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🗓 Remembering 1989/90: Points on the road at last

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

14 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 games number 37-40.

York City 3 ECFC 0
April 2, 1990

Two days after a 2-1 loss at Hereford, City suffered their heaviest defeat of the season at Bootham Crescent against a York side that had gone 10 games without a win.

Boss Terry Cooper was, as ever, totally honest in his summing up: “Let's be frank, York absolutely stuffed us,” he admitted. “We haven't enough players with steel in the side for away games.”

Cooper had made changes after the loss at Hereford, dropping Steve Neville and Kevin Summerfield and deploying five at the back - including three centre halves in Jim McNichol, Shaun Taylor and Clive Whitehead. Left back Tom Kelly - signed from York a few weeks earlier - was handed his first start.

York went ahead a minute into the second half when Kevin Miller could only parry a Steve Spooner shot and Tony Barrett tapped in.

Tony Canham added a second on the break on 72 minutes, chipping over Miller after Kelly had blocked his initial effort. And Ian Helliwell completed City's agony with a late header.

City were still top, though only by a point, with nine games to go. 

Little did anyone know at the time, but the York defeat was to be City's 13th and last of an extraordinary league campaign...

City: Miller, Hiley, McNichol, Taylor, Kelly, Bailey, Whitehead, McPherson, Dryden, Young (McDermott, 61), Rowe.

ECFC 1 Stockport 1

April 7, 1990

A twice-taken Jim McNichol spot-kick rescued a point for City as they failed to win at St James Park for the first time in 1990.


Jim McNichol

McNichol first thought he had cancelled out Brett Angell's 23rd minute opener by scoring from 12 yards after Mark Ward had pushed Kevin Summerfield.

But referee Roy Bigger ordered the kick to be retaken due to Tom Kelly encroaching, and McNichol again fired his spot-kick to keeper Scott Barrett's right.

With Richard Dryden injured, manager Terry Cooper reshuffled with Kelly and Danny Bailey in central midfield and Gus McPherson reverting to left back.

Trina Lake wrote in the Express & Echo: “The absence of injured top scorer Darran Rowbotham, whose ability to conjure a goal out of nothing at times, was keenly felt. 

“The new-look strike combination of Steve Neville and Kevin Summerfield is nowhere near as potent and Richard Young's arrival for the final 15 minutes did little to improve City's effectiveness up front.”

City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Kelly, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Summerfield (Young, 75).

Colchester 0 ECFC 1
April 10, 1990

Jim McNichol grabbed the only goal in the second half against a Colchester side who would be relegated from Division 4 a few weeks later.

It was, amazingly, the first points City had picked up away from their St James Park fortress in 1990. 

Their last had been in the 2-1 win at Southend on December 30. Since then, City had suffered seven successive away league defeats.

Yes, this was the same team that were set to be crowned champions of the fourth tier!

City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Kelly, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Young.

Torquay 0 ECFC 2
April 14, 1990

Gus MacPherson scored one of City's goals of the season to seal a derby double over the Gulls at Plainmoor.


Gus MacPherson

The loanee left back ran from around the halfway line before producing a stunning chip over stranded keeper Ken Veysey in front of the jubilant fans - myself included! - packed into Torquay's small away end.

Shaun Taylor had opened the scoring shortly after the hour mark with a far post header from ex-Gull Tom Kelly's free kick.

The result maintained a remarkable record for Cooper against Torquay. Since taking over, he had won all five league and cup games - scoring 14 times and conceding none.

Cooper admitted it wasn't a game for the purists. “At this stage of the season it's results that matter and we got the one we wanted ...

We deserved to win, there's no question about that.”

City - four points clear at the top with a game in hand - now needed just three wins from their last six matches to ensure what would be only the club's third ever Football League promotion.

City: Miller, Hiley, McPherson, McNichol, Taylor, Dryden, Kelly, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Young.





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