A day to remember

I don’t think I’ll be alone in saying that Saturday 7th January 2012 was one of the best days out I’ve ever had.

The third round of the FA Cup saw Cheltenham Town travel to Tottenham Hotspur. The invasion of Ruby clad fans, arriving by Coach, London bus, overground train and car ended with what I can only describe as a beautiful sight outside the ground.

My day began, as ever, at St Neots train station where several men stood, decked out in Spurs kit, staring at me like I was from another planet. I’m guessing their geography skills were good and they were trying to work out what a woman in a Cheltenham Town shirt and scarf was doing 60 miles North of London and 110 miles from the club’s town.

They didn’t ask. I didn’t approach them.

My journey consisted of chatting with some friends, who were off to watch (a victorious) Stevenage FC at Reading and working out the travel plan for myself, my Spurs friend (P), his daughter and nephew. It was the first time P’s daughter had watched a match and the first time any of us had been to White Hart Lane.

Once we’d eventually arrived at the ground (on a bus full of Spurs fans!), we met up with several Cheltenham fans and headed for a pub. It was at this point we successfully went the wrong way and wound up with a good 10 minute or so detour. Why does that always happen?

As we started down a small street opposite the ground, we turned in time to see the team coach arrive, with Cheltenham Manager Mark Yates clapping at everyone on the pavement and the players watching on. It gave us all (P & family excluded I feel!) quite a buzz.

When we eventually arrived at the pub, we opened the door to be greeted by a packed bar. A bar full of Cheltenham Town shirts. The atmosphere was brilliant with everyone singing and chanting.

A little while later we headed back to the ground. Walking up the stairs, to be greeted by the sight of Ruby shirts on the pitch with that backdrop was amazing. Sadly the Cup run for Cheltenham was to end with a 3-0 defeat but at the hands of such opposition and putting up a good fight, I’m not sure many (if any!) could complain. Match Report.

It’s been said a number of times, but I hope the players realise just how proud we all are of them. Same goes for the work put in behind the scenes. From the moment we were drawn against Spurs the club has been professional and quick off the mark, while still providing answers to even the smallest (some times repeated!) questions on Twitter.

From organising the ticket sales, coaches, handling queries from left right and centre, and of course the ever faithful Robins Player coverage, it’s been excellent, while not letting the league coverage slip. Keeping everyone up to date, to the point where local media was close to saturated with Cheltenham Town news and views!

The best feeling for me, since Saturday, was walking into my office today and a Spurs fan commenting on how good Cheltenham played against them.

So now we look ahead to what is sure to be a great couple of months of league action and a chance to close the gap at the top of the league.

My only request?

That more of those who came to Spurs, come along to watch them in the league. Yes, visiting White Hart Lane was a great day out, but there’s nothing better than watching your team home or away in the league.

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End of the Year – goodbye 2011

So here it is. The end of 2011. A chance for people to claim a new start and how they are glad to see the back of the last 12 months.

Does the chime of Big Ben at midnight on 31st December wipe the slate clean? Does it mean that the memories of attending that funeral of a loved one, those broken hearts/bones/promises are all forgotten on the stroke of 12?

Of course not. Those are the experiences that make us who we are now. Those memories will stay with us, sometimes for the rest of our lives. I appreciate that a new year does signify the start of a new beginning, but then so does spring, or the dawn of a new day.

Perhaps a resolution for the coming year should be to live each day for the here and now. To remember that every day we have the chance to change the shape of our future not just on 31st December. Perhaps not to have the celebrations though….

I, like everyone else, will be cheering in the New Year and hoping that 2012 is filled with laughter and the joy of making new friends. Also I will be hoping its one of cheering on the best team in League Two to promotion.

2011 for me was hectic. It saw the loss of a family member, illness, heartbreak, fun, laughter, regular trips to Cheltenham Town, finding Twitter, meeting some of the best people (via Twitter!) and making a decision to shape 2012 – moving back to Gloucestershire.

My priorities in life changed dramatically in 2011 and when I look back on the person I was, even 3 months ago, I can barely recognise myself. The uptight, stressed person of September/October has gone. The people who filled my days with questions on where my life is heading, have gone. The coming year will be exciting with, no doubt, sorrow and heartbreak, but also laughter, fun and most importantly smiles. One thing is certain, I’m gonna have one a hell of a time in 2012!

Happy New Year!

