Fan’s view 23/24 – No.9 – Exeter at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 24th, 2023  


If you fully commit to supporting a football club it will bring a life time of belonging to something unique, something very special, but as with all relationships there will be huge challenges and potential heartache along the way. Imagine you and your family losing your home and ending up sofa surfing or even worse, living on the streets.

So what a joyous day it was last Tuesday when Oxfordshire County Council agreed to lease the land at the Triangle to our football club. As has been said time and again this is just the first hurdle but that hurdle has been cleared. The only way to go is one hurdle at a time. Now on to the next. The Cherwell District Council planning permission hurdle – and that’s as it should be even though the size of this obstacle is not insignificant.

Everyone who has put in so much hard graft to get us to where we are today deserves to be congratulated big time. There are probably too many to mention but I’m thinking people at the club such as Niall McWilliams, the folk at OxVox such as Paul Peros and individuals such as Liam Walker who did sterling work in Kidlington. The latter fully deserves the OxVox supporter of the year title.


It’s obviously not just good news off the field but on it too. We’re riding along on the positivity bus and I’ve got a football feeling I’d long forgotten. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the ride under Chris Wilder that got us back into the Football League and the continuation of the journey under Michael Appleton that brought us up another level. Even the Robbo years, excluding the last one and a bit obviously, too, but this feels like the potential to be something else altogether.

No, I’m not getting ahead of myself with this nor am I assuming an eye watering chicken count after 46 games based on what we’ve witnessed so far but come on, anyone who has seen us a few times this season must know something tasty is brewing.

Over 9000 home fans present shows that the word is spreading and folks are cottoning on. There’s a belief. I think the same can be said about the visitors too. There was 909 of them present and at the start of play only goal difference was keeping their team off the top of the table.

When asked how I thought we’d do in this one I’d been reticent and pointed out that the Grecians were above us in the league. Deep down I was rather more optimistic than that. We’d got a game in hand, they’d been annihilated 9-0 at home in the Papa Johns in the week and had not yet faced one of the better teams in the league.

That said, on the day I was quite impressed with them. They were very comfortable on the ball and appeared to have a few players with the potential to be danger men.

We took the lead early on and whilst I now have a lot of faith in our defence, I wasn’t as optimistic as Tim R who sits directly in front of me that “Exeter couldn’t score in a brothel”. Football talk yes, but not the type of language for Radio Oxford.

This turned out to be our third clean sheet of the season meaning we’ve achieved a shut -out in 37.5% of games played. Last season it was 13% and it took us until a week before Christmas Day to achieve our third of that campaign.

This season is different altogether.

Yanic Wildschut hit the post for the Grecians in the first half but other than that we coped very well with what Exeter had to attack us with. James Beadle seems to be able to make himself as long as need be in just about every situation, be it to catch a cross or stretch across his goal to turn a shot away. Very close to the end with us two up he bravely got in with a low flying boot and had to rely on the intelligent tidying up of Jordan Thorniley to ensure we weren’t breached.

The possession stats make for interesting reading. We only had the ball for 38% of the time and I think we’re content to allow that to happen. It can be part of a game plan. Keep your shape, keep your discipline with everyone knowing their job out of possession. When you do get hold of it make the most of it. Look for opportunities. Counter attack if you’ve got the players to do so.

I can’t detect any sideways, backwards, don’t know where we’re going, how the hell are we going to break down the opposition sort of football now.

Whenever we have the ball we’re a threat. In the 8th minute Marcus McGuane came forward with the ball from the centre circle. He gave it to Billy Bodin who immediately pinged it off to Sam Long. Our no.2 gave it to and got it back from Stan Mills. Now it went square but with intent, to Cameron Brannagan and square again to Thorniley. Then it was with Kyle Edwards on the left flank and that worried the white shirts. It was good simple skilful basic wing play we saw from our man on loan from Ipswich. In total control of what he was doing he knocked the ball past his marker and delivered a cross just outside the six yard box where Ruben Rodrigues had ghosted in between defenders to dive and head home. Let’s hope this is the first of many for us from RR.

We could have had more with Edwards always a potential menace. Bodin managed to get a shot away despite being surrounded but it was blocked by Will Aimson and Rodrigues would have doubled his tally but for a very good save from Viljami Sinisalo. The Exeter rear guard also had to be mindful of Mills on the opposite side of the pitch. Pierce Sweeney looked particularly dodgy for a period of time.

At the start of the second half Brannagan hit the upright but then we looked less likely to get another than we had done previously with Exeter playing confidently and clearly with belief that they could get at least a point. However as we continued to do what needed doing, that wasn’t to be for them.

When the otherwise excellent, as usual, McGuane lost the ball, Sam Long took out the purposefully breaking Demetri Mitchell and rightfully was shown a yellow card. It was a good job that Elliott Moore was well back covering otherwise the colour of that card may well have been different.

