By Nathan Bees
Pre-season training begins for most clubs in the coming days as the summer break draws to a close. Darrell Clarke’s Rovers squad return on Monday morning to begin their preparations for life in the Conference and they will face an intense fitness programme over the coming weeks.
I got the chance to talk to Clarke at the Supporters Club EGM last week and he told me he will have everyone in shape by the time August 9th rolls around - something he didn’t feel was the case last year.
Now if you’re a player reading this I won’t have done much to excite you about the pre-season that lies ahead but I certainly think it is a good thing. So often in years gone by we have seen teams carve through us late on in games as a result of superior fitness levels and it has always infuriated me.
Of course, we have scored a few late goals in that time too but overall I find we are noticeably less fit than our opponents. It is an obvious area for improvement and having heard Clarke stress the importance of hard work I believe we will have one the fittest squads in the division.
Considering the fact we lack the Conference Premier knowhow that other sides will have, any competitive advantage we can muster will be of huge benefit. Fitness could make all the difference.
We have three new recruits so far to add to Jamie White’s signing earlier in the month and they will all be looking to hit the ground running. Striker Matty Taylor has penned a contract after leaving Forest Green Rovers and he is joined by Gibraltar international winger Jake Gosling and experienced former Torquay United captain Lee Mansell.
Taylor and Gosling will be unknown quantities to Gasheads but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In my view it makes the summer that bit more exciting as nobody knows what to expect from them.
As I touched on in my last blog however, some people have seen fit to complain and moan about Rovers signing players they have ‘never heard of’, which is truly baffling.
It winds me up that people make judgements before players even pull on the quarters and show us what they can do. Why write them off now? It’s embarrassing, it really is.
I should point out that there are others who are the exact opposite, heralding every new signing as ‘a very good player’ when they have absolutely nothing to base it on, but at least that sort of attitude raises spirits as opposed to zapping them.
We have gone down the well-known names route before and look where it has got us. If we plumped for a similar recruitment strategy this summer it would show we have learnt nothing from past mistakes.
Knowing the finicky nature of certain individuals they would contradict themselves if we did sign ‘bigger names’ and use that as a reason to moan instead. I know the game is about opinions and without them it would be very dull but it’s so tedious to hear people whinging when the team haven’t even returned to training yet.
I am not saying we should be jumping for joy and doing somersaults because we still have reason to be angry with our club - of course we do - but it doesn’t do anyone any good if we write players off before they even kick a ball.
These lads now represent our football club and we should be doing what we can to help them settle into their new surroundings. If they are made to feel welcome they will be much more likely to fire on all cylinders when the games kick off, which is what everyone will want.
To me it makes perfect sense to give every player a fair crack of the whip before forming an opinion; we should judge everyone solely on what they do for Bristol Rovers and not take their past too seriously.
Having the chance to speak to Clarke at length last week gave me renewed confidence that we are in capable hands managerially. He is passionate, determined and above all else wants to win.
His positivity is infectious and everyone who had the chance to hear him answer questions at the EGM will have left with more optimism than they arrived with, of that I have no doubt.
The man knows what he wants and won’t settle for anything less, which is the kind of strong-mindedness every football fan wants to see in their manager. He is an inspirational figure and the players who have signed deals to play under him have been quick to mention this in their interviews.
It was particularly interesting to hear Lee Brown’s comments after he committed his future to the club. He was offered contracts by Football League clubs this summer but rejected them all to remain at Rovers, citing Clarke’s meetings with him as a big reason why he chose to stay.
Despite the better financial packages he had on the table, Brown was convinced by Clarke to ply his trade in the Conference next season, which suggests he enjoys playing for him.
If he thought the club had the wrong man in charge he wouldn’t have signed, so I take encouragement from his commitment to the cause. If Michael Smith follows suit and accepts his contract extension then that would tell you all you need to know about how highly Darrell Clarke is thought of by those who matter - the players.
For the next couple of weeks I will be travelling around Italy and Spain (wearing my Rovers shirt of course) and I hope the rest of our recruitment goes well in that time. On my return I will be suitably refreshed and ready for the new campaign - hopefully the squad will be feeling the same despite a gruelling start to pre-season!
Up the Gas!