Exeter City 1 Forest Green Rovers 2

League 2

Saturday 27 October 2018

making a stand

The context

One off John’s list, but certainly not mine. I have known St James’ Park, and the area around it, all my life – my grandparents lived on Sidwell Street and worshipped at St Sidwell’s Church, where City were formed in 1904 as St Sidwell’s United. I was born here, I grew up here and I took some stick here. I last lived in Exeter between 1976 and 1981, but I miss it to this day. Devon gets you like that. In the words of the Pogues, “wherever we go we celebrate the land that makes us refugees.”

refugees

The history

Today was the opening of the Grecians’ new stand, and perhaps due to this there were people with information packs hanging about at strategic points. When I told one gentleman that I’d moved away in 1981, he became positively misty-eyed. “We had a good Cup run that year”, he said.

City have been around a long time, but for the post-War fan three sides are immortal. The first is Terry Cooper’s Division Four champions from 1990. The second is the Conference team who drew 0-0 at Old Trafford in 2005, bringing Manchester United back to the Park in a 3rd round Cup-tie that, in a decisive two-game hit, secured the club’s financial future. And the third is the class of 1980-81.

class of 1980-81

City had been promoted from Divison 4 in 1977 under Bobby Saxton. When Saxton went to Plymouth Argyle in January 1979, his successor was the shrewd and abrasive Brian Godfrey, erstwhile manager of Bath City. Godfrey would lead the Grecians to three top-half finishes. In the summer of 1980 he brought Tony Kellow, top scorer in the 1977 side, back to the club and Kellow responded by scoring 33 goals. Many people believe the Cup run was a crucial distraction from what would otherwise have been a promotion year. But what a distraction it was.

Kellow

It’s the later rounds that are chiefly remembered, but the first three had plenty going for them too. First up, a 5-0 tonking of non-League Leatherhead. Next, a gutsy 1-0 at the Den. And then, in the early days of 1981, a 4-2 away win at another non-League side, Maidstone United, that set up a trip to First Division Leicester City.

From then on it was the stuff of fairytales. Exeter came from behind at Leicester, where a Dave Pullar equaliser in a 1-1 draw brought the tie back to the Park. There, in front of 15,268, a Kellow hat-trick saw them through. You can see the goals here:

Exeter City v Leicester City FA Cup 4th Round replay 1980-81

A taster for an excellent DVD of Exeter’s 80/81 cup run available from the ECFC online shop (www.greciansonline.co.uk). In this clip, Tony Kellow’s hat-trick knocks out 1st Division Leicester. The Grecians went on to reach the quarter-finals before losing to the eventual Cup winners, Tottenham.

In round 5 it was a long, long trip to the other St James’ Park, where it took another equaliser, from Lee Roberts very late in the game, to cancel out Alan Shoulder’s opener for the Magpies. This was an intimidating trip for the couple of thousand Grecians fans who made it, many of whom got back to Exeter in the small hours and started queuing straight away for replay tickets. But three days later, under the lights, City smashed the Geordies out of sight. 17,668 crammed into the ramshackle ground, some of them standing on makeshift scaffolding and many queuing from midday to be ready for the gates opening at 4.30. They saw the home team run up a 3-0 half time lead through Peter Hatch, Ian Pearson and Lee Roberts, with Martyn Rogers adding a fourth to set up a Sixth Round journey to Cup holders and favourites, Tottenham.

queuing for replay tickets

City lost at White Hart Lane, resisting bravely but going down 2-0 in front of over 40,000. And as we have seen, the “great Cup run” is talked about to this day by City fans of a certain age.

The journey 

St James’ Park is a city centre ground. The Supporters’ Trust, who have owned the club since 2003 – and whose volunteers are seen everywhere on a matchday, even clearing the terraces of litter – deserve credit for not cashing in on a very saleable site. This does however mean that parking anywhere near it is virtually impossible. (This is particularly true since the car park was sold to pay for the new stand.) So we instead found a railway station just off the M5, with ample free parking, from where it was a quick 6 minute ride to the ground’s own halt.

The ground

The component parts of St James’ Park are, and will always be, the Big Bank, the Cowshed, the Grandstand and the St James’ Road end. The latter has always been the poor relative. A cramped, narrow enclosure with an exit gate awkwardly positioned in the centre, this traditional away end was much reduced in size over the years but is now finally being rebuilt with the help of a prefabricated covered terrace acquired from Barnet’s ground at The Hive.

