Thursday, 4 September 2008

Consistency is the key

First published in The Grecian, 30 August 2008, Exeter City -v- Luton Town

What a glorious moment! Finally being able to celebrate Exeter City’s first win in the Football League for five years, following our descent in 2002-3 and re-ascent via Wembley last season. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be in Bournemouth for the nearest the Grecians get to an away ‘derby’ this term, but I swear I could hear the cheering 87 miles away.

How appropriate, too, that the scorer of the goal that secured this historic victory should be one of our fine younger players, Ryan Harley. The blend of freshness and experience, vitality and solidity, youth and age in the squad promises well for the future.

That said, there are likely to be many ups and downs this season, and it is extremely important that the team and the fans adopt a positive approach to both – taking heart from the good times and seeking to learn from the difficult experiences without allowing them to get us down.

The disappointment at St James’ Park against Shrewsbury a fortnight ago is a good example. Here’s a side which will be ‘there or thereabouts’ in April and May. They’ve already tipped Dagenham off top spot with a win against Aldershot and they epitomise the tough challenges the Grecians will face at home in the coming months.

But we should also recall that Shrewsbury, like ECFC, came down to the Conference and bounced back via a play-off final in 2004. Since then they have proceeded to consolidate their position and have now put themselves in a place where promotion is a realistic possibility. That’s the example the Grecians should be following.

What’s more, we will have our day again against the Shrews as soon as next week in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, which will also provide an opportunity for some more research and development outside the crucible of League Two.

In seeking both to steady the ship and to edge forward, it is clear that Paul Tisdale’s approach is focussing on “one match at a time” as well as forward-thinking. He is not taking anything for granted, and that’s absolutely right when you find yourself in a new league. You can watch your upcoming opponents on video, but there’s no short cut to direct experience.

Indeed, when he was asked in a recent television interview whether he had the answers for League Two’s challenges in 2008-9, Tisdale acutely replied, “I don’t quite know what the questions are yet.” It was evidence of a man who knows that there’s little point strategising in a purely speculative way. In football you have to be prepared to adapt, change, organise and dig in according to what comes at you.

All of which means that it’s difficult at this stage to predict exactly where Exeter City will be at Christmas, which is around the time of year when the shape of what has been tells you a good deal more about what is to come.

In all probability, this season will be a rollercoaster ride, not least emotionally. That’s what makes the game so absorbing and addictive. But the point is to retain a level of consistency whether fortune seems to be smiling or frowning upon you at any given moment. Exeter City and their ambitious manager have, I believe, built up the trust and respect among the fans that is vital to sustaining such an approach.

A cynic once wryly completed Rudyard Kipling’s famous poetic encouragement, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” by adding “you simply don’t understand the situation!” It’s a great one-liner, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

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