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My time at Bristol Rovers..Part 3. Death threats and out of favour.

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

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My form had mirrored the team. It was hit and miss, mostly miss. I was in and out of the team much like many of the squad. I never knew if I would start the next match and my performances certainly didn’t deserve my name being first down on the sheet. Although results weren’t good enough often enough it wasn’t a downbeat camp. In fact, we all seemed to enjoy coming to work. We had some really good lads who I became very good friends with. Many of us were in the same boat being in and out of the starting eleven so we all just got on with it. I think we had all settled in and all loved living in Bristol, I know I did.  

It was around this time that I was made captain by Ian Atkins. Our current skipper, James Hunt, was suspended and there seemed no obvious choice. We played away at Shrewsbury Town and I was summoned to the front of the bus on the way to the game. I thought I was getting dropped and was ready for the news. I didn’t see it coming at all to be honest but a huge honour nevertheless. That lasted 3 matches before James was back. He was the captain and rightly got the armband back.

Again I reverted to being in and out of the team. It was around this time that I received a letter in the form of a death threat. At first I thought it was somebody winding me up. It became clear that it  wasn’t  a prank as I read the whole letter. It actually threatened my wife and children which wasn’t very pleasant. The letter was written by hand and the spelling and grammar was very poor so I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It said that if I didn’t stop scoring then me and my family would get it. Now, my goal scoring form was poor at best during my time at Bristol Rovers so maybe it was a wind up after all !! I didn’t take it too seriously. I showed the manager who said he would deal with it but nothing further happened.  I also received another similar letter when Lennie Lawrence and Paul Trolloppe were in charge by what seemed like the same author too. A bit strange really but slightly un-nerving nevertheless.

At the end of the season I felt like I was being forced out. There was one game to go and we had nothing to play for. There were quite a few injuries so I thought I would play. Ian decided to draft in an emergency signing. Even though deadline had gone he sought permission from The Football League. Jefferson Louis signed and started the match. It was a massive sign that Ian wanted me out although he denied it. The following week we all had a one to one with the manager to talk about our performances over the season. Apparently the board wanted to get me off the wage bill. I was in the top bracket of earners at the time and they felt that they didn’t want a top wage being spent on a player that wasn’t playing all of the time. I didn’t know what to believe but it didn’t stop them circulating my name for transfer. Boston United showed an interest but it wasn’t right for me to leave at that stage. It would have meant up-rooting the family again and we were all very settled. I had two years to run on my contract and thought that I could improve the following season.

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My time at Bristol Rovers…Part 2 A missed pen at The Mem

November 8, 2010 1 comment

 

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A large travelling away support greeted us as we came out for the warm up at Field Mill. Another sweltering day opened the league season. As what was to become the norm, we didn’t know the starting eleven until very close to kick off. I got the nod up front alongside Junior Agogo. We played somewhat on the break that day and used Agogo’s pace very well in what ended up being a comfortable victory in the end.

It was Bury on the following Tuesday for my home debut. As there had been a large number of new signings over the summer there was a renewed interest amongst Bristol Rovers supporters at the beginning of the season. Although we had played at The Mem on a couple of occasions in pre-season matches we were all given a huge lift by the atmosphere that was created. The passion was there for us all to see and hear, that’s for sure. We took the lead in the first half thanks to a dubious penalty decision on Junior Agogo which I tucked away.  I was very pleased to get off the mark with a goal. A new season and a new club – a good start was very important for me as I felt that so much was expected of me. Ian Atkins had tried to sign me on a few occasions both previously at Bristol Rovers toward the end of the previous season as well as when he was manager at Northampton Town some years earlier. During the pre-season many supporters made their expectations known to me so I felt like I needed to perform.

My home debut turned sour though as I missed a penalty in the second half. I chose to place it the opposite side to the earlier spot kick and it was saved. The score was 1-0 so it would have secured the 3 points for us had it gone in. I remember the fans cheering my name after missing it which is always nice to hear. I didn’t miss too many penalties over the course of my career. I always had a sickening feeling each time I missed one and this was no different. Bury scored a superb late equalizer which made me feel even worse.

We had started off playing some great football. The squad we had was one of quality and depth on paper. Ian Atkins seemed to be happy to let us play too. I think we were unbeaten in the league until we played Leyton Orient away. It was a match which I remember well. Having been fortunate to have played so many matches over the course of my career many of them are a blur.  Some matches stick out though and for me I have to say that it was my best ever personal performance in a match. I remember thinking it at the time and although I had some good performances for the clubs I played for after leaving Bristol Rovers but I know inside that I never had a better game personally. It will probably be a game that not too many people remember but it does for me. I scored in the first half from a long clearance with a left footed volley from outside the box but my all-round game was good. Ironically I didn’t expect to play until about 2pm that day. My dad came to watch me and I recall telling him that I didn’t think I would start so was surprised that I did in the end.