Saturday’s trip to Luton

Saturday I persuaded a friend, P, to join me in a trip to Kenilworth Road to witness Cheltenham Town’s FA Cup 2nd Round tie with Blue Sq Premier’s Luton Town.
6th in the conference and battling to get back into the football league, Brabin’s side had recorded only two home wins out of 6 in the league going into this match. Fans I’d spoken to prior to the game were convinced that Cheltenham would have an easy win. For the away supporters nestled in the Oak Road stand things weren’t quite that straight forward.
P and I made our way to our seats complete with coffee and water, settling for seats just behind the goal, about 6 rows or so back. Several guys sat behind me and one asked me if I was any good at blocking the ball so he could decide whether to move. I pointed out my unfortunate record at getting hit by the ball at a variety of grounds and I said that if it headed my way, I would duck.
The atmosphere in the away end was one full of anticipation. With 7 away wins, Cheltenham were in strong form, but we were taking nothing for granted.
Cheltenham went ahead thanks to Duffy after just 2 minutes and looked strong in the opening part of the first half. But Luton were not going to just roll over. The team pulled themselves together and fought hard to make life as difficult as possible for the visitors. By 30 minutes in, I was on the edge of my seat, frustratingly watch Cheltenham lose possession and Luton press forward. Our defence was our saviour, keeping our lead safe until 40 minutes when O’Conner scored for the home side.
To be fair to the Hatters, they had been pushing for that goal and deserved to get something for their work. Luckily, just before the half time whistle blew, Pack gave us back the lead and had the entire Oak Road stand on its feet.
The guys behind me in the stand agreed that Luton were looking dangerous and we needed to pull it out of the bag in the second half. If we could start the second half as strongly as we did the first, we should be ok.
During the break, it started to get cold. Hat and gloves were put on and coat zipped up. The gloves were a mistake though as I was on Twitter duty for St Neots Town FC and can’t operate my phone in gloves. I’d hoped that St Neots would win by one or two goals but after the 5th had gone in, I gave up on the gloves (they finished 6-0 winners against Marlow). Talk about keeping me busy!
Back in Luton, we witnessed O’Conner get his second and pull the home side back to 2-2 just 6 minutes into the second half. The home fans were thrilled. The away fans were silenced. But not for long. Soon, we found our voices as we watched Cheltenham push forward to the goalmouth in front of us. On 64 minutes, Summerfield gave us even more of a reason to cheer, putting us back in the lead.
Luton started to press again and as we watched the action in the distance the referee produced a yellow card for a Cheltenham player. We couldn’t make out who it was. Luton’s free kick just outside the area was taken and again the referee blew his whistle, producing another yellow card quickly followed by a red. It was Duffy. All around me were murmurs and questions. We were unsure what had happened, a few thinking that he hadn’t been booked a first time. As Duffy walked slowly off the pitch and headed to the tunnel, the home fans started jeering. I saw him with his head bowed down and his arms locked straight held just in front of his body, fingers pointed down. I had no idea why and put this image to the back of my mind until the photos came out from the day. Duffy was walking toward the tunnel, just in front of the home fans. Signalling, 3-2.
It was a tense last 10 minutes in the knowledge that Luton could press and we had just 10 men. Yes Luton looked dangerous and when the board went up to announce 5 minutes of extra time we couldn’t believe it.
But Cheltenham turned the pressure up and in the 3rd minute of added time, Penn slotted the ball into the right hand corner and we were elated.
When the final whistle went, my now fairly none-existent voice, found a little bit extra to cheer and sing for the team.
As we left the ground, I asked P for his thoughts on his first ever experience of watching Cheltenham. He’d enjoyed the game and was all for seeing them play again. ‘How about the next round?’ I joked, ‘Depending who we get obviously’. P is a Stevenage and Spurs fan. The funniest thing I thought would be if we were to be drawn against Stevenage. The lads I watch football with are all Spurs/Stevenage fans and I’ve spent a number of years in the away stand at Stevenage, on my own, while they were in the home end.
What I never expected was for Cheltenham to get an away draw at Spurs. A massive bonus for the club, players, staff and fans alike. I challenge anyone who supports/works for the club to tell me they’re not on cloud 9 over this draw!
As for P? He’s said he’ll come along to the game if he’s free. But he wont be able to support Cheltenham. Yet another match where we meet in the pub and then go to our separate stands then!
What a great way to kick off 2012. Bring on the Spurs.

