David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Bristol Rovers’ Category

Rubbish on the pitch and ‘TRASH’ off it…

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

BRFC

Firstly, from a footballing point of view, Rovers season has never really got started. They sit in the bottom reaches of the league and have entirely failed to live up to the promise of last season’s post-Christmas revival. As we approach Christmas it looks like the season is already a write off.

There is definitely promise in the young squad and at times we can look very good. The problem is that apart from those glimpses we are awful. Last season away to relegation candidates Dagenham we won convincingly 4-2 and the team was cheered from the pitch. This season’s repeat fixture saw relegation candidates Dagenham out play us for most of the match and secure a pretty comfortable 2-0 win. That was also the match when the fans patience seemed to crack and there were some ugly scenes as the players left the pitch to boos and abuse from sections of the travelling support. John Ward’s team are a shadow of the side which picked up 33 points from 17 games at the start of 2013 and are struggling to score a goal, keep a clean sheet or figure out a first 11. Injuries have forced Ward to resort to uninspiring emergency loans, scrambling to save the season.

More worrying for Rovers however, than poor performances on the pitch, is the current battle over the planned new stadium. Two groups have gone head to head over plans to build a supermarket on the Memorial Ground site and this week that battle wound up in the courts. A judicial review into planning permission was approved; seeing the immediate and long term future of the club turned on its head.

The wrangle over the stadium move is an issue of what to do with the current stadium site which had been earmarked for redevelopment into a supermarket, thus part-funding the new stadium build nearby. Green Party councillor Daniella Radice and the group ‘TRASH’ (Traders and Residents Against Sainsburys Horfield) are staunchly opposed to the plan, citing Traffic, Air Quality and Retail Impact as damaging potential factors for the neighbourhood. The Gloucester Road, atop which sits the Memorial Stadium, is packed full of independent traders and is the longest traditional high street in England. The fear is that this thriving community of traders will be damaged by redevelopment. ‘TRASH’ has petitioned for a Judicial Review into the planning application of the supermarket in the hope that the review finds the supermarket redevelopment against the better interest of the area. The petition for review has raised over 6,000 signatures.

As the TRASH campaign gathered steam many Rovers faithful and the club itself sat by and watched. This was not enough for some and a few plucky fans took it upon themselves to raise a counter petition ‘Bristol is not Trash’ accusing ‘TRASH’ of obstructing the area from moving forward with much needed development. Another accusation was that the ‘TRASH’ group were operating with some questionable financial motives, claims strenuously denied by the group. The counter petition cites the need for development in Bristol and the current lack of a decent Stadium holding the city back. Many hundreds of potential jobs created by both supermarket and stadium are also a factor in the argument.  ‘Bristol is not Trash’ received the backing of MP Charlotte Leslie who campaigned alongside fans and brought up the matter in PMQ’s urging David Cameron to prevent the abuse of Judicial Reviews. Almost 6,000 signed, so it had seemed that all was in the balance.

On Friday 15th the Judicial Review put forward by ‘TRASH’ was approved by a high court judge and a lengthy and costly review process will begin, scrutinising the legality of the planning policies. A successful review will mean the scrapping of the supermarket plans and as a result the scrapping of the proposed new stadium for Bristol Rovers. A failure will see plans go ahead and Rovers begin work on the new Stadium. Whatever the outcome, Judicial Reviews are lengthy and cost a lot of cash. Any conclusion to this saga is looking distant and a rift in the amicable relations between the club, its fans and local traders is widening. With calls among fans for a boycott of businesses which support ‘TRASH’ and supporters of the petition railing against the club this can only be damaging for all parties.

I will reserve too much debate on the ins and outs of the wider community in North Bristol as this site is about the football. From that point of view this Judicial Review spells trouble. Rovers have invested heavily in a playing squad over recent windows, paying big wages. This is largely based around the promise of the new stadium and the financial potential locked within. That expensive squad is now one of the highest earning in the league and the budget is more on par with a smaller league one club where Rovers see themselves. An expensive squad on paper which looks far from it on the turf is a problem in itself. Pair that with a now very uncertain future and Rovers fans are very worried indeed.

