Gasheads have watched from their living rooms in horror as Bristol Rovers lost their League One status amid a season of declining performances and drama, on and off the field.
With Joey Barton in charge and retaining the majority of support from fans, there is a now-unfamiliar sense of stability restored as the club plot for instant promotion from League Two.
However, the scars from the last eight months still remain and during a Bristol Live survey conducted last week we asked supporters to outline what they would do if they were in charge of the club for 24 hours.
Obviously, it’s just a bit of fun (sorry to use that rather cringe-worthy phrase) but did throw up some interesting criticisms, frustrations and desires from within the fanbase, primarily around infrastructure, the board, recruitment and the playing staff.
Here’s a selection of the most popular ones with a list of the more random acts posted further down the article …
“Arrange a meeting with Darragh MacAnthony and ask him how best to run a football club whilst kidnapping his head of recruitment.”
For the record, Peterborough don’t have an actual head of recruitment, although Sam Gaughran is the club’s academy recruitment chief so perhaps he’s the poor soul who’s being bundled in the back of a Mondeo and held at the Mem …
But anyway, to address this one there is clearly, based on a number of responses, frustration how a club the size of Peterborough can continually seem to get their recruitment right and Rovers, after signs of life a few years ago, get theirs so wrong.
In truth, the Peterborough model is something the Gas have tried to ape with buying low, developing, selling high and then reinforcing. It’s just those carrying out the project haven’t quite got it right … yet.
“Reassess the clubs long-term mission statement, what do we want the club to be and how do we get there. I think this has been lost somewhat over the last 18 months which has contributed to our plight with a lack of consistency and leadership from the top down.”
To continue on a theme, throughout 2020 the plan for Rovers was clear with a desire to build on where Graham Coughlan had got them in the table but with a better style of football (and revisionists continue to overlook the frustration surrounding the manner in which the Dubliner played the game, something he was constantly baffled by) and a smart recruitment.
As we now know, stage one of that was a disaster with Ben Garner sacked, Paul Tisdale unable to improve things and now Joey Barton appearing to rip up the plan altogether, and assuming control of recruitment to himself, therefore sidelining Tommy Widdrington in the process.
Exactly what the club’s mission statement and “DNA” is at the moment is very difficult to decipher, other than: “Get promoted from League Two as quickly as possible”.
“Remove Widdrington. He has to take a huge responsibility for our relegation. The players brought in by him and Garner were not of League One standard.”
As you’d imagine, this tone of response came up a lot and this was one of more polite answers. Rovers’ head of recruitment is without question the man Gasheads hold most responsible for the failures of last season.
To repeat a well-worn point, from Widdrington’s perspective he will always say that he only works for the manager; they ask for the players and he provides solutions, alternatives, possibilities and then does the recruitment.
Garner wanted a certain type of footballer and that then led to the likes of Zain Westbrooke, Josh Grant and Sam Nicholson; all of which could end up being major players next season.
Recruitment is not easy, some will say it’s the hardest part of the game to execute, but clearly Rovers got it spectacularly wrong last season.
That being said, the fact that the Gas could receive a few more millions if Jonson Clarke-Harris is sold by Peterborough, it’s very hard to justify removing the member of staff responsible for bringing him to the club.
And, as we understand, Widdrington’s position while naturally diminished by Barton’s presence, isn’t in danger and there are no plans to “remove” him.
“Obviously sign off a new stadium” / “Build a new stadium – though may be challenging in just one day” / “Wouldn’t quite know where to start in all honesty, “announce a new stadium” would be every Gasheads’ dream.”
This would have been a response in any year of any decade and will continue to appear until that itch is once-and-forever scratched. The Mem in all its charm, which seems even more enticing after a season of exile, is worn out and not an appropriate arena for a club with designs, however fanciful they seem at present, on the Championship.
At the risk of going over old ground, after the collapse of the UWE deal, the fruit market st St Philip’s Marsh remains the only show in town.
Developers have been in discussions over a deal for almost two years now and while it’s at what can be considered an “advanced stage”, contrary to Facebook-related rumours, no sale has been agreed just yet.
Bristol Rovers remain on board with the project and there is no indication anymore that those buying the land in central Bristol want a significant, or any-sized, stake in the club, but it will involve some kind of leasing procedure if successful.
We’re still some way off Rovers having a new stadium to call home but, at the same time, it’s fair to say that, as it stands, it remains on the horizon and a realistic prospect.
“It would be a part theory day with focus on positive thinking and team building including outside speakers. Team building exercises including physical activities.”
Kicking some life into the players was a constant response with a feeling that a number of individuals in the first team simply didn’t care enough.
That’s a touch unfair because, ultimately, no player wants relegation on their CV and those that are still at the club are 100% motivated at getting the Gas back into League One.
A lot went wrong for the club last season – an imbalanced squad lacking in goalscorers, three different managers with three very different personalities, a new training ground in which the facilities weren’t quite ready before players began using them and then Covid-19 which affected footballers just as much as it impacted the general public; which goes without saying but sometimes requires repeating as a number of key individuals moved to a new city to take up a new job during a pandemic.
However, clearly character and leadership is something Barton wants to address and that’s evidenced by the four signings he’s already made, forthright words since taking the job and plans for a “brutal” pre-season which includes a boot-camp like weekend with the special forces in Hereford.
“Approach to sign Chris Lines. Should be a quick negotiation and he would be a great asset for the club being a promotion specialist.”
Chris Lines has said he’d be open for a trilogy, with the midfielder having been unceremoniously dumped by Coughlan in the summer of 2019 and holding a sense of unfinished business.
Line is 34 now but more than equipped for a season in League Two, as he’s shown during his time at Stevenage Borough who also would like to re-sign him; a club in a location which suits his personal circumstances.
However, as it stands there are no plans to bring Lines back to the Mem just yet as he’s not quite the type of player Barton is looking for. That’s not to say it won’t happen in the future as the market develops but Rovers are reasonably well-stocked in centre midfield and, for all Lines’ talents, there are other areas of importance in the squad that need immediate attention.
And here is a list of some of the more bizarre/amusing ones that we’re not really able to expand on. All we would say is discussion, concern and a wish for definitive action around pastry products at the Mem featured frequently …
- Bring back proper Cornish pasties
- Eat all the pies
- Brick back Lambert
- Send Joey Barton on a PR course
- Probably just paint stuff
- Throw a massive party just to help everyone relax ready for the season
- Give them players a right kick up the backside