Exeter City chairman Julian Tagg has backed the decision to end the League Two season using an unweighted points-per-game system this week, writes Gareth Davies.
It means the Grecians will lock horns with Colchester United in the play-offs after the adjustment saw Matt Taylor’s side slip to fifth.
The first leg takes place this coming Thursday at United’s home base behind closed doors. A return at St James’ Park is scheduled on June 22. The final will still be held at Wembley on Monday, June 29.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Tagg started by giving a balanced and reasoned assessment of the decision to end the season, based on the votes of member clubs.
“I think ending the league the way they have isn’t anyones first choice,” he said. “Everybody’s last choice would have been to null and void the whole thing and in these situations nobody is ever perfectly happy. That said, under the circumstances, with so many variables, it is the best that could be done.
“Am I happy? No, not really. Could it have been worse? Yes, of course.”
Before the stoppage due to coronavirus, Exeter were still chasing an automatic promotion spot although Tagg wasn’t keen to dwell on what might have been.
“It is the same for every club as there are those in the promotion spots that if the season had been completed, may not have been after 46 games,” he added. “There are also teams that could have been inside or outside the play-off places.
“You never know what might have been but we are just moving on to the next as it were and do the best under the circumstances.
“Wondering what might have been doesn’t really get you anywhere and probably frustrates you even more.
“Concentrating on your initial and ultimate goal is always the best and most practical approach.”
With just ten days between the decision being made and Exeter travelling to Essex, Tagg was keen to stress that football just being a game rather that a ‘whole event’ will be difficult for the players and his club as a whole.
He mused: “There is no doubt that the play-offs will be significantly different.
“The players are back into contact training but there has never been such a long gap between the season being curtailed and returning now.
“We have been as fit as we possibly can without the match fitness and match sharpness that comes with playing games.
“Of course it isn’t an ideal length of time to prepare and everyone would have wanted more time, but the target of playing by the end of June was sensible for a plethora of reasons.
“I think the surreal part is that no one has had any experience of this and we have seen a bit of that in the Bundesliga – playing behind closed doors because that is very, very different.
“Yes it is still football as a game, with the same rules, but football is all about the excitement two hours before the game and the time afterwards because it is all about being a whole event.
“It’s not just 90 minutes because that’s what makes football different, interesting and the biggest world sport.
“People will have to get used to playing without a crowd in the short term, but hopefully we can get back to welcoming crowds as soon as possible. What I would say, though, is that the return so far has been quicker than I and many others had anticipated. I hope that there isn’t a second wave.”
Down the A38, fierce rivals Plymouth Argyle were confirmed as going up after gaining automatic promotion meaning the Pilgrims can plan for next season. This is something Tagg is very much aware that the Grecians are unable to do yet.
“All the other clubs can plan apart from four clubs at the top, he said. “Of course we want to be here in the play-offs, that’s the objective of us as directors and a Trust owned club, but the other way of looking at it is that this is a significant handicap financially.
“There is a further handicap that we can’t properly prepare for the league that we are going to be in next season.”
With Argyle chairman Simon Hallett telling this very newspaper that he would welcome a continuation of Exeter’s rivalry with Plymouth, Tagg’s response was similarly diplomatic and respectful.
“There is a real rivalry and bragging rights but behind the scenes there is an exceptional relationship between the two clubs.
“We are different types of club but there is considerable respect in both directions. By that token, I won’t say I am delighted for Plymouth, but you get what you deserve in this game and good luck to them and the fans.
“We would like to be there with them but who wouldn’t? We were due to play Plymouth in front of an 18,000 sell-out so everyone wants to be a part of that whether you are a fan of Exeter or Plymouth Argyle.
“Who knows, but lets hope that the match between the two clubs can be revisited next season too.”