Honiton resident Steve Flack reflects on the latter years of his football career
PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:49 16 May 2017
Honiton resident Steve Flack reflects on the troubled times at Exeter City and his reasons for staying loyal to it. He spoke to Steve Jennings.
As the new millennium began, Exeter City Football Club had ongoing, critical financial issues and found themselves being guided by psychic Uri Geller who, in 2002, brought his close friend Michael Jackson to St James Park. What did Steve think of all the fanfare and hype?
“When it first happened I thought it was fine. Uri Geller got Michael Jackson down here so he had some contacts sure enough. With Exeter City you were never sure if you were going to get paid so any publicity to attract sponsorship should be good.
“I met Uri Geller a few times and he performed his tricks. He would ring you up to wish you well and seemed genuine. It was his son who supported Exeter who got him interested.
“I think he brought some sponsorship in but not much. He did say on I’m A Celebrity that he owned Exeter City but I don’t think he ever did. With certain people and that level of fame it appears that everything is for themselves and I think that was the case with him.”
But even Geller’s healing powers couldn’t help City who were relegated from the Football League in 2003 despite beating Southend 1¬0 in their final game with Steve scoring in injury time. Swansea’s 4¬2 win against Hull meant they would survive. There were some who thought City would bounce straight back but Steve was not so sure.
“I remember speaking with Kwame Ampadu at the time, who is back at Arsenal coaching now, and he said, ‘If there is carnage off the pitch, there will be carnage on the pitch’, and he was right. I knew it would take time for the club to heal.
”Players weren’t getting paid, some lost their houses, some lost their relationships. I was the club’s PFA representative so I was constantly talking to (chairman) Julian Tagg at that time. There was loads going on – it wasn’t good.”
Relegation could actually have been an opportunity for Steve who found himself being chased by a number of club’s including Swansea City, Bristol Rovers, Lincoln City, Grimsby Town and Hull City, who offered a six¬figure sum for the 6 foot 1 inch striker. But Steve opted to stay loyal to City.
“I was 30 or so at the time and settled here. The kids were settled at school and Jane had a good job and was happy here. So I was happy. I would have uprooted us all to hundreds of miles away for a similar wage. And would I have been than two years here, then two years there? Then back to Exeter?
“If I was being offered the Premier League and £15,000 per week ¬ which would have been life¬changing even if for a year only ¬ then that would have been different. So I made the decision to stay and that was the right decision.”
The Conference years weren’t always memorable for the right reasons for City fans, and it would take six seasons for the club to regain league status, but there would be some highlights including the game that Steve cites as the most memorable; that game at Manchester United when Exeter City stepped out in front of 67,551 fans for an FA Cup tie and managed to draw.
“It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it today. At Exeter you make your own way to the ground but here the coach drives into the stadium and drops you off like stars. It was a great experience. We went there to get beat but ended up drawing 0¬0.
“But Exeter didn’t organise things that well and expected the players who got the club to Manchester United to buy a home ticket against Scarborough to allow us to buy tickets for wives and family for the United game. Ridiculous. So I had a word with Steve Perryman (Exeter’s Director of Football) and he sorted things out and we ended up with five tickets each.
”We got Manchester back to St James Park and they played Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes and Giggs. Ronaldo was the best player I ever played against. You felt you were always three inches from getting the ball off him but never did. Amazing player.”
Towards the end of his time at Exeter, Steve was used mostly as a squad player. His final goals for the Grecians formed his only hat¬trick against Southport on March 4, 2006, the fastest ever by an Exeter player with three goals in thirteen minutes. But after a ten¬game goalless run his final game was against Scarborough.
His scoring record compares to City’s greatest and his 86 league goals are bettered only by Tony Kellow (129), Alan Banks (101) and Steve Neville (88) and is comparable to another City great, his former team¬mate Darron Rowbotham (85). His commitment was not lost with Exeter fans with whom Steve always had a great relationship and he was very popular.
“I always say in the lower leagues the fans like hard grafters. They know they are not going to get a Wayne Rooney or Ronaldo with all the technical skills but are appreciative of someone who puts in 90 minutes and I got on with the fans very well.”
But with his time as a pro was over Exeter granted Steve a Testimonial game against Torquay United on July 25, 2006. He moved on to play and coach briefly for Tiverton Town and Dorchester. He returned to the building trade and has his own company Steve Flack Building. But he remembers his ten years as a pro¬footballer fondly.
“There wasn’t the big money in it for me but it was a good life. You start training at 10am and be finished by 2pm most days and get paid to keep fit and got BUPA healthcare.
“Even now I can be walking down the street in Exeter and still get recognised some eleven years later. And people are very complimentary which is nice and much better than getting stick I guess?
“It was a great life and I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever.”