For me this was a thoroughly deserved win but I would be hard pressed to argue against anyone who thought the three goal margin was flattering. The awarding of the first penalty I thought was correct at the time and having subsequently seen a replay. There was a little pull back on Rodrigues. The second though appeared to just be a coming together. As we were two to the good by then with just a couple of the six added minutes remaining it was neither here nor there other than for goal difference purposes. Both were put away in the same place with clinical efficiency by Brannagan, my man of the match. He was everywhere with great energy, anticipating loose balls and doing his work wherever on the pitch it was required.

What a very pleasant day this turned out to be. Second in the table only a point behind the leaders Pompey but with a game in hand. The late September sunshine put in an appearance and a few pints were quaffed in our fine city before the match.

First up being the Rose and Crown in North Parade. Pubs that have the same licensees for decades are doing a lot right. Andrew and Debbie Hall have had this place since 1983. Always worth a visit when in North Oxford – and I had a first for me this time, a pint of Hook Norton Off the Hook.

There’s a Gardeners Arms just about opposite, which looked like it was closed but the one we headed for next was the Gardener’s Arms (the one with the apostrophe) a few minutes’ walk away in Plantation Road. It’s an interesting pub with character but my selection of beer was probably a mistake. A pint that was supposed to be cloudy due to the lack of finings but whilst I usually do like such a thing, this one didn’t hit the mark. My mate liked his pint though.

( As I forgot to put the memory stick into my pocket size camera and being hopeless when it comes to taking pictures on my phone no up to date photos this time. So the Royal Blenheim from over 14 years ago)

Then onto the Royal Blenheim where one will always find Oxford United fans on a match day. For me it is THE meeting place.

After a couple of Titanic White Stars it was time to head for the Kassam. Outside the pub the word went round that there was an issue with some of the buses going that way and there did seem to be quite a few people milling around various bus stops. Given the pleasant weather and knowing I could do the walk in just under an hour I thought sod it why not? Trouble is like an idiot I set off towards the Head of the River. By the time I realised my error and had twigged that I wasn’t going along the river to Sandford Lock and then across I’d lost a fair bit of time. Pace had to be increased as I turned back and up the High Street and Iffley Road.

Not far past the Fir Tree there was a group of about 10 lads at a bus stop. I wasn’t wearing colours so I don’t know why they asked a rushing old git if he was an Oxford fan. I said yes. They said “we’ve been waiting for the bus but none has come.” I told them there was supposedly a bit of trouble so I had decided to walk. They looked at each other and made as if to join me. I don’t think they knew the area and certainly weren’t our supporters nor were from Exeter. I didn’t want to discourage them but I advised that it was “a long way and that I walked quickly”. They then thought better of it and stepped back to the bus stop with a “see you at the ground”. I had got as far as Church Cowley Road before I saw a bus eventually pass so they should have made it for kick off quite easily.

I only did with two minutes to spare. I had to increase my pace because having left home at 10:30 no way was I going to miss the start, although panic did set in as there was no-one around in St Nicholas Road. This caused me to almost break into a jog. My Garmin device shows 32 minutes of moderate intensity and 25 of vigorous activity for the day. As if watching football isn’t stressful enough without self-inflicted challenges. But who cares when it all comes out perfectly in the end.



Exeter City are without doubt one of the better run clubs at our level. They are fan owned, have money in the bank, own their own stadium, and have a very healthy positive equity situation. I’ll come onto this rosy present day status, but first a bit of history regarding their ownership, because it hasn’t always been like this.

Back in 2002, Exeter were reeling from the collapse of ITV Digital, like most clubs in the Football League, and, after they finished 16th in Division Three (the current League Two) at the end of the 2001-02 season, were taken over by John Russell and Mike Lewis. As you’ll see this pair certainly belong on the long list of wrong ‘uns who end up running football clubs.

Before Exeter, Russell had been owner and chairman at Scarborough from March 1994 to 2000. He resigned when the club were relegated to the Conference, and left them insolvent, owing creditors £1.25m. Seven years later, Scarborough went bust. Before that, in 1999, he received a 15-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to two counts of obtaining services by deception in a £180,000 hire-purchase fraud.

Lewis, meanwhile, after roles at Tottenham and Reading, was Managing Director at Swansea City in 2001. He bought the club for £1 and sold the shares for the same price shortly after. The club ended up insolvent with debts of £1.7m.

The pair had been shopping for a distressed asset. They tried to gain control at Lincoln City but were rejected by the club’s Supporters’ Trust, so arrived in Exeter and did a deal with local jeweller Ivor Doble, the majority shareholder and Chairman. Debt was already high and Doble had loaned the club £483,000. Aged 77, he was desperate for investment, and wanted out.

There wasn’t any fit and proper persons test back then, but Russell convinced Doble that he had substantial funds to invest in the club. His first act was to bring in Uri Geller as Co-Chairman in May. The following month, Geller invited his famous friend Michael Jackson to the club’s St James Park home for an event to raise money for Exeter, who were already in a beleaguered state. David Blaine, the illusionist also pitched up at the club as the off-field events began to resemble a circus.

