The curtain closed on our time in League One with a familiar scoreline in the north west. The final whistle brought relief for Gasheads as a year of pain came to its official conclusion. Bristol Rovers could finally lie in the bed they made long ago as attentions switched to English football’s fourth tier.
The 46th episode of Rovers’ 138th season was all too familiar once again. A promising start but a failure to score handed three points to the opposition for one last time; 28 losses, just eight wins and rock bottom of the division. Rovers are just about as a tame as they come.
Blackpool away is a highlight of the footballing calendar but there were to be no celebrations this time. Several hundred Tangerines fans gathered outside before kick-off, laying bare the contrast in fortunes between the clubs.
A mix of experience and promise sees the Seasiders contest for a spot in the Championship, whilst a farce of a Rovers squad showed no fight in submitting themselves to the lowest rung of the Football League.
The disdain attached to waking up on a Saturday and feeling as though the result is a foregone conclusion will not be missed. The pain of watching a certain loss is consigned to history. A summer of change will balance the scales and the optimism will return.
For there are better days ahead. A new league is a new opportunity and the new season brings with it a new squad. A chance for Joey Barton to rip out the dead wood, install a winning mentality and a culture which results in performances we can be proud of. Gasheads don’t ask for much, just fight and spirit from the boys in blue and white.
If there were any positives at Bloomfield Road then it was the inclusion of youth. At the tender age of 17, Jed Ward can be proud of his debut and Rovers fans will be excited about his future. He had an air of calmness about his game and he made several good saves in his first outing.
It was good for Tom Mehew, Ben Liddle and Zain Walker to get vital minutes in the second half. A game devoid of purpose was brightened by their run-outs and fans will be keen to see them further their development next year.
The focus shifts sharply to the rebuild and it was sobering to hear Barton had already relieved some players of their duties for next season. As he says, this is not a charity and that level of ruthlessness is a prerequisite of success for next season. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in those discussions.
The rumour mill is in full flow already and the first name on our list this summer is alleged to be Paul Mullins. What a season he has had for Cambridge United and we can only dream of having had his quality this year.
Whether or not he can be tempted to north Bristol remains to be seen – perhaps higher wages or the chance to play under a well-known manager could sway it, but as they say, a man can dream.
Earlier in the week we learnt of three prospective signings being close to getting over the line and they cannot come sooner for anyone associated with Rovers.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle on relegation, the only way to move forward is with change and that starts on the pitch. If a few signings are announced, we begin to look ahead and start to heal the wounds of the last 12 months.
Time to look forward
It would be remiss of me not to reflect on the circumstances surrounding this season and I want to start with iFollow.
Living away from Bristol this year would have been tough without the ability to watch Rovers week in week out. Set aside the buffering problems, poor footage borne from single-camera filming and not being at The Mem in the flesh, that was as good as it could have been for me.
In a year filled with devastation from Covid-19 and cabin fever from lockdown, Saturdays brought brief respite through iFollow and Rovers – even if the Gas didn’t turn up on the day.
This season has also brought with it empty stadiums and a vacant atmosphere. I wrote recently on how different this season could have been with fans and although we can’t turn back the clock, we can begin to look forward to coming together again at The Mem.
That first rendition of “Goodnight Irene” will be spine tingling and goodness knows how much both players and fans need to hear that.
It’s been a year in which I’ve found it tough to connect to my own team. Watching through screens, hundreds of miles away and with no ability to connect to the squad is a feeling I will gladly relinquish once the new season begins. That camaraderie with the benches, those pre-match beers on Gloucester Road and the banter on the East Terrace cannot return soon enough.
Then there’s the columns too. I have been lucky to have been afforded the opportunity to write for Bristol Live on my lifelong club’s fortunes on and off the pitch this year and that’s something I never thought would happen.
Throughout the various lockdowns, I have been able to voice my opinion on Rovers on a weekly basis and that has been both a mental boost and a pleasure too. It’s an honour to represent the fan’s view on our club and it’s incredibly rewarding to see the comments from so many fans engaging with it.
Sign up for our Rovers newsletter
A summer of change is afoot at Bristol Rovers and you won’t miss a beat with our free newsletter.
All the latest news, views, interviews, gossip and analysis concerning the Gas, delivered straight to your inbox, every day at 12:00.
It’s completely free and you can sign up HERE
That’s what this football club is all about for me – you and I. The fans, the culture, the community values and the people that surround it. The highs, the lows and the downright madness of following Bristol Rovers.
Wherever the depths of the foregone season may have taken us, we will be back once again come August. The passion that bleeds from within all of us leads us to once place only – and that is wherever Rovers are come 3pm on Saturday.
As Barton said when he joined, this club needs its day in the sun. So cheers to that – and I’ll see you all in August, living in hope that the sun shines once again over Bristol Rovers.