In 140 years of proud history, Manchester United have become the most successful side in the English Football Pyramid with 20 League Titles, 12 FA Cups, three Champions Leagues, and having to face Exeter City five times.
The sides’ first meeting came in Devon in October 1960, as City drew United in the League Cup’s first round. United’s side featuring household names such as Nobby Stiles or Harry Gregg, as well as former Grecian Maurice Setters, but it was Exeter who took the lead after 15 minutes through Graham Rees’ goal. It took United until the 78
It took United until the 78th-minute to equalise, and they couldn’t find a winner as the Grecians held out for a replay. Such was the performance of City’s Graham Rees, Manchester United’s programme signalled him out as ‘the part-time accountant who gave Nobby Stiles a bigger chasing than Ferenc Puskas had done for Real Madrid’. Unfortunately, City couldn’t repeat their heroics of the original tie, as they lost 4-1 at Old Trafford in front of just 15,662 fans.
After overcoming Newport County and Colchester United in the 1968/69 edition of the FA Cup, Exeter City welcomed Manchester United to the South-West for the third round. The Red Devil’s line-up featured three Ballon d’Or winners in Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best, showing how seriously United took Fourth Division City. Despite the star names on the opposition’s team sheet, Exeter took the lead in the 15th-minute through Alan Banks’ volley. However, John Fitzpatrick’s goal before half-time and two more goals in the second half saw United progress.\
Exeter next faced off against Manchester United on January 8th 2005, again in the third round of the FA Cup. A lot had changed since the side’s last meeting in 1969; City were now a non-league side, playing under supporter ownership after a turbulent few years while United were the Premier League’s finest, having won the top division 15 times. That mattered little though once the two teams were out on Old Trafford’s pitch as the Grecians, roared on by over 9,000 supporters, matched the side over 90 places above them in the football pyramid. In one of the FA Cup’s greatest shocks, Exeter held on for a 0-0 draw thanks to rigid defending and an outstanding performance by 18-year-old Paul Jones in goal.
A replay 11 days later at St James Park saw United field a much stronger side, featuring Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, who both scored in a 2-0 victory for the Red Devils. The gate receipts and TV revenue completely wiped City’s remaining debt away, setting the club up for a much healthier future.
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