Saturday, 29 August 2009

Contrasting football fortunes

First published in The Grecian, 29 August 2009, Exeter City -v- Milton Keynes Dons

It’s amazing how one result can change your mood. Last week’s away victory at Carlisle has given a real boost to the Grecians, after three matches in which some fine football had been played against good teams, but with only two points gained.

With a further three points in the bag, the task for Exeter City now is to build momentum. Paul Tisdale has made little secret of the fact that he is after one more striker before the transfer window closes. Fans will echo the feeling that the achievements of the team on the park are not yet being matched by the goals we deserve.

Following today’s game against Milton Keynes Dons, who lie in sixth place and look to be strong contenders for one of the top spots, we have tough away trips to Gillingham and Leyton Orient, before entertaining Tranmere here at St James’ Park on 19 September. There will be no let up, no easy games this year.

After the on-pitch lull of the close season – during which time the back-room staff remained very busy, of course – the matches seem to come thick and fast at this early stage of the season. But it will be around the ten-game mark that judgements will really be formed about how the League One campaign is going.

Predictions in football are for fools, it is often said. Then again, we all enjoy having a go! My own sense is that we will see a mid-table finish for the Grecians this term – though that is hardly a daring call.

It is clear, however, that Exeter City is aiming for much more than security or ‘mid-table obscurity’. With resources still tight, there is neither the talk nor the millions to match Notts County’s bold bid, from one division below us, towards Championship success within five years.

Even so, the aim is clear. The Grecians want to move into the second level in English football’s top flight for the first time, and the foundations for such an extraordinary achievement are being put in place at every level within the Club.

That doesn’t mean that the big time will come quickly or easily, of course, Indeed, the game is now littered with famous victims of the illusion that ‘going for bust’ is the way to realise your dreams. So it’s the right time City are aiming at, not a quick fix.

In one sense, the trauma that forms the backdrop to the emergence of Milton Keynes Dons is a lesson for us all. The 2004 move from Wimbledon to Buckinghamshire opened up a huge and bitter controversy that resonated way beyond the London Borough of Merton.

Finance-driven wrangles and what turned out to be the peremptory selling-off of a ground that would have been difficult to adapt to the safety requirements of the Taylor Report, following the Hillsborough tragedy, led to the demise of Wimbledon FC and the rise of what became dismissively known as ‘franchise football’.

Those who have stayed loyal to the Dons naturally don’t like to be reminded of all this. They dissent from the majority verdict on their ‘project’, and they point to the fact that the Club agreed to entrust the trophies and memorabilia of Wimbledon FC to the Borough of Merton in 2007, and to make no further claims to this history.

This move was taken in part to ensure the recognition of the MK Dons Supporters Association by the Football Supporters Federation, but it was also an attempt to bury the past and look to the future – which is what both the players and supporters with us this afternoon understandably want to concentrate on.

The ‘new story’ in Buckinghamshire saw its first significant victory on 30 March 2008 (my 50th birthday, it so happened), when the Dons won the Johnston’s Paint Trophy at Wembley by beating Grimsby Town 2-0. The club then took the League Two championship, and last year narrowly missed out on a return to the Championship, losing in the play-offs.

Following a difficult spell as manager of Blackburn Rovers, Paul Ince is once again in the dug-out at the Dons’ new 22,000 seater home – which is seeking consideration for expansion as one of 15 stadia for England’s putative World Cup hosting bid… though there are warning bells around that idea, too.

This afternoon, many will see the match as an encounter between two teams that represent quite different routes to football survival and success. Grecians fans will have no doubt as to which side they are on, and what result they want.


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Fr Kenny said...

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