A glance at the League Two table and the club in 21st place might suggest a misprint.
Should that be Brexeter? Exeter City, looking clueless at home without a league win, failed for the ninth time on Saturday in a goalless draw with Luton, who are fifth. Yet, while chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” may be justified in Westminster, there was no such outburst at St James Park.
A closer look at the table shows why. Exeter are only eight points behind Wycombe in sixth. Only Plymouth have won more away. Besides, fans have owned the club since 2003.
Through the Supporters’ Trust they know their luck. And so does Paul Tisdale, in his 11th year as manager. Last week he called Exeter a “bubble in a rotten industry” and said that, if he ever went, he would probably leave the game altogether.
Football, bloated by greed, has grown too big for its boots, which admittedly have become smaller, and lost touch with its roots. Ten Championship clubs aspiring to the Premier League are stuck with mostly no-show owners. Dictionaries define gooseberry as “an unwanted third person”.
They have yet to cotton on to Chinese gooseberry as an unwanted first person. Exeter have some 3,000 owners at home games, not 100% absence and disaffected fans.
The week before, 150 made a 700-mile round trip to Carlisle, where two late goals denied Exeter a point. Midweek, thanks to their London outpost, 316 saw their sixth away win which, as in January, led to the manager’s sacking. Orient have Italian ownership.
Luton, one of the first clubs to have fan representation on their board, came nonetheless with their ninth manager since Tisdale started at Exeter. They had won there, 3-1 in the FA Cup, three weeks earlier.
Their 634 fans on Saturday were greeted by “Thank you for travelling 210 miles to support your club today” and directed to the best place to share a drink. They had lost their first League match in 10 on Tuesday, 3-1 at home to Portsmouth – another club with fan ownership, after unhappy years in mystery hands – and Luton’s Nathan Jones promised: “We will be chomping.”
In the event they could not find the right bit, while doing enough to make Christy Pym Exeter’s man of the match for a smothering dive at feet, a reaction block after brilliant work by Isaac Vassell, nephew of Darius, and a top-left tip-away to Alan Sheehan’s free-kick.
Exeter had trouble releasing Reuben Reid, the front man in their 4-1-4-1, and owed their best shots to Ollie Watkins, one of whose two late blasts rattled the bar, Exeter’s 10th such denial of the season. Troy Brown, returning to central defence, was immense and there are more to come shortly from injury. Their first two substitutes were Matt Oakley, 39 and once of Southampton and Leicester, and Ethan Ampadu, 16 and newly Wales Young Player of the Year.
In which regard Tisdale noted the £1.75m they got from Swansea for Matt Grimes at 19 by playing him at 17: “It pays for the astroturf we’re putting down at the training ground.” This is football in proportion. It may take article 50 to get rid of him.
• Saturday’s matches undid a remarkable statistic in League Two. Nine home wins and only one away overturned the division’s majority of away wins. On Saturday morning the score was 75 home, 79 away. Plymouth, Portsmouth, Grimsby, Cambridge, Stevenage, Morecambe, Notts County and Leyton Orient, besides Luton, had won more than they had lost on their travels.
• The tightness at the heart of League Two is all but matched in the two divisions above. Bury, one place above the relegation line in League One, are only nine points behind Peterborough in the last play-off spot. In the Championship Cardiff in the relegation zone are only 11 behind Leeds in the third play-off spot. There really are no bankers in the three Football League divisions. Witness Newcastle’s home defeat by Blackburn following Plymouth’s two when top of League Two and Carlisle losing the League’s last unbeaten record to the bottom club in the 92, Newport County, a fortnight ago.
• Fleetwood extended to 20 their run of scoring in every league game this season when they drew 2-2 at AFC Wimbledon. This is probably not the record but what is?
• Charlton’s new manager, Karl Robinson, appointed in time to take charge of Saturday’s home match against Sheffield United, looked at first as if he might have chosen this Monday to take charge so he could start away from the distraction of pigs on the pitch and other symbols of supporter unrest with the ownership. It turns out, though, that the second round of the Cup is played next weekend and, far from being away, Charlton are at home again – to MK Dons, who have just sacked him. Ten seasons ago Charlton v Sheffield United also finished 1-1 but that was in the Premier League, with Alan Pardew as manager, and the attendance was 27,111. Robinson is the tenth since him, the ninth since the Belgian, Roland Duchâtelet, took over in January 2014. Saturday’s crowd was 12,580.
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