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St James' Park
Exeter City v Oldham Athletic

Friday, April 22nd, 2011, 3pm
League One
Tim Sansom

(Neutral supporter)

Heatstroke at St James Park
1. Why were you looking forward to going to the ground?

Having recently moved to Exeter for work reasons, I wanted to visit the city’s football club to catch some local football action before the end of the 2010-2011 season. There are not many clubs in this part of the UK and when you are totally new to the area, you can learn a lot about the people and the place by catching a game with the locals. I was determined to be present at one of the final games of this campaign where Exeter still had an outside chance of reaching the League One play offs.

I knew very little about Exeter City Football Club other than what had appeared in the national media i.e Uri Geller, bent spoons, relegation to the conference, Michael Jackson, an impressively tailored current manager in Paul Tisdale as well as a memorable third round FA cup tie against Manchester United from a few seasons ago that had attracted the BBC and Match of the Day. You could certainly not accuse me of arriving at St James Park with any preconceptions of the football that Exeter would play nor what the ground would be. I always would suggest that you need to get to football with a clear mind which made this particular trip more exciting.

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/ car parking?

It was a fairly easy journey to St James Park although this success was mostly based on a vague knowledge where the ground was in relation to the rest of the city. It is difficult to think of a city of the size of Exeter that has so many stations within the city, and you need to choose St James Park halt which is right next to the ground. Check that your train stops at St James Park because not all do. The main Exeter St Davids station (on the main London to Penzance line and the centre of railway life) is a good walk away from the ground and if you are not used to hills, it could take a while to hike your way from St Davids to St James Park.

I chose Exeter Central station which is not that far away from the ground. The trains to/from London Waterloo and Exmouth stop at this station which seems to silently wish that it had the same profile as St Davids but knew that it could not quite reach that status despite being close to the impressive city centre shopping arcades. /

When coming out of Exeter Central, you should make a long and lomely walk to the ramps at the far end of the platforms, turn left over the bridge, turn right at the roundabout and follow the railway line to the impressively named Pennsylvania Road, turn left into that road and turn right after passing a CO-OP general store on the left into Powderham Crescent. You will start to hear the PA music from the ground and after walking the full length of the Crescent and crossing the railway line, you will see the stadium in front of you.

However at a time when I would expect football specials to be running to St James Park for this game (around 2:30pm) there seemed to be nothing on the flickering display boards at Exeter St Davids station. This may have been due to the fact that this Friday was Good Friday, a bank holiday and not an especially high profile game. However, there were signs around Exeter St Davids and Central regarding special trains to the football ground for the eagerly anticipated Devon Derby versus Plymouth Argyle. Check before you travel is probably the best advice.

3. What did you think when seeing the ground/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

I arrived at the Well Street end of the ground, and although the old stand would not win many architectural awards, I was immediately interested in the atmosphere that seemed to be very friendly in the blistering un-April like sun. I had arrived beside the family stand sponsored by the local bus company, with netting around the edge of the ground to stop stray balls flying into the steep railway valley beside the ground.

I opted to stand on the Blackthorn Big Bank that was decked in sun. The last time that I was in terracing for a football game was around a decade ago at Peterborough United, and I was interested to know whether standing improved the atmosphere at a football match. You often hear that statement being made on national radio. There was an impressive range of fans of all ages on the bank, and the ground seemed generally virtually full apart from in the away end.

It immediately became apparent that Exeter City was a true community club. I had been sceptical about the phrase that was everywhere across the programme that “we own our football club.” I have been to many football clubs that seem to have a community connection based on name only but Exeter was not one of those places.

As well as a number of volunteers bustling around the ground, a quick read through the programme could tell you about the number of community initiatives that were taking place at the club. The Exeter City Supporters Trust is a big feature of this club, and there were a number of articles about local school boys being given their much sort-after contracts. There would also be a testimonial on the May Day Bank Holiday Monday for Exeter’s number nine, Adam Stansfield, who had tragically died of cancer during this campaign.

It is easy to get misty eyed about a football club in the community. Many clubs talk about ‘community’ but this wish only seems to stretch to attracting local businesses to pay premium seats for corporate lunches. However, there really did seem to be something genuine about the activities in St James Park. A football club should never forget about where they are based and in this case, the club needed to add an extra ‘s’ to make it Exeter City ‘s Football Club.

4. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies and toilets:

The game was surprisingly entertaining. It became pretty obvious early on that Exeter City can play some football and attractive football too with lots of passing across the pitch with apparent attacking wing backs too, which my narrow football mind believed could never be seen in League One football. Oldham seemed to be struggling to wake up and get their game together for most of the first half. They did have some shots on goal, but by the time of the half time whistle, Athletic were two goals down and it was obvious as the second half progressed that they were going to struggle to get anything from this game unless City made mistakes.

The impressively named Troy Archibald-Henville was particularly catching my eye in the Exeter defence. This big lad was making a series of crucial tackles as well as continually talking and marshalling the defence. By and large, Oldham were only able to offer a few shots on goal, but these shots did provoke some impressive saves from Ben Hamer who was playing his last game for Exeter whilst on loan from Reading. At the end of the game, Hamer threw his shirt into the crowd as a parting gesture, and he had made a small but important contribution to the game.

It seems that Jamie Cureton has been playing football for ever and it seems that a number of fans wanted Cureton to win the player of the season award for his 16 goals scored as well as his general attitude of being on the last defender to get the ball into the back of the net. Cureton scored another goal in this game and seemed to be enjoying a particularly fruitfulIndian Summer to his career.

The atmosphere was bubbling away although never especially intense. I sensed that a number of fans were looking forward to the Devon Derby on the following Sunday and the chance to inflict more misery on Plymouth Argyle after a particularly wretched season at Home Park. There was also some nervous anticipation wondering whether Exeter would get in the play offs although it was surprisingly played down throughout the match day programme. The play offs were not mentioned in the manager’s notes, which is a welcome change from my own club whose every sniff of a top league finish is treated as international ‘breaking news.’

The match day programme is an impressive read packed full of stats and player ratings, whilst the bottle of Sprite, which was particularly needed on this very warm day, was £1:50 which is the going rate for these drinks in this age of austerity.

5. Comment on getting away from the ground:

Coming away from the ground was very simple. Going down Well Street and York Road into Sidwell Street takes about ten minutes and puts you right into the city centre and it is a very impressive city centre. The bus station is not that far away too on Paris Street. You would retrace your steps to Exeter Central to take your train to a destination further afield. Being not in some random out-of-town shopping centre miles away from the heart of the city, means that St James Park is an easy trip for the football fan, but you need to have some knowledge of where the stadium is in relation to the city. Do not just rely on a particular train to get you to and away from the stadium.

6. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out:

I really enjoyed my visit to Exeter City Football Club. To the friends that appreciate that football is played outside of the Champions League, I was waxing lyrically away about my time at St James Park throughout the Friday evening although being directly under the sun for nearly ninety minutes had made me increasingly tired and sleepy.

I would recommend a visit to St James Park when you get a chance. Do not expect St James Park in Exeter to be anything like St James’ Park in Newcastle but this is a club that has not forgotten who its customers are. Away from the fight for the Premiership title, and the glamour Champions League ties between the Spanish giants as well as involving Manchester United, there is good quality football being played across the UK, and clubs that are working hard to establish themselves within the community. The fact that there were a number of younger fans at the game from school through to university age was surely a healthy sign for the future. 

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