can still be proud of keeping the Club spirited, competitive and looking for the edge that will take us to the next level.

Part of that energy, undeniably, has come from the nature of the ownership and the investment of so many people who care passionately about Exeter City in it. As Peter Evans points out in his new Times Online Fanbase column, that ought to make the supporters of many a ‘big club’ green with envy.

Just think about the topsy-turvy events that have struck football since our Trust was a mere gleam in the eye of those who ended up launching it. Chelsea have been annexed by a Russian billionaire. American owners have come in at Manchester United and Liverpool, bringing big debt as well as big investment. As for Gretna in the Scottish Premier League, who may not even be in existence by the time you read this: well, the whirlwind romance that started in 2002, when they entered Scottish football and hitched up with a millionaire, has now left them cruelly jilted as their owner lies on his sickbed.

But there is another emerging story, to which Exeter City is affiliated. It’s about football coming home rather than ending up in the pockets of the corporates. This story includes the likes of AFC Wimbledon, who have recently concluded their war of attrition with ‘Franchise FC’ (a.k.a. Milton Keynes Dons) with a ceremony in the unlikely setting of Merton Town Hall, where they were recognised by all concerned as the true inheritors of ‘things Wimbledon’, including that famous FA Cup triumph over Liverpool on 14 may 1988… which I watched at some ungodly hour from a sweltering house in the western suburbs of Sydney. Not a night to forget!

Meanwhile, the Grecians’ struggle to take rejuvenation to the next level in football status, as well as in terms of ownership and community involvement, continues with this very match. It’s something worth shouting about – and that’s just what the players need.


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