Preparations for Turning Professional in
A PROFESSIONAL TEAM AT EXETER. (February 1908)
Several weeks ago (in February 1908) a rumour was circulated by an official of the Plymouth Argyle club to the effect that a professional club was to be formed in Exeter, and an application for enrolment in the Southern League was to be applied for. Unlikely as it appeared to be at the time, there are indications that the "rumour," as it was called, is founded upon fact. The "Professional" fever is brewing in Exeter, and there appear to be indications that it may become epidemic. There is a sentimental objection to the idea of paying a troupe of men to play football for the town, as it seems to lower the noble game to the level of a circus exhibition. The original aim of the game of football was to provide pleasure and physical exercise for the youth of the country, and its best days in this respect were those of long ago, when players had to pay their own expenses in order to secure that enjoyment and ex ercise. But times have changed, and the chief aim has for the past dozen or so years become the entertainment of spectators. It is fully recognised, therefore, that sentimental repugnance to the idea of professionalism is quite out of date, and can have no more weight as a barring clause than Canute's ultimatum. Regarding the distance of Exeter from the centre of professional activity, and the comparative thinness of the population, it is clear that the object of the promoters of the suggested Limited Liability Company cannot be to "make money," and therefore it is assumed that the main purpose of the introduction of the element of professionalism is educational, a laudable endeavour to raise the standard of the play of existing clubs, and at the same time to excite interest that will lead to the formation of more clubs in the district, and to increase public support, objects which should meet with general approval.
THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE.
The opinion is held in many quarters, however, that under the existing conditions, the establishment in Exeter of a team well qualified to take part in the 1st Division of the Southern League could not be made to pay. The cost of procuring and maintaining the class of players who could represent the city in a professional tournament, and the very heavy travelling expenses, could not be met by the revenue, for the population is not large enough to provide the required amount of "gate" money. At a meeting held on Tuesday evening it was stated that capital of £1,000 would justify the formation of such a team. But if the capital had to be drawn upon to meet the weekly expenses, it is not likely that the shareholders would be content to look on the subscriptions they had made as gifts. The lesser scheme, the establishment of a team to enter the 2nd Division of the Southern League, with a capital of £200, is a different matter altogether. If the weekly expenses do not much exceed those of Salisbury City (£16) such a team might be made to succeed financially. Also there is to be considered what effect such a team would have on the present position of the Exeter City Club, unless the latter were merged with it. Another important point is the ground. The most desirable is, of course, the County Ground, but to secure this a bid of £130, or possibly £150, would have to be made.
A GOOD MOTTO.
"More haste less speed" is a good motto, and it would well behove those concerned to therefore thoroughly exhaust the pros and cons before coming to a decision on the matter, for it is no light thing. Changes are looming in the near future which may make the chances of the success of an Exeter Professional Team more favourable than they are at present, and it is a wise step to endeavour to discover what these changes are likely to be before coming to a definite conclusion.
THE EXETER CITY PROFESSIONAL TEAM (March 1908)
Matters are moving apace. Everybody in Exeter interested in football seems to be talking about the projested Professional Team and discussing the pros and cons. The two camps, Rugby and Soccer, are, naturally sharply divided on the question, but it is greatly to be depreciated that either should attempt to belittle the game of the other. A tendency to do this has manifested itself during the past few days. Both are grand games. Each side should do its best at its own game, and leave it to the general public to determine which has the most attraction. It is unwise to think that Rugby is going to be wiped out of existence by the introduction of high class Soccer. It has too strong a hold on the affections of a large section of Exeter's present generation for that to come about for many years. It is true that fashions in sport do change from time to time, but not so rapidly as with respect to clothes. A taste for Association football has developed in Exeter during the past few years, and those who have encouraged it are now going to do their best to turn it into a craving appetite, and to satisfy this with the best class of food obtainable. The chief difficulty which the promoters of the Professional Team have to face is to secure a suitable ground. This is one of the proofs they are bound to produce in order to obtain entry to the Southern League. Of course, the County Ground is the most suitable venue. But it cannot be expected that the Rugby walls will fall through the sound of shouts! And the Exeter R.F.C. cannot be blamed in the least for making sure of the ground that they have occupied for so many years, nor the Ground Company for favouring their old tenants who have always paid well.
