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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 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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