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Exeter City - The Envy Of The Premiership?


Guest Brian M

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Guest Brian M

March 05, 2008

Exeter City - The Envy Of The Premiership?

“I'll be wanting United to win but ours is a real football club, a real football team." FC United’s General Manager Andy Walsh.

AFC Wimbledon, FC United and now AFC Liverpool. Real Football Teams. Grassroots clubs being reborn at the lowest level by real supporters disillusioned with how their football experience has degenerated. They wanted and needed something else. They were fed up with 11.30am kick off’s, vastly inflated season ticket prices and people in charge of their club’s who didn’t have their best interests at heart. They longed for the Exeter City fan experience.

This statement may seem bizarre. To be honest a great deal of the time even Exeter City fans may well wish they weren't supporters of the Grecians. But I'm about to explain that when you look closer, away from results on the pitch, it's the Exeter City fan experience that these dejected fans are searching for.

Fifth in the Blue Square Premier in our fifth season outside the Football League, we were losing Play Off Finalists at Wembley in May and this season we have been on an impressive run with only one defeat since November. But it's not the performances on the pitch, the trip to the New Wembley or the personnel on board that has these Manchester United and Liverpool fans wishing they were worshipping at Exeter's 'Cathedral of Football' - St James Park.

Forget the straw that broke the camel's back. In the cases of FC United’s and AFC Liverpool it was the issue of ownership that proved to be the straw that broke the commitment, trust and loyalty of the fans. The final straw for these thousands of disillusioned supporters was watching the Glazer family slither into Old Trafford or Hicks and Gillett play kiss chase with DIC over their ownership of Liverpool. The fans wanted a club where they could have their say.

These ‘real football club’s main objective is to be one with their fans, the very same fans that many of the big clubs were taking for granted. The AFC Liverpool site describes how it purports to create a club "owned by Liverpool fans and run by Liverpool fans" one which will restore "the link between club and supporters." FC United's manifesto talks of a similar need to have a member-owned democracy. In this way AFC Liverpool's organisers could do themselves a lot of favours by having a closer look at Exeter City. After years of mismanagement and financial disasters the club was days from going out of business until a series of events led to Exeter City Supporters’ Trust taking control in 2003. Our club for the fans owned by us, the fans.

Exeter City's Supporters’ Trust is one of fifteen in England with 2,271 members including myself and has raised over £700,000 for the club since its creation. A democratic, non-profit organisation with a constitution very similar to those created at the breakaway clubs AFC Wimbledon and FC United. Each member has equal ownership of the club with the ability to vote on any major decisions made. Currently the issues that Supporters’ Trust members can cast their vote on vary from selecting next season's home shirt to whether the club's long term future is at St James Park. In terms of ownership Exeter City Football Club provides the stability and the union between the supporters and the club that many supporters fear they will see disappear over the sunset as the new owners arrive in town.

It's not just the ownership issue that could cause jealous glances towards the capital of Devon. There is also the subject of atmosphere, an issue at Manchester United long before Roy Keane's prawn sandwich rant. The thorny discussion surrounding the deterioration of atmosphere at Premiership games has been credited to the demolition of the terraces in the top flight and the pricing of 'real fans' out the game. Well at Exeter City an adult ticket to stand, sing and shiver on the terraces for twenty-three home games would set you back £235. Problem well and truly solved.

Fans don't want to be told where and with whom they can stand. We want to be given the chance to mix with their fellow supporters, and celebrate with them. Anthony King, a writer on the issue of terracing, described how the terraces allow the possibility for "opportunities for ecstatic celebration of fans” whilst writer Richard Voase described "how standing in a crowd is exciting, amusing.... a spontaneous and creative experience." All these experiences these fans lost with the Taylor Report can be renewed on the terraces and it has been well documented just how much the FC United fans appreciated this change in scenery.

AFC Liverpool will continue their plans to get their supporter-run, grassroots club ready to compete in the North West Counties League Division Two for next season. Their aim to attract fans that can have the enjoyment of an afternoon's football for their family at a club that is affordable and fun. At a club where they are a real part of the community. Where they can stand and sing and can partake in the "ecstatic celebrations of fans" and watch their club rise through the leagues without fearing the next chairman who’s only got money on his mind. As an Exeter City fan I am proud that my club already offers all these elements that these disenchanted fans are searching for, “a real football club, a real football team.”

So would you rather be a lower league team having fun and enjoying your football at a club you are part of? Or another customer at a successful club albeit one owned by owners with their best interests at heart?

Peter Evans

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