Exeter City
St James' Park

Ground No. 174
Visited - Saturday 14th February 2009
Result - Exeter City 3-2 Aldershot Town
Competition - Coca-Cola League 2
Attendance - 4840

Dave Jones called it ‘Wolfism’ – a state of mind set perpetually to all encompassing negativity and expectancy of failure, even in the most overwhelming odds of success, but whilst he dismissed it as a mere attitude problem, there are those of us who believe it to be more than that, a curse, a fate, or even the ‘Wolves gene’. Scientists are yet to prove its existence, but the evidence is undeniable! Hereditary, it’s generally passed down the male line and causes the carrier to omit what can only be presumed as pheromones that affect those around them, professional football players being amongst the most vulnerable groups. Now what has this got to do with a ground review of St James’ Park you’re presumably wondering? Well, as a sufferer of the condition, Exeter owe me, big time!

Since 2006, I’ve attended six play-off games and every single group of supporters I’ve sat/stood with has seen their team lose! Semi-finals/finals, it doesn’t matter, the record stands at a resounding 6-0. Exeter were victims themselves when Morecambe, over-riding underdogs and outnumbered by 5:1 in the stands even had to come from behind to beat the Grecians, but 12 months later, sitting in the opposite end of Wembley, it was the Cambridge fans cursed by fate as Exeter beat them 1-0 with more or less their only real chance of the game. There is of course a school of thought that thinks the players might have had something to do with it, but that’s probably more down to coincidence than anything else! So, having safely secured City’s return to the Football League, then this put them back amongst the 92, and a trip down to Devon was required, with the game against fellow new-comers, Aldershot coming at a good time.

Mention St James’ Park to most fans and of course the majority will first think of Newcastle, but that’s dismissing ‘the real’ St James’ Park and its history. Dating back to the late 19th century, it was in use prior to City being formed, with them moving in following the demise of Exeter United, and building it up to League standard, but it could have been an altogether different story. Originally the pitch was too short for FA regulations, and a number of FA Cup games were moved following the visitors exercising their right to veto the grounds use. The club even investigated moving elsewhere, but for the intervention of local MP, Mr H. E. Duke who helped persuade local landowners to sell the land necessary for the club to extend the pitch. The terracing at this end was justly named the Duke Bank, although sadly this name seems to have been dropped at some point in the 70s with the Big Bank moniker in use since then, surviving the building of a new stand in 2000.

I was looking forward to this trip, and had set off early in a good mood. The journey southwards went well, taking a little over 3 hours by train, but seeming to go much faster, arriving in just before 11am. I made my way straight to the ground and was able to get in to take a few pictures beforehand. Coming in at the St James’ Road End, then this is a small, open terrace that is given to the away fans. The terracing is split in the middle for an exit gate, with only a small section nearest to the Flybe Stand, but on the opposite side, it runs around the corner up towards the Main Stand. One interesting point of note is that there are no crush barriers, whilst the rear few rows are blocked off and in a poor state of repair. To its left is the Main Stand, which is a fascinating structure, dating back to the 1920s, with a gloomy, wooden interior that tapers off towards the far end thanks to a railway line that runs at an angle directly behind the ground, restricting even a small terrace from being built beyond the stand. According to Simon Inglis, the groundsman at one time had planted a number of trees to stop balls going down onto the tracks, but these appear to have gone, replaced with a couple of rusty sheds. Moving up to the far end is the Big Bank Terrace, which it has to be said is a marvellous sight. With a capacity in excess of 4000, it’s the largest terrace left in football, and more than any others just looks huge. Slightly tapered on its western side thanks to the railway line, it’s fully covered and is a wonderful affront to the morons who think that terracing in football is unsafe. Whilst I would quite definitely put myself in the traditionalist camp of ground enthusiasts, then perhaps its greatest attraction is that it looks so modern with swooping angles to its design and a clean, bright air to it. 43 rows high, then it provides a fantastic view and would grace any ground. Should Exeter ever reach the Championship, then it will be interesting to see whether the 3 year rule will come into effect, or be shown up for the hypocritical joke that it is. Anyway. The final piece of the jigsaw is the Flybe Stand, the most modern part of the ground, having been built in 2001. It contains 3000 seats and looks fairly impressive, although it’s perhaps a little sad that the club couldn’t have kept the grass bank feature that its predecessor stood atop of. One final point of note at the ground is the floodlight system. Exeter were one of the earliest clubs to have floodlights, first installing them in 1953, and it may come as a surprise that this is an updated version! Whilst the telegraph poles of the former Cowshed have been replaced by more modern lights on the roof of the Flybe Stand, on the opposite side thin poles support two lamps apiece towards the ends of the pitch, whilst oddly angled poles jut out from the Main Stand roof, looking like a strong wind may blow them down at any time! They’re probably the lowest in the league (even more so than at Luton) and are a real gem, looking more ancient than probably any I’ve ever seen before, which includes a large number of challengers at non-league grounds!

