Exeter City and York City drew in their League Two game on Saturday as did Sunderland and Swansea, the Premier teams some might expect to waltz past them in the League Cup. Whatever happens in Swansea-York, however, we know better than to count chickens, though it’s a fair bet the travelling Exeter fans will be counting empty home seats at the SoL. We found two fans of the Grecians willing to contribute to the Who are You! series – Paul Sussex*, who runs the Exeweb site (@exemsg at Twitter) and Neil Le Milliere** – and promised to use both sets of replies. Both will be at the game and here they give refreshing accounts of life beyond the Premier …
Salut! Sunderland: We have issues with the name of your ground but love your colours.If you had to choose between St James Park and red and white stripes, what would you decide?
Neil: Tough starter, I guess in the final event it would be the Red and White but very, very, close and of course ours is the proper name unlike that other place.
Paul Sussex: I love our ground. Just off the city centre, plenty of pubs, easy to get to by public transport (we have a railway station right by the ground). It’s a bit run down in places, and on a wet day the experience is a bit grim for away fans on the open terrace. But plans are being put in place to upgrade the two old stands.
Not that anyone should seriously find much to dislike about a stadium originally used for fattening pigs. What’s it like for home games?
Paul: I stand on the biggest terrace in the football league (the Big Bank). You get a good view of the pitch, and no awkward pillars that you get at many lower league grounds.
Neil: A strange mix of old and new and in some ways I hope the next re-development phase doesn’t happen but we must move on I guess. What is good is the open plan area at our club where all supporters can mix.
As I write, one win and one heavyish defeat in League Two so far. What sort of season do you expect?
Paul: We’ve now played four league games, won two, drawn one and lost one. We think we’ve grounds for quiet optimism, and this week’s addition of a striker, Joel Grant, as our fan funded player has also given us a boost. Our fan fund needs to raise £30k to pay our contribution to his wages, which we should be able to achieve. It’s named the 1931 fund after our fantastic run in the FA Cup in 1930/31, where we got to the quarter-finals only to be kicked out by Sunderland.
Absolutely convinced it is going to be a memorable one for all the right reasons.
You take a decent following to away games (nearly 500 to Northampton, I read somewhere). Sunderland midweek is a tough one but how many do you reckon will go ?
Neil: It is indeed going to be tough but I would be very surprised if we don’t have at least 300 and maybe as many as 500.
Paul: Given our many miles we have to travel (only Carlisle and Plymouth Argyle travel more), our numbers aren’t too bad. I’d be disappointed if we took less than 500 on Tuesday.
What is the true extent of support from such celebs as Chris Martin and Joss Stone?
Paul: Nothing much. Always nice to see the comedian Ade Edmonson on the terraces with us.
Neil: As always “celebrity” support is very much a commercial thing rather than a reality but bizarrely in our case we do have a celebrity fan who is a season ticket holder and also turns up to away games to stand on the terrace with us. He keeps it low profile and doesn’t want to either use his status to get in nor have the bandwagon of publicity surrounding him so we respect that. What I can say is he is no longer young and he has visited the dales a lot recently.
Also of course we are and always will be the first team that the Brazil National Team ever played in 1914, a game recreated in Rio after the World Cup when we went over last year and played Fluminense, they also came over this year, their U19s, and played a pre-season friendly at the Park.
No chairman at present but you’ve Steve Perryman as director of football and Paul Tisdale as manager.How do you rate them?
Neil: Simply the best. Tis has shown loyalty and great judgement achieving more than any other manager in our history whilst Steve has been an absolute diamond, coming to a club that needed his experience and just enjoying being part of it.
Paul: I’m not sure that Steve Perryman understands what being a football fan is about, the highs and lows and the emotional attachment. He was important back in 2003 when we’d been relegated out of the football league and fighting for our survival. With the supporters’ Trust taking over the ownership of the Club, all experience was needed. Perryman has not been well, and his involvement has been reduced.
As to Paul Tisdale, he took us to a Wembley play-off final in his first season, we won promotion the following season after a Wembley play-off final, and the following season we won promotion to League 1. Unprecedented level of success in our history. In 2011 we finished the highest we’d ever finished in the football league since regionalisation was got rid of. Since then he’s blotted his copybook with a relegation and we’ve struggled financially in recent seasons, but the sale of Matt Grimes to Swansea will have helped. For most he’s still the best manager we’ve ever had. For some, he plays too safe football, and is not tactically astute.
What do you get out of the relationship with the Brazilian club Fluminense?
Paul: As the first team ever to play the national Brazil team back in 1914, we enjoy celebrating that part of our history. Any links with sides from abroad is good, and our youth team have been invited to Brazil next year.
Neil: Immense pride and a sense of being unique. The trip out there last year was just incredible, a once in a lifetime experience and leaves us with a relationship that is certain to grow and grow, hence our new third shirt.
And what is the one thing you really want to see or to happen for Exeter City in your lifetime?
Paul: To play in the Championship. I think we’re too small for the Premiership, though AFC Bournemouth progression to the top flight gives us all hope.
Neil: Simply to continue to be financially secure and operate within our means but also get the success that that deserves.
Open to all: Guess the Score in SAFC vs Exeter City at https://safc.blog/2015/08/safc-vs-exeter-city-guess-the-score-smooth-progress-or-cup-upset/
Explain your Sunderland connection, Paul, and any detail as to how it affects your view of club, fans, city, region etc
Paul: My brother married a Sunderland lass. I have a few nephews and their family living there. So I’ve visited a few times. I never went to Roker Park though, sadly.
