Date: 15th December 2017 at 2:59pm
Written by:

WE Bristol Rovers fans will be crossing our fingers, toes and all things it is physically possible to cross in the transfer window, anxious to hang on to our star player Billy Bodin.

But while there will be a great gnashing of teeth should he depart the Mem for a Championship club, this regular angst we feel when January or August comes around is a sign of just how far we have come.

Five years ago we had a squad of players that barely raised a murmur among rival clubs.

On a collision course with non-league football, we had wasted money hand-over-fist in bringing players to Bristol Rovers who seemed to be cloaked in a blanket of self-interest.

Who will forget the Great White Hope Paul Buckle acting like an Essex girl in the sales – bringing in a whole team of blingy stars only for the whole thing to misfire spectacularly.

We splashed cash on players who suffered a number of faults. Some were more loyal to their bank accounts than to the blue and white quarters, while others just weren`t up to the mark.

Finally there were some, like Adam Virgo, who had lost their mojo having spent many hours in treatment rooms up and down the country.

It didn`t end there, though. The Buckle rebuilding project had to be dismantled and started again. Mark McGhee tried to do it with over-rated Scotsmen and failed miserably.

Finally in came John Ward, who made some great signings in hindsight – Steve Mildenhall and Mark McCrystal – but then got tangled up in a waiting game for John-Joe O`Toole while taking his eye off the ball when it came to other potential acquisitions.

Admittedly, John-Joe did finish top scorer – but he left us with a bitter taste in our mouths when, having been one of those responsible for our relegation, he quickly jumped ship and headed for Northampton. What made matters worse, we didn`t earn a bean.

With ragbag Rovers at their lowest ebb, Darrell Clarke promised to halt the gravy train. He bought in players he believed would thrive at that level, turning to a Forest Green Rovers player who had been farmed out on loan to Chester the season before.

Matty Taylor`s goals not only lifted us back into the Football League, but played a major part in winning us back-to-back promotions.

With a record for scoring like his, it wasn`t surprising he was snapped up – it was just a shame he managed to write himself out of Rovers folklore by throwing his lot in with our neighbours across the city.

Now we come to Bodin and while Rovers fans might spit feathers and bash the board for not tying him to the club sooner, the truth is that when Darrell Clarke first snapped him up on trial he was on a road to nowhere.

Prone to injury, Bodin had been shown the door by Torquay and was looking for a way back into football.

Thanks to Rovers he was able to revive his flagging career, and he has paid us back with some outstanding performances – none more so than in the 3-0 win against Southend last weekend.

If he does leave, though, I think it will be with our best wishes – as long as he doesn`t go to south Bristol of course.

He would be a huge loss, no doubt about it, but when you look at our manager`s ability to turn troubled journeymen into precious commodities then perhaps the next Billy Bodin is just around the corner.

After all, I would venture to suggest Bodin hasn`t even been the star performer this season – it`s been Ellis Harrison. And the Welsh striker`s success is another big plus mark against Clarke`s name.

Back in the day when we were dropping into oblivion Harrison was persona non grata, not just with the fans but with his manager, too.

He had all the skills but a questionable attitude and most of us couldn`t see him lasting much longer at the club, many predicting he would probably end up on the non-league scrapheap.

Clarke gave him one more chance when others wouldn`t have done. He nurtured, cajoled and coached him (together with the unsung Marcus Stewart) while always stressing the need for hard work – and now it is paying dividends.

DC doesn`t always make great choices in the transfer market – Byron Moore and Tom Nicholls seem to be two cases in point – but give him a ‘project` to work on and he succeeds with flying colours. 

Nick Rippington is a national newspaper journalist based in London. He is also award-winning author of UK gangland fiction thrillers Crossing The Whitewash and Spark Out.


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