What’s Going On?

September 9, 2005

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Do you know what?
People are always saying to me, ‘Rick. You know what’s going on at the Rovers so tell me what’s really going on?’
Well, they don’t really ask me that and I sure as hell don’t know what’s going on. But I do wish I did.

Having witnessed a grand total of two games so far this season (I write just ahead of the Lincoln game) I am puzzled, a relatively normal condition for me. Those two games were home defeats, both of which left me fairly flat and dispirited. It was not even the middle of August and already I had seen us lose two games which was two more than I saw in the whole of the previous season. I’d like to say I was the lucky charm who, when present, ensured we didn’t lose but by that same token I might get blamed for all those bloody draws! To say that the defeats by Grimsby and Peterborough were not well received by our supporters is a bit of an understatement. They – we – were livid. The team selections appeared wrong, the tactics, such as there were any, seemed bizarre, the performances lifeless, dispiriting. Things can only get better suddenly because just another song title.

I left on holiday with the voices of dissent loud and shrill. Many wanted the manager’s head on a plate but only once they’d drawn blood. Were things really that bad? Lying on a beach some 1000 miles away, I pretty well forgot about Rovers, apart from on matchdays when curiosity got the better of me and I made my way to a bar showing Jeff Stelling’s brilliant Sky Results show. Fed up because of Millwall, overjoyed by Torquay and then back to normal by Notts County – this is Bristol Rovers and no-one said it was going to be easy. But then, no-one said the last five years was going to be a veritable cakewalk. Ian Atkins was the man who was going to sort it all out. And sort it out he did, following the messy departures of Messrs Graydon and Bater. Could he do better than – and I now need to consult my ‘Bumper Book Of Cliches’ book – stop the rot? There. I said it. Ian Atkins stopped the rot. But did he permanently stop it? Lurching uncomfortably into the land of cliché, the jury is still out for me.

A draw at Barnet looked good on paper and yet those who went said it was shocking and we only attacked once we went a goal down. The Torquay comeback seemed amazing when viewed from a beachside bar in Greece but I returned to find it was two poor teams and the worst team lost. Atkins out?’ Well, look at the history of almost every manager. It almost always ends in tears. The question is always there. Should the manager be sacked?

I don’t think it’s as easy as that.
I heard a guy on Geoff Twentyman’s radio phone-in saying – and I quote – “I hope we lose heavily tomorrow” because he felt it would hasten the manager’s departure. I could almost see the logic in it, except that I never want any team for which I play or whom I watch to lose. I expect he felt terrible after we came back at Torquay when Junior Agogo and Richard Walker did the impossible. Imagine the despair: “Oh my God, my life is in tatters. I so wanted the team I love to lose but now they have gone and won. What shall I do?” ‘Go and have another pint’ would be my advice.

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I have no feelings either way as to whether Ian Atkins stays or goes, and I really mean that, because he is one of the transient people. Managers are transient. Players are transient too. Here today, sometimes hero today, but gone tomorrow and into obscurity the day after. Sooner or later he will appear in the Sky Sports Football Yearbook as one of a long line of ex managers and we’ll have moved on. But do I want him to fail? No, I don’t.

I am appalled by some of his comments, angered by the treatment of certain players, baffled by some of his tactics and selection policies and I am frustrated when it seems our progress has been stunted. Or maybe we have even gone into reverse, I just don’t know. With two games coming up I want six points. I don’t care that the second one is against one of his many former clubs. It’s about Bristol Rovers Football Club and neither Ian Atkins, Geoff Dunford or Roger the Kitman are more important than that.

The second game is against Oxford United where I am sure there will be a chorus of ‘Stand up if you hate Atkins!’, or even ‘Sit down’ seeing as that we don’t have that many seats at the Mem! And doubtless the Oxford fans will be joined by some of our supporters! But things do need to get better.

I am not one of those who have infinite confidence in our current squad to take us out of this division, Atkins or no Atkins.
One thing I’d like to see us do much more of is attack because since Kevin Miller left we have forgotten how to defend and it seems we now need to score at least three goals to ensure a win. This is why we must do everything in our power to encourage Junior Agogo to sign a new contract with the Rovers. Here is a man who terrorises lower league defenders. Just think what he would do if we created some chances for him in addition to the ones he creates for himself!

So, what IS going on, Rick?
I don’t honestly have a clue but whatever it is I hope sees us climb the table and fast. Who should resign? Ian Atkins? Geoff Dunford? Roger The Kitman? I don’t care. I’ve been here watching the Rovers from one end of the Muller Road to the other, via Bath of course, and I know what mediocrity means. Whoever brings me better than mediocre gets my vote and if that man is Ian Atkins, so be it. Mediocre again and it doesn’t. If Mr Atkins wants to get the fans back onside he could do worse than say, ‘Look, I messed up (this is a family website), I got it wrong, Ryan was very good on telly in the Conference last week and I’m sorry I pee-ed you all off.’ I can’t see him doing it because he seems to be the Mick McManus (a wrestling ‘heel’ to younger readers) of football management, except that people still turned up to watch Mick McManus even though they hated him.

Against Lincoln and Oxford, I’d like to see the crowd forget about Ian Atkins and think about Bristol Rovers. As Lance Armstrong didn’t say, ‘It’s not about the manager. It’s about the Rovers.”

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