Now that this review has been approved, Rovers can at the best expect significant delays in undertaking the stadium project and at worst be back to square one and seriously out of pocket. In a season where the football had been poor eyes will be drawn away from the pitch toward the high court where the most important result of this or any recent season will be decided.

Written by Rob Skeldon, We Are Going Up’s Bristol Rovers Blogger

Rob tweets @Blackthorn_End

A season of two halves

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Firstly, I should really apologise for using a footballing cliché in the title of this piece. However I can’t really think of a better way to put this season into perspective. It was dire for the first four months and has been a joy since Christmas. Perhaps I could have entitled it ‘A Story of Two Managers’ or something wittier. Mark McGhee and John Ward spent half a season each, dragging Rovers in completely opposite directions.

One might think that I have an issue with Mark McGhee given how little praise I have for him, well you’d be right, I didn’t like him or his management style, the football we played under him or his always sour demeanour. I never saw him crack a smile, celebrate a goal, show any passion on the touchline or in interviews (Google image search him and you will be greeted by a gallery of a thousand furrowed brows, who knew there were so many different ways to frown). The fans never took to him and when he was sacked at Christmas not many Rovers fans were too bothered to see him leave. (He is now assistant coach of the Scotland National team and has taken his losing football with him) A record of P22 W4 D6 L12 GD -20, and Rovers 23rd in the league paints the story of the first half of the season under McGhee, it was awful. It should be said that we had some dreadful injuries early in the season, with a number of key players ruled out long term. The potential of relegation loomed large, surely we couldn’t find ourselves out of the Football League altogether? Dark clouds were gathering over North Bristol.

But what’s this? A glorious ray of Lincolnshire born sunshine breaking through the cloud. Put down your pasties and take up your Stuffed Chine (a traditional Lincolnshire Pork dish according to Wiki) and hail the arrival of Lincoln’s own John Ward. Sometimes referred to as a journeyman of the lower leagues, Ward has been in the management game for 8 stints across 22 years, all but 2 months of it in the 3rd & 4th tiers. Ward made some astute signings and turned the season around. Across his 24 games at the helm Rovers’ stats read like this – P24 W12 D5 L6 GD +11. Rovers were a different side and ended up surviving comfortably, recording impressive wins against some of the best sides League Two has to offer. Beating high-flying Rotherham, Port Vale & Burton Albion gave a hint of what we might be in for next year.

The last home game of the year on Saturday drew a good crowd and there was a jovial almost celebratory atmosphere around the ground. A poor display and 1-0 defeat meant that any celebrations were rather muted until John Ward was named to ‘Man of the Season’ winner for his outstanding service to the club. The reward he was likely more satisfied with was the shiny new contract he signed in the week to stay on as manager for next season. Good news for Rovers I think all agree. Ever-present Michael Smith deservedly bagged player of the season while Captain Tom Parkes took Young Player of the season, capping a great year for the 21 year old centre back.

Further good news for Rovers this year has come in the shape of the go-ahead for a new stadium development in North Bristol. The ‘UWE Stadium’ will be built roughly 1 mile from Rovers current home and will be a 21,700 all seater. Due to be completed in time for the 2014/15 season, Rovers will hope that it can help us take strides forward on and off the pitch. I for one will be sad to leave the Memorial Stadium which has been home since I started watching Rovers 16 years ago. I love the terraced ‘Blackthorn End’ and the pasty van. Watching footy from a terrace is brilliant; there is something special about the atmosphere at old lower league grounds which you just don’t get at the big premier league stadiums filled with tourists. That said, a new stadium will be a great step forward for the club and I look forward to claiming my seat.

With a strong season next year and a potential promotion chase we could be starting the 2014/15 season in League One in a brand new stadium, exciting times lie ahead. Although I do seem to remember that a promotion push was widely discussed 12 months ago, perhaps one should reign in those expectations? But as football fans across the leagues and across the world, I am hopelessly optimistic about my team. Singing “we are going up” as we bid farewell to the terraces of the Memorial Ground in 12 months time? …That’ll work.

