Exeter City boss Matt Taylor is hoping that promotion will herald a new era for the Grecians, both on and off the field.
The Club's decade-long stay in the Sky Bet League Two came to an end after Exeter sealed promotion to the Sky Bet League One in midweek.
The 40-year-old, who took the reins in the summer of 2018, replacing the EFL’s longest serving manager, believes next season will mark the start of a new age for the Club which could hold a new appeal with their newfound League One status.
Now, instead of fearing which players will make their exit, he’s excited about who will be knocking on their door come the close-season.
“It's a chance where, hopefully, I’m not begging people to come to Exeter City,” he explained. “Hopefully players want come to Exeter City, and they see the project, they see the plan, they see the pitch, they see the training facilities and they see League One football. That’s absolutely huge.”
Exeter have set a blueprint as one of a handful of fan-owned EFL Clubs, with the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust becoming the majority shareholder of the Grecians during the 2003/04 campaign.
“Let’s be honest, against some of the – as I call them – giants of League Two, some of the Clubs with bigger budgets and fantastic backing in terms of ownership, we’re owned by the Trust and the fans,” Taylor said. “We’re a community Club who have to earn our own money and spend it wisely and invest it into certain aspects.
“The pitch has made a huge difference this season, so testament to the ground staff and to the Club for investing in that pitch. I’m not sure we’d have got promoted with a pitch like the last couple of seasons. There’s been managers before me – Paul Tisdale, especially – who had been asking for a good pitch for so long.”
Skipper Matt Jay, who is into double figures for the campaign, netted the match-winner against Barrow last week as the Grecians secured promotion to the third-tier. The Devon-born midfielder came through the ranks at the Club – something that Taylor and Exeter pride themselves on.
“I’ve got a changing room full of good people, but he is one that has been through our pathway,” he noted. “I’m delighted for him it, he deserves it. His attitude over the last few years has seen him grown into this leadership capacity. To round it off like he did, I’m so pleased for him.
“There’s various people in the footballing world who’ve been through our pathway at different levels of the game and he’s one still with ourselves captaining the Club and our leading goal-scorer. It’s a testament to his belief and his desire to stay with this group and keep on putting himself forward.”
The Grecians have suffered three Play-Off Final defeats in the last five years, losing to Blackpool, Coventry City and Northampton Town under the arch, but boss Taylor insisted this team have righted those wrongs of the past.
“This group of players has been through the mill,” he acknowledged. “They’ve been involved in three Play-Off Final heartbreaks and I’ve been involved myself as a coach then a manager myself. The players, the staff and everyone associated with the Football Club have earned this moment.
“We’ve made a huge amount of sacrifices in terms of last season and what we did with the young players, but we had a bit of extra experience going into this season, but they’ve still been a mainstay in our team. It’s such a pleasing aspect to see them on the pitch in the starting 11, week in and week out, no matter what.”
Taylor’s men are one win away from securing the title heading into the final day of the season, just a point clear of second-placed Forest Green Rovers, following a 1-1 draw with Northampton.
The Grecians now prepare for the visit of Port Vale next weekend, with the Valiants also pushing to claim the last automatic promotion spot.
“For the first time in a long time, to go into a game of football with no pressure whatsoever is an incredible feeling,” he said, speaking prior to the Cobblers clash. “Let’s try and play our best football and see where it takes us. We’ve still got a professional job to do. We were 15 points behind or maybe more at one stage, so to pull that back is incredible.”
Control is one of Taylor’s favourite words and the Grecians are in the driving seat now, leading the pack in League Two.
“I’m so happy for that group of players,” he added. “It’s a reflection of what they are. We’re short in terms of outstanding talent but we’ve got a real skill of togetherness and a unique aspect within the team spirit of the Club.”