League One history and thinking big

May 30, 2017 | News

There is a superb piece from Jack Vittles in today’s Bristol Post that we are happy to re-produce here. What do you think?

Football fans are often hesitant to look to the past, a desire to look at previous glories can certainly inhibit progress in the present and heap huge pressure on the current side.

But sometimes to see the future, it pays to look back through the history books. In this case, not that far back at all.

The 2010-11 season saw Bristol Rovers relegated from League One with Paul Trollope sacked part way through the season and the club mustering just 48 goals during the entire campaign.

However, the other end of the table that season now makes for very interesting reading. The top six saw Brighton and Southampton gain automatic promotion, while Huddersfield, Peterborough, MK Dons and Bournemouth battled it out in the play offs.

While that was essentially unremarkable at the time, six years on, those names take on a very different meaning. Four of those top six sides, including Bournemouth who weren’t even promoted that season, are now in the Premier League.

Huddersfield and Brighton joined the top division after stellar campaigns this season, while Bournemouth joined in 2015 and Southampton in 2012.

Southampton are of course an exception with their proud Premier League history, but the other three clubs all operated on comparatively tiny budgets and made the leap from League One also-rans to Premier League sides in quick time.

Now, I am not saying that Rovers can go from a 10th place finish in League One to Premier League promotion in five years, I am simply saying their ambition should not be limited to simply competing at this level and looking at a top six finish as mission accomplished.

Brighton were still playing at the woefully inadequate Withdean Stadium during their League One promotion campaign with average attendances of just over 7,000.

Of course, what has allowed The Seagulls to progress to the Premier League is significant investment and most importantly a new stadium.

In this sense, parallels can be drawn with Rovers’ situation. The feeling is that Rovers have a sizeable latent fanbase which could be mobilised if a new stadium is built and if Rovers continue to improve on the pitch.

Brighton’s attendances have since skyrocketed north of 25,000 and they will expect to sell out the 30,000 capacity Amex Stadium frequently next season.

Rovers should use the Brighton example as motivation to dream big when plotting both their next move off the pitch with any new stadium and on the pitch with successful recruitment.

Although Bournemouth and Huddersfield do not have new stadiums, both sides have relatively recently redeveloped homes and it is hard to underestimate the impact that has on not only increased attendances but also the opportunity for corporate hospitality and functions.

The increased revenue from these off field initiatives can then be used to help in recruitment in the first team and improving the academy facilities.

There is of course no prescribed path to the top level of the game, and it’s also obvious that none of the four teams I have mentioned have come close dipping as low as Rovers in recent seasons. Although The Cherries did almost drop out of the Football League in 2009.

But it has been proven more than once that with careful ownership and prudent investment in building for the future off the pitch, clubs can not only punch above their weight but scale new heights.

Of course it’s a fanciful idea to suggest that Rovers can follow in the footsteps of Brighton, Bournemouth or even Huddersfield. But what’s the point of football, if we are afraid to dream big.