Exeter City face Blackpool in the League Two promotion play-off final
Tomorrow, Exeter Chiefs shoot for a first Premiership title against Wasps and then on Sunday, Exeter City face Blackpool in the League Two promotion play-off final.
You might have thought the impending trophy grab would merit some attention. Ex should mark the spot. Not a bit of it.
The city centre is utterly devoid of any mention of the football and rugby teams. Not a single shop has a good luck message for either. All is quiet on the south western front.
The banners that are up advertise the Exeter Respect Festival, Devon Day and Think Art while the bunting is left over from Gay Pride.
It is not as if the city is disinterested. The Chiefs have sold out their allocation of 7,500 tickets for the Premiership final and are taking more than 30 buses of supporters in all while City have passed the 15,000 mark in sales. The cathedral city will be half-empty this weekend.
It is just the locals are steadfastly refusing to make a show of their sides’ achievements quite yet.
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It’s nice that we are both flying the banner for the city
Exeter Chiefs star Harry Williams
“We’re quite laid-back down here,” explained the lady in the tourist information office.
And there is still one more tantalising step to go for both.
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If they pull it off, it would be quite some double.
For the Chiefs to be crowned the finest rugby team in the land would be a remarkable ascent for a team which only took its place in the Premiership seven years ago. Likewise promotion to League One for the Grecians, a club which has never operated higher than the third tier of English football in its history and which is owned by its own supporters after it almost went out of business in 2003.
“It’s nice that we are both flying the banner for the city,” said the Chiefs’ England prop Harry Williams.
“I used to have a season ticket at Crystal Palace when I was a boy and I went to the footy for the play-off semi-final. It was a really good game.
“There is a very different atmosphere at the footy. It’s a lot less well meaning. I said to the boys after that game that if I wasn’t playing on a Saturday I would 100 per cent go to their games.
“Watching that game made me realise that there are thousands of people in the city rooting for us and wanting us both to do well. “
They remain separate tribes.
The Grecians are city dwellers; the Chiefs the country set from a few miles out of town. There will be limited overlap between fans this weekend but the local heroes have been mixing.
“We did a bake-off with the footballers three weeks ago. Us versus City. It was good to put a face to the names and they were all nice lads but we lost on a pretty controversial decision,” said Williams.
“The woman who judged it was swayed. She went back on her decision. We were ahead going into the final item, the cakes, are both teams were pretty similar but she went back to our scones which were a lot worse than theirs.
Exeter Chiefs shoot for a first Premiership title against Wasps
“People were genuinely annoyed. Geoff Parling didn’t take it graciously at all. It was a really good evening but the result was fraught with controversy. I am looking forward to the re-match next year if they’ll have us back.”
Maybe it is a Devon thing but both clubs, in their separate ways, have a homespun, loyal feel.
The Chiefs, for all that they are funded by the revenue from being a conference centre off the M5, remain a proper rugby club.
Rob Baxter, the long-serving Chiefs’ director of rugby and a former club captain, was chatting to his gran Doris in the stand at Sandy Park with last weekend’s semi-final against Saracens reaching boiling point.
Opposite number Paul Tisdale, who oversaw an equally dramatic semi-final tie against Carlisle, has been in position for even longer – 11 years to Baxter’s eight.
A life-size image of the nattiest-dressed manager in the League welcomes fans to St James' Park, the real one as Grecians’ fans insist.
On Wednesday under the gaze of the Big Bank, the biggest standing terrace in Europe, there was a modest queue for Wembley T-shirts, flags and scarves in the club shop. It was polite and orderly. No fuss. Just how Tisdale wants it.
“It’s been a very determined 30 games to go from bottom of the league to a play-off final and we’ve still got another one to go so let’s not eulogise too much,” he said.
“I don’t want it just to be a great day out, I want it to be a successful day out. Let’s taper our emotions.”
Exeter is keeping its powder dry. An invasion of London is coming this weekend and if either – or both teams – come back from the capital triumphant we will see the other side of the city.
Open-top bus parades are provisionally planned for the rugby team on Monday and the football team on Tuesday.
Then, it truly will be cider time.