Written by Rob Skeldon, We Are Going Up’s Bristol Rovers Blogger

Rob tweets @cicero1986

From hope to despair and back

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Phew, it’s been quite a season at the Memorial Stadium so far, one which started with so much promise and anticipation but rapidly turned into one of despair and failure. As usual Pirates fans were expecting a promotion push, but by late last year Rovers languished at the bottom of the Football League. They seemed out of ideas, out of fight and out of hope. Non-League football was beckoning. But since the New Year the fortunes of Bristol’s biggest club (may not strictly be the biggest) have started to turn. A new manager, a new stadium and a 7 week unbeaten run have seen hopes climb in parallel with our league position. Belief is back in North Bristol and Rovers seem to be making good on at least some of that pre-season promise.

Expectation

I’ll start at the beginning, ‘the promise’. We went into the year with high hopes. Mark McGhee arrived midway through last season and did quite well, leading us to a promising 12th. He had completely reshaped the squad, bringing players from Scotland and others he had previously worked with successfully. Given McGhee’s apparent managerial pedigree we were feeling pretty good pre-season. A newly built squad contained some exciting young talent in the form of Tom Parkes and Oliver Norburn to offset some lower league stalwarts and a few nice loans from the Championship. We were looking like a potential League Two force. The likes of David Clarkson, Garry Kenneth and Derek Riordan have done well at a higher level and looked to have the quality to do very well in the fourth tier.

Decline

Our first home game drew a good crowd of 7,500 expectant fans but resulted in a 2-0 humbling by Oxford United. It wasn’t until 7 games later that we got our first win and another 3 before we picked up three points at home. Our luck was out; and we suffered a few bad injuries to go with our poor performances. This was followed up with more injuries and some even worse performances in which big signings were misfiring. By November Rovers were in the relegation zone and any pre-season hopes of a promotion push were long forgotten. Where was the team which won the last two home games of the previous season 7-1 & 5-1? We were a pale imitation of that side.

On the 15th December we travelled to fellow strugglers York and were hammered 4-1. From what I hear from travelling fans it was utterly dreadful and the players had no fight in them. McGhee had lost the players, there was little evidence that this team were going to turn the results around and improvement was not evident. Reports had it that McGhee’s hard-line style of management was not popular among the players may have had some truth to them. With the team bottom of the Football league and playing consistently poorly it was time for McGhee to go. His sacking was met largely favourably by the fans who had had enough of watching the dreadful football on display at the Memorial Ground. It was the lowest the club had fallen in quite some time.

A New Hope

John Ward was brought in later in December to guide the club through to the end of the season and whilst the remit to start the season was one of promotion, the task at hand was clear, keep Bristol Rovers in league football. Ward had previously managed Rovers and said that his affinity for the club convinced him to take the job on.

The fortunes of Rovers took a dramatic swing during the Christmas period and into the New Year we are watching a different side. Ward has lead the team to five wins and two draws from his first seven games in charge which has already seen the side gather as many points as in the twenty-six games under McGhee. It really is a remarkable swing; the players are full of fight and guile and are playing with a bit of panache.  Ward named 21 year old Tom Parkes Captain and moved him to centre back where he has excelled, as have John Joe O’Toole and Ryan Brunt, both January recruits. Goals deep into injury time in our last two games to claim four points exemplify the strong attitude of this resurgent team. One of the goals was a 40 yard screamer form Oliver Norburn, another young player seemingly enjoying his football again.

This week John Ward was nominated for Manager of the Month and Captain Tom Parkes was named Player of the month. A glowing endorsement of the quality of the displays put on recently. Our last home game was attended by over 8’500, one of the best attendances and atmospheres I can remember in recent years.  Last week we travelled to Oxford United who so comfortably beat us 2-0 on the opening day of the season. We handed them a 2-0 defeat and looked pretty comfortable. The win moved us five points clear of relegation and cemented the belief that we are in a good position to move forward from the lows of the first half of this season and survive in this league. I am confident once again, that Bristol Rovers can go from strength to strength. Let’s see how we go against Wycombe today first though.

