The Exeter City Trust was conceived because, hearing about the work of
the Northampton Trust, a small group of founding members decided
that though it was still a vague idea, they could probably, if push came to
shove, do a better job than those‘professionals’ who were running our
much loved, but largely unsuccessful football club, into a crippling
The group who got together initially was about as diverse a group of
supporters as you could imagine, but they had four factors in their favour.
The first was that the range of skills that they brought to the embryonic
Trust was much more diverse (and probably more useful) than the dinosaur
Directors that had brought the Club out of its previous administration
had between them.
Secondly, there were a couple of people who were zealous and unstinting
in giving their time and effort to get The Trust off the ground, whilst others
chipped in where and with what they could.
Thirdly, it proved subsequently, that the groundswell of support throughout the fan base was much larger than the early Trustees had ever imagined it would be.
Lastly, the Trustees went early to Supporters Direct, where the help and practical advice that they gave proved invaluable. They gladly acknowledge the unstinting support and assiistance.
The Trust got started in 2000, and quickly moved to establish IPS (Industrial and Provident Society - now Community Benefit Society - CBS) status.
Those first Trustees did all the things that it was thought they needed to do in trying to develop relationships with those Directors who ran the Club at that time, but it soon became obvious that both they, and the group that’ took over’ the Club for season 2002-2003 only looked upon The Trust as a “cash cow” and had no intention of giving up any real power or allowing any insight into how the club was being run. This culminated in a memorable day, in February 2003, when, having been vilified by the then Chairman of the Club, 22 members of the Trust vowed to persuade the other 400+ members to change the original Constitution from ‘support’ for the Club to ‘own’ the Club. A momentous decision!
This action occurred just in time, as it subsequently turned out. In May 2003, following relegation from the Football League to the Conference (at the start of the Club’s Centenary year), three of those running the Club were arrested, with two of their number subsequently convicted of a series of offences and the former Chairman (who still owned the majority of shares) asked the Trust to take over the day to day running of the Club. It is a credit to the three members, Ian Huxham, Julian Tagg and Terry Pavey, who were tasked to do this, that they discovered quickly just what a poor shape the Club was in financially. In any case running the Club for someone else was very depressing (all those bailiffs!) and so in September 2003 David Treharne was charged by the Trustees to negotiate the purchase of his majority shareholding. The cheque for £20,000 that clinched the deal proved only to have bought debts of about £4.5 million, and the real work began.
With help (and goodwill) from literally dozens of people The Directors and Trustees negotiated a C.V.A which would pay 10p in the pound, (this eventually turned out to be 7.1p in the pound) to creditors. At the same time, work parties (consisting almost entirely of volunteers) set about getting the ground up to playing standard and doing all the things that hadn’t been done for many seasons in the way of maintenance. The new Directors also appointed a new manager Eamonn Dolan, as well as making sure that the Club had a team that could at least compete at Conference level.
If this sounds depressing, in reality, it wasn't. The Trust's greatest strength has always been, and remains, its membership.
Of course, during this period, there were highs and lows. Until the Trust discharged the C.V.A these were as follows:
The lows were dealing with all the ‘hangers on” and scavengers who stayed to pick over the bones of the Club that they thought was bound to die. This was followed by a series of months where the Trust had to support the Club to the hilt and beyond and deal (albeit indirectly) with several organisations that sought to hasten (or at least make more certain) the demise of our Club.
As for ‘highs’ there were at this time far more of them than the ‘lows’. For a start, the membership of the Trust grew to and sustained itself well beyond a membership of 2000. The steady support of the Trust membership with finance but also with all the far less attractive actions that had to be undertaken, including the joy of cleaning and painting the toilets for example, and a growing belief that as it was ‘our” Club and it that it was going to survive against all the odds. The Manchester United factor was immense. Having fortuitously drawn United away in the third round of the 2004/5 FA Cup became a seminal moment. However, collectively, the greatest moment was December 16th 2005 when the CVA supervisor handed a letter to the Chair of the Trust and the Club. A letter stating that it was debt free and had concluded its CVA.
Debt free? Yes, but with no money either. However, the growth of membership to nearly 2500 members suggested there was a collective belief that it might take time to get back to the league, but it would be on ‘our’ terms, with “our Club”.
Subsequently, during early 2006, the Trustees set about helping to implement the ambitious V10 plan. I n essence the Chair of the Trust was to become the Chair of the Club, and Denise Watts was elected by the Trustees to undertake this role. The Trust Board (then the Board of Society) chose to mirror the changed organisational structure of the Club Board by setting up its own sub-Boards to do this.
At the same time the Trust oversaw the distribution of the “Red or Dead” fund which had been established to ensure the survival of the Club and started to plan for the return of the monies loaned under the Red Card Scheme in 2003. The Trust Board also recognised that the constitution which had been devised to suit the situation from 2000 onward and moved slowly (very slowly, some would say) to provide a new one that was fit for purpose. An enormous amount of time and energy was expended to bring the new Constitution into use during 2007.
Trust members were delighted when after the second play-off final in succession in 2008 the Football Club won promotion back into the Football League, a set of events which helped to emphasise that The Trust would need to reorganise its relationship with the Club Board in order to take advantage of new and resurgent opportunities the promotion had provided.
When attending events and being asked “What makes the Exeter City Supporters Trust so successful?” although there are many answers they could give, Trustees are able to pinpoint two main and utterly vital factors.
Firstly, the consistent support, today, of well over 3000 members, a number of whom have donated generously and regularly since the year 2000. This contrasts vividly with other Trusts, where once the most immediate events of crisis have gone they start to lose membership.
Secondly the Exeter Trust has had a regular influx of new Trustees who have brought many new skills and expertise to help the Trust operate.
In 2014 a major change occurred in the relationship between the Football Club and the Trust in that agreement was reached to change the make-up of the football club board from two Supporters' Trust nominees on a board of eight to four, resulting in parity of numbers between the club board and Trust.
There is always a question of whether the football club, under the ownership of the supporters is able to secure a model which will generate sufficient income to sustain and progress the club further up the football pyramid. However, the great benefit of the Trust model is that it is a democratic organisation and, ultimately, it is the supporters of the club that will shape and decide its destiny. That is something that can never happen with the ownership model at the vast majority of professional football clubs in the U.K.
The 'Express & Echo' newspaper, September 2003