Any links, Neil?
Neil: Hardly any connection at all I’m sorry to say other than knowing a number of your London-based supporters. In particular one, a young lad called Andrew, regularly wears his shirt on your match days to my local pub in Tottenham, the Woodberry Tavern, and makes the odd trip back home to see a game but more often tries to get along to local away games. We have good banter and offer each other support amongst all the Gooners and Spurs who share the pub with us.
Were you surprised to see how disastrously we began the season?
Neil: After last season’s amazing finish it was always going to be difficult to reach the same heights in the initial matches without major changes at the club as the Premiership constantly moves on and it is a struggle for anyone to keep up so no, not surprised.
Paul: I don’t take too much notice of the Premiership, rarely watch Match of the Day or watch a live EPL game unless it’s on in a pub I’m drinking in. But it would be fair to say that the newly promoted clubs are likely to struggle, which will help your cause no end. Will you ever be able to put a squad together that will challenge for a place in Europe?
Your highs and lows as an Exeter fan?
Paul: The high has to be the 1976/77 season. Just finished school and witnessed my first ever promotion watching Exeter City. The low was being at St James park, when we beat Southend United 1-0 at the end of the 2002/03 season, but still got relegated to the Conference. I genuinely thought that was the last time Exeter City would play a game of football.
Neil: Getting relegated the day I got married on the pitch! Either getting promoted back into the League at Wembley on our second visit ever which was also the second visit in two years! Or perhaps the 0-0 draw in the FA Cup at Manchester united a few years ago.
Best players you’ve seen in your colours (or wish you’d seen had you been around in earlier times)?
Neil: Very tough, I’ve not got a good memory for players but at a push I’d have to say Tony Kellow for his scoring; Steve Flack for his legendary/cult status; and Kevin Miller in goal for simply being big Kev.
Paul: Tony Kellow in both his stints with Exeter. Played in the 4-0 mauling of Newcastle Utd in 1981 in the FA Cup. Would love to have seen Fred Whitlow, our goal scorer fron the 1930s. Adam Stansfield has a special place in the hearts of all Grecian fans, having died from bowel cancer in 2010.
Name anyone who should have been allowed nowhere near your St James Park
Paul: The fraudsters John Russell and Mike Lewis. Only one went to jail. Nearly killed our football club.
Neil: Easy the previous Board (oh and the previous Board to that) who both combined to almost take our club away from us and send us into oblivion. Thank goodness for the Supporters and the Supporters Trust who worked tirelessly to save the club and take us into Supporter [majority] Ownership.
Where will you finish the season?
Paul: Top 7.
Neil: Play-offs minimum.
Paul: Safe. Hopefully no run in the League Cup.
Neil: I think you’ll get over this rough starting patch and survive but probably only just and it will take changes.
What steps should the FA take to support football outside the Premier?
Paul: Better distribution of TV money.They need to recognise that the parachute payments creates an imbalance in the Championship and supports badly run clubs.
Neil: A more even distribution of the TV wealth. The worst thing that happened to football was the Premier League being formed and the FA should be ashamed of themselves for letting it happen.
Are diving and other forms of cheating just as prevalent at your level? Should we just accept it as part of the game or have you ideas for stamping it out?
Not quite as prevalent but all too obvious at times as it inevitably filters down. It is cheating pure and simple and should be dealt with as harshly as possible but until the FA instruct support referees and make respect a real thing not an vague hope it will continue. Why is “cheating” acceptable, it isn’t in other sport and one of my pet hates is the word “professionalism” it isn’t its cheating. Oh for a return to sporting values of old. I’m proud that our team regularly tops the Fair Play league and has won the overall FA prize the last two seasons running but unremarkably the “prize” for this wouldn’t even pay an average premier player’s wages for a week, that’s how highly they rate fair play and respect!
Paul: Time-wasting is a huge problem, and it’s always satisfying when we score a winner in the added time. At Wycombe we got 13 minutes of added time, they were so bad and the referee so poor at dealing with it.
Will you get to our game?What will be the score?
Paul: I’ll be there, ticket already purchased. 2-2 at full time, Hopefully we’ll be good at penalties. It’s been a very long time since we got to the 3rd round of the League Cup.
Neil: Definitely, already have train and hotel booked. Score? Really don’t know but if you put out your first team then a fairly easy win for you. Take us lightly and you never know.
* Paul Sussex on himself:I was born a farmer’s boy, brought up in Devon, before moving in to Exeter aged 12. First Exeter game was Boxing Day 1972 (we beat Torquay) Moved to the Guildford area after my A levels in 1980, and worked in IT in the Civil Service. I was made redundant from IBM 4 years ago, and now work in retail. With the children being a bit more grown I started to do a lot of away trips in the last six years, and thoroughly enjoy my days out. I’m really looking forward to my week’s holiday in Seaburn!
** Neil Le Milliere on himself: I live in Tottenham in London; I’m on the Supporters Trust Board at Exeter City (the majority shareholders); also on the Board of Supporters Direct and Chair of their England and Wales Council. I am one of the three volunteers that run the FEC RACE Cask Ale bar at St James Park on matchdays. I was also fortunate enough to be voted the Football League Supporter of the Year two seasons ago and was also then presented with a medal by the FA at Buckingham Palace for services to football in their 150th anniversary celebrations.
I‘ve supported Exeter for many years but seriously since the 1981 FA Cup Run when we famously visited the other SJP and fought out a draw before taking them back to Exeter and beating them in the replay after, which we lost in the quarter final to Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Interviews: Colin Randall