By Nathan Bees
At the beginning of this week I was still trying to get my head around the reality that we would be playing in the Conference next season and now I’m ending it thinking we could get a Football League reprieve.
‘Could’ is most certainly the operative word here.
I suggested on numerous occasions there was only so many times we were going to survive our annual flirtation with the League Two trapdoor and, unfortunately, we succumbed to relegation this year.
Over the course of 46 games we deserved to drop because we were inferior to 22 other teams - that’s what the league table showed on May 3rd after the final game.
However, new information has come to light that suggests Wycombe Wanderers may have had a wrongful ‘competitive advantage’ over us last season due to a breach in rules on Third Party Ownership.
Rovers, rightly, made a complaint to the FA and Football League and yesterday it was announced that both organisations would investigate the allegations.
I am not going to claim to know the ins and outs of Wycombe’s financial dealings or how likely it is that we will be successful with our complaint but I am glad we are pursuing this.
I have seen people suggesting that it doesn’t sit well with them that we could be reinstated as a result of ‘straw-clutching’ but that seems ridiculous to me.
If Wycombe have cheated by acting outside the clear rules all clubs should be abiding by then they should be punished for it, regardless how harsh it may seem from the outside looking in. Cheating shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how technical the wrongdoing is.
Bafflingly I have seen football supporters criticise Rovers on Twitter for acting on this when I am certain every club would do the same thing in our position. There’s no love lost between Rovers and Wycombe after the controversies that have taken place in the last few years and you can guarantee the Chairboys would complain had the boot been on the other foot.
Our chairman and board of directors owe it to everyone linked with Bristol Rovers to chase this, no matter how desperate it may look. We don’t want to be a Conference team and I for one wouldn’t complain if the Football League decide they should drop down instead of us.
It’s controversial and certainly not pretty but neither is cheating and if they are found guilty that’s the price they must pay.
Admittedly I can’t see the investigation granting us a reprieve at Wycombe’s expense unless there is further evidence of Third Party Ownership breaches from this season, as that would have had an impact on Rovers’ final league position.
If there isn’t then I believe Wycombe may escape without further punishment or simply be forced to pay compensation.
That’s another issue people have debated given their perilous financial situation but it isn’t us that forced them to act outside the rules; that was their own decision. If they are found guilty of wrongdoing and get punished they will have to live with the consequences. That’s the way it is as far as I am concerned.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make up for the fact that last season was the worst in Bristol Rovers history and this can’t be seen as a reason not to implement ‘radical changes’ this summer.
Change has been necessary for several years and whether we are a Conference side come August or a League Two side our board must stand by their promise to overhaul the club’s infrastructure.
There have been very few announcements over recent weeks, despite the big internal investigation that we are assured is taking place. Of course this latest twist will have come as a distraction of sorts but I sincerely hope that it hasn’t put the mockers on the other pressing issues at the club.
If those in charge fail to deliver on their promises of an overhaul then it would be a shirking of responsibility. The current set-up has proven time and time again that it doesn’t work and if we don’t learn from that and make amendments we deserve nothing but further failure.
We have all grown accustomed to it, unfortunately, but there is a potential turning point on the horizon in the shape of the UWE Stadium (something I think we would all appreciate an update on soon).
It is imperative we use it as a catalyst to progress and the only way we can do that is if we are a more professional operation on and off the pitch and have a strategy that will help us get to where we want to be.
The close-season is a notoriously dull time for all football supporters but some of the clubs we will face in the Conference have already been busy signing new players.
Newly promoted Eastleigh have sealed the most ambitious swoops so far, luring both James Constable and Jack Midson in the past 7 days. They clearly aren’t afraid to spend and it suggests that a number of clubs are gearing up for a real push at the top next season.
Darrell Clarke has already spoken to potential new recruits face-to-face as part of his recruitment process but he has yet to get his first signings on board.
Players, agents and managers all go on holiday around this time of year and that is sure to slow down transfer moves but as we head into June I am sure we will see deals come to fruition.
We need to bring in a large number of players but we can’t compromise on quality, so Darrell needs to get things spot on. That’s why I am not too worried just yet about our lack of activity; these things can take time to get right.
As ever it is a difficult and tempestuous time to be a Gashead and all we can do is watch how things play out over the coming days. Who knows where we’ll be this time next week - it could be almost anywhere.
Here’s hoping for the best.