EXCLUSIVE ROBBIE SIMPSON INTERVIEW: LOSING 5KG IN A WEEK, PLAY-OFF FINALS AND PLAYING FOR EXETER
When you think of the most likable players that have played for Exeter City in recent years, the name Robbie Simpson springs to mind.
Brought in on a free transfer from divisional rivals Cambridge United at the start of the 2016/17 season, the striker came into Devon with promotion ambitions and a good relationship with manager Paul Tisdale.
“I speak to Paul Tisdale regularly as he was my England Universities manager and for once had a serious conversation about me joining Exeter. My contract was up at Cambridge and I felt Exeter were in a good place to challenge for promotion which I was desperate to achieve.”
However, the start to that season was far from ideal for both Simpson and the team.
Exeter City sat firmly in the relegation zone, with poor home form haunting the Grecians alongside some unfortunate injuries.
Some of the sharpest Exeter City fans may remember the 16/17 preseason, and how it all looked so promising, and for Simpson, it was that friendly packed period that vindicated the decision to move to Exeter.
“I was little apprehensive about moving so far away from my wife, but pre-season was so good I felt the move was justified.”
Unbeknownst to many, the in-form Simpson was struck down with a bad case of food poisoning, just before the season opener against Blackpool.
“Not many know but the week before the season opener I got really bad food poisoning, I lost over 5kg and I didn’t train before starting that first game.”
That combined with Exeter’s poor form meant that the first few months of the season were not plain sailing.
“To be honest, I didn’t fully recover for a couple of weeks from that and my performances showed. I felt I played really well in a few games after that but only registered 1 goal, and the team’s results weren’t great either so naturally I tensed up in my game and was trying too hard and rushing my shots. It was a difficult period, but I just kept working my hardest.”
As Exeter grew into the season, form started to pick up for both Simpson and the Grecians, but a home game against Blackpool would bring an end to the season for the forward.
It was only five minutes in when Ryan Harley put in a cross for Simpson, but he couldn’t connect and landed awkwardly, which lead to him having to be stretchered off of the pitch.
This was a big blow for Robbie and one that was not easy to deal with, especially as Simpson had just started to play his way back into the team.
“I had just started to find a bit of form back after struggling earlier on in the season, I think it was my first start in a while so having just forced my way back into the starting 11, it was a real blow. I knew it was a bad one as well, I knew it was season over. It was certainly tough to take.”
It wasn’t until January 2018 where Simpson would return into the Exeter squad.
After numerous substitute appearances, often being brought on with five to ten minutes to go, Simpson got his first start back for Exeter since his injury, against Cheltenham.
This opportunity was one that Simpson made the most of, as he volleyed home a Jake Taylor cross to mark a successful return to first team football, as the Big Bank bellowed “SIMMO”, delighted to see their number eight back in amongst the goals.
The goal was a moment cherished by Simpson and that goal meant a lot more knowing how much he had been through to get to that moment.
“I had obviously waited and worked so hard for 13 months to get back into a starting 11, so to score was one of the best feelings ever. My career could have easily been over after that injury, so to not only make it back but to score was awesome.”
It is hard to look at the 16/17 and 17/18 Exeter City season’s without talking about the play-off games.
The Grecians reached two play off finals in a row and were defeated both times at Wembley.
It was the second play-off final defeat, a 3-1 loss against Coventry City that stuck with Simpson the most, as he was never called upon from the bench despite playing in both the semi-final legs.
“We didn’t show up in that second final. I was gutted I didn’t play, and I think we knew then that the group was going to disperse a little, which made it even more upsetting.”
The game against Coventry marked the end of Robbie Simpson’s time at Exeter City, as he was let go by the club at the end of that season.
Despite the setbacks he faced, Simpson became a fan favourite at St James Park and the striker has fond memories of his time with the club.
“I loved it. Such a lovely place, with lovely people and the football club embodies that.”