By Nathan Bees
Having just returned from my two week foray around Italy and Spain it is now dawning on me that the new season is just a few weeks away.
Whilst I was exploring cities like Paris, Rome, Milan and Barcelona (to name just a few), Darrell Clarke’s team were busy beginning their preparations for the new Conference Premier season - and it sounded like exhausting work.
The players have been put through their paces in a way they may not have experienced before and it ties in with what Clarke told me personally he was going to implement on the training ground this pre-season.
It appears to have been a mixture of tried and tested methods with more modern, ball-based exercises that the team have been undertaking and this week’s trip to the University of South Wales will have seen the intensity increase.
The heat we are currently experiencing won’t be making life any easier for the players but it has got to be done and the lads that have been interviewed so far seem to have enjoyed it, which is encouraging.
I think it’s a case of ‘no pain, no gain’ at this time of year because if you don’t get your core fitness work done now you will be lagging behind everyone else for the whole season - as we have found out with ex-players in the past.
Hard graft pays off in the long run and if it results in late winners once the season gets underway then we will see just why DC is pushing them so hard in pre-season.
From what I have heard from people who watched the friendly with Cheltenham Town on Tuesday night it already looks as though we are showing the benefits of the fitness work.
A lot of the tweets I read suggested we were as fit if not fitter than our Football League hosts and that was their third pre-season friendly and only the first for our senior players.
The consensus was we were trying to play good passing football and moved it around quite well for large parts of the game. Given some of the hoof-ball we have seen Rovers play recently this is a positive development and I am sure we will be much slicker with our passing with each passing game.
It was clear we were lacking in the final third, however, and that is obviously not a new problem.
At this moment in time it shouldn’t set alarm bells ringing because not only was it the first time the new players had played together but we also had new striker Jamie White on the bench and returning forward Ryan Brunt missing altogether as he builds up his fitness after injury.
Both men will be instrumental in our chances of success next season and we should look a lot stronger when they get longer run-outs over the coming weeks.
Having said that we definitely need to improve further in attacking areas if we are to avoid falling foul of the thing that cost us last season.
DC has made no secret of the fact he wants to bring in four new players before the opening game against Grimsby Town and has loan players lined up should he not be able to land his preferred targets.
Three of the new recruits will be players in offensive positions - two in midfield and one up front - so we are still a way off completing our new-look strike force and supplies of creativity from the middle of the park.
Hopefully we will hear some concrete news on new signings today and early next week as it will give everyone a huge lift. The mood is understandably deflated with so little coming out of the club to get excited about and there needs to be a stream of good news and communication to change that.
While I was away in Italy and Spain I wore my Rovers shirt on a number of occasions and was still proud to do so despite what’s happened to our club in recent months.
There have been many things to be unhappy about - and I am yet to be convinced that we have learnt our lessons - but I still wanted people to see me in the quarters.
That pride stems from the admiration I have for the people I represent when wearing the shirt - Gasheads. We are a mad, loyal and passionate bunch that deserve so much better than we have got over the years, but still we get behind our team and turn up in our numbers.
We are a credit to Bristol Rovers and it’s for that reason that I am happy to don the quarters around the world despite the fact we will now be competing in the fifth tier of English football.
The shirt was certainly a head-turner outside the San Siro and Nou Camp but I took that as a compliment!
Most of my attention prior to July was on planning and organising my travels around Europe but now I am home again I am beginning to look forward to the new campaign.
Putting aside all the anger I have at our relegation, I am just enjoying the prospect of proper football returning and getting to see my team on a Saturday afternoon again.
There is still work to do and a few pre-season friendlies to get out the way though before Grimsby Town arrive at the Mem on August 9th and fingers crossed everything goes according to plan.
Hopefully, Clarke can complete his transfer business with enough time to incorporate them into his final preparations so that we can hit the ground running in three weeks time.
We should be set for a busy couple of weeks.