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Exeter City: 12 years of fan ownership

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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Every month here at the FSF Blog we will be highlighting the work and history of supporters’ groups from around the country. The first of our “Fans Group of the Month” is the Exeter City FC Supporters’ Trust. Alice Cooke from the trust tells us more…

In 2000, a group of supporters met to discuss plans to buy striker Gary Alexander for Exeter City F.C.

Alexander had done well during a loan spell from West Ham, scoring 16 goals in 37 games, and becoming Player of the Year, but when he was sold to Swindon Town, the focus of the group changed and the Supporters’ Trust was formed.

In the early days the Trust worked alongside the owners. With the threatened bankruptcy of 1994 still fresh in many peoples’ minds, the aim was to be there to support the club should another crisis occur.

In 2002, with majority shareholder, Ivor Doble, wanting to take a back seat, the Trust offered to take on the running of the club but was turned down in favour of John Russell and Mike Lewis.  

Over the following season, it became clear that the club was not being run as it should.  Membership of the Trust steadily increased as supporters became uneasy. In truth, the consequences of Russell and Lewis’s actions could have been far worse if it had not been for the fast actions of true supporters.

We would, for instance, have lost the Youth Academy of which we are rightly so proud and which has produced so many talented players over the years, including a good proportion of this year’s first team players.

Subsequently, Russell and Lewis were arrested and later charged with fraudulent trading at the club. To make matters worse, City had also been relegated to the conference for the first time in their history. Shortly afterwards Ivor Doble asked the Trust to take over the running of the club.  Later Doble agreed to sell his shares to the Trust. This is how we came to “Own our Football Club” – and £4.8 million in debts!

The months that followed showed what Exeter City supporters are truly made of, with many people putting in days of unpaid work. The stadium, which had been neglected for some time, was given a lease of life.

The club was ultimately saved by entering into a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) with creditors, some of which, although seeing little of what they were owed, have remained close to the club.

Thanks to the hard work of all those involved, we have survived to celebrate over 100 years of football in Exeter, and celebrated ten years of supporter ownership in 2013.  Last year we supported the club as they embarked on a trip to Brazil, accompanied by around 200 fans, to celebrate the centenary of the Brazilian national teams first ever competitive match, which happened to be against Exeter City in Rio de Janeiro.

The Trust, as owner, is there to support the club, not run it but is in a constant state of evolution as to the best way to facilitate this support.  We are pioneers after all, owning our club longer than any other supporters’ trust in the country.

Our vision is to support football at the highest level possible in a sustainable way by living within our means and to show that progression and ambition are possible under Supporter ownership.

We take pride in listening to our supporters’ views, allowing them to be included in decision-making and through volunteering, and in being a family orientated, community club where all are welcome. Through good times and bad, owning a football club is a challenge but one that we relish; always looking at how we can improve the club, the stadium and the supporter experience.

 The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF.

Photograph by Matthew Wilkinson, reproduced here under CC license.

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Funding partners

  • The Football Association
  • Premier Leage Fans Fund

Partners

  • Gamble Aware
  • Co-operatives UK
  • FSE
  • Kick It Out
  • Level Playing Field
  • Living Wage Foundation
  • Pledgeball