Obvious but not easy to do

Someone once told me that if I changed my way of thinking to be positive, that good things would happen. I laughed at him at the time. He’d just arrived back from the US where he’d been working as a presenter and participant in Wrestling. His life long dream. T is well known for being positive and that night in Cheltenham he made me realise that if I was to follow my dreams I had to start saying yes and believing in myself.
It didn’t happen over night. I made a few great choices in the following year or two, taking time to remove myself from a relationship which had become toxic (for us both) and a job that I’d taken because I felt it was what everyone else thought I should be doing.
It’s been several years since T and I had that chat. Sitting here, heading to work in London, I realise that I’m doing a job that everyone around me said I would never be able to do. I live in a gorgeous flat just 5 minutes from a football club I adore, Im back seeing old friends in Gloucestershire and training in a sport which most think I’m crazy for doing. Some have even tried to make me quit.
T’s advice is something I’d suggest to everyone. I’ve managed it in my professional life but not in my personal. That’s next on my list. I have  finally overcome my issues over my ‘worth’ in the last 6 weeks or so and I’m sure that will make me stronger. Hopefully it’ll also stop me from putting myself down. I’m not sure how I’m seen by men. I wonder if they think I put myself down to get compliments? It’s not the case. I’ve never known how to accept a compliment. It’s alien to me and possibly what comes of spending most of my life in a male world being treated as one of the guys.
I never realised just how much positivity affects what happens in our day to day life. Ive always thought it was some hippy philosophy taken up by those with no career path or by life coaches who tell you how amazing you are and you can achieve everything just by smiling.
You can’t achieve everything, but you can achieve a lot. The best bit? You feel so much better by the end of the day if you’ve spent it smiling instead of scowling. Try it for a day. I’d recommend that a Monday is probably not the best time to start as everyone will think you’re on something. Or having a breakdown. Depends how grumpy you are normally I guess.

The usual weekend, with an unusual ending

If you do a lot of driving, you’ll know that (out of rush hour) it can be one of the most relaxing things in the world. You, the stereo and the open road. My trip to Gloucestershire on Saturday was nearly stopped by the less than enthusiastic response from my parents to my impending arrival. So, while driving down the A1 enjoying 5 Live’s Fighting Talk, I was struck with a decision. Do I continue 2 hours down the road to watch Cheltenham Town or turn around, go back to bed for 2 hours and then head 30 minutes down the road to Arlesey to watch Forest Green in the FA Cup?

Cheltenham won and Forest Green lost. Both in terms of my attendance and the result.

I turned up at the ABS very early and headed to pick up my ticket. Plymouth Argyle, currently bottom of League Two, were the days visitors to Whaddon Road. The fans were all in good spirits and the staff at Cheltenham spent their time redirecting those new to the ground, Plymouth and Cheltenham fans alike, to their respective stands/seats. After a short while I made my way into the ground to take up my position in the same seat I’d had for the Hereford game. Surrounded by the same enthusiastic men and with a great view of the away end, packed to the rafters with Plymouth fans.

I sat next to two men I didn’t recognise from my last visit and they both introduced themselves to me. One was a Cheltenham supporter of 40 years, the other a newcomer to the ground. After I had assured the new supporter that although I work in the financial district in London, I am not a Banker, we started to get on well. Which is better than Cheltenham seemed to manage in the first half.

Argyle never stopped in a fast paced game, hassling the Robins into making mistakes and playing the long ball. Going 1-0 down in the first half had hearts sink in the unusually quiet home end and fuelled the passion of the visitors, singing load and proud for their team.

It all changed in the second half. Plymouth conceeded a penalty to take to it 1-1, went down to 10 men and then had 6 minutes of injury time to survive. They couldn’t. An injury time winner by Duffy secured a vital win and most of all 3 points for the Gloucestershire side.

My new found friend Dave and I parted company and I headed out to await my lift home. While waiting in the car park I witnessed a number of different conversations. Including one poor man on the phone to, I assume, his other half explaining why he was late. Most of the conversations around me were Robins fans commenting on how much they hoped Argyle would stay up, complementing the away fans on their support and passion for their side. I have to agree. Plymouth you should be proud of your supporters. Match report.

As for Forest Green… I’ve no idea what happened. Playing a team from the Evo Stik Southern League Premier Division (Step 3), they led in the first half before losing 2-1 and sending themselves out of the FA Cup. Match report.

Sunday was a quieter day, although I decided to get out and take some photo’s around the Forest of Dean. My father and I headed out knowing that we had just 2 hours to take photos, get the shopping and be home before he had to be back in the car to pick up family members for a hospital visit.

Needless to say, we failed.

Our timekeeping as rubbish as ever, left me having to throw all my things into any bag I could find and get into my car just 5 minutes after walking through the door. Sat in my car on the drive and waving them goodbye I felt a bit lost. With nowhere to go and no-one to see, I started a gentle drive back, during which I decided to go to the local pub for the Karaoke night.