To talk about that match as a whole, we ended up out playing Leyton Orient but missing enough chances to win four or five games. We lost 4-2 in the end conceding each time they had a shot, or so it seemed. That signalled something of a downturn in fortunes for us from then on.  It also signalled a change in the style of play we adopted. After the defeat Ian Atkins wanted us to get the ball forward a lot earlier. We had given away possession in the wrong areas of the pitch on too many occasions according to the manager away at Orient. He now insisted that we play a safer, longer game which is what he was more used to at his previous clubs. As a result, the good footballers that were brought in were now not being allowed to affect matches as we were launching it so much. An example of this was when we played away at Northampton Town. Many of us were ex-cobblers and we got a good hiding that day. We were 2-0 in no time and down to 10 men before half time as James Hunt was sent off. I was ‘sacrificed’ shortly after although I don’t think I got a kick that day

We slowly moved down the table as the season went on which was so frustrating. We changed personnel, formation and tactics but we couldn’t quite find the form needed to sustain a push on the promotion race.

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My time at Lincoln City…Part 2 Clocking up the miles and making it permanent.

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I headed back to Bristol after the home victory against Grimsby Town knowing that the following week would be a big one. I am not just talking about the size of the matches but also the amount of mileage that I would be clocking up. Away games at Carlisle and Darlington were the fixtures for that week. Bristol was a long way from both. I met the squad at the team hotel in Carlisle on the Tuesday evening after a frighteningly long drive. A defeat at Brunten Park made for a very long day. I think I arrived back home at about 3am.  It was back in Lincoln on the Thursday and Darlington on the Saturday. I asked one of the young lads who was not playing to drive my car behind the team bus so that I could go directly home to Bristol from Darlington instead of travelling back to Lincoln.

I remember at half time that Keith threatened the team with a spot of Sunday training if we didn’t pull our fingers out. This would have been disastrous for me and was hoping that it didn’t come to that. Well, we lost the match and the half time threat turned to a reality. Thankfully he let me off. As a loan player it was a slightly different situation for me but he really wasn’t happy with the performance. Keith didn’t come down too heavy on players as a general rule but you always knew where the line was with him.

An enjoyable and successful loan spell was turned into a permanent transfer before the play-off matches against Grimsby Town. There was quite a bit of negotiating to do for all parties. I had an extra year beyond the 2005-06 season on my contract at Bristol Rovers. I had to take a cut in wages so things had to be right for me. Eventually it was Keith that made the difference. I have to say that if it wasn’t for him then I may not have signed at that time. He even suggested that I stay living in Bristol and travel up on a Thursday like I had done on loan. This worked for a short loan spell but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it for a further two years. It would not have been fair on the rest of the lads and my fitness and form would have suffered as a consequence.

So I had agreed to become what was Keith’s final Lincoln City signing before the end of that season. It gave me a bit of an advantage is putting the house up for sale in Bristol. There was a chance that we could we could be moved up to Lincoln by the start of pre-season training.

Our play-off spot was secured which meant that we faced Grimsby Town in the play-offs. The 5-0 victory against them did us no favours whatsoever. It made them more determined to gain some revenge. The pre-match talk made us favourites but we all knew there would be an improved performance by them after the heavy defeat they suffered. A 0-1 home defeat put them in the driving seat for the 2nd leg at Blundell Park. Although we equalised quite early on we never played well enough to deserve a place at Wembley.

I had a brief chat with Keith after the game when we returned to Sincil Bank. Effectively it was the end of the season so needed to know how the land lay as I was heading off to Bristol. It was a funny conversation really. We were obviously all very downbeat. Keith mentioned that he may be leaving for pastures new. I had only signed a week or two previous to that so didn’t want Keith to leave. He was such a big factor in me signing that I felt left in the lurch a little bit.

Keith eventually did leave which led to a summer of uncertainty for me personally. I had just signed for Lincoln and the manager was off. I don’t blame Keith at all. You need to think of yourself in football. There was all sorts going through my mind. The next manager may not fancy me, for one.

Thankfully for me John Schofield took over.

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My time at…Lincoln City Part 1. A debut to remember

November 1, 2010 1 comment

I knew that the management team of Lennie Lawrence and Paul Trollope wanted to ship me out. He had not long taken over and, even though we played together at Northampton and Bristol Rovers, he thought that my legs had gone. I remember him calling me on my day off on the Wednesday before the traditional Thursday deadline day.

