By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers go into tonight’s fixture at Forest Green Rovers hoping that their season has 3 games left to run.
Having failed on Saturday to pull back Barnet, who did all that was necessary in deposing of Gateshead 2-0, they now go into the Play Offs in top form and full of hope.
Opponents Forest Green are one of only two teams to have picked up maximum points at the Mem this season, so the Gas will be aware that even if they overcome their Gloucestershire rivals in the first leg, they are still more than capable of producing a surprise on the big stage.
There are a lot of playing connections between the two clubs. Forest Green defenders David Pipe and Danny Coles were teammates at the Memorial Ground for two campaigns in League One, while striker Matty Taylor swapped Nailsworth for the Gas during the summer.
The goal-keeping coach at Forest Green is none other than Glyn Jones probably best remembered for being the custodian when Rovers were overrun by Spurs in a Second Division game at White Hart Lane, where they succumbed to a 9-0 drubbing.
The most eye-catching confrontation will not take place, as Forest Green’s Rob Sinclair will miss the chance of battling with his elder sibling Stuart who has not fully recovered from injury.
Rob said ahead of the game, ”Whoever wins, one of us is going to be at Wembley, I'll be there regardless, whether I'm playing or watching my brother. But I'd much rather be playing."
"I'd rather not play against him, but it'll be a massive occasion for the family and we'll see who comes out on top. Beforehand we were hoping it wasn't going to happen, I wanted Barnet to slip up and for them to win the league. But now he wants them to win, I want us to win and that's the be all and end all.”
"I've always looked up to him as my older brother. I’ve never known a professional footballer with his drive and determination and me seeing him like that has given me more drive. Growing up, we've both always wanted to win when we're doing stuff against each other around the house. There's a competitiveness there and it'll be no different when it comes to these two games."
Stuart responded, ”I love him to bits and when we're off the pitch we talk all the time and we're the best of friends, but when you're on the pitch you're here to win and I want to win it for the fans. I think mum will find it hard, but dad is quite competitive so he won't be as fussed."
Amongst the other players who have played for both teams are, defender Billy Clark who made over 200 league appearances for the Gas and also served Forest Green well in his time in Nailsworth. Oxford United and former Gas keeper Ryan Clarke had a season-long loan with Forest Green whilst Byron Anthony also spent time on loan at the New Lawn when a Cardiff player before joining the Gas.
Kaid Mohamed who was on loan at the Memorial Stadium last season had a permanent spell at Forest Green. Josh Low, Guy Ipoua and Dennis Bailey are other players to have represented both clubs. Sean Rigg progressed through the youth system with FGR before making his name with the Gas. Julian Alsop is another striker to have worn both outfits’ colours and David Mehew played for both too.
FGR was founded in 1889 as Forest Green by the local Nonconformist church minister. The club became founder members of the Mid Gloucestershire League in 1894. Then moved to the newly formed Stroud & District League in 1902 where they remained for 32 years, also playing in the Dursley & District League.
They were founder members of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League in 1922 alongside Cheltenham Town and won the league three times in 1938, 1950 and 1951.
In 1968 they were founder members of the Gloucestershire County League where they remained for seven seasons when they earned promotion to the Hellenic League in 1975.
The 1981–82 season saw the club win the Hellenic League championship and the FA Vase under manager Bob Mersell at Wembley, beating Rainworth Miners Welfare 3–0 in the final. The same season the club moved upwards into the Southern League where they finished third in their maiden season in the Midland Division.
However in subsequent seasons the club failed to make much of an impact and in 1989 the club changed its name to Stroud F.C. in an attempt to revitalise the football club. The name was changed back to Forest Green Rovers for the 1992–93 season thanks to the introduction of new chairman and investor Trevor Horsley, who worked alongside Andy Coburn and new secretary Colin Peake to re-introduce the club's former title.
The arrival of Horsley changed the fortunes of the club and performances on the pitch improved significantly as did the development of The Lawn. In 2006 the club moved 400 yards away to their new ground appropriately named The New Lawn.
The Green’s most successful spell came under Jim Harvey who led them to their highest ever league finish of 8th in the 2007–08 season when they also reached the FA Cup 2nd round losing 3–2 against League One outfit Swindon Town.
In 2008–09 they reached the FA Cup 3rd round for the first time but lost 3–4 to Derby County on 3 January 2009 after leading 2–0. This game also saw Forest Green record their highest ever attendance with 4,836 watching the match.
This season has seen their best ever performance over 46 games and they, like Rovers are just 3 games away from achieving the Holy Grail of full League status.
Forest Green striker Jon Parkin believes that the Gas’ 7-0 victory my come to haunt them as they feel a sense of anti-climax in having to take part in the Play Offs, “There are always going to be four good teams in the Play Offs and they are up there for a reason.”
“We know it’s going to be tough but I’m sure they are not particularly looking forward to coming here. They won 7-0 on Saturday and still didn’t go up, so they are going to be a little bit cheesed off. Whether we’re underdogs or not, we know what we need to do and I think we’re capable of getting the result over two legs against them.”
“It’s a massive game for us as players and a massive occasion for the club, so we need to play better than we did against Dover,” Parkin said. “They were tough to play against but we didn’t look after the ball well enough and that’s not been like us in the last few weeks. Having said that, we showed a lot of character and worked our socks off to get the result we needed. That’s vital at this time of year.
“It is a big achievement to get in the Play Offs but our aim is promotion and we know we’ve got three games left to perform in. It’s important we play the games rather than occasions, and if I can help the boys to do that I will.”
News from Nailsworth is that Marcus Kelly will be missing again as the calf problem he picked up before the league game at Gateshead keeps him out. Tom Bender is facing a fight to be fit after he limped off early on at the weekend, while it’s likely Sam Wedgbury will play from the start after his hour long involvement in the 0-0 home draw against Dover Athletic.