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 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 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 ground swell 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 help given by Dave Boyle.
The Trust got started in 2000, and quickly moved to establish IPS 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 (very badly as it turned out!) which 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!
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 (and two of them were 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’s 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 debtors 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 Eamon Dolan, as well as making sure that the Club had a team that could at least compete at Conference level.
If this sounds depressing it ought not to! The Trusts 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 above category of ‘lows’. For a start, the membership of the Trust grew to and sustained itself beyond a membership of 2000. The steady support of the Trust membership with finance but also with all the far less attractive prospects that had to be undertaken (cleaning or painting the bogs anyone?) and a growing belief that as it was ‘our” Club and it was going to survive. The Manchester United factor was immense, but 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 saying that it was debt free and had concluded its CVA.
Debt free? Yes but with no money either. However with a 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. 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 Board of Society then chose to mirror the changed organizational 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 Board of Society also recognized that the constitution which had been devised to suit the situation from 2000 onwards 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 reorganize 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 of over 2600 members, many of whom have donated generously and regularly since 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 regular influxes of new Trustees who have brought many new skills and expertise to help the Trust operate. Indeed only two of the original Trustees and the Treasurer remain in place since 2000, a welcome renewal that does not always occur elsewhere.
At the start of 2009 Trustees are aware that there are two pressing issues which it needs to address:
Having taken professional advice about the future of St. James Park, and the decision taken that the Club would attempt to stay at its ‘home’ there is an urgent need to implement workable plans that make the ground fit for purpose for further promotion, and the need to do this within the constraints of realistic budgets. Several Trustees are actively involved in this ongoing process, and will continue to drive the process forward.
At the same time the Trust is re-examining its relationship with Exeter City A.F.C Ltd and looking to make the Memorandum and Articles of Association(which were last modified in 1974!) suitable for a Club which is resurgent and ambitious. This will be time consuming but vitally important.
The Trust is aware that there is a constant need to re-evaluate its purpose and role. This is not always very easy or comfortable given the fact that it is at the cutting edge of the Supporters Direct movement, but the strength of the memberships gives Trustees the belief that it has a central and vital role to play in the future of Exeter City Football Club.