By Nathan Bees
We’re just under two weeks into our summer break and it already feels like a lifetime ago that our end of season party took place down in Torquay.
The party atmosphere and last minute equaliser from returning forward Matt Harrold ensured it was a weekend to remember for Gasheads who had made the trip.
Hopefully the Football League’s fixture generator can be kind to us and ensure our trip to Plainmoor next year once again takes place in the summer. It’s unlikely we’ll be so lucky but who knows?
We always seem to play Plymouth Argyle away on a Tuesday night, much to the frustration of many Gasheads, so perhaps they’ll be kind to us with other fixture scheduling!
At this moment in time it’s all pretty trivial discussion because we’re still a month away from the big reveal in mid-June but I’m sure we’ve all got our preferences as to when we play certain teams throughout the season.
So what’s happened since the final day of the campaign? Well, we’ve discovered the identity of the 6 new clubs entering the division in August. We can look forward to playing Portsmouth, Hartlepool United, Scunthorpe United and Bury who have all been relegated from League One, and Mansfield Town and Newport County who have been promoted from the Blue Square Premier.
There are a couple of stand-out names there from a Rovers perspective and interest in those particular matches will be massive. Playing Pompey will be one of the highlights of the season whilst facing former foes Newport, our second nearest professional rivals, will also have Gasheads excited.
It’s unbelievable to think that one week we could be playing a recent Premier League side and the next facing a club that have just been promoted from non-league. That’s the beauty of football though and I’m sure Portsmouth fans, given their new takeover, will be just as excited at the prospect of League Two as the Newport fans are.
The division’s line-up will be complete in just under 10 days when one of Bradford City or Northampton Town will have lost the play-off final and as a result remain in the fourth tier.
Judging by what I’ve seen of both sides in the last 9 months Phil Parkinson’s Bantams are the ones I’d rather we avoid next year so I hope they go on to win the game. Sorry Cobblers.
One thing is for sure, whether it’s a trip to Sixfields or Valley Parade in store for us next season it will be one of the toughest games we play, as we found out on midweek trips this year.
Our retained list was announced yesterday with few surprises emerging. Injured duo Scott Bevan and Adam Virgo have been released but will remain with the club for continued treatment and they are joined by Oumare Tounkara, who has failed to earn an extended deal.
Youngsters Connor Finn, Sam Kamara and Ross Staley have also been let go, with Joe Anyinsah having been announced as released last week. Other than Joe none of the other 6 have had much of an impact on the first team for a considerable length of time so their departures won’t come to shock many.
It is disappointing to lose a player with the ability Joe has however his inconsistency and regular injury problems suggest that it is the right decision. It allows John Ward to identify a winger who he feels can improve the team and it provides Joe with the chance to embark on a new challenge.
He’s provided us with some memorable goals this season (home and away against Rotherham United for example) and I would like to wish him, and the other players who have been let go, well for the future.
A host of young stars, as we already know, have been handed contracts and midfield trio Ellis Harrison, Oliver Norburn and Fabian Broghammer also have offers on the table that they are currently considering.
The strong emphasis on youth is developing into one of the club’s main strategies moving forward and it’s pleasing to see so many talented youngsters being given a chance.
Of course, it would be naive of us to expect great things from them immediately so a few new signings are essential if we’re to push on next season. The more senior players in the squad like Matt Harrold and Mark McChrystal, who have both recently signed new contracts, will play a big part in creating an environment where the young players can flourish.
If we can get the mix between experience and youth right then who knows where it may take us.
Steve Mildenhall is known to be in talks with Rovers following his highly successful loan spell and I’m pleased to hear that the club are confident they can initiate a satisfactory conclusion to negotiations. Hopefully the change in manager at Millwall won’t hold things up too much.
Other loan star John-Joe O’Toole is also subject to contract discussions but as he still has a year left on his current deal at Colchester United it remains a complicated transfer.
I was well aware that his top performances for us would also alert the attentions of other clubs to his undoubted talent but I’m praying that the lure of being loved by Gasheads already will entice him to the Mem.
The next few weeks look set to be very interesting indeed on the recruitment front. The chairman has set all the players deadlines to sign their deals and will move on to new players if he and John Ward are left waiting too long.
Mistakes from summers gone by are being learned from and that will prove to be important as we approach pre-season. Keep your eyes peeled here on the official website and on the @Official_BRFC Twitter account to keep up to date with transfers and everything else going on with the club.
Finally I’d like to express my delight in seeing The Pirate come fourth in voting for League Two’s best matchday programme. The hard work Keith Brookman and all the contributors put in throughout the season to meet deadlines is extraordinary and the quality of the product on offer is testament to that.
I was very proud to have been asked to contribute this time last year and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team. I felt a sense of pressure because I can’t imagine too many 19 year olds being tasked with producing 850 word articles for their club’s programme but I was very pleased with how my ‘Life’s A Gas’ articles were received.
For the media departments of every club in the division to have regarded ours as one of the best on offer is very satisfying indeed and I’d like to say well done to everybody involved with it, especially Mr. Brookman!
Next year’s edition will see some fresh ideas introduced with the possibility of a digital version being made available for the first time, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy The Pirate from the luxury of your own phone!
The close season may only just have started but there should be plenty to discuss as we approach June 20 and the start of pre-season training. I know nothing compares to a Saturday afternoon wearing the blue and white quarters at the Mem but at least there is some football action left to enjoy before the summer break kicks in for all professional English clubs.
It may not prove to be as exciting as the final day of the Championship season last weekend but it’ll have to do.
Enjoy the next two weeks of your summer, Gasheads.