What followed next resembles farce. Russell and Lewis, who said they wouldn’t take salaries when they arrived at Exeter, admitted the club was paying their “accommodation and general expenses”. They stopped Natwest Bank employees from counting the gate money at matches and stopped Securicor from taking the money away securely. Instead, they took the cash away in their cars or left it in the club’s safe over the weekend to “bank” it later.

In April 2003, a report from the FA’s financial advisory unit said the club was failing to meet its debts and should seek advice from an insolvency practitioner. It strongly recommended that a security firm be used to bank gate money and criticised the lack of regular board meetings. Six directors quit, citing the “deeply disturbing” report.

The action on the pitch was dire, too. The 2002-03 season saw them run through four managers and 20 defeats. On the final day of the season, one year after the arrival of Russell and Lewis, the club were relegated from the Football League for the first time in their history, into the Conference.

Russell and Lewis’ days in Devon were numbered though. Amid the chaos, the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust was working behind the scenes, investigating the club’s books and preparing themselves to take over the club. They had formed in 2000 and, frustrated at the lack of respect shown by the club’s board, voted in February 2003 to change their main objective from ‘supporting’ to ‘owning’ Exeter City.

Shortly after the club’s relegation, on May 14, 2003, Russell and Lewis were arrested at St James Park. It was reported at the time that Geller was one of the parties who reported the pairs’ activities to the police, although this has never been proven. It took a while to come to court, but eventually Russell and Lewis pleaded guilty in 2007 to the charge that they were “knowingly party to the carrying on of the business of Exeter City with intent to defraud its creditors”. Russell also pleaded guilty to obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception. He was jailed for 21 months. Lewis was sentenced to 200 hours of community work.

Following Russell and Lewis’ arrest, Doble asked the trust to run the club. Julian Tagg, along with trust pioneers David Treharne, Terry Pavey and Ian Huxham, plus various volunteers attempted to fix the mess. By this time the club’s debt had spiralled from £2m to over £4.5m in just a year of Russell and Lewis’ reign. On September 5, 2003, during their lunch break, Treharne and another trust member, Martin Ellicott, went to Doble Jewellers, the business owned by Doble, who was still the majority owner of the club, and handed over a cheque for £30,000 to take control of the club.

The fans were in control, but the club was immediately placed in a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and the consequences of Russell and Lewis’ crimes were being laid bare. The club owed £450,000 in tax and VAT, £66,066 was owed to the local university, and £13,414.59 was outstanding to Devon & Cornwall Police for match duties. Local businesses. National businesses. Water companies. Phone companies. Creditors were everywhere.

It was a real struggle, with the club leading a hand to mouth existence. Despite this they stabilised themselves, on the pitch, and after a season of consolidation in the Conference, season 2004/2005 provided them with the event that changed Exeter City’s history. In January 2005 they played Manchester United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. They drew away from home and then had a packed house for the televised replay. The two ties earned the club nearly £1m profit, enabling them to clear their CVA and the remaining debts. This gave the Supporters Trust a clean slate and enabled them to start running the club in the pragmatic and sensible way that we see today.

As previously stated Exeter City are, and have been for the last 20 years, owned and run by the Exeter City Supporters Society. And what a fine job they’ve done too. The club have had no debt since being in trust ownership and have slowly and steadily improved both on the field and off. They have a defined identity, of producing good young players, and then trading them for profit. Not unlike ourselves. As you can see from the table below they made just shy of £1.5m from player trading in the year ended June 2022, the sixth best of the clubs in this years’ League One. Not bad considering that they were actually in League Two that season! The previous season it was £4.95m and since being under trust ownership the club has made a total of £19m from player trading.

They are no longer living hand to mouth and have built two new stands at St James Park in recent seasons, as well as other considerable upgrades to the stadium, and have spent £3m on upgrading their training ground. None of these developments required a single penny to be borrowed. The club run at a profit (over £1.2m in 2022, being the best performance of any of the current League One clubs) and have a positive equity situation of over £5.6m, placing them 4th in our league. Their cash at bank at the end of the financial year was an impressive £3,326,664, the second highest in League One. They have a reasonable turnover of just under £8m which is pretty much mid table, but their total expenditure of £6.7m places them 14th of the 17 clubs who publish this information. Their wages of just over £4m are very conservative, and 15th of 17 and their wages to income ratio is a very healthy 50% the second lowest in the league.

That they have been so sustainably run, while progressing on the field of play and also developing their infrastructure is a credit to the way their supporters trust runs them and an example to others. The Exeter City Supporters Society is a substantial organisation in its own right, with nearly 4,000 members (four times that of OxVox for what most of us would think of as a smaller club) and has just under £1m in its own bank account. It turns over about £180,000 per annum and donates about £100,000 of that per year to the club, some of which is by paying the wages of a nominated player.

They probably have a limit to how far this model can take them, but I take my hat off to them, a club for the fans, run by the fans, and what a bloody good job they’ve made of it.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 24th, 2023 at 8:37 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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