The response to my last blogpost about Bristol Rovers was overwhelmingly positive.
You get the odd negative reply – “have you been to a game this season?” asks Tony M (I shall not mention his surname but it’s on twitter) as if the fact that I haven’t should preclude me from having an opinion – but I think most people who read my stuff realise what I actually write is positive. I want things to be better.
To give a more full answer to Tony, I have not been to a single Rovers game since 20 October 2012 when Torquay were the visitors and my friend Kevin Spencer got his banning order. The two things are connected.
The big misunderstanding from the establishment is that those who don’t follow the party line are the bad guys. That those who don’t agree with everything that happens at the football club don’t love it as much as those who do agree, or as much as those who don’t care beyond supporting the shirt. That is fair enough because that was how I used to be until I found myself getting involved late in a previous century. I went along to Eastville, offering unqualified support in a tip of a stadium, and did the same at Twerton Park, even more so given the heroic work the Dunford family had done in saving the club. What on earth would the great Denis Dunford think about the remnants of his legacy today?
Even when I showed little interest in who owned and ran the club, I wasn’t happy being also-rans in lower league football. It was partly the apathy of people like me that has turned the club into virtual non runners in non league football.
Can I make one thing crystal clear? I have never supported the ‘sack the board’ rhetoric because that has never been the issue. It’s impossible anyway to sack the board of a private limited company but that’s not the point.
Even when the board split in 2006, it was never a takeover, a mechanism to get rid of other board members. It was not part of the plan. Plenty of others have called for the board to be sacked, or simply to stand aside, but the argument I supported was that the club should be more inclusive, sustainable and more accountable to its supporters. I did not and do not care who that might be. It’s not who they are, it’s what they do.
In my view, the years of division have not helped the club on and off the pitch. When we returned to Bristol, after the stay at Bath, I saw a brighter day. The crowds were good and we were watching exciting, attacking football under Ian Holloway. In 2000, we got within a whisker of promotion to what we now call the Championship. Since then, apart from one positive blip in 2007, it’s been unremitting misery. Well, it has for me and that culminated in relegation to the Conference, something that I would not have believed possible even 14 years ago, but ever since then it’s been nearer the front than the back of my mind.
I do not want Mr Higgs to sell the club to any old ‘investor’ because, as I never tire of saying, I would like to know where the hell they have been until today. For example, the supporters, without whom there would be no club, have ploughed in many millions through ticket sales, merchandise, catering, sponsorship etc, as well as over £1m via the Share Scheme. I would not be impressed if some ‘investors’ who had previously shown no interest in the club saw their way to a quick buck, more than likely by way of the UWE stadium project. To be fair to chairman Nick Higgs, he has always said he would not sell the club to anyone who did not have the interest of the club at heart and to be fair to him we need to accept what he says at face value, unless we see or hear anything to the contrary.
I want to see Rovers back in the league as soon as possible. And the club should be aiming for the Championship in the medium term. It would need to build its support considerably because although now gates are in excess of many League One and Two clubs they lag a long behind Championship clubs. No one need resign or leave the club, just utilise all the knowledge and potential support that currently lies dormant. Have a long term, sustainable plan, be more open. You know the rest.
But wanting the club to perform better is not a negative. Allowing the club to wallow in non league football with little sign of progression is hardly positive, unless you remain content with Ragbag Rovers.
I cannot believe anyone at the club can really be pleased with the way things have gone or how they are going. Unity is achievable and it’s close at hand. But does everyone want unity? There are some great brains outside the tent (and I specifically exclude myself from the great brains category, in case you were wondering). They’re not pissing in, nor do they want to be, but it would be nice to get them inside, wouldn’t it?