By Nathan BeesA week from now we will be looking ahead to our opening day game against Grimsby Town and the start of the new football season. Football Saturdays are close to returning!
At the beginning of the summer I was absolutely devastated, just as I am sure everyone else was. The weekend we went down I couldn’t actually bring myself to talk to anyone.
I couldn’t believe that our worst nightmares had become a reality and that in 2014-2015 we would be playing Conference football (even writing it still makes me feel sick).
But, with time, I have come to realise something: it doesn’t actually make any difference what league we are in. You could argue that people like me, who will turn up every week regardless, are the reason the Board won’t be motivated to make changes, but I beg to differ.
That logic would suggest no fans should be turning up at all, which can’t be right, surely?
If you love your club all you want to do is see them play. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a topic of some debate - both from a footballing perspective and a personal one - but quite simply your emotional investment dictates you can’t do anything about it.
Being a football fan is more than just a hobby; it’s part of your life. There are highs and lows but it’s part and parcel of football and that’s why we love it so much. With victory you celebrate and with defeat you dust yourself off and go again.
That’s my attitude towards it and that’s why I have found myself looking forward to the new season. I am always optimistic at this time of year - usually for no good reason - but I actually think that this time around we are very well prepared.
We still lack a striker, out-and-out wide man and central defender, but we should have all three areas addressed by early next week - by which point we will be well-equipped for a tough Conference season.
Darrell Clarke’s recruitment has been very good and we have a nice blend of young players and senior professionals. Lee Mansell and Andy Monkhouse bring with them a wealth of experience and their knowhow will be massively important as the season progresses.
Clarke will be relying on them to lift spirits in the dressing room should the going get tough and, in contrast, help keep their team-mates grounded should we embark on a good run of form. I’m going to stick my neck out and say they will be ever-presents over the next 9 months.
It’s exactly these types of characters that I like to see wearing the quarters and I think it reflects very well on Clarke that they have chosen to come and play for him.
His enthusiasm is infectious and it’s not hard to see why our new players have brought into his ideas. He has high hopes for the year ahead and exudes confidence, which is clearly rubbing off on everyone else.
Every new signing has made it clear in interviews that they are here to fight for promotion and I am sure that has been reassuring for every supporter to hear.
There’s little margin for error, though, as there is only one automatic promotion place available and there will be several teams gunning to take it. Competition will be fierce but I am glad to hear we are striving to be the best in the division.
Being ambitious is great, however, we cannot afford to carry any sort of ego this year. We need to remember that we deserve to be in this division, just like the 23 other teams, and we have to prove that we are now good enough to bounce back straight away.
Every match will be a tough test and we need to stand up and be counted on and off the pitch if we are to be successful. There can be no ‘we’re Bristol Rovers, we are too big for this’ because a) nobody is too big for the Conference, and b) it will see us come unstuck.
We are already likely to be seen as the team to beat and the last thing we want to do is initiate any unnecessary hostility with rival supporters.
Luton Town fans will tell you they approached their relegation to the fifth tier five years ago in completely the wrong way and it only served to make their life more difficult. The other teams disliked their big-time Charlie attitude and brought them back down to earth with an almighty bump.
Once they got on with the job and accepted their position, however, they reaped the rewards. It’s imperative that we learn from their mistakes to prevent finding out for ourselves. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being gracious in my book.
Having said that I seriously hope we create intimidating atmospheres at the Mem and do what we can to make life incredibly difficult for our opponents.
Nobody will be anticipating an easy game when they come to play us and if we can live up to our reputation then taking points from us will be a particularly daunting task.
We all know we can help influence things on the pitch and it’s down to us to ensure we are a helping hand as opposed to a negative influence.
The mood at the Open Day last Sunday was very good and I think it’s safe to say the lads are almost ready to take on Grimsby Town. There is no denying it is a difficult start for us but the opening day is as good a time as any to face one of the league’s promotion hopefuls.
They will be as wary of us as we are of them and that’s probably why BT Sport chose to televise the fixture.
To be honest, I am not fearing the Mariners at all (or anyone else for that matter); I am just thoroughly looking forward to seeing the new-look Rovers in action.
8 days to go, Gasheads… bring it on!