You know what it’s like. A manager arrives at a football club and announces that he wants to create a fortress where other teams will fear to tread. We have had plenty of fortresses over the years and Darrell Clarke has invented a new one: the mobile fortress. He loads it onto the team bus, plonks it on the opposition pitch and Rovers win. Simples. The only trouble is that it hasn’t arrived at the Memorial Stadium. Yet.
I cannot understand the concept of away advantage, of playing at distant, unfamiliar stadia, with your own supporters in a minority (this is not always the case with Bristol Rovers!), different types and sizes of pitches, long, tedious trips on the said team bus; you name it, there is always a reason why you are more likely to win your home games. It’s a fact. But where there’s a fact, there is a Bristol Rovers, a club where logic can be turned on its head.
If Rovers home record was as good as their away record, I suspect the club would be some distance clear at the top of League Two. But by the same token, if the away record was as bad as the home record, we would once again be getting out the Conference handbook in anticipation. How can this be?
In short, I have no idea and neither does Darrell Clarke. If he could get the team to play at home in the same way they did at Cambridge last week, they would not be humiliated at the Mem by the then worst team in the League, Newport County. I heard all manner of excuses from Gasheads in my local after the Newport defeat which ranged from poor refereeing to the opposition’s outstanding midfield players, the latter of which can be dismissed without even the slightest consideration. Another Gashead was more blunt about Rovers failings: “They were poor!” (Actually, the word he used was not poor, but this is a family website.)
If I had to guess the reasons for the reverse in footballing logic where Rovers win the games we expect them to lose and lose the games we expect them to win, I would say that high among them would be the mindset. It’s a mental thing. Hard though it might be to understand, footballers do have feelings. The Mem, even allowing for its dilapidated state, attracts more supporters than most other teams in the division and with that comes some expectation. I am not saying that fans expect to win every single game, although they’d obviously like to, but once you start to forget how you win at home, the pressure builds, the players tense up and the mindset develops. I think I know the solution. It’s called pure luck.
In my inexpert opinion, I see the cure for this malaise as a goal off someone’s backside, a very dodgy penalty at the right time, a dubious opposition sending off. That combined with hard work will, eventually, see the mobile fortress arrive at the Mem. So what should Darrell Clarke do? Well, nothing really. Just keep on doing what he has been doing since John Ward left us in the lurch/dropped us in it barely 18 months ago.
Soon enough Rovers will resume a more conventional pattern of winning and losing, but for now, enjoy the ride. It could be that their away form alone could take them to the brighter day of League One.
But hey, this is Bristol Rovers and there is no such thing as normal at the Gas!