At that time I was being used as an impact player at Bristol Rovers. I would come on in most matches. If we were chasing a goal I would be given a free role behind the front two. It worked on a couple of occasions where I had made a difference to the outcome of the result.

I never thought that I had the suitable qualities for a decent substitute. A good sub normally has pace of height. You can make more of an impact with those attributes and I didn’t have either.

So Lincoln City wanted me on loan until the end of the season. I genuinely felt that this was my last chance. If things didn’t work out for me at Lincoln then it was the non-league circuit for me. Who would take me if I had not done anything at Lincoln City ?

 I had not made much of an impact at my two previous clubs, Hull City and Bristol Rovers. At both of those clubs there was lots expected of me and I hadn’t quite lived up to the billing. At Bristol Rovers I had been particularly disappointing. I don’t know why. It just never happened for me. I genuinely believe that Bristol Rovers were glad to see the back of me and I really needed a change.

At that time Bristol Rovers were not in with a chance of reaching the play-offs but Lincoln City were. Lincoln were higher up in the League 2 table so it was a step up for me. Although you could argue that Bristol Rovers were a larger club in terms of fan base they were under achieving where as Lincoln had reached the play-offs the last few years at that stage.

When I spoke to Keith Alexander I was instantly impressed. I had been told that he was interested at the start of that season but nothing came of it on that occasion. Due to the distance between Lincoln and Bristol Keith offered to allow me to train with Bristol all week. I could travel up to Lincoln on a Thursday evening to train with the Lincoln squad on a Friday to play the Saturday match.

I must admit that this was a great gesture and a huge reason why I decided to agree to the loan. Being in a hotel away from the family for 6 weeks would not have been ideal. 

There were about 10 matches to go of that season. We needed to guarantee our place in the play offs so there was still some work to do.

My debut would be at home to a former club, Grimsby Town. They too were well placed in League 2 and Russell Slade had done a great job at Blundell Park. I hadn’t started many matches for a while so wasn’t sure how rusty I would be. Before the game Keith just asked me to give him an hour. He said he would be happy with that.

It turned out to me one of the most memorable matches of my career and one that Lincoln city supporters still like to talk about with me. We got out of the blocks very quickly. We were leading 4-0 at half time thanks to goals from Luke Foster, Paul Mayo and Marvin Robinson. I managed to squeeze a debut goal in between which allowed my Lincoln City career to get off to the best possible start. An instinctive left foot volley gave my confidence a huge boost. In fact the half time score could have been much more than 4-0. I must say that we were awesome that day. It was one of those matches that everything seemed to click.

It led to the infamous half time team talk from Russell Slade which he conducted on the pitch. This was not something that we were not aware of. All of the Lincoln city squad has gone into the dressing as normal and we only realised what had happened after the match had finished. Grimsby had been completely outclassed in the first 45 minutes and I think that Russell wanted to make his point in a public manner. Not that it made any difference to the result. A fifth was added by lee Beevers to secure a memorable victory.

I was off and running and it immediately reminded me that I could still do it. My goal was very pleasing on the eye but I was also pleased with my all round contribution on that day.

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Holloway. A voice to be heard.

October 22, 2010 2 comments

It was very interesting to watch the Ian Holloway interview surrounding the state of football following on from the Wayne Rooney saga. Although Ferguson has stated that he didn’t want it to become a saga, I feel that with the amount of time remaining until the January transfer window is upon us suggests that the media frenzy will not allow it to be any other way. 

Holloway has won many people over for his comments on many different issues due to his honesty, integrity and passion. As I have said before, the achievements at Bloomfield Road under Holloway have been nothing short of incredible. He has turned the fortunes of a small club into Premier League over achievers. The players he has brought in have exceeded all expectations and many of us hope to see The Seasiders continue to enjoy Premier League status. As somebody who grew up watching Blackpool as a schoolboy in the days of Paul Stewart and Sam Ellis as manager I have a keen interest in them doing so well.

They play fast flowing, expansive football which has allowed them to gain some  precious points already this season. Ian Holloway has had a larger media audience since Blackpool have been in the top flight which has brightened up the tone of interviews we see so often. But this side of Holloway is nothing new to many. Ask Bristol Rovers followers. He achieved legendary status as a player as a hard-working, hard tackling, honest midfielder who gave everything. He has brought those qualities into management.