Written by Robert Skeldon, We Are Going Up’s Bristol Rovers Blogger

Setting Sail – The Season Ahead

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Bristol Rovers start the 2012/13 season with an almost entirely new squad that saw them finish in a rather disappointing 13th place last time out – a long way off the promotion places they were touted for pre-season.

Perhaps the fans haven’t learnt from last season, as yet again a promotion push is the expectation amongst the vast majority. Another managerial change occurred at the Memorial Ground last season – the sixth in just two years. The new manager to come in and have a crack at things was Mark McGhee, a manager previously considered a candidate for the Scottish national manager’s job and with considerable experience across the Football League. A huge appointment in the eyes of both the fans and the media. This thankfully saw him give chances to players such as Mustapha Carayol…

Over the final six months of last season, McGhee guided the Pirates out of a relegation fight and into mid-table. During that time he had a chance to look over all the players at the club and decide who he felt deserved to wear the blue and white.  This resulted in 11 players who’s contracts were left to run out, and they were soon followed by Craig Stanley who had his contract terminated by mutual consent.

Mustapha Carayol is a player McGhee himself had a lot of faith in and giving him his shot in the first team began to draw the attention of Championship sides including cross-town rivals Bristol City. With one year left on his deal it was very much will he, won’t he? Bristol Rovers had their very own, minor transfer saga! During the off-season Carayol grew impatient with the wait – more so when the Gas rejected a six-figure bid from an unnamed Championship club later revealed as Middlesbrough. Rather unprofessionally he took to Twitter and made it very public his desire to make the step-up. Soon after we saw a renewed bid from Middlesbrough and a quick fire move for Carayol believed to be in the region of £350,000 plus add-ons. Meanwhile, under the radar of some, Chris Zebroski made the move to League Two compatriots Cheltenham Town.

McGhee meanwhile was looking for replacements for the out gone and outgoing. Three central midfielders were brought in Seanan Clucas from Preston North End (free), Oliver Norburn from Leicester City (free) and Matthew Lund from Stoke City (loan). Two centre backs joined up with the club too; Garry Kenneth from Dundee United (free) and Rogvi Baldvinsson from Ålgård FK (undisclosed). McGhee also brought in a player he was very familiar with in David Clarkson; the Scotland international had played under him during his tenure at Motherwell – Clarkson himself sighted McGhee as the deciding factor in his move to the West Country.

Bristol Rovers fan know too well that pre-season isn’t always an indication on how the season will plan out. Last season, the Gas saw wins over Championship opposition yet flopped massively when it came to the task of promotion. This time around pre-season has seen them have less fortunate results. Defeats to amateur sides, Conference sides and Championship rivals Bristol City has left the Gas doubting a promotion push. A record of 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses so far means a moral-boosting win in one of the two remaining friendly games is very much needed.

Positives can be taken from pre-season however and McGhee himself saying the team is yet to be completed with four more signings wanted by the gaffer meaning all hope is not lost without a ball being kicked. With one of those expected to be former German youth international Fabian Broghammer, who has been on trial with the club all summer, he is seen as the ideal replacement for Mustapha Carayol.

With the first competitive game of the season just a few days away in the Capital One Cup, Bristol Rovers’ opponents will be Ipswich Town. But how will they fair against an incredibly tough opener? Two players are already unavailable with Scott Bevan aggravating a hand injury during pre-season, and the other is a bitter-sweet moment for the Gas; 21-year-old striker Eliot Richards has been re-called to the Wales U21 squad – meaning Rovers’ progression could be halted at the first hurdle.