ST JAMES'S TO BE ADAPTED.
But with the Association people it is a case of now or never. The Barnfield scheme fell through, and they cannot start with a makeshift ground next season, relying on getting possession of the County Ground the following year. And so the effort is being made to adapt St James's Park to the requirements, and with making use of every foot of space for banking, staging, and stands, this can be done providing that it can be secured for the purpose, and the rights of the owners of surrounding property not interfered with. The situation of the ground renders it eminently convenient, what with the tram service and the railway halt at Lion's Holt. This morning, March 12th, in response to an invitation by the Southern League to attend their meeting in London today, Messrs. S.Thomas and N. Kendall proceeded to town to lay the claim of the Exeter City Club before the management.
ST. JAMES'S PARK TAKEN
At a meeting of the Special Committee of the Exeter City Club at the Headquarters, the Red Lion Hotel, Mr S.Thomas reported that Mr M.J.McGahey solicitor, had accepted, on the proposed Company's behalf, the terms offered for a 21 years lease of the football ground at St James's Park, and that Mr J.B.Skeggs, of the Millwall Athletic Club, had promised to confer with the City Club's Committee, and advise them generally in the promotion of the scheme for a Professional Club. It was also decided, immediately upon the publication of the prospectus of the Limited Liability Company, to commence with an organised canvass of tradespeople in the city. There seems to be no doubt, at the present, that the capital required will be subscribed.
(March 21st 1908)
Mr Skeggs Meets the Exeter Promoters
The informal visit of Mr J.B.Skeggs, Chairman of Millwall F. C., to Exeter last night is likely to prove of immense service to the Exeter City Committee. He arrived from London at eight o'clock, and proceeded straight to the Club's meeting, where the local scheme was thoroughly explained to him in all its details, and the plans of St James's Park, drawn out in detail by Mr. Commin, architect, shown him. The statements of Mr Skeggs, and the advice he gave, were of a purely confidential nature, but it would be no breach of that confidence to say that he expressed the utmost satisfaction with the proposed ground, and said that it would make one of the most compact, and certainly one of the most centrally situated, in the South. There is little doubt, too, that Mr Skeggs is very favourably impressed with the thickly populated area. in which the ground is situated, to say nothing of the large area from which Exeter City would draw its support throughout East Devon, and the fact that the Millwall Chairman has a great influence in the Southern League Headquarters lends additional importance to his sympathy being now thoroughly with Exeter. Two delegates from Exeter City will attend the important Southern League meeting on Monday, and it is probable that a deputation will wait upon the Directors of the Southern League Clubs with a view to a promise of votes being secured at the May meeting. The memorandum of the proposed Company is now in the hands of the printers. Coventry City are being mentioned as further possible candidates for admission to the Southern League, but who ever else presents themselves, it may be taken for granted that in London at least there is a prepondering feeling that Exeter is by far the most valuable of the proposed new areas for the Southern League to work upon.
EXETER AND THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE.
Mr S.H.Thomas and Capt. F. J. Harvey represented Exeter City at the important meeting of the Southern League held in London on Monday evening, March 23rd, when, upon the motion of Mr Skeggs (Millwall F.C) Tottenham Hotspur, Queen's Park Rangers, and Bradford Park Avenue were called upon to resign before the 30th of April next in the event of their still applying for election to the English League. A feature of the meeting was the almost unanimous support which was accorded Mr Skeggs, this strong independent stand being quite without precedent in the history of Southern League management. It should certainly augur well for the future of the League, and it will be interesting to see what the next move will be of the seceding Clubs. It is anticipated that two might "climb down," but it cannot be expected that the 'Spurs will. In any event it is practically certain that there will be at the least one vacancy in the Southern League, and the favourable reception given to the Exeter City Club's representatives places the Exonians in a stronger position than they have ever been in regard to securing the vacancy.
