A horrible day for Bristol Rovers

As a group of fans who have visited St. Andrew’s they are probably only bettered by Leeds United in 2004 and Club Brugge in the Europa League a few years ago. Well that is in my lifetime anyway. In terms of numbers and noise they were absolutely fantastic; they strike me as a lower league version of us, a proper football club with proper fans but consistently have underachieved on the pitch. That underachievement hit a new low on Saturday, as Bristol Rovers were relegated into the Conference following a 1-0 defeat at home to Mansfield after spending ninety-four years in the Football League.

 

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Angry Rovers fans invade the pitch after relegation is confirmed

 

Now lots of clubs suffer relegation, and yes it always is painful. But I think dropping out of the Football League means so much more than just simply going down a division. It is almost like losing a way of life for a club; that Football League status means so much, especially when it is held for as long as Rovers have held it.

 

In terms of a standard of football it probably won’t actually be that much of a shock. The standard of football is high down there (some argue that it is actually on a par with League Two), and the majority of clubs are ‘full time’. And with ex-League stalwarts like Grimsby, Wrexham and Lincoln in the division it will feel vaguely familial. However that in itself creates a problem; getting out of the Conference is devilishly hard, especially for clubs who drop down from the Football League, dealing with an inevitable exodus of players and loss of revenue. Only Carlisle and Shrewsbury have managed to bounce back at the first attempt this side of the Millennium. They will be the biggest club down there next season, but Luton are also a massive club who for years struggled to get out of the division.

 

Ten and a half thousand. That was the crowd Rovers got on Saturday. Bigger than all bar two of the weekend’s attendances in League One, and a bigger figure than the attendances recorded at Barnsley and Yeovil in the Championship. They have averaged well over six thousand over the course of the season, the third highest in the fourth tier and higher than the majority of clubs in the division above, and this is a club that ended up going down to the Conference! There is a potential for the club to at least consolidate in the Championship, and looking at clubs like Hull, Cardiff and Swansea there’s an argument that they could go even further with the right investment and management. That all makes it even more criminal that they have fallen so low; you look at tin pot clubs like Yeovil playing in Championship football and the mind boggles.

 

It’s trying to realise that ambition that may cause them problems now though. The club has a new 20,000 all seater stadium on the way in a year’s time but I’m pretty sure that the idea was they would still be a Football League club by the time they moved in, preferably one that was in a higher division than League Two so that they could kick on and use the momentum to fly through the divisions ala Hull and Swansea. They could still be a Football League club by the time they move into their new stadium, but that would mean an immediate return to League Two, and as I have said that is something rarely achieved by clubs who drop down from there. The worry is that the longer they stay in the Conference in this new stadium, the crowds will drop, the revenue will fall and the costs of running such a large stadium will become overwhelming. There is a real possibility that the stadium could become a white elephant – Rovers are a bigger club, but I wouldn’t say it is infeasible that a situation like the one at Darlington (who in the past few years have been playing in leagues that are little better than park football) could repeat itself.

 

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The 20,000 all seater stadium. Will it become a millstone around Rovers’ non-league neck?

 

Ultimately they only have themselves to blame for the situation they find themselves in. And when I say they I don’t mean those long suffering supporters, I mean those in charge at the club. Rovers have diced with death ever since they came down from League One in 2011; in 2011-12 and 2012-13 they were near the bottom of the league around Christmas, and both times they brought in two old heads to manage the club to drag them clear of danger. But there seems to have been no long term strategy; by the sounds of things the club has had money invested in players, but nothing on the infrastructure needed to make a football club successful. Four years ago they finished eleventh in League One, four places behind Southampton. In those four years Saints have gone from there to the upper half of the Premier League, whilst Rovers have dropped into non-league; they have gone through seven managers and goodness knows how many players, but the one constant has been the Board of directors. Surely that says it all; those players and managers may have underperformed or simply not been up for it, but there’s ultimately one group of people who have to take the lion’s share of responsibility.

 

I’ve stated on here before that I have a soft spot for Rovers, but I think generally it is a tragedy that a club of this size will be playing outside the Football League. For their fans it probably hasn’t sunk in yet; that will probably come when the fixtures for the Football League are released in June and they realise theirs haven’t been released because the Conference publishes them to weeks later. Little things such as playing in the FA Cup qualifying rounds, playing in the FA Trophy and visiting the likes of Alfreton, Braintree and Welling will bring it home. I suppose there will be a certain novelty factor in going to these places, but that will soon fade if they start struggling like other ex-League clubs have in the past.

 

Who knows, relegation could be could for them in the long run. They will be a massive draw in terms of bringing players in from the non-league; a chance to play for a club like Rovers won’t come along often for those sorts of players. And I think that is what Rovers will need; good quality and seasoned non-league players, players who know and have what it takes to get results in the Conference. An immediate return to the Football League is rare but not unheard of, and the sooner they are back and kicking on in the Football League the better really.