I talked a lot about the Cowshed in my article about the 1978 Wolves game, and the structure that replaced it – although far from bovine – is still known as the Cowshed Stand. The Big Bank, where we stood, is still the Big Bank, although a long way removed from the 70s, when it was a shallow terrace open to the elements.

There’s rather a good film here, showing the Park in all its early Eighties glory:

St James Park, Exeter City 1980

Following an agreement with the copyright holder reproduced here is short film footage of a number of English and Scottish Football grounds taken during the 1979/1981 seasons. The original Cine film was shot in Super 8 format in colour and last approximately 90 seconds the quality is variable. (This version 640×480).

Today’s game was significant for the opening of a new Grandstand, the old 1926 model having finally succumbed to the advancing years. I was keen to see this new stand, not least because I feared that damage might have been caused to the timeless charm of this side of the ground. The old one was shabby but it was unique, perched high above the road and forced into an awkward shape by the twin jaws of the street and the railway embankment that runs below. And while it might have been full of woodworm, it was also full of memories.

Grandstand from Big Bank

I needn’t have worried. The Stagecoach Adam Stansfield Stand – named for the iconic City striker who died of cancer in 2010 – is square, but it’s subtly finished and sets off the ground perfectly. It’s fireproof, which the old one wasn’t. It has stuff inside for fans to use, which the old one didn’t. And joy of joys, the original turnstile block is intact and so too is the Jungle Path, the track leading from Well Street up to the Big Bank. Back in the day, the Jungle Path was just that – a trail though the bushes, the beginning and end of many a matchday. It’s been civilised somewhat over time, but the trees are still there and as you enter now the first thing you see is the painted trinity of Banks, Binney and Beer. As it should be.

Grandstand nearest camera, Jungle Path to left

Flesh and wine

The once rough and ready pubs on Blackboy Road have chased the student market – unsuccessfully in the case of the ex-Horse & Dray, which was shut. The Ropemakers, now the Bowling Green, was still open and reasonably arlarsey in a real-ale kind of way, but we sought further excitement on the other side of the ground. Here, the Duke of York was always a magnet for the “traditional” football fan, and it didn’t disappoint. The Eighties clientele remain in situ together with now grown up and Stone Island-clad offspring, and all in all it proved a pleasantly boisterous throwback to the working-class city Exeter once was.

Sidwell Street has always been the Ayia Napia of Exeter, but if I had a curry booth or a kebab shop I would open it on match day is all I’m saying. Fortunately I was on a quest for pasties. Obviously we gave the “fanzone” a miss, and the food stall inside the turnstiles was rammed, but seeing people coming in the opposite direction with pies we sniffed out the presence of a more exclusive outlet hidden away down the jungle path.

The game

In these parts, any game against a team whose fans drink cider counts as a derby. But it’s fair to say the home crowd wasn’t whipped into a frenzy at the sight of Forest Green’s 200-odd travelling support, and the lacklustre atmosphere was reinforced by a turgid first half in which Nicky Law’s shot against the bar was the only moment of excitement.

The game did spring to life momentarily after the break, but only because the visitors fired home a couple of stonking goals. Reece Brown was first, curling a delicate shot over Hamon and in off the far post. Then Liam Shephard got in on the act, smacking a confident cross-shot from a similar angle and with a similar outcome. And that was it, really. There just remained one moment of high comedy, as Aaron Martin punted a forty-yarder vaguely towards goal in the dying seconds, which Sanchez spilled like a greased piglet and fumbled into his own net.

Teams and goals

Exeter: Hamon, Sweeney, Martin, Croll, Moxey, Taylor, Tillson (Jay 54), Law (Woodman 80), Martin, Forte (Abrahams 65), Stockley. Unused subs: O’Shea, Oates, Weale, Collins.

Forest Green: Sanchez, Shephard, Gunning, McGinley, Mills, Digby, James, Winchester (Collins 90+1), Brown, Campbell, Grubb (Archibald 74). Unused subs: Williams, Montgomery, Pearce, Worthington, Morris.

Goals: Exeter: Martin 90(+4). Forest Green: Brown 50, Shephard 72.

Attendance: 4,983