New Eclectic Blue Column
If I had said to you in 2002 that in six years Bristol Rovers would have played in Millennium Stadium Final, A Wembley Final and an FA Cup Quarter Final, I think you might have looked at me in a strange way and said, “I`ll have a pint of what you are on!” Then, you would have called for the men in their white coats to pay me a visit.
So we lost to West Bromwich Albion. Ah well. That`s how it goes. I`ve had a lot of explaining to do ever since due to my over-confident assertion that the one result that would not happen would be an away win.
These things are decided by fine margins. There`s some luck along the way but generally class will out. Unfortunately for the Rovers, the Baggies had it in spades in the final third. No shame in a defeat that was only 5-1 in the score. In every other way, it was closer than that. WBA boss Tony Mowbray, another class act, said the same too. “It wasn`t comfortable on the bench,” he said when asked about the comfortable scoreline.
I did genuinely believe Wembley was our destiny.
Yes, West Bromwich Albion had scored a shed load of goals this season but we were not the kind of team who conceded a shed load of goals. Something had to give. You know the rest.
Incredibly, we have again survived in a cup competition into March. Some achievement indeed. Little old Bristol Rovers; rag bag Rovers as we were.
That was the last FA Cup match at the old Memorial Stadium and soon it will be the last league one. A short hike up the M5 through the Cheltenham gridlock for the next two years. Make the best of the final weeks of this season.
I don`t know the exact figures but both cup runs this year must have brought maybe £1.5m into the club, unprecedented cash for a little club like ours. What will the board do with it?
Director Geoff Dunford told us a week or so ago that the club was being run like a “tight ship” which suggests they are not going to blow it all in one go.
Certainly team strengthening is a priority. Rickie Lambert is the only striker scoring goals, Andy Williams is still developing his skills (and stop groaning out loud, folks, if something he tries doesn`t come off) and Richard Walker, for reasons beyond a mere terrace dweller like me, is out of favour. A new striker won`t come cheap but if Rovers are going to challenge we do need a few more goals.
And building our youth and scouting departments. It all costs money but for once we have got some!
Plenty of the money will probably be needed for the sojourn in Cheltenham . Gates will obviously suffer and corporate income will fall. Only for 18 months, we are told, but that`s 18 months where the team are out of sight. The club will need to work hard they are not out of mind too. Maybe they could look now at ticket initiatives for Cheltenham , not in May when everyone is looking to ahead to the summer. Keep that money rolling in but make sure the interest is retained too.
In looking to the future, it`s wise not to forget the present and the recent past.
A year ago we had defeated the City in the Paint Pot Trophy and were headed for a Cardiff final. Not long after that, a series of brilliant team performances took the club into the play offs and we all know what happened next.
The success just kept on coming, although it was somewhat punctured when the Baggies came to town!
Have we now reached the high watermark of the Lawrence/Trollope era? Will it be more of the same, will things get even better or will the cyclical nature of Rovers take us back down again?
I have absolutely no idea but I would like to get the pair of them signed up to long term contracts as soon as possible.
We can say that all we need to do is build on what we have but what if clubs come knocking for what we have already? How many Championship clubs will have seen Captain Campbell, or Rickie Lambert, or Byron Anthony? All of them, I would wager. And what about Paul Trollope? Great things beckon for Paul. Let us not fool ourselves. He is a fine talent, learning his trade at seemingly a breakneck pace from someone who has been there and done it.
In two months time, the wrecking balls will be in Horfield, demolishing the old rugby ground and taking away the tents for good. Two months for goodness sake. The stadium will be a shapeless heap of rubble (so no change there, then).
I think it was Karl Marx who said “Everything changes”, although it could have been Take That, and how right he was.
Ian Holloway was working for the BBC last Sunday and it was in the 1999/2000 season that he put together a side that took us to the brink of what is now referred to as the Championship. The following year, shorn of his goalscorers, the manager was fired and the team was relegated.
I don`t see this sort of thing happening with the experienced Lawrence and his young apprentice Trollope in charge but Cheltenham is the elephant in the room. Bristol City , homing in on the Premiership, are the elephant just outside the room.
It`s not Twerton we`re going to. It`s a decent little league ground that`s a pain to get to.
The connection with Twerton is the ‘We`re all in it together` spirit. That feeling has been back on the terraces for a year now and it`s the challenge for the board to keep it at Cheltenham and build on it for our return to Bristol in 2010.