Ten Years of Tis: The Key Players

We profile eight players who have left a lasting legacy at SJP

June 26th marks the ten year anniversary of Paul Tisdale’s appointment as City manager. The Grecians’ chief is famously now only second to Arsene Wenger as the longest-serving boss in the country, and to honour this milestone we look back on some of the key events over the past decade at St James Park.

A number of players could have made this list but, with the help of your responses on Facebook and Twitter, we profile eight players who have made an outstanding impact during their time in Devon.

Rob Edwards
City appearances/goals (League): 160/2

Commanding centre-back and fan-favourite Rob Edwards joined City soon after Paul Tisdale’s appointment as manager in the summer of 2006. The ex-Welsh international signed for the Grecians after a two-year stint at Blackpool, having previously turned out for Carlisle United, Bristol City and Preston North End.

He quickly established himself as a regular in the heart of City’s backline as the Grecians made it to the Conference play-off final in Tisdale’s first season in charge. Having been made a player-coach in December 2007, he juggled coaching responsibilities alongside first-team duties to become the only member of the squad to start in all forty-six matches of the 2007/08 campaign. That season culminated at Wembley as Edwards headed home the only goal of the game to end the Grecians’ five-year exile in non-League football.

Edwards continued to play an instrumental role in City’s upward surge as Paul Tisdale’s side secured back-to-back promotions the following term. After two seasons in League 1, he hung up his boots in summer 2011 to focus on coaching duties. He left City in 2014 after eight years at the club, leaving a lasting legacy at St James Park. 

Paul Tisdale speaking after Rob Edwards’ departure from the club in 2014: "I consider him to be my most important signing during my time at Exeter City and will always be grateful for the immense value he added both as a player and as a coach.”

Ryan Harley

City apps/goals: 182/34

Still a vital part of Paul Tisdale’s squad nearly nine years since his debut for the club, Ryan Harley first joined City in November 2007 following a brief spell with Conference South side Weston-Super-Mare.

The cultured midfielder played a key role in City’s rise from the Conference to the third tier, famously leading the comeback in the second leg of the Grecians’ 2007/08 play-off semi-final against rivals Torquay United.

Harley made a seamless transition to life in the Football League, famously scoring both goals as City overcame Leeds United 2-0 at St James Park. He scored the vital goal in the final game of the 2009/10 season against Huddersfield Town to ensure the club’s third tier status for the following campaign.

Harley’s impact in Devon hadn’t gone unnoticed, with then-Championship side Swansea City snapping up the midfielder in January 2011. He was loaned back to City for the remainder of the season, before moving on to enjoy brief spells with Brighton and MK Dons.

Harley returned for his third stint with the Grecians in 2014; a loan-spell from then-parent club Swindon Town. He made the switch back to City a permanent one in January 2015, and has since gone on to score some vital goals for the club including a brace against local rivals Plymouth Argyle in November 2015.  

Ryan Harley on his relationship with Paul Tisdale: "He's had a big influence on my career. He trusts the players and listens to their opinions. Some managers just do things their own way and don't listen to anybody else, so in that respect there's a lot of trust between him and me.” 

Adam Stansfield
City apps/goals: 142/37

A City legend for his impact on and off the pitch, Adam Stansfield joined the set-up at St James Park following spells with Yeovil Town and Hereford United. Upon joining the club he told the press that his aim was not to achieve promotion or to reach a certain goal tally, but to act as a positive influence to the club’s younger players. In the end he managed both.

He netted nine times in forty appearances during the 2006/07 season, including vital goals against Southport and Oxford United, as City reached the Conference play-off final during his first season in Devon. After tasting Wembley heartbreak in the 2-1 play-off final loss to Morecambe, ‘Stanno’ as he was affectionately known by the fans, was selected to start in the final the following year whereby Paul Tisdale’s side secured their return to the Football League.

He scored ten goals in thirty-seven appearances the following campaign as City clinched promotion to League 1 at the first time of asking. A member of the England semi-professional team during his Conference days, Stanno was a regular starter in League 1, scoring eight goals.
After a battle with cancer, Stansfield sadly passed away on 10th August 2010, aged just thirty-one. City announced that they would retire his number nine shirt for as many seasons in memory of the charismatic striker. He left a lasting legacy at St James Park, with ‘Songs for Stanno’ still heard echoing around St James Park come three o’clock on a Saturday. A true Exeter City legend, Adam Stansfield’s contribution will never be forgotten.
Paul Tisdale speaking shortly Adam Stansfield’s passing in 2010: "The fans loved him and he loved the club. I remember him saying last summer that he wouldn't want to play for any other club… Not only did he contribute but it was the manner in which he did it. He has been the epitome of our never-say-die attitude. One thing I would say about life is that you can only do your best and that is something Adam always did.”

Video credit: 06marksr (YouTube)

Matt Grimes
City apps/goals: 58/5

Supporters often identify more closely with one of their own, and that was certainly the case with Exeter-born Matt Grimes.

A graduate of City’s academy, Grimes was handed a professional contract in April 2013. He burst onto the scene four months later, appearing in City’s 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon at St James Park.

Blessed with great technique and a matching ability to read the game in front of him, Grimes netted his first ever professional goal in April 2014; a deflected free-kick in a 1-1 draw at Chesterfield. He would go on to scoop City’s 2013/14 Player of the Season award after a superb maiden campaign.

