Keane’s birthday and tales of trains – Carl’s Travels with Town at Exeter City
PUBLISHED: 19:00 02 January 2020
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he spotlights Exeter City’s St James Park
As 39th birthdays go, Roy Keane probably enjoyed his more than most, watching his Ipswich Town side win a Carling Cup tie at Exeter City's St James Park, the destination for Paul Lambert's current Town squad this weekend.
It is perhaps stretching it a bit to describe 'a late winner from midfielder David Norris' as being the 'ideal birthday present.'
But a safe passage through to the second round of the Carling Cup, and more to the point a rare victory in a cup competition, was not to be sniffed at.
There were not many highs or joyous moments during Keane's tenure, when the Irishman had few reasons to smile, and in all probability he maybe felt that he was hovering around 50 rather than 40, in terms of landmark birthdays,during his time at Portman Road.
But St James Park, the home of the Devon-based Grecians, was kind to Keane and his men that night.
I have personally never celebrated a birthday while perched on a seat in the Exeter City press box - I have, as it happens, mulled over a 35th birthday while seated in Walsall's Bescot Stadium, and also weighed up the pluses and minuses of enjoying a birthday at Rochdale's rather cramped home at Deepdale.
Great birthdays, all of them.
A lack of Devon birthdays aside, I have always enjoyed a trip to St James Park, Exeter, even more than St James' Park, Newcastle, if the truth be known.
Perhaps it has something to do with a few good away results? Or a couple of excellent overnight stops? Or maybe I just like the excitement of being close to a railway station?
They don't come much closer, in terms of a football stadium to a railway station, than City's St James Park and the two small platforms at St James Park Station, 170 miles from London's Waterloo Station on the Great Western Railway.
There are other examples of a football ground's close proximity to a railway station, not least Crewe Alexandra's Gresty Road - I have spent many an afternoon watching the trains pull in and out of Crewe station, from the lofty press box, while trying to ignore the mundane goings-on down below, on the football pitch.
Ironically, Crewe's former Gresty Road home was demolished in 1906 to accommodate the construction of new railway lines, with the current stadium built directly to the west of the site.
Sometimes, I guess, the railway line can be too close for comfort!
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Then there's Wrexham's Racecourse Ground - the nearest station is described as being '14 metres away' and a 'one-minute walk' from the stadium.
Former football-specific railway stations include the Watford Stadium Halt, which was only used on Watford FC match-days (last train in 1996) and Manchester United Football Ground station, adjacent to Old Trafford, which was closed in 2018.
I know, useless information.
- Club: Exeter City
- Founded: May, 1901 (118 years ago, as Sidwells United)
- Ground: St James Park (built in 1904)
- Town's first visit: 2-2 away draw on December 31, 1938
- Town's last visit: 1-1 away draw on August 14, 2018 (lost 4-2 on penalties)
- Town's overall record at St James Park: P14 W4 D6 L4
In the early days, there were complaints from other clubs that Exeter's pitch was not of a regulation size, in terms of length.
Indeed, both Stoke City and Reading refused to play FA Cup fixtures at St James Park, in 1909 and 1910 respectively.
That would make a rather good story, in this day and age - Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp declining to take their clubs to a smaller stadium, for the magic of the cup, due to an unregulated pitch size.
Fortunately, Exeter City were able to extend their pitch, and construct a new stand, following the purchase of adjacent land in 1920.
As a footnote, long before St James Park was built, the land was rented out for the fattening of pigs, starting in the 17th century.
It was a very young Town side that edged out Exeter City 3-2 after extra-time in the Carling Cup tie of 2010, on Keane's 39th birthday.
The likes of Tom Eastman, Shane O'Connor, Jack Ainsley, Troy Brown, Luke Hyam and Reggie Lambe were all in the starting line-up, but it was an older head, David Norris, who won the match with two goals, the conclusive last in the 99th minute.