By Nathan Bees
It has now been a month since our last game and I think it would be safe to say we’re all beginning to miss football and, more importantly, Bristol Rovers.
The close-season has been strange so far in that the extended Championship and Premier League seasons have ensured that there has been plenty of TV matches throughout May.
It’s meant that whilst I’ve felt totally lost on Saturday afternoons without my visits to the Mem, I haven’t actually gone without doses of football so far this summer.
I’ve been able to flick on the TV most evenings in the past couple of weeks and watch a game, with the play-offs having been particularly exciting so far. I’m keen to make it clear that I don’t care for any other club but a game of football is a game of football, right? (Well, it is at this time of year when it’s the only option!)
There is little to report in off-field activity at Rovers but that’s representative of the majority of Football League clubs so far. There is always a lull during May as managers draw up their retained lists before entering into negotiations with potential new signings.
It all starts to change as June approaches though because pre-season starts a few weeks later and most clubs like to have a lot of their recruitment completed by then. We’re no different, as John Ward and Nick Higgs have stressed in recent weeks.
Of course, the playing squad is not the only area that Rovers are looking to add to ahead of next season. The assistant manager’s position remains unfilled following the club’s decision to let Shaun North depart and we’re in the process of finding someone to assume the role.
We’ve been told there have been applicants but that Ward has a couple of people in mind that he wishes to approach. Who these targets may be remains confidential, like it should be, but so far there have been no inside suggestions online or in the local press.
Fans have tried guessing the identity of the man Ward is hoping to tempt to the club however they all seem to be reflective of the summer silly season as opposed to being genuine possibilities. I say that but this is football, anything can happen.
We’re always told to ‘expect the unexpected’ and perhaps this will prove to be another example of the ubiquitous cliche ringing true. Regardless of who is appointed I’m confident that we’ll find they are the outstanding candidate for the job.
I was pleased to see confirmation of young Ollie Clarke penning a new contract earlier this week. He’s been on the periphery of the squad due to serious injuries in the past but he stepped up to the challenge of being a first team player in the final matches of the last campaign.
I was impressed by his dogged determination and natural ability to retain the ball. If he can get himself fully fit over the summer I think he’ll feature quite significantly next year because he is obviously rated highly by the coaching staff.
Above all else it’s incredibly satisfying to have local youngsters coming through and being given the chance to shine. There is going to be an emphasis on this as we move forward and that can only be a positive thing for the future of Bristol Rovers.
Hopefully we’ll begin to reap the benefits of this next season with the new generation of youngsters who are making the step up.
We are under a month away from the beginning of pre-season training and our list of friendlies are being finalised. So far we are confirmed to be playing neighbours Bath City at Twerton Park, Hereford United at Edgar Street and Derby County at the Mem in July.
It seems a good mix of non-league and Football League opposition so far and the list will undoubtedly be added to as the summer goes on. They are no substitute for league games but we’ll all be craving our football fix by then so they’ll do!
Once we play Bath City it’s only a few weeks until the start of the next campaign, so we won’t have to wait too much longer for our Saturdays to return to normal. Phew.
By the next time I write I’d like to think we’ll have some further good news on contracts and, hopefully, a new assistant manager in place. John Ward has told us that this may not be possible as some business takes longer to complete than others but fingers crossed we make some progress.
If not we should all be assured that Ward has things under control. I can think of no man I would rather have managing our football club - he is coolness personified and oozes sincerity.
Have a good Bank Holiday weekend Gasheads.