It certainly feels like the end of a special era at Exeter City after the weekend announcement that Harry Kite will be leaving St James Park. It came just a week on from confirmation that another Academy graduate, Alex Hartridge, would also be fleeing the Grecians’ nest.

Both players have decided to spread their wings and experience something new with Exeter City all they have known in their footballing life so far. For 25-year-old Hartridge, that started when he was just ten-years-old and being driven to the Cat & Fiddle training ground by his parents from their home in Totnes.

Fifteen years on and Hartridge is leaving after 154 appearances for the club – and one memorable promotion from League Two. But having seen the likes of Christie Pym, Josh Key, Archie Collins, Joel Randall, Matt Jay and Jack Sparkes all graduate from the Academy and depart, Hartridge feels the time is right for him to test himself and explore new opportunities, meaning and end to the homegrown lads that will be remembered forever as the fulcrum of that 2022 promotion-winning side.

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Speaking after he was afforded a farewell game – and handed the captain’s armband in a 1-0 win over Stevenage – Hartridge said: “I don’t think I realised how emotional it would be and Saturday kind of brought that home to me. I joined as a 10-year-old and I’m leaving as a man and, yes, it’s somewhere that is home for me.

“It’s been hard, I think. I’ve been quite sure in it being the best decision for me career-wise and kind of life development-wise and that’s what I’ve made it for. I didn’t realise how emotional it would be leaving and it is really hard. I’m going to miss the club, miss the area… I didn’t realise as much previously, but now I definitely do.

“It’s home for me and, in more ways than just the club that I’ve been at, it’s where I’ve grown up and I’ve driven to this training ground or been driven to this training ground for 15, 16 years now, so I’ve spent as much time here as I have anywhere else. This place is so, so familiar for me.

“I think that’s probably partly why I know its right to move on and be challenged and uncomfortable again. But it is so hard… life is about pushing yourself.”

Alex Hartridge of Exeter City during the Sky Bet League 1 Match between Exeter City and Stevenage at St James Park, Devon on 6 April 2024. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK
Alex Hartridge of Exeter City during the Sky Bet League 1 Match between Exeter City and Stevenage at St James Park, Devon on 6 April 2024. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK

Hartridge says there is nothing concrete for him to walk into just yet for next season and beyond, but left-footed defenders are a rarity and there are sure to be plenty of offers. With manager Gary Caldwell bringing in the likes of Zak Jules, Jack Fitzwater and Ben Purrington, first-team opportunities have been limited at Exeter but, when called upon, Hartridge has rarely let the team down.

He made his debut in a 3-1 EFL Trophy defeat to a Chelsea Under-21 side that included the likes of Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Trevor Challobah back in November 2017 and his Football League debut came a year later against Grimsby Town.

As with all young players that come through at Exeter, Hartridge served his apprenticeship by playing men’s football in five different loan spells with Truro City and Bath City before his breakthrough in the 2020/21 season, when he helped the club finish runners-up in League Two.

Reflecting on his time and memories made with the club, he said: “Yeah the promotion stands out but, personally, my debut was something that I remember and, weirdly I felt and remembered the feelings I had before that game on Saturday. I was a bit more nervous going into it knowing it was a special game for me and it was like going back to that first game I had.

“I grew up wanting to play one game for Exeter and I’ve managed to play 150 more than that, so that was special. Promotion was special and then the rewards we got for that. The big games last season, the Plymouth games, even though they didn’t go the way we wanted them to and some of the massive clubs we went to.

“The reward for the club and the fans to go to those places and see that was because we managed to get the club promoted - the club managed to get promoted after so long of trying. I mean, the whole time I’ve been here we’ve been sitting in League Two pushing. I’ve been to the Wembley finals and watched and come back on a supporters’ coach that was deadly silent. That everything, the connection makes it so much more special.”

Alex Hartridge of Exeter City and Pierce Sweeney of Exeter City celebrate after winning during the Sky Bet League 1 Match between Exeter City and Stevenage at St James Park, Exeter on 6th April 2024. Photo: Frankie OKeeffe/PPAUK

Hartridge was certainly a popular player with the City fanbase, who love to see ‘one of their own’ come through and establish themselves in the first team. But Hartridge knows he leaves the club in a far stronger state than when he first came into the team.

In a message to those fans, he said: “Just a massive thank you... They were brilliant with me. I’ve had tough times, I played my first game in the League and I barely kicked a ball for Exeter again in front of fans for two and a half years or something.

“Thank you so much for everything. It’s an amazing club and it’s going in the right direction, I think that’s clear to see. Enjoy the time we’ve got here because we’re in such a stronger position as a club than we were when I joined and it keeps on going.”

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