What The Carling Cup Tie Against Liverpool Means For Exeter City

Chris Shephard of Exeter City can levitate balls with his mind.

Gary Andrews co-hosts the Twofootedtackle podcast as well as being one of the main forces behind the blog. Originally from Devon, he's -- clearly -- a staunch Grecian supporter, and can drink cider with the best of them.

The last time Exeter City reached the second round of the League Cup, Culture Beat's Mr Vain was topping the charts, Coca-Cola were the sponsors and Tom Nichols, Exeter's young striker, was three days away from being born. A victory - any victory - has been a long time coming for the Devon side, but some may view it as worth the wait. Liverpool, the biggest team in the second round draw, will be making the long trip to St James Park later this month.

When Nichols supplied the ball for Chris Shephard, another Exeter youth product, to put the Grecians 2-0 up against Yeovil on Tuesday night, there was relief mixed with almost disbelief. Like Nichols, many of Exeter newer fans will have never seen their club play at this stage of the competition.

Back in 1993, Exeter were in the old third division, about to enter a downward spiral that would culminate in relegation to the fourth tier and administration in November 1994. Nine years later, they were relegated again, out of the Football League and into the Conference, and just hours away from liquidation.

But the Grecians lowest moment provided the catalyst for one of the greatest periods in their history. The Supporters' Trust took control of the stricken club and set about showing ordinary fans could not only run their football club, but make a success of it.

Of course, they needed a little luck along the way, and Liverpool's arch-rivals played their part in this. In 2005, Exeter were drawn away to Manchester United in the FA Cup.

The Devonians shocked Sir Alex Ferguson's young team by drawing 0-0 at Old Trafford, before eventually going down 2-0 at home in the replay, despite veteran full-back Scott Hiley nutmegging Cristiano Ronaldo in front of the cameras.

The cash generated from the money-spinning tie cleared the majority of the Grecians' debts and in 2006 former Team Bath coach Paul Tisdale took over as manager. What followed was beyond the wildest expectations of Exeter fans.

First, Exeter reached the Conference play-off final at Wembley, losing to Morecambe. A year later, they were back and went one better, defeating Cambridge United 1-0.

A second successive promotion followed and the Grecians clung onto their League One status thanks to a final day victory over Huddersfield. A season later, they missed out on the playoffs by one point.

But, in a division where the budgets of Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Charlton dominate, Exeter have achieved success on a fine margin and not overspending. As the club's director of football, Steve Perryman, said to a fans forum recently, for every £1 the club spends, they look to earn £1.50 back - anything else, is spending money they don't have.

That means an emphasis on youth. No less than eight of City's named squad this season are products of the club's youth Centre of Excellence, including the aforementioned Nichols and Shephard. Previous graduates include Crystal Palace's Dean Moxey, Doncaster's George Friend, and Southampton's Danny Seaborne, all sold for six figure sums to sustain the club.

With a larger number of northern-based teams in League One this season, meaning reduced income and higher travel bills for the South West side, budgets have to be kept to. Last season's top scorer, Jamie Cureton, left for Leyton Orient over the summer.

Since 2003, Exeter have paid just one transfer fee, buying former Spurs youth captain Troy Archibald-Henville. Having been on the verge of extinction, the fans running the club are determined Exeter should never face this danger again.

Yet, despite his resources, Tisdale has established himself as one of the brightest and best young managers in the Football League, gaining promotions while playing attractive, passing football, while taking a chance on talented players recovering from injuries, such as Daniel Nardiello and David Noble.

Liverpool's visit will, financially, mean Exeter can expect a little more breathing space this season. But it will also give them a chance to make a name for themselves, against one of the most famous names in English football. And, as Sir Alex Fergsuon could no doubt tell Kenny Dalglish, you underestimate this unassuming Devon club at your own risk.

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