By Nathan Bees
I have always made a conscious effort to address Rovers matters in a fair and balanced way in my blogs, voicing criticism when it has been warranted and issuing praise when it is deserved.
It’s a difficult juggling act because things are never straight forward at our club; one week we are optimistic and the next we are thoroughly depressed.
In some respects it’s part and parcel of the beautiful game but I do think that we Gasheads are given a much rougher ride with our club than other supporters are with theirs.
Therefore, I try to be objective in all my blogs but highlight reasons for positivity whenever possible to help lift people’s spirits because, at the end of the day, what are football fans without hope?
This particular entry, however, is unlike any other I have produced so far. The emotions and sheer anger at our relegation to non-league have not subsided in the last two weeks and as a Rovers fan with a voice I think I should best represent how hurt we all still feel.
I am not going to go over the heartache upon hearing the full-time whistle against Mansfield Town, nor am I going to dissect the season, because nobody needs reminding of any of our shortfalls this year.
What I am going to do, however, is explain that we feel let down and simply want to see the club walk the walk after hearing promises of ‘radical’ changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting an instant execution of plans to restructure the club. Relegation will have been as raw an experience for those running Rovers as it was for us watching on and a quick fix was always likely to have been made by the heart and not the head. That’s never a good way to run a football club.
Sensible supporters can understand that. Strategy is everything and as long as any decision now made is done so based on the findings from the ongoing ‘investigation’ then we will respect that.
The concern of most, however, is that we have shown little sign of having a genuine strategy for years, plummeting from League One to the Conference in 3 seasons. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and it isn’t difficult to see why we are all angry.
The football we have been subjected to hasn’t been good enough and we need reason to believe things are going to change for the better.
Somehow we have to reverse the mentality of everyone involved and go from a team that are accustomed to losing to a team that can win games week in and week out.
I have heard many lifelong fans say they will not commit their hard-earned money to our cause in non-league until they see evidence of restructuring and I for one don’t blame them. Why shouldn’t they
wait to see signs of improvement before pledging their support?
What the club need to do to address this is communicate and answer the questions being asked of them. I completed a Public Relations module at Uni this year and we learnt about the importance of communication between a business and its stakeholders. It was pretty straightforward and we were told it was a fundamental for any well-run business.
Football is a unique industry but is not immune from basic PR. A club needs its supporters, particularly in times of trouble, and the only way to maintain a relationship with them is to make them feel valued.
I don’t believe any Gashead feels valued at the moment, or indeed listened to, and that needs to be rectified if we are to move forward and progress.
We have no chance of even competing in the Conference let alone battling for promotion if we are not a united Bristol Rovers and the club need to ensure nobody feels alienated or detached heading into
pre-season. Communication is key.
The closure of the official forum hasn’t helped but if there was libellous comments being made on there then I can see why the decision was taken to close it.
Thankfully there are other forums, as well as Twitter, where discussion and debate can continue, so I hope they are utilised to prevent further fragmentation of the fan base. The Q+A arranged for July is something we have been clamouring for since the end of the season but I do feel it should be taking place now so it can tackle the pressing issues surrounding the club.
Pre-season will have started by the time it does happen and most, if not all, of the changes that need to be made will have already been implemented.
It can’t stop there. I hope it is the first of many Q+As that the reinvented Rovers will hold in the months to come because it can be of huge benefit to all involved.
While we wait for that and the restructuring, our focus inevitably turns to the playing side of things. John Ward, 3 members of the back room staff and almost all out of contract players have departed, understandably, leaving Darrell Clarke with the opportunity to construct his own team.
During his excellent phone-in on Radio Bristol last week he explained that he is already hard at work planning for next season and knows exactly what type of player he wants to bring to the club.
There will be plenty of incomings given the number that have exited and I must admit to being excited by what DC had to say. He is confident in himself and I think that will help us to attract his top targets.
It’s no secret that we need to improve out wide and at the top of the pitch and I am looking forward to seeing the first of our new players sign on.
In that sense I feel quietly confident. I like what I hear from Darrell and he is clearly determined to put right the on-field wrongs last season. You can bet your life that he will make it clear to every member of the squad that he will accept no slacking and I feel we will be all the stronger for that.
The new recruits will be of a much stronger mindset than their predecessors and that has to be a good thing.
Darrell has given me some optimism in this depressing time and it is now up to the club to build on that by supporting him. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Good things come to those who wait, apparently, so fingers crossed we are given reason to believe things are moving in the right direction over the coming days. It is frustrating to play the waiting game but hopefully we will be given some more news soon… we need it.