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When the pre-season favourites for the League Two title were discussed, Exeter City were not on too many people’s lips.
The ‘big’ clubs of Coventry, Swindon, Luton and big spending Mansfield are expected to challenge, but why not the Grecians from the South West?
Last season saw Exeter mount a promotion charge which was unthinkable in November given they were bottom of the table and staring more at the National League rather than League One.
Tisdale key to their progression
But credit to manager Paul Tisdale, the longest serving manager in the top 4 divisions after Arsene Wenger, and his players for storming through the remainder of the season and finishing 5th, only to be denied at Wembley by Blackpool, again a club considered too big for League Two level.
Tisdale has over 500 games to his credit as Exeter manager and has won almost 40% of that total, which in this day and age of impatience and success wanted yesterday is probably something that managers will never achieve again.
A golden spell of awards from 2006 in a 5-year period includes a 2009 Manager of the Year award for League Two, the year of promotion for Exeter to League One.
The role of the club’s supporters trust
But what is the secret? Tisdale was heavily criticised when Exeter slumped to the bottom of the league last year and there were numerous calls for him to go, but that’s not Exeter’s way, no panic, good old fashioned hard work on the training pitch and reap the rewards.
Being a supporters trust run club, there is more of an element of patience. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a change if it was needed, no different to any other football club, but if you look through Exeter’s history, it’s not littered with a long list of managers desperate to find that winning formula.
Before the Trust took over, there were some dark days Exeter fans hope never to see the light again. In 2003, which coincided with their relegation to the then named Conference, the club were very close to going out of existence with huge debts and no investor forthcoming.
With the emergence of the Trust, Exeter stabilised that year before the Cup draw of dreams for all clubs of this level, Manchester United away, wiped away the nightmare and set the club onto an even keel once again, the foundations of the club’s performance we see today.
Within 2 years, the debt was clear although it took a further 3 years to regain Football League status, but with it came the progress off the field which allows for on the field activity to stabilise and move forwards.
Breaking the bank
Since those dark days, Exeter have had a short unsuccessful spell in League One which came after back to back promotions from the Conference and League Two. And if you look at the record in League Two it’s safe if unspectacular until recently, but there is one consistent and that is Tisdale.
The club has broken its transfer fee received record twice in recent years, netting over a million pounds for both Matt Grimes and Ollie Watkins, testament and credit to Tisdale and his staff’s coaching of both players, whilst at the same time keeping the club solvent off the pitch. David Wheeler is also another one who’s benefitted with a move to Championship QPR this summer.
With St James Park undergoing some much need re-development this season, the capacity has been cut slightly and Exeter average around 4500, which sits around and inside the top 10 of League Two clubs, reasonable support given there is a successful Rugby Union side also clamouring for support on their doorstep.
Tisdale must keep pushing them
Having worked themselves into a good position after the first 8 games, there is every reason to think Exeter can upset the apple cart and give the larger clubs a good run for their money.
However, there is still a lot of football to be played and Tisdale will need every ounce of that experience to ensure Exeter are celebrating come May.
Written by Trevor Knell
Follow Trevor on Twitter @trevk37
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