I’d made the mistake before, with Team Bath, of changing too many players after promotion. It often doesn’t work. There is an intangible benefit of everyone knowing what they’re doing together at the same time – and it’s huge. Again, I didn’t have much to spend. I only brought in one player and, to be honest, it was an odd signing.
My teams had always had quick, exciting wingers, but I had an attacking full-back in George Friend, so I felt I didn’t need more of the same from the winger on that side. I had always signed young players, but in the summer of 2008 I signed the 35-year-old Marcus Stewart – previously a centre-forward, and never tremendously quick – to play on the left wing.
Marcus was absolutely magnificent for us. He scored some important goals for us that season but, not only that, his understanding of the game improved the players around him, and in our first season in League Two we finished second to secure back-to-back promotions.
“We had a business model that we disregarded for one season, and we paid for it”
Ever since, I’ve looked to sign players coming to the end of their career who want to become coaches. They want to learn and can develop like a young player, because they want to engage their mind in another side of the game.
Suddenly, we had a number of players who had only played non-league football and one season in League Two, and we were going into League One.
I changed too many players, though, and it took a while to get them all to gel. We ended up battling relegation, but went on a good run in the second half of the season – losing only one of our last 11 matches – and beat Huddersfield on the final day to stay up.
The following year we decided to keep the team together, to try and build on the momentum of the second half of the previous campaign. The problem was that we had a large group of players ready to run their contracts down. We knew we had a great chance to do something special. Exeter had never finished in the top third of League One, and we had a chance of doing that.