I’m still shaking my head in disbelief. Not at that freak goal we gained in the last few breaths of the away game at Lincoln City last week – though that was extraordinary enough. No, it’s the fact that we are almost at the end of the season that I’m still having difficulty taking in.
Where did it all go? When City kicked off their first term back in the Football League after a five-year absence and a good deal of turmoil, I was imagining a good, safe mid-table position to ‘steady the ship’. A play-off place or better wasn’t really on my radar. Maybe I’ve spent too many years following football minnows.
But the management, fans and playing staff here at St James’ Park were not so un-ambitious. So I hold my hands up. You were right Pete Martin (even if you have been living in Plymouth!), and Ron, Richard, Chris, Pauline and the others I enjoy sitting with. A top six finish wasn’t out of the question. Nor is League One next season. Indeed it’s agonisingly close.
This is why Paul Tisdale will have been reminding his dressing room that nothing has been secured yet. Not the title (that’s Brentford’s to lose), not automatic promotion (though that is in the Grecians’ hands now) and not a third trip in a row to Wembley – the one we are all hoping to avoid this time. Except as a consolation prize.
Whatever happens over the next two games, no-one can deny that this season has been an outstanding success for Exeter City, and a tribute to all who have been involved in projecting this Club back towards the footballing heights that it isn’t ever right to say you ‘deserve’ – it has to be earned by skill, craft and sheer guts.
Which brings us back to the match against Morecambe this afternoon. Unfortunately, work commitments mean that I am missing what we all hope will be the last home game of the campaign – even if that means just a little less live action before the summer break. I will be checking my text alerts, though, as will many others. The crowd for the match against Wycombe was fantastic. This time round it will be even larger. But don’t forget the thousands across the country (and indeed the world) who “follow the City” through radio, the web and other media.
Our opponents today are no strangers. They are welded to us by history. Memories of 20 May 2007 would be rather more painful if the Grecians had not grabbed their subsequent Wembley promotion opportunity in 2008, but even in defeat that first ‘big outing’ against the Shrimps prepared City for what was to come. So in a strange way we have to be grateful for what at the time seemed like a last ditch failure.
Football is like that. The shadows can be dark, but if you learn to respond to them appropriately you can have your day in the sun – and not just once. So the aim this afternoon is nothing to do with ‘revenge’ for that loss two years ago. Morecambe got into League Two ahead of us, and they deserved it. Good luck to them… but not today. Right now, Exeter need three points very badly, and if they have to come through the equivalent of a “Rob Burch moment” in the 88th minute (sorry Lincoln!), so be it.
All football sides, even the best, need a bit of luck at the right time. The Grecians have had their knocks and their breaks this term. But all have them have been outweighed by the fine football that has been played, by courage and determination. Over the course of the next 180 minutes City will need every ounce of those qualities, together with your support.
But remember, this isn’t a dream. It’s possible. One more big push and the next rung on Exeter City’s ladder to the top beckons.