Having seen enough, then I eventually made my way back into town, spending the hours up until kick-off there, looking around what really is a beautifully historic city, far more than I’d expected it to be. People talk of the likes of York or Chester, but having visited both then I’d put Exeter right up there with them (better than Chester as it goes), so it’s quite shocking that it appears to have no such reputation to speak of, certainly not one that I’ve ever heard anyone talking of, but it is a nice place to visit, especially in the warmer weather that the day seemed to be treating us to. 

Coming back for 3pm, then I opted to go in the Big Bank, not having stood on a large terrace for what seemed quite a while. This is where most of the home support had gathered, with a reasonable number of Aldershot fans down at the far end. When the game got underway, then it was the hosts who looked the brighter going forwards, but chances were at a premium in the first half, neither side particularly dominating until Marcus Stewart opened the scoring on 30 minutes when he got on the end of a ball across the box. This must have given Aldershot manager Gary Waddock some inspiration at half-time, because his team came out a different side and really bossed the game, although they weren’t safe by any means, especially in the first 10 minutes with Exeter making a go of it. They should have been two up early on when both Dean Seabourne and Adam Stansfield went close, but it was the visitors who were next on the scoresheet. With good passing movement, they drew level thanks to Jake Robinson who stabbed home from 12 yards out, before they delivered a real sucker punch to the home fans when Ben Harding hit a weak shot from outside the box, which found its way into the bottom corner to put the Shots in the lead. After that, there was only going to be one winner, and the mood in the home end reflected that, the majority of Exeter fans around me sounding more depressed than angry! With time ticking down and Aldershot looking comfortable, events were soon to take a swing though and on the break Exeter won a throw down in the corner. Matt Gill, who had been launching them all day long, took it, only for Shots player Andrew Sandell to rise highest and loop the ball over his own keeper and just under the bar to make it 2-2 with ten minutes left on the clock. A topsy-turvy game was completed almost straight afterwards when right from the kick-off the home side had gained possession and gone straight down towards the Big Bank, winning a free-kick on the edge of the box. The excitement of the City fans was reaching fever pitch, and no one could quite believe they could turn it around, but up stepped Neil Saunders, and with an effort David Beckham would have been proud of it was 3-2! Exeter had another couple of chances to seal the game, but equally, their goalkeeper Paul Jones was made to work by Aldershot when a low shot could have crept in to share the points, but after five minutes of injury time, the ref finally blew and it was over with the home fans buoyant after a second half worth much more than the £13 entry fee.

After leaving, I had a bit of time before catching the train home, finding a nice little pub near St Davids station called the Artful Dodger which serves a great pint of cider, so got back home in a good mood, glad to have come.

Overall, it had been a pretty good day, the city is great, as is the ground. Whilst the away accommodation probably leaves a lot to be desired, the two new sides and character of the Main Stand help make it into one of the better League 2 venues to visit, with the only real downside being that stood in the Big Bank, it did feel slightly like a three-sided venue thanks to the small size of the St James’ Road end. That said, I’d still be happy to go back, though I suspect I might get turned away or marched swiftly around to the away end if it’s ever for a play-off fixture! 

St James' Park Railway Station

Welcome to St James' Park

Rear of the Main Stand

Rear of the St James' Road End

The Clubs Offices

Rear of the Big Bank

Rear of the Flybe Stand

The Club Shop

The Main Stand

The Flybe Stand

The St James' Road End

The Big Bank

The Big Bank

The St James' Road End

The Flybe Stand

The St James' Road End

The Main Stand

St James' Park Panoramic 1

St James' Park Panoramic 2

St James' Park Panoramic 3
(click here for full size picture)

St James' Park Panoramic 4


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