EXETER'S PROFESSIONAL CLUB SCHEME (4th April 1908)
During the week considerable progress has been made with regard to the Professional Club scheme. In the haunts where professional players are mostly to be found advertisements have appeared inviting applications from players for all positions, with the intimation that only good men with good credentials need apply, to the "Exeter City Football and Athletic Company." No sooner had the announcement appeared than applications began to pour in, and they continue to do so, showing that there is no lack of quantity; but the promoters must have quality, and they will not be happy until they have it. The prime necessity is to get together a strong, well balanced team at the start, and this work will require an immense amount of anxious thought and enquiry. The Committee are, luckily, able to command expert advice in this, as well as other departments, many of the best and most prominent men connected with the game having expressed their willingness to render all possible aid. Of course, no definite engagements can be made until it is quite certain that the Club will secure admission to the 1st Division of the Southern League. But, as matters are tending, there appears to be little doubt as to this, even if only one vacancy should arise. Delegates from "Exeter City" would scarcely be invited to attend the League meetings unless there was a pretty unanimous intention to admit the Club to membership. It is this thought which is now encouraging the promoters to go ahead with their arrangements at express speed, with no thought of summer holidays.
CROWDS OF 18,000.
The architect's plan for the equipment of the St James's Field, exposed to public view, has attracted great attention in Exeter, and many are the exclamations of surprise at the ingenuity which makes provision for a crowd of 18,000 persons within so small an enclosure. But this is just the fact that exists in the North of England, the fields there being as a rule small but completely surrounded with staging. It is wonderful what extra space is manufactured by the aid of stands, flower-pot staging, and banking up. When finished, according to the plans, St James's Park will be a cosy and well furnished ground, and one of the best in the West of England.
TUESDAY APRIL 7TH.
The promoters of the "Exeter City" Professional Team could not have wished for a better or more enthusiastic public meeting. It is plainly evident that the scheme has "caught on," and captured the fancy of a large section of the community.
The meeting was held at the Royal Public Rooms, Capt. F.J.Harvey presiding. He was supported on the platform by the Rev. Philip Williams, Messrs. Nat Whittaker (Secretary, Southern League), Knight (Secretary, London League), R.F.Davis (Chairman, Plymouth Argyle), Louis Crabbe (Team secretary, Plymouth Argyle), Sydney Cole and J.Jacques (Argyle), E.Arnfield (Southampton), J.Skeggs (Millwall), Robinson (sports traffic manager of the G. W. R.), Bickford (G.W.R.), J.T.Howcroft (the well known League referee, of Bolton), M.J.McGahey, Parkhouse, Norman Kendall, W. Fenwick, A.M.Alford, T.Oliver, Collingwood, and S.H.Thomas. The hall was packed some time before the start, the interval being occupied
with musical selections by the City Orchestra. The Chairman read letters regretting absence from the Rev. E. Reid, the old Exeter City club forward, Mr C.Crump, the vice-president of the Football Association and of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who could not return from the Scottish International meeting in time to get to Exeter, Mr Darnell, managing director of Northampton and vice-chairman of the Southern League, the Mayor of Exeter (Alderman H. G. Gadd), Mr F.J.Wall (secretary of the Football Association), who wished the scheme all success and said that a professional team in the city would no doubt popularise Soccer throughout the entirety of Fast Devon, particularly if the players included the prominent amateurs of the County.
SURROUNDED WITH FRIENDS.