 

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18 thoughts on “A horrible day for Bristol Rovers

  1. Really good article that mate, but the conference is a thriving league and no death sentence. Clubs like Oxford and maybe Luton have gone back into the league stronger than when they went down.

    • You could well be right mate. I hope you are. The only thing I would say though is that those largely responsible for the demise at both clubs had gone by the time you went down, whereas you seem to be lumbered with those in charge and I think that may well have to change – that or at least have some new voices amongst those in charge.

  2. Really like this piece, mate. As a “long suffering supporter” I too am devastated with the news, it was only a few years ago we were playing Norwich, Southampton and Leeds!

  3. Really good read mate with some sobering thoughts for all us Gasheads!!!!! Just hoping we kick the trend and return to the Football League at the first ask…. though I think it will certainly be difficult. It all depends on what the club and those upstairs do this summer!!!!! Here’s hoping….. 😛 😛 😛

    • Yeah I think you’re right, those upstairs have to take a massive amount of responsibility for this.

      I think if there ever was a year to go into the Conference this was the year though (if that makes any sense?). Luton are gone, there seems to be no real prospect of a Fleetwood or Crawley mk. II and spending their way to the top (possibly Forest Green?) and some of the bigger beasts like Grimsby and Wrexham look to have a major rebuilding task on their hands. To me it looks its weakest for ages, which could help you.

  4. As a Rovers fan, I have to say thanks for the kind words. The amazement from football fans around the country at how this club has sunk so low has been incredible but speaks volumes.

    As an outsider looking in, it’s amazing how on the ball your comments are Nat. I think the majority of fans hold the BoD almost entirely responsible for this debacle. The chairman has spoken of radical changes and Geoff Dunford (former chairman, now director) agreed with a fan on Twitter who suggested the appointment of a CEO to oversee the running of the club. As they say though, talk is cheap.

    Ultimately though, I fear we will have a long and generally unfulfilling spell outside the Football League.

  5. As a Cobblers supporter I was shocked it was you who went down and not Wycombe or us as this post say’s proper club, for proper supporters as us(not Wycombe), It should have been M/K Dons tho. as we have to watch them go on and on to better things and are very close to them pees you off dunnit, he’s right the conferance is the old 4th div. but I know that does’nt help, where do you go now?, I don’t know It will be up to the board,I hope they come good for you thats all.

  6. I was born in 1951, overlooking those Gasometers, I lived in Allfoxton road, I used to look at the ground from my bedroom window at the games which were played, in 1959 I went to see my first game with my dad as did all the other children at that time.
    Although I did not go regular my time for really supporting the Rovers came in the era of smash and grab and beyond to the time we trecked to Bath Cities ground, those too were hard days for rovers but I admired the loyal supporters who supported them through thick and thin, I live near Cheltenham now and although I do not go to matches now my heart will always be a Rovers supporter and I urge all Bristolians who love football to rally round and will the team on which ever form they take on, whether it isw youth or experience or both , needless to say I wish all the backroom staff the board and all who will be playing next season and the years to come my heatfelt wishes for you all

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed this. As a Bluenose living in Bristol you’ve hit the nail on the head about the “real fans” thing. Bristol City have a backer with deep pockets and even with all of that cash they struggled in League One so it goes to show what might have happened had Blues been sucked into the mire but for the “Miracle of the Reebok”. I want my little boy to follow Rovers or Blues when he grows up but who knows if either will even exist in a few year’s time? KRO and Goodnight, Irene…

  8. When all is said and done the tables never lie. Gone down cos not good enough. Good riddance. City till I die.

  9. Great article. Sums up the thoughts of most Gasheads really well. The shock of relegation seems to have shaken many armchair supporters out of their apathy. I think attendances will go up next season but in the long term there has to be success on the field and a swift return to the Football League. The fans from the dark side may well be in for a surprise.

  10. As a life long Gashead, I’d just like to say thank you for these kind words. I will add one thing to your post and apologize if someone else has pointed this out, but, the stadium will be shared with UWE (University of the West of England) so the financial burden of it wont be as heavy as it could have been. It was local politics and pressure groups that made this choice almost necessary to get a new stadium, but with hindsight, perhaps a good thing that we did go into partnership with UWE after all.

  11. Therein is the problem. What is the point of a non league team who have to play on a shared school playing field paid for by someone else. Why would anyone take them seriously? All the pity in the world won’t change the fact that gas have been in decline and drifting from temporary home to temporary home for decades. Optimistic view that crowds will increase in the Conference, apart from the derby games with Forest Green and Salisbury don’t see more than a couple of thousand turning up to watch Halifax etc next term. What is the point?

  12. What a brilliant post. Very well written and thought provoking. The one thing Rovers have is their fan base. Hopefully that will see them through

  13. Thanks for those kind words.!!! Think you just about hit the nail on the head. Brings a lump to my throat thinking about the demise of our club.!!

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