After attracting attention from a host of Premier League sides, Grimes signed for Swansea City in January 2015, earning City a club-record transfer fee. Despite leaving halfway through the season, he was named in the PFA League 2 Team of the Year.
The England under-21 international has since gone on to make his Premier League debut for the Swans, before featuring regularly during a loan-spell at Championship side Blackburn Rovers.

Paul Tisdale speaking about Matt Grimes in February 2014: "He definitely has the ability to go up the leagues and play at a very good level. I wouldn't like to say at this stage what that will be but, arguably, he's the best young player we've produced at Exeter since I've been here."

Video credit: ECFCFan (YouTube)
Matt Taylor

City apps/goals: 147/17

Combative centre-back Matt Taylor joined City from Team Bath in 2007, where he had played under Paul Tisdale.

He proved himself to be a pivotal figure in helping the Grecians win promotion from the Conference in his first season, forging a solid partnership with Rob Edwards at the heart of the Grecians’ defence. Handy at both ends of the pitch, Edwards scored nine times in forty-six appearances.

Taylor captained the side as City secured successive promotions the following season. He would go on to win his second Player of the Year accolade in three seasons in 2010 after he helped City avoid an immediate return to League 2.

Now a player-coach at Bath City, Taylor featured for the likes of Charlton Athletic, Bradford City and Colchester United following his four-year stint at St James Park.
Matt Taylor’s words after City’s 2-1 victory over Huddersfield Town in 2010: "I played every game and it has been a big step up into League One. We have learnt a lot of lessons and we will come back next year bigger and better. I'm delighted with the award. I always give my all for the club, and to get the player of the season is very proud for me." 

Dean Moxey
City apps/goals: 176/21

Another player to roll off City’s production line, local lad Dean Moxey burst onto the scene following the club’s relegation from the Football League in 2003. He made his debut in a Conference match against Woking in October that year, and quickly established himself as a mainstay in the City defence.
An England C international, Moxey played a key role in the club’s 2005 FA Cup run. His audacious fifty-yard volley earned the Grecians a place in the Third Round draw, and he was recognised for his efforts by being voted the Player of the Round. He was part of the side that drew 0-0 at Manchester United to earn a replay – a tie which saw the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney take to the field at St James Park.

He featured in the 2007/08 Conference play-off final, turning in a man of the match performance against Cambridge United to help City regain their place at the Football League table. After a putting in some stellar performances during the club’s 2008/09 promotion-winning campaign, the City academy graduate made the move to Derby County.

He has since gone on to play in the Premier League with Crystal Palace, and featured in the Eagles 2011/12 League Cup run which saw them progress to the semi-final. After three seasons in south-east London, Moxey joined Bolton Wanderers in 2014 on a three-year contract.

Paul Tisdale hails Dean Moxey after his promotion to the Premier League with Crystal Palace in 2013: “I am very proud of what he has done. I speak for a lot of people that I am very proud that Dean has gone to play in the Premiership. The vast majority of it is down to him, his hard work and his application, but we have had a part to play as a club. To see what he has achieved in seven years is terrific and I am really pleased for him.”

Jamie Cureton
City apps/goals: 88/39

Football League stalwart Jamie Cureton came through the ranks at Norwich City, and has since gone on to feature for a host of English sides in a playing career spanning over two decades.

He first linked up with the Grecians in 2010 and repaid the faith shown in him by Paul Tisdale by stringing together a number of impressive performances. A potent force in the final third, he finished as the club’s top-scorer that campaign with twenty goals in all competitions and won the Supporter’s Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the year accolades in the process.

Following a brief spell at Leyton Orient, Cureton re-signed for City on a permanent basis in late July 2012. He bettered his previous goal tally with the Grecians by one, netting twenty-one times in forty-two appearances.

A natural goal-scorer, 40-year-old Cureton is currently looking for a club after leading the line for Cheltenham Town and Dagenham & Redbridge.

Paul Tisdale speaking after Jamie Cureton’s departure from the club in June 2013: “He has had two seasons with us and scored more than forty goals. I wish him very well, because any player that has committed themselves to Exeter, and not just to me personally but the club and his teammates, I have got a lot of time for.”

Video credit: Narcotic Muffin (YouTube)
Ollie Watkins

City apps/goals: 23/8

The fact that Ollie Watkins makes this list despite not yet playing a full season worth of matches for the club underlines the impact that the youngster has made over the past few months.

Born in Devon, Watkins entered the fray in May 2014 after making his debut in a 2-0 victory at Hartlepool United. He scored his first senior goal at the Ricoh Arena in 3-1 defeat to Coventry City, before spending the best part of the 2014/15 campaign at Conference side Weston-Super-Mare.

Watkins had to bide his time for regular first-team football upon his return to St James Park, featuring mainly as an impact sub during the first few months of the season. But a last-gasp equaliser at home to Portsmouth last March would change all that, as the academy graduate strung together a run of eight goals in ten matches to finish runner-up for the club’s golden boot.

His late-brace at home to Plymouth Argyle last April has already earned him cult status amongst supporters, and the youngster will be hoping for more of the same in 2016/17.
Ollie Watkins on his winning goal against Plymouth last April: “It's definitely the highlight of my career at the moment and I'd hope for many more goals like that. I have a lot of people that believe in me and I believe in myself - it's not just a one-off.”