Sunday, 1 March 2009

You need stability to succeed

First published in The Grecian, 28 February 2009, Exeter City -v- Darlington

Before administration and their recent defeat against Rochdale, today’s visitors, Darlington, were in prime position to contend for top spot in League Two. Even with that setback they are still firmly in the play-off zone and have their sights set high. That said, we all know that games in hand are not the same as points in the bank.

As for the Grecians, they enter this contest undefeated in five games and bolstered by two stirring home victories. The dropped points away against Chester are less pleasing to contemplate. But there is a gritty resolve to this squad. It keeps fighting back.

One thing we can be sure of is that there will be more twists and turns before the season is out. At present Exeter City sit on the cusp of the promotion places, with just six points covering the six teams immediately above us, and Brentford in poll (but far from unassailable) position.

All of which makes this is an important game. It may seem tight at the top, but when one of the upper-third rivals beats another, or allows a nearby competitor to gain valuable catch-up points by drawing, the situation can suddenly look rather different.

Over the next month the automatic promotion places will belong to the most consistent of the quality sides in the division, and they will attempt to pull away from the pack. The task is to stay with them. It’s a bit like a marathon road race.

Can we handle the tension? Sure. For while top-half ups and downs may play minor havoc with those football-related emotions, there are far worse fates. Looking to the problems being faced by Darlington and by old friends and foes in the Blue Square Premier illustrates that point rather vividly.

By the time you read this, the fate of Weymouth may already have been sealed. Administration or liquidation seems inevitable, barring a miracle involving £300,000. Given the crazy sums lobbed around in the Premier League, this is a miniscule amount to determine something as important as a community football asset, but that’s the reality gap we now have to mind.

I like to think that if Exeter City had ever been in the kind of straits that meant fielding a youth side against professional opposition, the people who headed down to the betting shop to wager against their own team would have ploughed a fair stash back into the club.

Well, in Weymouth’s case, that didn’t seem to happen. The bookies reportedly paid out around £1 million in late bets. The FA is investigating to check there were no irregularities. Meanwhile the Terras have had more immediate problems, such as the imminent loss of their entire first team – including ex-Grecians Santos Gaia and Lee Phillips.

Things are not quite as dire at Ebbsfleet United, following their takeover by ‘fan owners’ from the Myfootballclub website. But fair weather friends could yet see them sink. Fewer than half of the required members have renewed their £35 annual subscriptions.

Some attracted to running a football team by popular vote perhaps thought that a side with the size and reputation of Leeds United could be purchased, and even an FA Trophy win last season doesn’t seem to have kept their hearts in Kent. A few have not even logged onto the website yet. The upshot is that Fleet are some £230,000 short of meeting their £500,000 target required for the day-to-day running of the club.

Myfootballclub pioneer Will Brook recently declared: “As far as the concept goes I would not change a thing. I think we have done ever so well to get where we are, but it is interesting now as we have the challenge of making it sustainable.”

Indeed. But a football club is not a ‘concept’ to the true fan, and the possibility of its extinction is rather more than ‘interesting’. I want Ebbsfleet to survive. But in the long run the Trust idea seems to me the most stable way of getting loyal supporters involved in ownership and development. Exeter City is showing us how it can be done.

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