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Club News

📝 Alex Inglethorpe: In His Own Words

9 January 2024

Club News

📝 Alex Inglethorpe: In His Own Words

9 January 2024

The following was published in The Grecian match day programme on Saturday, 6 January:

By Alex Inglethorpe

Sat staring at Steve Perryman’s TV I thought, ‘No, surely that’s not us.’ But there it was, clear as day: Exeter City had just been drawn against Manchester United.

An odd mixture of disbelief and excitement engulfed me. At 33, my youthful naivety framed this simply as a chance to test myself, rather than the reality – this was a make-or-break moment for the club. While aware of Exeter’s financial position, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.

If I were in the same position now, I might dwell on what couldn’t be done; unable to afford players, bring in experienced coaches, improve the training ground. At the time, I focused on what was possible, dedicating every second to improving the 20 lads in front of me. Looking back that was lucky, as I otherwise wouldn’t have known where to begin.

My playing days finished with a season at Exeter where I never played well but, I’m still proud of the collective effort to stay up in 2001.

Steve Perryman was a consultant for the club at the time, and he was eager to get back into management. We got on well, and he wanted to take me with him to a higher division club, but he just missed out on the job and ended up moving to Japan.

A week later, I became player-manager at Leatherhead on £50 a week in the Ryman League. Talk about a sliding doors moment. One moment I’m potentially playing at a higher level and the next, I’m managing in non-league. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Leatherhead was a supporter-owned club where everyone was in it for each other, which was perfect for what lay ahead. The ownership parallels between them and City were striking, albeit on a grander scale at Exeter.

I kept in contact with Steve who had returned to Devon and, when Eamonn Dolan left in 2004, he invited me to interview. Despite personally thinking there were better-suited candidates, Steve saw something in me and knew I could be successful. I still don’t know exactly what he saw, but between him, Julian Tagg, Justin Quick and the others involved, a conclusion was reached, and the job was mine. Walking in, I thought the stars had aligned – that squad had so much potential.

One of my favourite memories was staying late with Scott Hiley on my first week to reorganise the Cat and Fiddle’s offices. We couldn’t afford decorators, so we painted ourselves. Smarter offices fostered a sense of pride and professionalism in our work. The players said it was nice to see an improvement to their workplaces after a few rough years and I lied, telling them we had the decorators in during the night while I still had flecks of paint in my hair!

Early momentum was key, and by December we were regularly winning and had beaten higher division Grimsby in the FA Cup. That gave us belief heading into the Second Round against Doncaster, who were in League One. I remember the camaraderie in the group being excellent that day, from the starters to the subs. On of those reserves was Dean Moxey, who nearly didn’t come on – I had a change of mind seconds before the switch. I knew he had the ability but to score from 45 yards on that stage and send us through was incredible.

We headed to Old Trafford in great form. Using the match as a carrot, I told the group that each player was competing for a spot, a strategy that paid off. You could sense that desire to be on the plane, in the hotel and walking out of that famous tunnel. However, I was cautious about our players becoming tourists so we had a look round and took photos the day before.

To level the playing field, we had to make the match more familiar to ourselves than them, which meant turning it into an ugly Conference game. We knew we couldn’t stop them all over the pitch, so instead we strategically chose spaces to deny them time on the ball. Luck played a part, as it wasn’t a typical United lineup. While not a ‘weak’ side, with players like Phil Neville, Pique and Ronaldo, it wasn’t an eleven you’d expect in the Champions League.

We didn’t really threaten their goal but I thought we were comfortable and executed the plan, being worthy of that draw. 

I fancied us more at St James Park, given it was the time of year when the pitch was a challenge for us, let alone a Premier League team. What let us down was that early Ronaldo goal; it settled their nerves and quietened us. We had a big chance to equalise on 75 minutes which we would’ve scored in the Conference. Yet, Rooney’s goal minutes later sealed our fate. Over two games, we gave ourselves and the city pride by taking United all the way to the 80th minute of match two. That's something that can never be taken away from the group.

A year later, even though the team was going through a positive transition, I decided to leave. I wanted the team to play better football to achieve the club’s goals, but I didn’t know how to do that. Instead of learning through mistakes, I left to educate myself, joining Tottenham’s coaching staff.

After seven years there I moved to Liverpool as Academy Director, where I’m proud to have been at the club while we’ve been able to win every available trophy and seen 45 first team debuts. Developing players is my passion and that’s all come from my time at Exeter.

I’ll always keep an eye out for you, Grecians, wherever I am.

Alex Inglethorpe was the manager of Exeter City FC between 14th October 2004 and 7th June 2006.

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