Paul Tisdale: Exeter City manager celebrates 500 games in charge

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Paul Tisdale
Paul Tisdale's unique touchline attire is often inspired by his friendship with Ray Kelvin, the founder of the Ted Baker clothing chain

In the world of managerial merry-go-rounds and instant success, few clubs in football seem to stick with their managers for long.

But on Tuesday, Exeter City boss Paul Tisdale will take charge of his 500th game as his side host Oxford United in League Two.

When he was appointed as the manager of the supporter-owned club in June 2006, the iPhone was a mere pip on Apple's drawing board, Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, Facebook was something only a few thousand students knew about and Twitter had yet to leave its nest.

The fashion-conscious 43-year-old has been promoted twice, relegated once, lost a play-off final at Wembley and had to cope with off-field tragedy and financial worries.

"It's a long old stretch," he tells BBC Sport. "But I enjoy it here, I enjoy working within the brief that the manager is set here at Exeter.

"There's been moments along the way where I could have left, but I'm still here, I enjoy it and the club is getting healthier and healthier."

Dedicated follower of fashion

Football's most fashionable boss?

For those who do not follow Exeter every week, Paul Tisdale is synonymous with his touchline dress-sense.

From pork-pie hats to cravats and trench coats to three-piece suits, Tisdale is not afraid to experiment with his attire.

When he speaks to reporters on tape, Tisdale often thoughtfully gives enough away to elicit a very good answer while rarely divulging all his secrets, often with a wry smile that illustrates he knows the answer you want, but you're not necessarily going to get it.

Asking how he picks his clothes for game day elicits such an answer:

"It's business day," he says. "Whatever type of thought I have, which I keep to myself, I come to work to mean business and I want the players to have confidence and stand out from the crowd and I'll take the lead.

"The most important thing is I'm a football manager and it's about the football.

"It's an aside, I know it gets spoken about, it does no harm, it's certainly one of the quirky aspects of Exeter City, but the club's got as many interesting angles to it without too much focus on my hat or whatever it is."

Tisdale's Exeter highs and lows

May 2007: Lose in Conference play-off final to Morecambe after finishing fifth in his first season in charge.
May 2008: Beat Cambridge in the Conference play-off final to return to the Football League, having beaten nearest neighbours Torquay United in the semi-finals.
May 2009: Named League Two Manager of the Year after guiding City to second in the division in his first season in the Football League.
August 2010: Striker Adam Stansfield dies of cancer, just a few months after a final-day win against Huddersfield keeps Exeter in League One.
May 2011: Tisdale caps off his finest finish as a manager, guiding Exeter to eighth place in the third tier, missing out on the play-offs by a point. Tisdale makes his only appearance as an Exeter player as a late substitute on the final day of the season.
May 2012: Relegated from League One after finishing second from bottom.
Summer 2014: Exeter subject to a transfer embargo after cashflow problems mean they need a loan from the PFA to pay wages.
January 2015: Sells home-grown midfielder Matt Grimes for a club-record fee of £1.75m to Swansea City.
January 2016: Draw Liverpool in the FA Cup, holding the five-time European champions to a 2-2 draw at St James Park before losing the replay at Anfield.

A quirky manager for a quirky club

"His dress sense is different, as is the way he speaks," says Graham Kirk, a lifelong Exeter City fan who presents a weekly radio show about the club.

"He doesn't do soundbites, you ask him his thoughts and he'll talk for two or three minutes, you don't get 'the boys done good' or 'we're over the moon'."

After almost going bankrupt, the club which was famously the first team to take on Brazil 102 years ago, was taken over by a fans' trust in 2003.

With no rich owner to bankroll any losses, Exeter must spend every penny wisely and rely on bringing through young players and planning well in advance, something Kirk feels is one of Tisdale's strengths.

"He's a quirky character, but the club is as well," he told BBC Sport.

"That quirkiness has helped him as the people who run the club care passionately about the club, he really buys into the Trust set-up and model.

"He has a long-term vision. The be-all and end-all is not the result on a Saturday.

"And he's been helped by the stability at the club as well. It's not just him that's been here for a long time, so too have Steve Perryman, Julian Tagg (Exeter chairman), Mel Gwinnett (Exeter's goalkeeping coach), and a host of people on the commercial and business side of the club."

'He's a very intelligent man'

Steve Perryman (left) and Paul Tisdale
Steve Perryman was one of the panel that interviewed Tisdale for the Exeter role in 2006

Steve Perryman, Exeter's director of football, knows a thing or two about the game. A Tottenham legend, he had played more games in top-flight English football than anyone else until Ryan Giggs took his crown in 2011.external-link

For the past decade he has been one of Tisdale's closest confidants as they try to plot success at St James Park.

"My first recollection of Tis was stood at the far end of two dugouts in his first game at York. Normally managers stand in the middle where they can have an effect on the fourth official.

"The York manager at the time in that first game was giving the referee and the fourth official all sorts of abuse. Tis was just there looking at it, totally not involved. Some people would describe that as lack of passion, but I'm telling you, he's as passionate as the next one."

Perryman adds: "He's a very intelligent man, a clever man. In football terms, clever can mean tricky, slippery - but this means clever as in educated.

"He's a good man to follow, he's the leader of the troops."

In football terms he and Tisdale are very different - while Perryman played almost 1,000 games at the highest level, Tisdale's career was severely punctuated by injuries before he eventually hung up his boots early and coached university side Team Bath.

"Part of the synergy is that we're both very comfortable in our own bodies," says Perryman.

"We have our own way of doing things, but we both have no egos. Therefore Tis asks me my opinion, I give him my opinion, if he goes completely opposite to my opinion I don't have my head in my hands thinking about what this means for the future.

"It means he's decided to go his own way, and that's what a manager is there to do. He's at the sharp end and he lives up to that responsibility and he's not frightened to make decisions in any shape or form.

"I've seen him take off a striker when we're a goal behind and put on a midfield player and we end up winning the game. It's sometimes hard to understand, even for me with my experience, but it works."

Another 500 games?

Permanent managers since 2006

The average tenure of a manager in England is around 15 months, so while Tisdale is something of an exception in modern football in terms of longevity, those who know him well feel that he will, at some point, part ways with the Grecians.

"Exeter's not a sacking club, and the managers that have left previously all went through their own choice," says Kirk, who had seen his fair share of Exeter managers in his time as a fan until a decade ago.

"One day he'll decide it's time to move on, but I don't think the right operating environment has come up yet."

In the past Tisdale has been publically linked to roles at Portsmouth and Swansea City, and who can say how many times he has been sounded out without news leaking?

So far he has opted to stay put, but Perryman gives him this glowing reference: "You read about managers being workaholics, I'm telling you he is.

"If he has a day off, it's looking at the DVD, looking at the stats, looking at what we've done wrong. I really like him, I respect him, I think we respect each other.

"There's no limit to what this man can do, he's a phenomenal football talent."

So what of the man himself, and his thoughts of another 500 games at Exeter?

"Why not?" he says with that typical wry smile.