By Nathan Bees
Pre-season has begun and the football season kicks off in just over 6 weeks. Ladies and gentlemen we are close to having our Saturdays back the way we like them.
With the fixtures announced on Wednesday, football fans across the land will have started to plan their away trips and circled the big home games in their diaries. Gasheads will have been no different.
We’ve been handed a tremendous opening day with a trip to West Country rivals Exeter City and that will certainly ensure we kick off 2013-2014 with a bang. Our following 2 away games see us reacquaint ourselves with Welsh rivals Newport County before taking on Plymouth Argyle.
I’m pretty sure, even now in mid-June, that tickets for the away ends at St James Park and Rodney Parade will be like gold dust come August - it’ll be back-to-back Rovers sell-outs.
If we perform well in those 2 matches, and the home games sandwiched between them, it isn’t unfeasible to think we could sell our allocation at Plymouth as well. What a start that would be.
August sees us play 3 home league fixtures as we welcome relegated Scunthorpe United, York City and Northampton Town to the Mem. These early games provide us with a real cross-section of what we can expect from League Two over the course of the year.
We play against a side who have fallen from League One, another who avoided relegation last time out and then a team who reached the play-off final. Factor in the aforementioned away matches and the opening month will be a good indicator of how well equipped we are to take on the division. We couldn’t have asked for much better.
With Portsmouth, Torquay United and Cheltenham Town to play over the festive period, there are sure to be some Christmas crackers for us to enjoy in December. The one downside to this is the fact we’ve had to swap our recent April trip to Plainmoor for a freezing cold Boxing Day. Still, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy our day at the seaside wearing 2 or 3 coats, a woolly hat and some gloves!
Elsewhere and I’m sure every Gashead will have made a note of the date we visit Fratton Park. That’s the away day everybody will want to experience. The Football League have set the fixture as our penultimate away game on April 19th and if the stakes are high we could be set for another mammoth Rovers following.
A lot will happen between now and then but it’s certainly a landmark game at the business end of the season.
If we were to have any complaints about the fixture list it would probably be that we travel to Accrington Stanley and Fleetwood Town on Tuesday evenings. Neither the Crown Ground of Highbury Stadium will attract too many visitors on those occasions but in truth it’s a minor complaint when compared with the exciting fixtures we’ve been given.
All in all I’m sure Rovers are very happy with how our schedule looks so far.
With the fixtures in mind it is now officially acceptable to look forward to the new season, even if it seems premature given the fact that John Ward’s squad has not yet been finalised.
The first day of pre-season for the players who are signed on took place yesterday and I’m sure they were dreading the rigorous fitness programmes that had been devised for them over the summer.
Having said that, they all seemed to be in very good spirits judging by their Twitter comments, so it sounds like they’re pleased to be back. The biggest shock the lads faced wasn’t the extent of the fitness work they were undertaking but the fact Conor Gough reported back without his trademark bald head!
The photo posted on the @Official_BRFC Twitter page offers a glimpse of Gough’s new look and Ryan Brunt seems particularly enamoured with it! It’s fair to assume the goalkeeper will bear the brunt of the dressing room banter over the coming days (pardon the unintentional pun). Good luck with that Goughy!
Transfer activity tends to pick up around the beginning of pre-season training and the hope amongst supporters is that we’ll soon see some incomings to strengthen our squad.
So far we’ve been pretty quiet in our recruitment and whilst we don’t need any wholesale changes, we would certainly benefit from a few new additions. John Ward and Nick Higgs will have it under control though and will want to conclude negotiations with potential new signings as soon as possible.
As frustrating as it is to have little news by this point in June, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact we’re in capable hands and have plenty of time on our side. My message to the official forum: there’s no need for the hysterics just yet! Let’s see what happens.
I couldn’t leave this week’s blog without a reference to the Sainsbury’s section 106 being signed off. It has been sealed by Bristol City Council and the 90 day Judicial Review has begun. Only 83 days left to go! It’s a huge step forward and hopefully the plan to begin work on the UWE Stadium build at the end of September will not be delayed.
I’d like to end by expressing my sadness at hearing the news of Roger Harding’s death earlier this week. ‘Uncle Albert’ had been part of the furniture at Rovers for many years and his upbeat personality made him very popular with staff, players and fans alike.
He always had a smile on his face and would happily answer questions about his beloved club with anybody who approached him on a matchday. He will, without doubt, be very sadly missed by everyone associated with Bristol Rovers. My thoughts are with Roger’s friends and family at this difficult time.
Rest in peace, Roger.