In the second of our exclusive three-part interview, STUART JAMES speaks with Exeter City's director of football Steve Perryman about the club's status, Trust ownership and City's budget.
In an interview with chairman Edward Chorlton last summer, he said he viewed the club as a “League One club with aspirations of getting into the Championship.” What do you see as Exeter City’s level?
I see us as a middle of the road League Two club. On what basis? On the basis of history, tradition, catchment area, capacity of the ground, facilities and location. What also comes into it is ownership and the Trust situation and the fact that there is no sugar daddy owner to bail the club out, or to make a push for promotion by throwing money at it.
For all of those reasons, I think we are a middle of the road League Two club and therefore, when you are at the top of your cycle, it could be that we are challenging at the top of League Two.
It mirrors this season. We started and looked like we were going to challenge (for promotion), towards the end, we looked like we might be in relegation, but the truth is somewhere in between and that is how it turned out.
That is not to say we will never get back into League One, because of course, we could. That is not to say we will never go down again, because we could. We hope not, but it is a possibility and Bristol Rovers, with their big crowds and the money they spend, have just proved that.
I have always said that this club will be fine as long as it knows what it is. That means a realistic view of what it is and within that, the strengths and weaknesses - as applies to any organisation.
The strengths that I have seen over the years are a spirit and togetherness, which was shown when I came back here to help save this club. The huge efforts of the people and all of that and there are weaknesses within that, such as a lack of money.
If you lose touch with what you are, then I think you are going to struggle. If there is a lack of reality about what you are, then I think you are going to struggle and alongside that reality comes your purpose.
The purpose when I came was to save the club and you had jumble sales, Red or Dead? and things like that going on everywhere to get something together to keep the club running.
We are not in as desperate a situation now, but the situation demands that we have that same spirit because that spirit is such a massive part of the club. To keep League football in Exeter, which is so important because Exeter is a proper place with a cathedral, an airport, a Premiership rugby club and a lot going on and it deserves a League football club.
People have to go the extra mile for it and suffer the extra hardship and patience for it because that is how important it is to the people of Exeter to keep it going.
Do you feel, or understand many fans’ perception, that the club has lost its identity? It no longer feels like a supporter-owned football club anymore?
I have read that the fans don’t think it feels like a Trust-owned club and I can understand that. There is not the same feeling as the one that I had when I first came here and wanted to do what I could to help. I was pulled along by that wave of: ‘there’s something worth saving here.’
It’s a good area and one good enough that it encouraged me to come and live here, but I think the club have lost its reality of what type of club it is.
I think the back-to-back promotions and being in League One has led to us getting above where we think we are supposed to be. People can lose sight of it very quickly.
One of the most alluring things about this club was the quality of the people that I met the first time – Julian [Tagg], Eamonn [Dolan], Raddy [Mike Radford] and people like that.
Within their struggles and the possibility of going out of business, though, the people running the club couldn’t quite understand how to run a football club. And I mean the Trust.
I had worked for clubs owned by Robert Maxwell, Alan Sugar, Irving Scholar and this was different because the Trust wanted to be open, honest and transparent. I loved the fact there was not going to be someone there with money and power allied to their ego that could tell me, a deep-rooted football man, what I should be thinking about football.
While that continues, I will carry on at Exeter City with the openness, honesty and transparency and I trust that is as relevant today that it is was back then, when I joined. Because football is full of kidders, full of liers, full of cheats and nonsense and I don’t want to be a part of that.
That’s what made Exeter City, despite all their troubles, so alluring to me to work for. I saw it in Julian, Eamonn, Raddy and saw it within the club as it was and I do think we need to get back to those ethics.
When people talk about the budget, they assume it means player wages. Obviously that takes up a lot of the budget, but what else is included?
The budget we have has to be managed very carefully on a day-to-day basis. There is a budget for the players, a budget for the coaches and then we have things like accommodation, travel to away games and even reserve team games. And things can change very quickly.
To give you an example, we had a budget of £2,500 for reserve team games this season, which is why we play so many local teams – Plymouth, Torquay, Yeovil, the Bristol clubs. Within that, you have to pay referee costs, petrol and whatever else. But when we drew Crystal Palace in the Under-21 Cup, it cost us the best part of £1,500 for the coach, to get up there and whatever else. That’s over half our budget!
From a football perspective, the thing to take away from the night was the terrific result we got, but from a financial perspective, we were thinking: if we get drawn away in the next round, we may have to pull out.
Thankfully we didn’t, we got Southampton at home, then Blackburn and Burnley and to put it into the real football world, they spent £4,000 coming down here twice – once for the postponed game and then for the actual game, so they spent £8,000 on that one game!
This year, our budget is smaller than last time and that is why we have had to lose Rob Edwards, who is an excellent coach by the way. It had nothing to do with his ability, we just couldn’t afford to keep him, which is a real shame as he helped the club move forward in so many ways, not to mention his winning goal at Wembley.
What is also a shame is that this season, we lost both Torquay and Bristol Rovers, so instead of two games where we can travel on the day, we are now looking at another two overnight stays for next season. They also brought money into the club in terms of travelling supporters, so by not having them in League Two next season, we are worse off as a result.
I wouldn’t like to say how our budget compares to other clubs in League Two, but I would imagine we are in the bottom third. It is probably on a par with the likes of Accrington, Wycombe – even Torquay. But what helps us is when we have a good cup run, or a player sale, which for us makes up for what the chairman or investors at other clubs put into their club. That is what we have sadly missed in the last two seasons.