After the starter course of a League Cup game, the first match of the League Two season has Bristol Rovers facing Oxford United at home. But Oxford’s star striker James ‘Beano’ Constable has been a subject of no fewer than three bids from Bristol Rovers with the third still be considered. Which side will Beano be playing for come the start of the season? If Mark McGhee has his way, and continues with his commitment to bringing in new faces, it could well be the blue and whites…

Written by Max Williams, We Are Going Up’s Bristol Rovers Blogger

Max tweets at @Captain_Gas94

Exciting times ahead at the Memorial Stadium

Friday, August 5th, 2011

I’d like to start by saying that after such a miserable season, even the highs of some dramatic results under caretaker manager Stuart Campbell, none of us could have predicted the explosion of off the pitch action which surrounded Bristol Rovers. With the hiring of popular choice Paul Buckle to take the helm as the fifth manager in seven months.

Paul Buckle is an exceptional talent who completely turned around the fortunes of Torquay United; a club in distress. After taking over at the club in June 2007, Paul refreshed their whole squad and backroom staff, and turned around their fortunes. In just four years he took them from the brink of joining The Conference South to promotion challengers in League Two. He also reached the FA Trophy final and the fifth round of the FA Cup and did so with an outstanding club record win percentage of 46%.

After his appointment, Buckle handed a list to the Bristol Rovers board of directors, of players which he has worked with or kept a close eye on over the last couple of years and wished for us to sign. Buckle was left to enjoy a couple of well earned weeks off while the board started work on trying to capture some of these players. When Buckle returned, the board had made contact and started negotiations with many clubs and players and soon we had made our first signing.

Just over a month down the line and we have now signed 14 players after the release of 17. Notable signings being our new number one Scott Bevan, defenders Michael Smith and Cian Bolger (six-month loan), midfielders Craig Stanley, Matt Gill and Mustapha Carayol, and finally strikers Chris Zebroski, Joe Anyinsah, Matt Harrold and Scott McGleish. Knowing that Buckle likes to play a very attacking gun-ho style game with the ‘We’ll score more goals than you’ attitude, it wasn’t surprising to see that he has really bolstered our attack which now sees nine strikers all competing for first team football. This healthy style has really impressed me and I know it has driven strong optimism into many of you to.

Although it was sad to see the departure of many players, some of which had been at Bristol Rovers for many years, it was clearly indicated from the beginning of the new regime that a completely fresh squad and staff is what’s desperately needed, and Paul Buckle had delivered on that.

Paul Buckle will start the season with his trusted right hand man Shaun North who he has bought along with him from Torquay United. North was quick to state that he is no ‘yes’ man and that he brings options to assist Buckle.

I attended the first pre-season friendly away to Mangotsfield Utd, which saw 4 second half goals destroy them. It was brilliant to finally get a glimpse of the players and management team together and to see Stuart Campbell in his fully deserving new role as player/coach. Most of the players looked fit and all wanted to show what they are capable of. Notable players in the match were Zebroski who was a pain for the Mangotsfield defence the entire first half. McGleish also impressed. The second half saw Wayne Brown and Michael Smith dominate the right flank, and Ben Swallow tore up the field with a man of the match performance scoring two goals.

Since then we have beaten Bath City away 2-0, Salisbury City away 5-2, Burnley at home 2-0 a tight 2-1 loss to Reading and finally a win away at Gloucester City 3-2. All looks good so far and it’s nice to finally hear the gasheads talking about Bristol Rovers with pride again. Our couple of really tough home friendlies against Burnley and Reading, were a true test of how versatile and competitive our squad is, and I must say I was more than impressed with how we coped against both of them.

It’s starting to get very exciting now as the season draws nearer and we all pray we are destined for a great season, which starts at newly promoted AFC Wimbledon on Saturday 6th August, 12:45 kick off. With the excitement surrounding both clubs at the moment, Bristol Rovers being one of the favourite for promotion this season and AFC Wimbledon playing their first football league match, the game has been chosen to air live on Sky Sports.

AFC Wimbledon will be full of confidence and know how to win games and punish their opponents, so there in no way this can be considered a walk in the park. I have spoken to a couple of their fans and they are worried about playing us but as I said they know what they are capable of and look forward to the contest.

I will be attending the match and hope that many of you do also. We want to show the league and viewers what Bristol Rovers are all about and what great fans we have.

Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.

Written by Daryl Parsons, We Are Going Up’s Bristol Rovers Blogger

Daryl tweets at @bs13gas