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Foster Clubs
Written by cruyff_turntables on Tuesday, 19th Dec 2017 13:38

Saturday afternoon, I check my watch, quarter to three. I take a look outside and the afternoon’s drizzle has ceased, clearing me for a dry walk to the ground.

Scarf, check, bobble hat, check, I’m ready to go. After walking for a couple of minutes the stadium comes into view, there it is, not my beloved Portman Road but St James’ Park, Exeter. I’m here to watch Exeter City take on Stevenage FC, because over the last year I have adopted myself a foster club.

“What is a club in any case? It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.” – Bobby Robson

I wanted to mention the quote that sits opposite my Dad’s seat, in the Sir Alf Ramsey Upper, because it is so relevant to my love of football. I have spent the last four years in Exeter for university, and without being in the crowd at Portman Road, sharing in the noise and the passion, football had begun to feel a bit hollow.

Despite being born and raised in Norwich, I have been attending games regularly with my Dad since Town lost 2-1 to Rotherham in 2002. Even to this day we plan all my visits home around Ipswich fixtures, making sure I maximise my time at Portman Road.

Over the years, I have suffered the play-off heartbreaks, I have worn the endless teasing of my Norwich-supporting friends as they were promoted what felt like time and time again, and I have patiently watched the years of stagnation and mediocrity. However, in 2014 I moved away from Norwich, and attending Town went from being a formality to a rare treat.

In my first year at the University of Exeter, Town were doing well and were on Sky often enough for me to get my football fix, I even managed to convince a friend to sit through our dire 1-0 away win at Charlton, for which I don’t think he ever quite forgave me.

Sadly, as Town’s results tailed off over subsequent seasons/academic years, it got harder and harder to watch the one team I felt a connection to. Super Sunday never quite cut the mustard, after watching your team struggle for 15 years on end it's hard empathise with billionaire Champions League contenders.

I am, however, fortunate enough to attend a university with a thriving guild and active student body. In my third year a new society formed on campus; Grecian Soc, the University’s Exeter City Student Supporters Club. They provide footballingly homeless students with meet-ups for pints before games, occasional trips to nearby away fixtures and, perhaps, most importantly access to cheap tickets.

Exeter had been on a sensational run of form so, in January, I roped in my housemate and we purchased what are known as ‘Flexeter’ tickets. These tickets were fantastic value, we managed to get six games for £35.50, just under £6 a game.

Following our exams, we went to our six league home games together, witnessing ups, downs and some thoroughly entertaining football (something Town were not offering in abundance at that point). Then, having qualified on the last day of the season, we managed to get tickets for the play-off semi-final second leg, a gripping match under the lights of St James’ Park, where a place at Wembley was secured with a 93-minute belter. We even followed them to Wembley and eventual play-off final heartbreak.

This season, or as my Mum insists on calling it ‘my Masters year’, I have continued to go to City games, St James’ Park is located approximately 500 yards from my flat and it’s great fun to be in amongst it watching live football.

I have been blessed, City really are a lovely little club and it has been fun learning about them and their history. They are completely fan-owned and run by their Supporters Trust. There is also a fan group called the 1931 Club whose members donate money to pay for one player’s wages a season in order to help the club compete.

There is even an Exeter City Ultra group, The Red Legion, whose chanting, drums, flags and banners are ever present on the terraces of the Thatchers Big Bank Stand. The club is truly at one with its supporters, they stay behind after games to help clean up and over the summer volunteer groups paint and repair various stands and parts of the stadium.

I know that no amount of road miles, Championship mediocrity or club corporatisation, will ever diminish my love for Town. Despite visiting Wembley to watch Exeter, my footballing highlight of 2017 was still refreshing Twitter to see the @Official_ITFC tweet ‘FT Burton 1-2 ITFC’, and the confirmation that we were all but safe as a Championship outfit.vThe cheer from me in the living room startled my housemates so much that they rushed downstairs to check I was OK.

The real point of this blog was to see if anyone else has had a similar experience with a foster club, one which plugs a gap whilst you’re away from your one true love. Maybe it was because of study like me, because of work or family ties, maybe it was even a different sport entirely. Please do comment if you have anything to share.

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

Jugsy added 14:26 - Dec 19
Well put cruff_turntables! As a fellow Exeter attendee (graduated in 2005 and where I got the 'Jugsy' nickname from) your post resonates with me a lot ! I still follow the Grecians and have a client whose brother is a certain Paul Tisdale so Exeter is never far away from conversation! As you mention, ITFC remain in my true following but having relocated to Bristol I've decided I'm going to take my boy to Rovers when he's old enough. The combination of Marcus Stewart as assistant and playing in blue and white helps maintain a loose connection Ipswich ;-) carry on enjoying Exeter - a wonderful club and city.

Oldsmoker added 15:15 - Dec 19
Bristol Rovers are sort of my second club too.
When I lived in Horfield some 5 years ago I used to go and watch the odd game at the Memorial with a similarily retired former workmate.
I've moved to Fishponds now so its no longer a 5 min walk up the road.
I still look for their results each weekend after Towns.
Marcus Stewart seems to be a popular figure. A city supporter, started his playing career at Rovers and ended his playing career at City. The stigma of playing for the other team doesn't apply to Marcus for some reason.

Charlie_pl_baxter added 16:53 - Dec 19
One of my best mates is an Exeter fan so we've been to a few games together. Barnet away two years ago and then the play off final this year. I agree they are entertaining to watch and have great support. ITFC will always be my team though.

NorthStand added 11:26 - Dec 21
I have lived in a few countries so I've had to adopt a few surrogate clubs at vrious times. I know the feeling well. A really enjoyable blog.

Carberry added 10:25 - Jan 21
Nice to hear your experiences. My son organised a similar football supporters society at Durham, they had arrangements with Newcastle and Sunderland (Boro were too shortsighted to get involved). Both the Mackems and the Magpies were in the Prem and were providing discounts for less than £18 a ticket, including access to a hospitality room at St James's Park to buy a beer. Sunderland incredibly donated 400 free tickets to their game against Stoke to get the thing going. Just shows that clubs do have some vision and intelligence about how to attract future supporters, something I think our club lacks - just about maximising revenues. I guess this is a slightly different experience to yours because these are huge clubs who if successful could seduce a supporter a long way from home. The other thing he did was watch non league football up there, which is of a very high standard, with very loyal support and a great experience for the casual supporter a long way from home. He, like you, had a great time.
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