Exeter City FC, from the county town of Devon in the south west of England, were formed in 1904 as the predecessor of two clubs; Exeter United and St Sidwell's United.
Exeter United were formed from players of a cricket club of the same name in 1890 and played their matches at St James Park. St Sidwell's, who had also been known as St Sidwell's Wesleyans and St Sidwell's Old Boys were formed from regulars as the Foresters Inn in Sidwell Street. After the two sides met in a game in 1904 it was decided to merge the clubs.
Sid Thomas scored City's winning goal in their first ever game and went on to serve the club for another seventy years in various capacities. In 1908 the club turned professional, built a wooden stand and joined the Southern League to replace Tottenham Hotspur. Two years later 'The Grecians' adopted red and white stripes as club colours to replace green and white.
In 1914 City embarked on a historic tour of South America, playing eight games in Argentina and Brazil, where it is believed their national side played their first ever game against the club. In 1920 Exeter became founder members of the Football League Division Three South. In 1931 City reached the sixth round of the FA Cup defeating Newcastle United and Leicester City along the way before going out to Sunderland in front of a record St James Park crowd of 20,984.
Two years later City finished runners up in their division, but unfortunately only one team were promoted. Following League re-organisation in 1958 the club were placed in Division Four. Promotion was gained at the end of the 1963-64 season, but City returned a couple of years later. Their next promotion came in 1976-77 after finishing Division our runners up.
The team at that time were considered one of the best in the clubs history, with stars such as Tony Kellow, John Delve and John Pullar. They once again reached the FA Cup sixth round in the 1980-81 season where they lost out to eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur in the White Hart Lane tie after an unforgettable evening in the previous rounds replay when Newcastle United were hammered 4-0.
To see action from that momentous evening, go to:
In 1984 City were relegated once again before going on to win their first title at the end of the 1989-90 season as they lifted the Division Four crown with Terry Cooper as boss and players like Richard Dryden, Shaun Taylor, Brian McDermott and Clive Whitehead helping. Unfortunately Cooper departed the following season and after Alan Ball had a spell the returning Cooper could not save City from relegation in 1994.
City began to struggle with chairman Ivor Doble unable to prevent the club from entering into administration. St James Park was sold to Beazer Homes for just £650,000, although fortunately the local council took over and allowed City to remain there. They came out of administration in August 1996, but their problems were far from over. St James Park was upgraded by the building of a new Big Bank Stand in 2000 and the Ivor Doble Stand to replace the old terraced Cowshed the year after.
Doble decided to sell the club to John Russell, who was the former chairman of Scarborough where he had overseen a financial crisis and relegation from the League. His wife Gillian was employed and controversial former Swansea City chairman Mike Lewis joined them. Russell rode into town claiming he had assets which could be used as personal guarantees against the clubs debts. Uri Geller was made vice-chairman and Michael Jackson made an honorary director of the club as bad results were not assisted by the lack of finances.
The Grecians were relegated to the Conference in 2003 with the Exeter City Supporters Trust took over from the departed directors with the club £4.5m in debt, as Russell and Lewis blamed the previous regime for the club's position. Forty two donations of £1,000 each initially kept the club in business and then after a season of uncertainty with the Inland Revenue and the football authorities wanting explanations, Exeter managed to arrange a CVA.
The club launched a 'Red or Dead' scheme in which fans paid in £500 sums to pay off the CVA. The club celebrated their centenary in May 2004 with a match at St James Park against a Brazilian masters team including Dunga and Careca. They had some real luck when they took Manchester United to two games in the FA Cup in January 2005 as City gradually fought to get back on an equal financial footing as the fans dug deep.
Young fans came round with collection buckets for the Adam Stansfield Foundation, which went towards providing struggling youngsters and clubs starting out in the game in the three counties that Adam spent his career; Devon, Somerset and Herefordshire. Many fans wore number nine shirts with his name on the back. Later the fans sang his name on the terraces. It was good to see someone clearly loved and missed was still remembered. It summed up the thoroughly decent people I met during my short stay.
|The tribute to the twenty four whose money saved City|
I had to laugh at the chant from the home fans of "you dirty northern bastards" when a visiting player made a bad challenge. Just before half time Palace took the lead with a scruffy goal as the ball looped over the unconvincing City keeper Artur Krysiak by Kagisho Dikgacoi.