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Supporters' Trust celebrates 20th anniversary of Club Ownership

Twenty years Supporter Owned

Tuesday, September 5 2023 marks a special date in the calendar for Exeter City FC and the Supporters' Trust, as it commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the Trust's ownership of the Club.

Over the past twenty years, Trustees, volunteers, community champions, club staff, and supporters have helped save Exeter City from the brink of extinction, and back into League One.


Thriving on and off the pitch work from everybody behind the scenes helped restore the club to its best-ever position and the tireless generosity and love from our supporters and members makes Exeter City the special club we have today.


To commemorate the 20th anniversary, below is a rundown of our history and achievements over the past 20 years.



The Exeter City Supporters' 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 economic decline.

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 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 assistance.



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 the 2002/2003 season 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 offenses 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.

And so in September 2003, David Treharne was charged by the Trustees to negotiate the purchase of his majority shareholding. The cheque for £30,000 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 dozens of people The Directors and Trustees negotiated a C.V.A which would pay 10p in the pound to creditors. This eventually turned out to be 7.1p in the pound.


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.


A major decision Dolan took, along with the campaigning of Julian Tagg, was ensuring the survival of the Exeter City Academy.


This ethos has been at the forefront of Exeter City squad production and transfer policy for the last twenty years and has become one of the most successful academy stories, at our level in the football pyramid.

Of course, during the early period of Trust ownership, 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 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 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 2,500 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, in early 2006, the Trustees set about helping to implement the ambitious V10 plan. In 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 chose to mirror the changed organisational structure of the Club Board by setting up its own sub-Boards to do this. Today, they sit as our Working Groups: Community, Communications, Finance and Governance, and Ownership and Membership.

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 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 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.


That is something that can rarely, if ever, happen with the ownership model at the vast majority of professional football clubs in the U.K. 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.

In 2022, the Board put a vote to the members on the financial support to the redevelopment of the Cliff Hill Training Ground. Members of the Trust approved a £600,000 loan to the football club, to help fund the £2.9m project at the 'Cat and Fiddle'. And the generosity of fans and fundraising from Board members and volunteers secured £60,000 extra for the 'Kit out the Cliff' Campaign, to provide white goods for the new building.

Later the same year, with the largest playing squad budget approved by the Supporters' Trust at the time, City Men ended a ten-year stay in the fourth tier by gaining promotion. Academy graduate and captain at the time Matt Jay scored the winning goal against Barrow AFC to secure City's return to League One.

Now back in League One the Trust Board sits monthly, and Part A of the meetings is open to all Supporters' Trust members. As part of the anniversary celebrations, The Trust asked members what their favourite achievements during the past twenty years of ownership have been.


The results of the vote revealed supporters' favourite achievements were:


Saving the Academy in 2003; Taking majority shareholding of the club; Develop key academy talent to international standard; Overseen the building of the Adam Stansfield Stand and St James Road Stand; Three promotions and five trips to Wembley; Signing a lease to stay at SJP until 2046; The fundraising of the Red or Dead? campaign; Building a 3G Astroturf pitch at Cliff Hill Training Ground; Doubling Trust influence on board; Members voting for the Training Ground development; and the biggest ever investment in Exeter City Women.


The Trust would like to put on record its thanks to every single person who has made the last twenty years possible. From those elected to Board, to the volunteers and staff behind the scenes.


But most of all, none of the history or successes in the last two decades would have been possible had it not been for the supporters and members of Exeter City FC. Thank you. And here's to the next twenty years of saying:


We Own Our Football Club.

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