Congratulations are in order this afternoon as manager Darrell Clarke takes charge of a Rovers first team game for the 100th time.
The manager deserves a great deal of praise for the magnificent job he has done since being appointed the day after transfer deadline day in March 2014.
There were just eight games of the season remaining and his reign got off to a good start as his side beat Morecambe 1-0 here at The Memorial Stadium on 29th March courtesy of Kaid Mohamed’s last minute goal.
It left his side in 20th place in the League Two standings and the new boss had this to say after that match; “It was a great, great, moment for me when the goal went in. I was more pleased for the fans as they have had to put up with some poor performances in recent weeks. We know there is still a lot of hard work to do.”
Unable to bring in any new players to aid the fight against relegation, due to the timing of his appointment, there was only one more victory and that came against Wycombe in the penultimate game of the season.
It left his side needing just one point from their final game of the season, at home to Mansfield, to preserve their Football League status. We all know the outcome, of course as Mansfield, wearing shirts belonging to our own youth team, recorded a 1-0 win and sent Rovers into The Conference thus ending a 94 year tenure of membership of the Football League.
That day, 3rd May 2014, will never be forgotten by those Rovers supporters in attendance, or the manager who said; “It was the worst day of my life. The whole summer was a blur because of the disappointment. I’d let the supporters down. I couldn’t get that out of my head. I had to pick myself up off the floor every day and it still hurts me now. However it did make me stronger and more determined to do what we needed to do the following season to put things right.”
Darrell had been in charge for just eight games.
When the new season dawned and the prospect of watching non league football became a reality, his side didn’t get off to the start they wanted. There was only one automatic promotion spot up for grabs and no team relegated out of the Football League had bounced back at the first attempt for ten years; the odds were stacked against him.
Before the start of the season he explained to players and staff alike that we had to embrace The Conference and not go in expecting to romp away with the title and, under no circumstances, to act like big time charlies and to respect all clubs at all times. I like to think that is what we did.
Two wins from the first seven games games left fans feeling resentment, anger and frustration, mainly, it has to be said, towards the Board of Directors who were blamed for the club’s fall from grace.
Something happened after defeat at Braintree on 6th September 2014 though. The players conducted their own inquest into how they had lost to what some fans described as a pub team and it was as though someone flicked a switch and they finally all believed what the manager was telling them about embracing The Conference.
Only two more league games were lost, though there was an ignominious exit from the FA Trophy at the hands of Bath City. The league, though, was the priority but the poor start had handed the initiative to Barnet who eventually finished as champions even though the manager’s side fought them tooth and nail all the way.
The play offs it was, then and local rivals Forest Green were demolished in both legs of the semi final to set up a date at Wembley with Grimsby Town to determine who would accompany Barnet back into the Football league/
The play off final, it has to be said, wasn’t a game for the purists but Rovers triumphed in a penalty shootout and Darrell beat the Olympic record for the 100 metere sprint as he raced on to the pitch to congratulate his players.
“Our success last season,” said the manager, “ was built on teamwork, bot on and off the pitch and that needs to continue as we strive for another successful season in League Two.”