Mr Arnfield said that Southampton were always ready to assist a struggling community who were labouring hard to establish a good Association Club. The work was no child's play, and there must be no half-heartedness, or the thing was doomed to fail. Mr Crabbe said that ever since he brought the Argyle Reserves to Exeter, three years ago for the first time, he was struck by the possibilities of Soccer in East Devon. The public want of first class Soccer which was then in evidence had been increasing very steadily, and no one could doubt that the first step to success was taken when Banks was engaged as professional coach, and in conclusion he gave as Argyle's message to Exeter: "Plymouth will support you." Mr Skeggs, who met with a hearty reception, said that he was no stranger to Exeter's scheme, for he regarded himself as a prime mover in these matters, and was down in private conference with the promoters of the new Company some weeks ago. He must confess that once he doubted whether Exeter could support a first-class team, for generally he was afraid Cathedral centres were not good sporting centres, but now he was convinced that Exeter was an exception.
COMPARISONS WITH SWINDON.
The enthusiasm at this meeting showed it, and the presence of the Rev. Philip Williams on the platform he regarded particularly as a healthy sign: "get your parsons with you," remarked Mr Skeggs, amid loud laughter, "and you are bound to succeed."
Mr Skeggs, by facts and figures and comparisons with such Clubs as Swindon Town, went on to argue that Exeter could easily make a Southern League Club pay. Mr Skeggs, referring to the Southern League secessions, said he should very much regret the loss to the League of Tottenham Hotspur, but as to the other two, Queens Park Rangers and Bradford Park Avenue, he did not care "a bang." Mr Skeggs concluded by referring to the Great Western Railway, who, he said, were real good friends to football, and the pro moters would do well to make them their friends. Mr Nat Whittaker mentioned that he had had letters regretting absence from Mr Homer, Secretary of Bristol Rovers, and Mr Allen, the Secretary of Swindon. He went on to refer to the G. W. R. Company, and pointed out what they had done for Queen's Park Rangers and other Clubs, and suggested that if Exeter City made friends with the Company they might get substantial help from them. This was proved by the presence of the sports manager of Great Western Railway, Mr Robinson, who looked after all the football traffic of the Company. Mr Whittaker finished by remarking that he saw fine prospects of a first-class Club in Exeter, and candidly speaking, he might say at once that he would use his influence in the direction that the Exeter public would like.
VOTE OF THANKS AND CHEERING
Mr Norman Kendall, in the course of a racy speech, proposed the following motion: "That this representative meeting of citizens of Exeter pledges its support to the Exeter Football & Athletic Club Company Limited in its endeavour to enter the professional Southern League."
The Rev. Philip Williams, in seconding the resolution, spoke of the growth of Soccer in recent years in Exeter. The resolution was carried unanimously. Mr Kendall proposed a vote of thanks to the officials of the Southern League who had given time and trouble to come to speak to them that night. The motion was carried by acclamation, and the meeting broke up with enthusiastic cheering.
Last week the Southend United Club, which has been in existence for a considerable time and which is currently at the head of the 2nd Division of the Southern League, held a similar meeting, at which the public attended (with the Mayor presiding) to find out what support the public would give to a guarantee fund. Councillor Richard son stated that the debt of last season, which amounted to £1,200, had been wiped out, and that the gates this season had shown a big increase, and that "if the meeting would help the Club financially and enable the Directors to show the Southern League a strong guarantee fund he was assured there was no question about the Club being admitted to the First Division of the Southern League." Shares to the value of £100 were taken
up in the room, and £327 guaranteed. Now, here was practical proof of public interest. But in spite of the optimistic tone of the Councillor, "Exeter City" appears to stand a far better chance of admission to the League, though they are as yet a club only "in the making." It is very significant that Mr Nat Whittaker, the Secretary of the Southern League, did not accept the invitation to Southend United's meeting, but came to Exeter. Brentford seem to be the only League club backing up Southend, whereas Exeter have the open support of Millwall, Southampton, Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle, and Swindon, whilst others are known to be favourable. The "City" promoters can therefore now proceed in the full and complete assurance that the Club will secure admission to the First Division, provided that at the meeting of the League next month they produce proof of the possession of a suitable ground, sound financial support, and a strong team.