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🗓 Remembering 1989/90: Back on top

Exeter City fan and journalist Simon Carter reviews our title winning season on its 30th anniversary.

13 April 2020

Club News

🗓 Remembering 1989/90: Back on top

Exeter City fan and journalist Simon Carter reviews our title winning season on its 30th anniversary.

13 April 2020

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 how City got back to the top of the table.

MARCH 3, 1990

City returned to the top of the table for the first time since January 13, as Darran Rowbotham and Steve Neville took their combined seasonal tally to 44 goals.

Neville put City ahead on 22 minutes with his 14th strike of the season before Rowbotham struck his 29th from the penalty spot after Richard Dryden had been tripped.

Shaun Reid gave York hope seven minutes from time, but Rowbotham reached the 30-goal milestone with virtually the last kick of the game.

Visiting keeper Chris Marples fluffed an attempted clearance, scuffing the ball straight to Rowbotham - who promptly lobbed it into an empty net from 30 yards.

Among the York defence was Tom Kelly, who a few weeks later was to write his name into City folklore with the two penalties that clinched the title.

Before that, though, there were still another 14 games to come.

City: Miller, Hiley, Dryden, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Batty.

MARCH 7, 1990

Skipper Shaun Taylor was passed fit just hours before kick-off after recovering from an ankle injury.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 08.59.32.png

Shaun Taylor

He then netted twice in a competitive game for the first time in his career - in the 30th and 58th minutes - as City moved three points clear at the top with a routine victory against fifth from bottom, Halifax. 

It was their sixth successive home league victory, and their 13th in 15 attempts.

Trina Lake wrote in the Express & Echo: “City were in confident control throughout the match and cheers of ‘the reds are going up’ echoed resoundingly around St James’ Park from another bumper crowd of 5,528.”

Trina added: “There were a number of eye-catching performances from Terry Cooper’s side and Taylor’s was among the most outstanding.

But it would be no surprise if right back Scott Hiley were to attract a big money offer before the March 29 deadline.” Thankfully he didn’t.

City: Miller, Hiley, Dryden, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Batty.

MARCH 10, 1990

Not for the first time this season - in fact, for the umpteenth time - Terry Cooper was raging at his players following an away league defeat.

The manager fumed after a 10th away setback in 16 league games on the road: “If it means me fielding one team at home and another away to get the right result, I’ll do it. You’ll see a few changes at Chesterfield next week.”

‘”[Darran] Rowbotham and [Steve] Neville weren’t putting themselves about at all and you’ve got to be twice as hard away. They’re a real handful at home but they were like a couple of posers today. And I’ve had a go at Richard Dryden because he’s like a big lassie. They may think I’m kidding when I say I’m going to shake it up, but I’ll do it.”

There was a debut for new Glasgow Rangers loanee midfielder Gus McPherson, in central midfield alongside Danny Bailey, with Steve Harrower replacing the suspended Clive Whitehead at left back.

Dave Gilbert scored the only goal as City slumped to their latest single-goal away league loss.

City: Miller, Hiley, Dryden, McNichol, Taylor, Harrower, Rowbotham (Rowe), Bailey, McPherson, Neville, Batty (McDermott).

MARCH 17, 1990

Paul Batty won the plaudits on a day when top scorer Darran Rowbotham’s sensational season was sadly brought to a premature end.

Rowbotham was carried off after a first half collision with Posh keeper Tony Godden, though at the time his knee injury was not considered as serious as it turned out.

In his absence, Batty took over the penalty-taking duties when City were awarded a penalty midway through the second half. Batty himself was brought down by Worrell Sterling, but picked himself up to score.


Paul Batty

In the first period, Batty had provided a great through ball to Rowbotham. The top scorer’s shot was blocked by the onrushing Godden, who injured the 30-goal City ace in the process, before Richard Dryden headed the loose ball into an empty net.

Expree & Echo reporter Trina Lake wrote: “Batty was inspirational - supporting his team-mates in all areas of the pitch, tackling hard and probing the Peterborough defence with intuitive passes.”

Like Rowbotham, Brian McDermott was also taken off - and paid a visit to hospital - after receiving a stray boot in the face shortly into the second half.

McDermott was soon back in action; unfortunately, the same could not be said of Rowbotham. He would not play a competitive game for City until almost 12 months later.

City: Miller, Hiley, Dryden, McNichol, Taylor, McPherson, Rowbotham (Young), Bailey, McDermott (Frankland), Neville, Batty.


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