The last time many of you Norgers will have seen Exeter City was at Old Trafford, or if you count watching on the telly - and I dare say your Premiership club supporting compatriots do – the consequent St James Park replay.
It’s amazing to think all that glory and happiness was this year, because, loathed as I am to send a grumpy pre-season message to Norway, I’m sorry to report that the ‘FA Cup miracle’feel good factor now seems a long way behind us.
DREAMING OF CONTENTMENT
Many of us had high hopes that our model of a supporter-owned and supporter-run football club would bring Exeter City the sort of contentment that nobody – and certainly not Manchester United or Chelsea – could equal.
Our plans didn’t include millions of pounds, euros, roubles or Norwegian herring being splurged to buy success. Rather, our dream involved hundreds, maybe thousands, of loyal Grecians working together to steadily take our club forward and to find solutions to any problems that threatened to halt our progress.
It may not have been a plan to fast-track City to the Premiership, but it was an ambition for a people’s football club, with everyone who wanted to contribute being encourage to play their part in defining Exeter City’s goals and helping us achieve them.
Whatever we did, we did together in the name of Our Club, and what could be better than that?
In reality, and especially since the Manchester United games generated a life-saving sum of money for Exeter City, those responsible for running the club seem to have had little interest in listening to, or communicating meaningfully with, the supporters …. aka, their employer!
In my experience, supporter involvement barely extends beyond handing over cash at every opportunity and being allowed to pick up litter and carry out sundry other odd jobs around the ground.
For now at least, Exeter City seems very much like the uninspiring, accident prone place that previous ill-fated regimes were equally willing (when it suited them) to call a ‘community football club’.
LOOKING FOR STRUCTURE
It’s very sad to see. So for me, the number one priority for Exeter City in 2005/06 isn’t rushing back into the Football League; it’s to find a structure for the football club where fans, acting through the Supporters Trust, provide strategic direction for employees of the club. The employees can then get on with the job of managing day to day affairs, periodically provide whatever information is asked of them as we work towards an efficient, successful, sustainable, community-focussed football club.
This isn’t just some dogma that I want followed as a point of principle. Involving fans in this way - inspiring us to invest time and money in Exeter City - is the way to gradually reduce operating costs and increase income. Only by working together like this can we hope to compete with those clubs busily spending somebody else’s money to buy success.
It would also reduce the risk of small groups of people running wild with terrible ideas that harm Exeter City.
Without such a system in place, those running the club were last season free to waste their time and our money by making a painful series of cock-ups.
In May, they staged a stupidly misguided friendly which, despite loyal fans paying sky high ticket prices, made a hefty loss. Our sponsors stepped in to balance the books, but surely FlyBe would have been far happier investing in our future rather than saving our blushes (or not).
The club’s idiotic online gambling venture – projected to generate incredible sums of money – finally died a death at the end of last season after months of confusion and amid considerable negative publicity. I pledged to give £1,000 to City at the very same meeting where this nonsense was pitched to London Grecians, nonetheless my advice that the venture looked very weak and should be reconsidered was ignored. I dread to think how much it’s all cost, but I’ll never be in any doubt that all the sacrifices I made to raise a grand for City – and there were many - have done nothing more than pay for the failure and the ignorance of paid employees of the club. Not a nice feeling and not one I’ll be repeating.
Worst of all, the same geniuses who have bought us these loss making fund-wasters are – in partnership with a City Council that suddenly wants rid of its football club - planning the ultimate betrayal; a move away from St James Park to a new rugby ground outside the City of Exeter.
This battle’s only just beginning, but I’m going to fight harder than I’ve ever fought in the name of Exeter City to keep our club where it belongs.
CELEBRATING ANOTHER SEASON
All of that said, there’s still football to be played, and, despite the work to be done in sorting the club out, a new season is a cause for celebration.
There’s no reason why the desperately needed restructuring should distract from the playing side, and a campaign to persuade the City Council to keep its football club in the community should, if anything, be a catalyst for Grecian unity.
I’m critical of the current state of affairs at the club, but not so critical as to blame anybody presently running the club for a sizable summer cut in Alex Inglethorpe’s playing staff budget. The departures of Sean Devine, Kwame Ampadu and Alex Jeannin have lightened the wage bill, but early signs are that our clutch of (presumably) cheaper replacements look keen and capable. Geddon bauys.
City will mount a decent promotion or play-off challenge again this season – given the quality of our players and our manager that’s pretty much guaranteed – and we all have a duty to give our side the support they need to power us back to the Football League.
I know that’s hard to do from Norway, but please do keep in touch and, as you know, you’ll always be welcome whenever you’re able to join your fellow Grecians for a match.
It may be the Conference, and we may not (yet) have created our footballing utopia, but it IS Exeter City, we ARE still fighting and we WILL get a return to happy days like our visit to Old Trafford sooner rather than later.