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🗓 Remembering 1989/90: Away wobbles continue

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

7 April 2020

Club News

🗓 Remembering 1989/90: Away wobbles continue

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

7 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 the second batch of six league game.

ECFC 2 Grimsby 1

September 27, 1989

Terry Cooper got the response he was hoping for as City’s squad bounced back from the manager’s verbal blast following the 5-4 loss at Scunthorpe to deliver a dramatic winner.

The game was into injury time when Shaun Taylor smacked an unstoppable injury-time header past keeper Steve Sherwood from a corner from 21st birthday boy Scott Hiley as City rose to fourth in the table.


Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 08.59.32.png

Shaun Taylor

Afterwards, he said Cooper’s comments after the Scunthorpe debacle ‘got us fired up and it worked out well tonight.’

Cooper added: ‘I wanted them to ram the words down my throat and I challenged them to do it before the game. I’m delighted they have. They showed a lot of character.’

Andy Tillson - Jordan’s dad - fouled Steve Neville to give Darran Rowbotham the chance to score from the spot on 27 minutes.

Grimsby levelled four minutes before half-time through centre half Mark Lever.

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, Rogers, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott (Young, 77), Neville, Dryden.

Halifax 1 ECFC 2

September 30, 1989

Richard Dryden grabbed a 74th minute winner - his fourth league goal in seven games.

‘I didn’t expect to score many before the start of the season,’ revealed the player who hadn’t netted in 21 league games for City the previous term.

Neil Matthews gave Halifax the lead against the run of play in the 49th minute, but City were back on level terms four minutes later through Steve Neville.

‘It was a good team performance,’ said Cooper. ‘They scored with just about their first attack but we kept our cool and battled back well.’

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, Rogers, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville (Young, 70), Dryden.

Peterborough 4 ECFC 3

October 7, 1989

For the second time in three away games, City suffered a high-scoring loss.

E&E reporter Trina Lake said the encounter was ‘an amazing game of fluctuating fortunes, two own goals, a dodgy penalty and a last gasp decider’.

After falling two goals down, City hit back to lead 3-2 - but ‘a lack of professionalism’ according to Terry Cooper saw them leave London Road pointless.

City operated a sweeper role - Clive Whitehead playing in that position - while Brian McDermott was relegated to the bench. Jim McNichol replaced the suspended Lee Rogers, his first game since the opening day, while Paul Batty started his first senior game in 10 months in midfield.

City were behind after just three minutes when Shaun Taylor was harshly judged to have pulled Carl Richards’ shirt and ex-City midfielder Dave Harle scored from the spot.

Then Dave Walter slipped on the greasy surface, allowing a McNichol back pass to creep agonisingly in.

City got back into it with another own goal - Posh defender Dave Robinson heading a Scott Hiley cross past ex-Torquay keeper Paul Crichton.

In the 58th minute Danny Bailey struck a wonderful 25-yard equaliser after Whitehead had rolled a free-kick to him - it would be his only goal of the season - and Darran Rowbotham completed City’s comeback when he collected a bad back pass from Mick Halsell to score.

But Posh refused to wilt, levelling through Worrell Sterling’s header and taking all three points with a stunning 20-yarder from sub Milton Graham.

Manager’s son Mark Cooper - signed the previous week after being released by Bristol City in the summer - came off the bench for his Football League debut.

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, Young, Neville, Batty (Cooper, 83).

ECFC 2 Chesterfield 1

October 14, 1989

Not for the first time this season - and certainly not for the last - Terry Cooper was highly critical of his players despite another St James Park success.

‘The first 20 minutes we were superb but the next 70 minutes were rubbish. The two goals we scored were brilliant but once they got one back it deflated us,’ he stated.

E&E reporter Trina Lake agreed: ‘City lived dangerously as they extended their unbeaten home run to seven league and cup games. They recorded an unconvincing victory after starting the game superbly but letting the initiative slip.’

Clive Whitehead.png

Clive Whitehead

Darran Rowbotham headed City into a 14th minute lead and Clive Whitehead produced an inch perfect chip from just inside the penalty area two minutes later for his first Grecians goal.

The visitors reduced the arrears when Dave Waller headed past the man he almost shared a name with - Dave Walter.

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Dryden.

Rochdale 1 ECFC 0

October 17, 1989

For a team with ambitions of going up, the question was this - could they perform on a cold autumn night at Rochdale. The answer was a miserable ‘no’.

Trina Lake wrote in the E&E: ‘Exeter City’s promotion pretensions were exposed again with a performance that simply wasn’t good enough for a team with serious ambitions of success. And for three men the nightmare was particularly vivid.’

Goalkeeper Dave Walter gifted Dale their winner, Clive Whitehead was sent off 15 minutes from time and teenage left back Chris Vinnicombe failed to impress two legends who had come specifically to watch the promising left back.

They were Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish and Glasgow Rangers manager Graeme Souness - the latter a former Middlesbrough colleague of Terry Cooper’s.

The two Scots both left 10 minutes from time after Vinnicombe had produced, said Lake, ‘the worst performance of his professional career.’

‘We have to come to places like this and get at least a point,’ declared Cooper.

The only goal came when Walter let the ball bounce off his chest and straight to Mick Holmes, who was left with a simple chance to score.

Whitehead had been booked for a foul on Peter Ward on 69 minutes and was shown the red card six minutes later when a linesman accused him of stamping on the same player - though Whitehead protested his innocence.

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham, Bailey, McDermott (Young, 72), Neville, Dryden.

The following day Cooper called a clear-the-air meeting where players were encouraged to talk about the display at Spotland.

Cooper said: ‘They’ve had a mental block at this club for 20 years about playing away and we’re doing the best we can to improve it.

‘We’ve taken six points from six away games so far and if we can keep averaging a point away we’re going to be up there.’

Cooper was bang on, City ended up with 26 points from 23 away trips - and they were certainly up there!

ECFC 2 Hereford 0

October 21, 1989

Brian McDermott sealed the latest home victory with his first league goal of the season seven minutes from time. 

We would have to wait another six months for his second - the far more memorable strike that was to eventually clinch promotion against Southend in April.

Richard Dryden had put City ahead on 65 minutes after keeper Tony Elliott couldn’t hold a Steve Neville shot as City moved to within three points of top spot in a highly-congested table. 

Souness, meanwhile, was at the game to again cast his eye over Chris Vinnicombe.

Cooper said of the right back: ‘He’s only a baby and he’s still developing … he’s a future international if I’ve ever seen one.’

An England under-21 international only, as it turned out, but still an international nonetheless.

City: Walter, Hiley, Vinnicombe, McNichol, Taylor, Whitehead, Rowbotham (Young, 86), Bailey, McDermott, Neville, Dryden.

For the next part of this feature visit our website and social media channels at 9am tomorrow

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