Working with people at the heart of Exeter City Football Club as part of the research and development of the Time Trails project, it is not only the rich level of sporting and social history that has been revealed, but also the scope of the clubs involvement with the wider community outside of St James’ Park. In a previous post I talked about the heritage mobile application ‘more than a mapp’ and today we will be looking at Exeter City and the concept of ‘more than a club’, or as F.C. Barcelona phrase it ‘Més que un club’. Given their respective positions in the world of football, any comparison between the two clubs may seem tenuous; however, like F.C. Barcelona, ECFC is a fan owned club and the opportunities and experiences provided by both these football institutions do not focus solely on the match day experience.
Exeter City Fc Football in the Community Trust, works across the Counties of Devon & Somerset with the belief that it is possible to improve the lives of thousands of people through the power of football for good. The brochures produced by the club for the community show that the guiding ethos of Exeter City FC is to use the compelling attraction of football to promote education, healthy living and sporting achievement among people of all ages and abilities. The aim of the club and the trust is to engage with individuals, through the power of football, and provide them with the opportunity to participate in enjoyable educational, health and sports based activities regardless of background.
Speaking with Jamie Vittles, the Head of Community at Exeter City, I learned directly about the club’s focus upon not only sports participation, but also the educational, social inclusion and health aspect’s; facets which are not only of significant importance to today’s society, but also of great interest to those engaging with cultural and historical studies. The Fountain Centre, which sits adjacent to the stadium, is being developed to include virtual learning environments to support the educational programs, a kitchen which will promote healthy lifestyles and the development of life skills, the facilities for a youth club, and a renovated hall which will act as a community hub and facilitate a range of activities for many different people and groups connected to the club.
Beyond the park, the Community Trust offers a wide range of participatory activities at Exeter University, Exeter College and local schools and sports facilities. These events and activities include disability holiday camps, the ‘every player counts’ program for those with impaired vision, ‘street soccer’ which identifies peak times of anti-social behaviour and provides an alternative activity for young people in deprived areas and ‘adults active’, the newly formed running club. Only recently 165 teams, ranging from under 7’s through to under 15’s, assembled for the annual 6-a-side junior football tournament at Feniton. The event was supported by an army of volunteers, the Supporters’ Trust, the Red Army junior supporters’ club, fans groups including the East Devon Grecians, Exeter City staff, and parents and coaches of the teams, and represents an event and location which each year creates new memories and experiences and gathers together thousands of potential Grecian voices.
These programs, events and facilities not only highlight that ECFC is more than a club, but also show the depth and range of cultural and heritage material that can be generated and represented by our own time trails project. The history of football clubs more often than not centres upon famous players, big matches and trophies, and while all these things are applicable to ECFC, and will be included in the app, our recent research hopefully can pay some tribute to the fantastic energy and enthusiasm shown by all those associated with the club, and the influence they can have in presenting a multi-vocal and heterogeneous representation of its history, heritage and culture. We could, for example, utilise the trail format to create a physical and contextual understanding of the club’s past, whilst also beginning to shape a repository of social memory which extends beyond the match day experience and draws upon the experiences of people at a range of events and locations associated with the club. Crucially, we would love to offer a tool that could be used by fans, any fans, to capture what it is that makes Exeter City more than a club.
These trails could be as diverse as learning about the history of the club, through visiting the ground and following a trail across the city which highlights some of the places related to key moments and occasions in the clubs history; through to following additional locations such as the Fountain Centre, where events and activities related to the social aspect of the club and its community are incorporated into the trail (or followed separately) to document a more personalised experience of life related to the football club, and to raise awareness of its function, heritage and cultural value both past, present and future.
In presenting what is a diverse and positive representation of Exeter’s heritage and culture, I hope that we can take the example set by the Football in the Community Trust and offer a tool that helps to inspire people to learn about the history of the club and to experience visits to the park in a different way by putting its history into a visual context; to include people in the exchange of knowledge and presentation of the club’s activities, experiences and heritage; and to improve people’s understanding of what the club means to its fans and what it can provide for the people of the city.