First published in The Grecian, 08 May 2010, Exeter City -v- Huddersfield
Well, it’s come down to the big one. For Exeter City, today’s final match of the season against Huddersfield will determine, in combination with results elsewhere, whether the Grecians will be playing again in League One next season.
I feel like immediately adding, “don’t panic!” For while there is absolutely no hope of anything other than frayed Devonian nerves on an occasion such as this, one reality stands out in the midst of all the statistical variables attaching to precious points and vital goals. And it’s this: City’s future is still in their (our) own hands.
This truth does not make life any easier at St James’ Park today, but the fact that a win will secure survival whatever Tranmere Rovers do at least means we are not depending upon anyone else for flubs and favours.
That said, there is bound to be a lot of radio and mobile phone checking going on across the terraces while the action unfolds on the pitch. In the old days (which, in spite of my deceptively youthful appearance, I am old enough to remember!) it meant waiting for some guy in a phone booth to pass on the information ages after it happened. Now, at least, communication is instant.
Among the other abiding clichés about a relegation decider like this is that “it’s like a cup final.” Which is true in the “all or nothing” and “everything to play for” sense. That said, it will probably end up mattering to us much more than to Huddersfield Town, and there’s no trophy to be collected at the end… though if the Grecians are victorious “our cup will overflow”. Literally, I suspect!
Of course, it isn’t accurate to say there’s nothing in this for the Terriers. Last Saturday’s magnificent Lee Novak winner in stoppage time against Colchester means they have a mathematical chance, albeit a slim one, of an automatic promotion place if Leeds fall flat on their faces against Bristol Rovers. Meanwhile, they are guaranteed a play-off place, so the worst pressure is off.
Exeter City, meanwhile, will be wanting to lure the Town out of defence and strike back decisively. I saw the Terriers in action at Leyton Orient a few weeks back, and I can report that they are well organised, dogged, can show some flair, and have a loud and proud away support. The atmosphere this afternoon is going to be hot and bothered, for sure.
In reality, we can pretty much expect that our most significant relegation rivals, Tranmere, will claim three points over doomed and troubled Stockport, although with only pride to play for and the bookmakers off home, it isn’t a real upset isn’t beyond expectation. Rovers will be tough and professional, though, and will anticipate more trouble for Exeter than for themselves.
What all this means is that, while it will be natural to wonder how Gillingham are faring at Wycombe, or whether Orient are being subjected to a massive defeat at Colchester (unlikely), it would be far preferable to stay focussed on ‘doing the job’ on home soil.
This will definitely be Paul Tisdale’s message in the dressing room. Given those astonishing wins against Torquay and Cambridge two seasons ago, which saw the Grecians return to League football, no-one can say that this isn’t a gaffer who knows how to equip his carefully sifted side for the big occasion and the one-off vital triumph. That’s why my money – or at least my heart palpitations – are on Exeter City eyes to be smiling come 5pm.
For me, it would be a fitting conclusion to my years in beautiful Devon. Sadly, I shipped off to Birmingham full-time earlier this year, and should be going to Edinburgh (and closer to my Scottish delights, Dumbarton) in a few months time.
So this is an ‘adieu’ column, at least in terms of the regular fortnightly gig. I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to pen a few one-off pieces for next season, whatever fortunes prevail today, and I will definitely continue to look out for City and get down here for a game when I can. That’s what holidays are for!
Looking back, I began to follow the Grecians in 2003, when my wife and I moved to this fair city. That was the fateful year that Exeter dropped out of League football, having won our last match against Swansea – another reason why the fans have reason to be glad it’s “all down to us” this afternoon, despite the tension.
Whatever today’s results, City, the fans and the Trust will definitely be seeing League Football again next term. Never forget that. Just go out and play, struggle, cheer… and succeed. ’Mon you Grecians!