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🔢 City by number: No.8

A look at the time City could field just eight first team players some decades ago

15 October 2018

46 games. Every team, every season (in the EFL) play 46 games. 24 teams in a league, all playing each other twice, home and away.

So, why, in the 1973/74 season, has Exeter City got the number 45 in the games played column on the Fourth Division table?

In a season where Don Revie won his final Division One title at Leeds United, Manchester United were relegated by Dennis Law’s winner for Manchester City in the derby and (arguably) England’s greatest manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, was sacked, Exeter City languished in the middle of Division’s Four table – 21 points off the top and 10 above the bottom.

The league season was nearing its climax on April 2, 1974 and the Grecians were due to travel to the Old Showground to face Scunthorpe United, but no City side showed up. Manager John Newman was already trying to juggle serve financial difficulties with a tiny playing squad, consisting of just 17 registered players and, despite making the best of a challenging situation for most of the season, these issues came to a pinnacle in the run up to the Scunthorpe game.

A cruel mixture of injuries and illness meant that City only had eight fit players in the squad, a situation that forced the Grecians’ board of directors into informing the Football League they wouldn’t be able to field a side of registered players at Scunthorpe. However, despite it being blindingly obvious that City didn’t have the resources to fulfil the fixture and stick to the Football League’s rules (fielding unregistered players was considered), the league rejected City’s appeal for the game to be played at a later date.

Scunthorpe were awarded two points (the equivalent of a win) and the Grecians were fined £5,000 by the league and ordered to pay United £1,334, covering the expenses of the match officials and other match day costs. Apparently, the league's reason for refusing Exeter's request was their impatience with uneconomic clubs and their acceptance that some would fall by the wayside and go bankrupt.

As of October 2018, this remains the only game in the history of the Football League never to have been completed, meaning that, due to City only having eight fit players, both Exeter and Scunthorpe only played 45 games in 1973/74.

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