The 2019/20 season marks the 30th anniversary of Exeter City FC winning what remains the club’s only divisional title in the 99 years since the club were elected to the Football League.
To celebrate the anniversary, SIMON CARTER - a former sports journalist at the Express & Echo and author of a 2016 book on his life following the Grecians - will be taking us all back to 1989/90 in every home programme this season. Here, he looks at City’s continuing contrasting fortunes at home and away.
Chesterfield 2 ECFC 1
March 20, 1989
Three days after the season-ending injury to top scorer Darren Rowbotham, City slumped to another odd-goal away loss - their 11th in 17 Division 4 away trips.
Travel sickness was an ailment that affected many Exeter sides of the 80s - the previous season, 1988/89, had seen Terry Cooper’s men lose 17 of their 23 away league matches.
In 1987/88 City won just three times on the road - all before the end of September - while in 1986/87 they didn’t win an away game all season for the first (and thankfully so far only) time in the club’s history.
City could have taken a late point on this occasion but Paul Batty saw an 83rd minute penalty saved by Mick Leonard at Saltergate.
Ben Rowe had marked a promising first league start by giving City a 22nd minute lead, but Dave Waller equalised two minutes later and Bob Bloomer grabbed a 58th minute winner.
“I've slagged them off in the past but we were superb tonight” praised Cooper. “We looked like a side top of the table.”
With Rowbotham now out for the rest of the season, Rowe and Richard Young were paired in attack with Steve Neville switched to a wide right midfield role with Brian McDermott injured.
City: Miller, Hiley, Dryden, McNichol, Taylor, McPherson, Rowe, Bailey, Young, Neville, Batty.
ECFC 5 Rochdale 0
March 24, 1989
Jim McNichol scored the first hat-trick of his 13-year professional career to send Exeter back to the top of the table.
The centre half struck with a 22nd minute header, an 88th minute penalty and a stunning 35-yard free kick in the dying seconds of the game while Dale were still organising their defensive wall.
Steve Neville grabbed the other two goals as City romped to their best win of the season and made a complete mockery of Rochdale's record as the best away team in the division.
“We were different class,” said McNichol. Of his hat-trick strike, he quipped: “It's the sort of thing you can try when you're 4-0 up and the crowd love it when it works. I wouldn't have been so popular if we were losing and I had whacked one straight into the crowd from there.”
Trina Lake wrote in the Express & Echo: “City tore Rochdale to shreds ... it was a sparkling performance that created a carnival atmosphere in the spring sunshine.”
Latest loan signing Kevin Summerfield, brought in from Plymouth, made a quiet midfield debut, adopting a holding role while Danny Bailey - as ever – “dashed around tackling anything that moved” according to Lake.
Another new boy, left back Tom Kelly - signed from York prior to deadline day - made his debut as a late substitute as Cooper preferred another loanee, Rangers’ Gus McPherson, in that role.
Brian McDermott, meanwhile, played despite medical advice after cracking his cheekbone a week earlier.
City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor (Kelly, 88), Summerfield, McDermott, Bailey, Young, Neville (Rowe, 85), Dryden.
ECFC 1 Scunthorpe 0
March 28, 1989
City marched four points clear - and still with two games in hand - as skipper Shaun Taylor volleyed a dramatic 87th minute winner.
“A year ago we would have lost this match, but now things are going for us,” he stated after City's ninth straight home league success.
Terry Cooper rebuked the fans in a near 6,000 crowd when some booed his decision to withdraw a below-par Steve Neville five minutes from time.
“I've got a message for them - I'll make the decisions and they can do the cheering, thank you very much!”
The substitution proved inspired - Clive Whitehead coming on and making an instant impact, winning the free-kick which he whipped in himself for Taylor to net at the far post.
That avenged an early-season 5-4 loss at Glanford Park.
Cooper added: “Scunthorpe are the best team we have met home or away. It was a tough game but we were patient and we have got the three points - that's what it's all about when you're going for promotion.”
City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor, Summerfield, McDermott, Bailey, Young, Neville (Whitehead, 85), Dryden.
Hereford United 2 ECFC 1
March 31, 1989
More than 2,000 City fans - easily the club’s largest away following for a league game for many seasons - made the trip to Edgar Street.
Trina Lake wrote: “And their reward? A hugely disappointing performance that again casts a shadow over the club's Fourth Division championship pretensions ... as Hereford cancelled out class with commitment.”
Second half strikes from Chris Hemming and Paul Wheeler put Hereford in control before Richard Dryden set up a tense finale with an 85th minute header after Jim McNichol had nodded a Brian McDermott corner against the bar.
Trina continued: “City flattered to deceive. They were rarely penetrating and often resorted to uncharacteristic hit and hope football that reduced their effectiveness even further.”
With Richard Young out with sickness, Cooper paired loanee Kevin Summerfield and Steve Neville up front.
City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor, Summerfield (Rowe, 67), Kelly, Bailey, Whitehead (McDermott, 67), Neville, Dryden.