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Up the Gas?

Comments Off on Up the Gas? 13 May 2018

I am not going to pretend to be the greatest expert on the current state of play at Bristol Rovers. I’ve lost much of the emotional attachment I had with the club and without the emotional attachment, what’s left? I could drone on and on about how and why, or write a pitiful essay of goodbye, but what’s the point? In future, I’ll be on the outside, occasionally looking in.

Whilst I am not enamoured with the current ownership model at BRFC, I accept that the Jordanians are all the club has got. Without their loans, the club might well have gone to the wall after the disastrous years under Nick Higgs’s bumbling mismanagement. Manager Darrell Clarke has been an inspiration as manager, bringing the club back from the dead men of the Conference to safe mid table in League One. When the club tumbled out of the league just a few years ago, I think most Gasheads would have settled for where they are today. But 2018/19 is a big season for Bristol Rovers.

That is not to put pressure on Darrell Clarke. He has taken Rovers to where they are today on a shoestring. He has sold arguably his best players, Matty Taylor and Billy Bodin, and still the team has performed at a good level. He has turned the likes of Ellis Harrison into good League One players. Turning average players into good players has been one of Clarke’s strengths.

On the downside, Clarke has signed some absolute duds in the transfer market. For every Sercombe, there is a Nichols. He clearly needs to do better in that department and the recruitment of Tommy Widdrington from Coventry as head of recruitment is an exceptionally sensible and positive move.

I suspect the Al Qadi mantra of “evolution not revolution” has been welcomed by most Gasheads. When the Jordanians first came along, some thought they would bring a Manchester City sized chequebook. They didn’t. The club continues to lose vast sums of money, despite the dramatic increase in crowds, so I suppose that’s where their money goes. And it is why, as some have been arguing for many, many years, the club must look to break even in order to make it sustainable for the future.

Patience, they say, is a virtue. There is something in that, but eventually supporters will want more than League One mid table. Clarke quite rightly has a great deal of credit in the bank from loyal fans but the reality is that eventually fans will demand more. They will, eventually, expect the club to be challenging for a play off position and get to the Championship. I do not see how the owners can achieve that without substantial investment.

That will be substantial investment on and off the pitch. It is one thing taking the team into the Championship, it is quite another reaching the Championship in a ramshackle stadium like the Mem. If we are talking about sustainability, the Mem must be redeveloped and quickly, preferably starting straight away. One of the reasons Rovers lose so much money is the stadium itself, which has poor facilities on almost every level. It is one thing to love the Mem as it is and quite another to want success in it. The two are incompatible.

What supporters will need is openness and honesty from the owners. Will Clarke and Widdrington be given the resources to mount a run at the play offs? When will stadium redevelopment commence? As with most overseas owners, they communicate little, something chairman Steve Hamer has admitted, suggesting this is par for the course with foreign-owned clubs. Well, this is not good enough. Owners and officials are transient, just passing through. Gasheads should demand better communication. They are the spiritual owners of the club, not the suits. If the Al Qadis don’t want to say anything, then Hamer and his fellow officials should speak on their behalf.

If your aim is to stand still, the danger is you will start to slide backwards. That is the danger for Bristol Rovers. This should not happen under a manager as inspirational as Darrell Clarke, someone who is undoubtedly capable of taking the club to the next level. But only if he is supported. That is the challenge for the owners.

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