But as we are all rightly claiming that he is the best thing since sliced bread we must remember his time at Leicester and I feel that his experiences at The Walkers have benefitted him to become the manager he is today. He left Plymouth Argyle after being head hunted and exited Leicester City after their relegation to the third tier of English football.  He had a squad on paper that could have pushed for promotion but everything he tried at Leicester went wrong. Expectations were huge and it just didn’t happen.

The career of Holloway over the last few years just goes to show that you can’t keep a good man down. I am sure that some Leicester City fans will wonder how he has had so much success but it all points to the fact that sometimes things just don’t go your way no matter how good you are.

My own personal experience of Ian Holloway:

I was at Northampton Town and had started the 2000-01 season in goal scoring form. Ian was manager at Bristol Rovers who were at the wrong end of the table. I was told that Ian and Bristol Rovers offered £250,000  which was turned down flat. Northampton had recently paid £150,000 a few months previous breaking their transfer record at the time.

Holloway followed the correct procedures by contacting the club. He could so easily have tried to contact me prior to the offer coming to gauge my interest or even try to unsettle me after the offer was rejected. But no. This shows a huge amount of integrity, which was the root of his rant at the Rooney saga.

At a time where money has completely taken over the world of football how refreshing it is to have Holloway as one of our top English managers showing such passion for our game.

My time at Bristol Rovers…Part 1. Re-location, re-location, re-location.

October 18, 2010 1 comment

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Having left Hull City for Bristol in the summer of 2004 I was looking forward to the new challenge at Bristol Rovers. Ian Atkins had just taken over  and was given money to spend. The relegation threatened season had pushed the club into trying to assemble a promotion push for the 2004-05 season.

I was one of many brought in that year. Stuart Campbell, Steve Elliot, Robbie Ryan, James Hunt, Craig Hinton, Richard Walker, Craig Disley were among the names added to the playing squad that year.

We all came from different places around the country and all needed to relocate down to Bristol. There was simply no way round it. I was living in Grimsby at the time and the house went on the market the day I signed.

While we were all down in Bristol we all stayed together at the Chairman’s hotel, The Beeches. It is always a strange time when you need to relocate. I was obviously down in Bristol and the family was back in Grimsby tying up the sale of the house. It was the same for all of us. It wasn’t easy either. None of us were sure how long it would be to sell our houses and fully relocate. Our house managed to sell pretty quickly but it still meant the whole of pre-season in a hotel. It may sound extravagant but it really isn’t.  In the first few weeks, when there were no friendly matches, we were allowed the weekend home. Friday afternoons meant negotiating the M5. I was fortunate because Stuart Campbell also lived in Grimsby and I knew James Hunt very well from Northampton Town so we made the journey together. Monday training was changed to evening time which allowed us to have the extra night at home with our families. I had not expected this type of treatment from Ian Atkins but it went down well and, looking back, allowed us to gel quicker as a squad and feel happier until our families joined us full-time.

A pre-season tour to the Isle of Man was scheduled. I had heard lots of stories from players that had previously played in their pre-season tournament and how bad it was. I never used to like going away in pre-season. Sure, it was all part of it. Get the squad away for a bit of team bonding and some quality training. Although it is a necessary part of the preparations I always enjoyed my home comforts during pre-season. Pre-season is the toughest time of the year for any professional footballer. You are pushed to the limit, even beyond that sometimes, in the quest to be fit enough to hit the ground running. No manager needs an excuse to claim that they want to have the fittest squad in the league. I have heard it said from each of my managers at every club I have played for. So if I’d have had my choice after a hard days physical training when you are exhausted I would much rather return home to my own home with what I know rather than a hotel.

This actually turned out to be a decent trip. The matches didn’t have too much pressure attached to them. We were told to go out and play and because we had so many good footballers in the squad that sounded like the perfect thing to say. Even though Ian Atkins was well-known for his direct style which had brought him a great deal of success at Northampton Town in particular he had assembled a squad of technically gifted players. Was Ian Atkins about to change his football philosophies?

We squeezed in a couple of rounds of golf and a few drinks on the last night. We were all a bit nervous as to how many to have that night. We all wanted to make a good, professional impression so started off slowly. Ian Atkins kept getting the drinks in at the hotel bar and before we knew it, it was about 4am and we were all plastered. I had heard a few stories about Ian Atkins prior to my arrival. I had not spoken to him too much during negotiations as an agent got involved with it. This type of behaviour didn’t seem to fit the bill at all so it was all good up to this point.

Pre-season flew and it was Mansfield away on the opening day. As many of us were in the hotel in Bristol together we had been in each other’s pockets for more or less 6 weeks and had got to know one another pretty well.

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