9 November ~ You wait eight years for a Devon derby with your hated rivals, and then the Johnstone's Paint Trophy – a competition neither side would ordinarily be concerned about – gives the two teams an extra match for good measure. Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle last met back in 2002 in very different circumstances. The Grecians were perennial strugglers at this point, where a good season constituted wins against their local rivals and not getting relegated. Plymouth, under Paul Sturrock, were very much a team on the up and romped to the Division Three title that year with two games to spare.
The following year, City tumbled out of the league and came close to extinction, while the Pilgrims continued their ascent up the football pyramid. Since then, the two clubs' fortunes have almost come full circle. Exeter stabilised after an FA Cup draw against Manchester United and achieved back-to-back promotions under Paul Tisdale, while Argyle first flirted with the Championship play-offs before dropping out of the second tier last season with mounting debts and surrounded by continual rumours of administration.
The Devon derby might not be as high-profile as the recent Midlands or Tyne-Wear derbies, but the dislike between both sets of fans is just as strong and it's typically the Grecians who, over the years, have come off worse, with a few exceptions – most notably the late Alan Ball doing the double over Plymouth in 1991. And, with Plymouth struggling to adapt to League One under Peter Reid, while Exeter were recently talking themselves up as an outside bet for the play-offs, it's understandable that City fans believe this could be their year.
But these could be the most competitive games between the two for a good few seasons to come. If Plymouth's financial problems catch up with them or the Pilgrims get relegated, it would leave the Grecians bereft of a local rivalry once more (neither Yeovil nor Bristol Rovers have much in the way of history with Exeter). And while it's always fun to revel in beating your hated rivals at their lowest ebb, part of it feels a bit like a large group of schoolchildren ganging up on the kid nobody liked anyway – nobody has any qualms about doing so, but it leaves you feeling slightly hollow afterwards.
Given Exeter's own recent near-demise, it's hopefully not too much to ask for a bit of solidarity when it comes to off-the-field problems. After all, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a derby victory when the two sides are evenly matched, while there's no point in having a rivalry if one team ends up going out of business. Gloating is best reserved for battles on the pitch. Gary Andrews