Gary Rice, who came through the youth ranks at Exeter City, made over forty league appearances for the Grecians during the troubled times of the mid-1990s.
Gary originally signed as an associate schoolboy in November 1990 and, having played for the Exeter and East Devon schools side, became a trainee in 1992 before agreeing a full professional contract in July 1994.
Making his debut shortly before his 19th birthday against Bury on 20 August 1994, Gary made 44 league appearances (31 starts, 13 from the bench) as the Grecians finished bottom of the Football League in 1994/95 before climbing to 14th place the following campaign. Somewhat thrown into the deep end Gary played firstly for Terry Cooper and then Peter Fox, before being released at the end of the 1995/96 campaign.
Still not quite twenty-one, Gary was destined never to play professional football again and joined Weymouth ahead of later appearing for Bridgwater Town and Torrington.
Gary Rice was interviewed by Dave Phillips in February 2021 on the theme of “Life as a young Exeter City professional in the 1990s” especially in the context of the 1994/95 season. Thanks to Dave Phillips, who made contact with Gary and to Gary himself for his time and trouble.
“(Thanks for the copy of the bulletin) it certainly brought back some memories but unfortunately not very clear on the fundraising match I am afraid. I do remember we released a record with Andy Ford called “Supporting the City” (I think) and recording a music video in the Old Centre Spot behind the Big Bank whilst BBC Spotlight filmed us. Don’t think it went to number one though!
The season started okay but as the club’s financial issues started to show, there seemed to be more drama occurring week after week which resulted in unrest within the playing staff.
Away games, that would usually have included an overnight stay at hotels, were changed to travelling on-the-day and eating pre-match meals on the coach consisting of microwaved pasta dishes and a piece of fruit. Other luxuries at the training ground were cut back and I know Mickey Chapman, the physio at the time, was buying medical supplies himself to keep us going. I think the fans even stumped up on a couple of occasions to pay for hotels which, in a way, was the start of what we now call the Trust I suppose.
We were forever worrying whether contracts would be honoured or if we would even get paid. We weren’t on great money, not even the more experienced pros, so there was no nest egg to sit back on. Whilst we waited for the financials to sort themselves out, there were still mortgages to pay and families to feed.
Players were having discussion with the PFA with respect to where we stood in regard to contracts and whether we could contact other clubs to try and get deals elsewhere on the basis that City were in breach of contract. All of this was driving a wedge between the players and the club hierarchy. It was hard to remain focused on playing to be honest, even when the PFA stepped in and paid our wages for six-months or so.
As the season came to a close and the club’s position was looking very bleak, Terry Cooper was leaving his post as manager, so even more uncertainty began to unfold. Peter Fox and Noel Blake were always good to me as a young pro and I remember a conversation I had with Foxy on the way back from playing our final game at Northampton Town (a team that included ex ECFC players Scott Daniels and Andy Woodman). He said to me that I didn’t have to worry as there was some light at the end of the tunnel, he was confident that things would be sorted and that he was going to be taking on the manager’s position for the next season and I would be part of his plans. He was true to his word and I’ll always be grateful for the faith he showed in me. Although some might say it showed poor judgement on his part”