Julian Tagg is president and director of external affairs at Exeter City Football Club. In this monthly column, written for the Express & Echo, he brings an exclusive look behind the scenes at St James Park.
We’re all looking forward to the start of the season and everyone’s expectations are building. It’s great to have seen any number of supporters at the pre-season friendlies, giving us a taster of what it will be like for the return of fans. There weren’t quite so many at the Cardiff game, which took place after a very successful four-day squad training camp, at which I’m reliably informed that the partnership of Carlisle and Taylor saw off Sweeney and Jay over a fantastic nine-hole course.
Obviously, it was a very close call, but despite the outcome of the golf, fortunately Matt didn’t bear a grudge against MJ, who he decided should take the captain slot.
And how well deserved is that? MJ’s dedication and commitment to the club has been second to none since he was nine years old. If ever there was a legend in the making, then this has to be one of them, and it’s going to be a popular decision with our fans – who are sure to be singing ‘he’s one of our own’. Testament to that is that he never stops running and never stops working hard on and off the pitch – all sealed with a goal against Championship side Cardiff.
As ever, it’s been great to see the talent emerging through the Academy and into the first team. You may have seen on the club’s social media that we signed two serious young talents who have come through our Academy, Harry Lee and Sonny Cox. It’s been something of a bugbear of the fans that our best talent has gone elsewhere, sometimes before they even have a chance to make an impact for us. But this time, a combination of the marketplace, the current circumstances and, importantly, how this club gives opportunities meant that we’ve been able to keep these prodigious young talents. I’m sure everyone will enjoy watching the progress of these two intelligent and dedicated boys.
I’ve been to most of the pre-season games, and, I know any number of supporters have been watching Exeter City longer than I, but 25 years has taught me that a successful or unsuccessful pre-season in terms of results means very little; the important thing is the team is taking shape and we’re all looking forward to the big opener against Bradford when we expect a bumper crowd!
I know I’ve said it before, but football is a strange world, and after a phenomenal season it was sad to see Pierce Sweeney move on. Everybody understood the reasons for his decision, but when I saw him before he left, I was a bit worried about the Swindon situation. But their loss is our gain, and we were pleased to be able to welcome him back. Pierce is a great character and hard-working player, who is committed to our ownership model. He’s always amongst the first to step up when there is community work to be done, and is definitely a fans’ favourite! If he scores the same number of goals as he did in the 2017/18 season, then we’ll all be happy.
The Supporters Trust staged a fans’ forum this week, where it was a chance to hear from some of our new signings, Sam Nombe, Jevani Brown, George Ray alongside MJ and Matt Taylor. As ever, Matt is vocal in support of our ownership model and is always happy to be part of these important events which help us to connect on an even deeper level with our community of fans – and, of course, it’s another good reason to join our Supporters’ Trust!
Talking of our ownership model, many of people will have seen the news about the government’s fan-led review of football, which is due to be released in October. Our Trust chairman Nick Hawker and other Supporters’ Trust representatives have had significant input into the process, giving valuable insights into our ownership model and we’re all interested to see and understand the recommendations from this review.
It shouldn’t be long now before you see an Exeter City presence in the city centre. Our new hub will be based in Princesshay, between Next and River Island, you’ll be able to drop in, pick up tickets, or some new ECFC merch – and even have a quick game on the Playstation!
Tickets are now on sale for our first three games, and if the season ticket sales are anything to go by, the stadium’s going to be buzzing! We’ve got three big league games at the start of season, promising a fantastic start and all those familiar feelings of hope and optimism are flooding back – come and join us, we can’t wait to see you there. Up the City!