While the fan-owned behemoths of Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and others enjoy success on the national, European and global stages British football clubs are often criticised by their followers for their removal from the fans due to their external ownership. While this year has shown some extremes of this discontent, with the troubles at Blackburn Rovers involving the Venky’s ownership and the rising debts under the Glazers at Manchester United particularly obvious as well as criticism levelled at Manchester City for “buying the title”, Britain’s fan owned clubs experienced a mixed season.
In their first season in the Premier League Swansea narrowly missed out on a top half finish and their well documented style of play gained many fans. Meanwhile, Exeter City were unfortunately relegated from League One, finishing 23rd out of 24 teams and 8 points from safety. Having grown up in West Cornwall with the “local” teams being Plymouth Argyle, Torquay United and Exeter City, though all were well over 50 miles away, I remember Exeter’s difficulties in the early 00’s.
In a cruel turn of fate, when Exeter were relegated to the Conference in 2003 following a takeover and asset stripping by a group fronted by Uri Geller, it was Swansea City who managed a final day victory to escape relegation and send Exeter to the Conference. The next season Exeter were taken over by the Exeter City Supporters Trust who organised multiple fund-raising activities and local investments which, in collaboration with legal proceedings and an FA Cup tie against Manchester United that was taken to a replay, managed to save the club. Only a few years later The Grecians (a nickname with uncertain origin but has been signified with a mascot in an ancient Greek soldier’s outfit) achieved back to back promotions to find themselves in League One and begin the three year stay in the division that ended this season.
Clearly the fortunes of Swansea and Exeter have varied since their involvement in the 2002-03 relegation fight but, hopefully, with the backing of their fans, this will be just a minor setback for Exeter and they can look forward to brighter days. While Barcelona proudly displays its fan-ownership with its famous motto “Més que un club” (meaning “More than a club” in English), Exeter City, who provided the first ever opposition to the Brazilian National Team, shows British fans a club in its true form, according to the dictionary: an association of people who enjoy a common interest or activity. More than just a business. More than just a team.