Eclectic Optimism?

January 12, 2006

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There is something very unique about our season so far. I am not worried.

Okay, I am not getting over-excited either, but for the first time in six years I am looking to see how the top teams are getting on, rather than the bottom ones. And I am not desperate about new signings. Oh, I am keen that we sign new players to bolster the squad but for once it isn’t to help us avoid the drop. This time it is to give us the chance of promotion.

How can this be?

When Ian Atkins joined our club, he signed players who were very ‘un-Atkins’. With the odd exception along the way, they were proper footballers and when he took over the reins officially, and we passed Mansfield to death, we all wondered if maybe he had a twin brother. But soon, he reverted to type and whilst we didn’t lose very much, we hardly ever won.

I’m not one of those who always goes down the road of saying that I want to be entertained because it isn’t always true.
I don’t remember being entertained much by the promotion side of 1989/90 in terms of neat, passing football but the winning was all the entertainment I ever needed. I could even have lived with the Atkins diet being served this year if I thought it would bring us success but it soon became clear it wouldn’t. So thanks, Ian. Thanks for not quite everything but certainly for keeping us up twice. And while I am at it: please get a job and get one soon so we can get you off the wages bill.

The big name replacement never arrived and many of us were disappointed, at least to start with. I was too, at least a little bit. But after a few shorts weeks as caretaker manager, Paul Trollope could not be axed, just like that. He was doing too much right. The players were passing the ball, there were no excuses when things went wrong. Slowly but surely, it got a little better. A bit like ‘Stairway To Heaven’ really. And then came Lennie, the Director of Football. The bleeding Director of what?
We’re Bristol Rovers. We have a manager! So First Team Coach and Director of Football it was. It was time, as Linda Lovelace didn’t say, to suck it and see!

I took my eye off the ball at Christmas for entirely understandable reasons, hence the current New Year detox. It was quite a shock to find the Rovers in eighth position, even after losing to Wycombe Wanderers on the last day of the year. Being Rovers fans, we naturally looked on the pessimistic side.
– Other teams have games in hand
– There are a whole bunch of team on or around the same number of points
– My glass is half empty

It can’t possibly last, can it?

The correct answer is, of course, that I have no idea. Will Lennie and Paul make some sensational transfer window signings to propel us in to the top three or will we have a major injury crisis and finish in the bottom half? More importantly, will Steve Slade ever get a round in before the end of the season?

These are important questions, so much more vital then who will be the new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party or whether Dennis Rodman win ‘Celebrity Big Brother’? If I had to guess, I’d predict a near miss this year unless we can do something about our home form.

Not for the first time since we came back to Bristol, the Memorial Stadium is anything but a fortress. Often, the loudest shouts are to remind our players they have made mistakes and the only time people shout ‘WHOOSH!’ is when one of our players lump the ball forward. How sad is that? The Mem really should be full of one-eyed Rovers supporters, calling for every free kick, handball and penalty in the grand old traditional fan. We’re not there to be impartial observers, thrilling to the sight of an opposition winger skipping over our ponderous defenders. We’re there to get on the opposition’s back.

[image2] And now to state the bleeding obvious: Rovers players perform better when the crowd gets behind them! Yes, it really is true!
I suspect that many of you already know this but I am not convinced it’s universally accepted. And referees are often ‘homers’, whether they intend to be or not. If you are loud and intimidating, referees tend to give decisions your way. It’s just the way it is, as Bruce Hornsby once mused. Some things will never change.

I’m a little old fashioned and to me a cry of ‘Bad luck Ali’ is far more supportive than, ‘You’re effing useless, Gibb’, but in recent years I do accept this was a minority view! I have always wondered if our long-suffering fans were to give loud and unqualified support at all matches, whether it would have an effect on the team’s performance. I think it would and I’d add to that my conviction that if we got the slightest sniff of a genuine run at the play offs we’d roar the team home.

We’ll see over the next few weeks with some very tough fixtures to come both home and away.
I’ll finish with a line from the most successful popular beat combo outfit this country has ever produced, The Beatles.

‘I’ve got to admit it’s getting better
It’s a little better all the time’

But will it get better quick enough?
Answers on a postcard…

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