Sunday, 17 August 2008

First published in The Grecian, 16 August 2008, Exeter City -v- Shrewsbury Town, Football League Division Two.

Here we are at last, back with the Football League on home soil. There have been moments over the summer, and even immediately after the final whistle blew at Wembley on 18 May, when I’ve wondered whether someone will pinch me and I’ll discover it’s all been a dream.

To be honest, teams with which I have an association are much more likely to do Distasterville than Dreamland. So even after Rob Edwards had nodded us ahead, the last ball had been kicked and the wild celebrations had begun, it still took a bit of time to sink in.

Thankfully, Exeter City’s footballing life is not quite like Bobby Ewing’s implausible re-appearance in Dallas (a giant step beyond reality), and that means the all-too-real demands of Coca Cola League Two are now upon us.

Shrewsbury Town, our rivals this afternoon, can certainly testify just how tough it can be in this division. Nonetheless, the Grecians’ aim for the season is more than mere survival. For this is a team on the march forwards.

That much was clear from the highly professional way Paul Tisdale and the boys handled the trip to Wembley, from the signings made and the contracts secured over the close season, and from the guts the side has shown thus far. Not everything is going ECFC’s way, but our way is to keep on going.

Nothing proved this more than that second leg Blue Square play-off semi-final at Plainmoor three months ago. At 3-1 down on aggregate against Torquay, and with just over 20 minutes to go, many teams would have caved in and missed the Wembley ticket.

But the Grecians kept on pressing and claimed four goals to achieve a truly amazing turnaround in fortunes. It’s a match that will stay in my memory, and that of many others, for as long as we live.

However, as the manager remarked immediately afterwards, it would all have counted for nothing without a further decisive push against a tough Cambridge United side in the Final. Likewise, if the Grecians can’t cut it in League Two, that triumph will look more like a false dawn.

I don’t believe this is how things will pan out, however. Football is all about the moment, but it’s also about momentum. That’s something that requires courage and determination as well as skill – qualities which ECFC have already demonstrated.

With Tisdale at the helm, a Trust that has proved it can go the second mile, an eager group of players (established and new) and a committed backroom staff, Exeter City has the recipe to succeed.

What we require now is to capitalise on talent with hard work, to find that crucial twist of luck, and to continue the surge of support from the fans, both home and away, that can carry the team forward when things are going less than smoothly.

The shorthand for all this is ‘character’. One who has definitely shown us what that means is veteran Rob Edwards. Not long after he signed a two-year deal in 2006, the sceptics had their knives out. He proved them wrong by becoming Player of the Season and then going on to secure the vital goal at Wembley, offering dependability and experience along the way.

One moment said it all for me. In the TV interview he gave immediately after helping secure Exeter’s League status, Rob first took time to express recognition to worthy opponents in their painful moment of loss. That’s an attitude worth having. As Cloughie once put it: “Winning, yes, of course – but winning better.”

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