Next month will see the 15th anniversary of supporter ownership at League Two Exeter City.
After several turbulent years following the millenium, culminating in the arrest and successful prosecution of the then chairman and vice chairman for various criminal offences, the only group able and willing to rescue the club were its supporters. On 5th September 2003, the Exeter City Supporters' Trust acquired the majority shareholding in the club - and £4.7 million of debt! As has happened so often in the world of football, a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) was set up between the club and its many creditors.
By a totally unexpected stroke of good fortune, the club, having been relegated to the Conference at the end of the 2002-3 season, won through to the 3rd round of the FA Cup late in 2004, resulting in a trip to Old Trafford in January 2005, a quite unforgettable 0-0 draw and a replay. The income from this turn of fortune allowed the CVA to be honoured and the club went from £4.7 million of debt to no debt to and no money.
What the club did have however was the goodwill and volunteering spirit of the members of the Supporters' Trust and a club board made up, in the early days, of ordinary supporters.
To cut a long story short, the club survived and, since those early days, the club has gone from strength to strength. At one time, under manager Paul Tisdale, who spent 12 years at the club, reaching the dizzy heights of 8th place in League One. Three years later the club was back in League Two and, despite two unsuccessful consecutive appearances at Wembley in the L2 play-off final, we find ourselves still there at the beginning of this season.
There is however huge optimism around the club, Paul Tisdale moved on in the summer to become manager of League 2 MK Dons, to be replaced by Matt Taylor, an ex-player and captain from our successful Conference days who played in the play-off final when we won back our place in the Football League in May 2008, remaining with the club until 2011, when he moved on to Charlton Athletic. After eventually returning to Exeter, he spent around 18 months successfully managing the club's under 23 squad before becoming first team manager in June this year.
With a state-of-the-art 3G pitch at our training ground, a brand new 1600 seat stand due to open in October, a new away end with a roof for the first time in 110 years and a number of young players from our highly regarded academy having moved on for millions of pounds in recent years, what is there not to be happy and positive about at Exeter City?
We are running a countdown, as part of our 15 year anniversary celebrations, to the 1000th goal under supporter ownership. After the first game of the season last Saturday (4th August) there are just 15 goals to go and, whoever scores that magic 1000th will be presented with a trophy by the player who scored the very first, way back in 2003, Steve Flack.
Fifteen years and 1000 goals! Onwards and upwards under supporter ownership! More has been achieved in those fifteen years than had been in the previous 95 as a professional club. An achievement which we hope will give support and encouragement to those clubs who, like us, are owned by their fans and those who aspire to become so, for whatever reason.
Article by Peter Martin, lifetime Exeter City supporter