My local, The Bulls Head in St Neots, is a fantastic little pub. Friendly, warm and inviting, I had a great time, even inflicting my own version of Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time on the poor unsuspecting regulars. Eventually and with a heavy heart, I made my way home with the realisation I had to be up in 7 hours for work.

How wrong I was. Just 4 hours after I’d got to sleep (and 2 hours after I’d woken up thinking about work!) the phone rang. It was work with a problem. Through a cloud of sleep and confusion my colleague and I got a workaround in place for the UK to go live (the joys of working on live TV) and in the space of 20 minutes, I was showered, dressed and on my way to the train station.

As I write this now, it’s nearly 6pm and I’m on the train heading home. I’m pretty sure that I’ve been about as much use as a chocolate teapot from about 2pm this afternoon. Plans for this evening? Dinner, DVD and sleep.… Zzzz

Love, Lust and Forgiveness

It’s a well known fact that when things are going well, they are brilliant. Everything looks wonderful and the world is filled with only the good and beautiful things. At the start of a relationship, it’s known as the honeymoon period. But, when it goes wrong, even once, we pick it to pieces. Concluding that it’s not just one slip up but that it’s no longer working and should be abandoned.

In this case, I’m referring to Sport. In particular, Football. When your team is on a winning streak, the fans come out in force. The ‘fair weather supporters’ who jump on the bandwagon enjoying ‘their’ teams successes. As soon as that team shows that they are human and impart a poor display of their abilities or, god forbid, a defeat, it starts.

In your job, if you were told you should be fired for having an ‘off’ day (unless this leads to killing someone or a serious breach of contract!), how would you feel? What if those around you began calling for your resignation…?

It’s my belief, as a supporter you should be helping to lift the team and cheer them on at the next match to help them back to winning ways. Don’t get me wrong, I think a constructive display of disappointment or measured response to the poor game(s) is more than warranted, but not an all out attack.

An example of the ‘right’ kind of support and publicity of this, has been Cheltenham Town. The team had a run of 5 wins in a row, lifting them to 3rd in the League 2 table, boosting the spirit of fans (and no doubt the players/staff) and awakening the belief that they could be candidates for promotion this season.

Tuesday night they played Crewe Alexandra at home. And the run came to an end .

After the game I was watching the comments going around Twitter. There were the usual disappointed people who felt that it had been a poor game, which it most likely was, but the biggest thing for me was that these were coupled with comments on how they were happy at the progress made so far and that Cheltenham could bounce back against Plymouth on Saturday. It’s this side of the fans that needs to be promoted. There are ones that come out of the woodwork and only complain about the result, but all they do is bring the players down and put the team on the defensive.

We’ve had this experience at St Neots Town. After last years promotion winning season from Step 5 (United Counties Premier League), the team have been backed for promotion again this year. The pressure applied from all corners, quickly showed in the first few games of the season. The team lacked cohesion and the results reflected this. The management and staff worked hard on pulling the players together, but on the forums, the back biting and put downs were numerous. Every football supporter has their views on the best formation for a team but game after game so-called ‘supporters’ were calling the management’s abilities into question and would openly lay claim that players were useless. The number in support of the team were minimal. Most of them were supporters who are active volunteers at the club. Constructive? I think not.

St Neots are sitting third in the table at the moment, equal on points with league leaders Biggleswade Town. Is this something that supporters can really claim to be poor, in a league which promotes two teams, one automatically and one via the playoffs?

As a person on the inside of that particular club, I can honestly say that it can really bring you down when you think that fans are going to jump all over the slightest mistake. Yes we have to strive for promotion and yes we are all passionate about going forward, but you have to be sensible in the approach to criticising players, management and staff.

Forest Green, like many other clubs, suffer at the hands of the non-believers. With a poor run of results, numerous draws at home and two consecutive losses (Hayes & Yeading away followed by Kettering Town at home) , the players found themselves subject to derogatory comments about their abilities.

Don’t get me wrong, when my team loses I’m disappointed and if it’s an ongoing situation then questions have to be asked, but is it right to come out in force against a team straight away?

Surely in this life, we can all accept that people have bad days, forgive them and give them the love and support they need to go on and return to winning ways.

The England football team are a good example of how the media helps to fuel the worst response to defeat. They insist on building them up as the next big thing ahead of all international games. Putting them on a pedestal for the sole reason, it seems, of knocking them off as hard as possible at the first sign of a poor game. And when they lose? Well they might as well be on the Coconut Shy at a Funfair for everyone to take a pot shot at.

The clubs we grow fond of

I’ve been in and around the world of Sport and the media for a number of years now. It’s something I love. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat sleep and breathe sport… But I’m pretty close.

My full time job is in TV as an Engineer and I commute everyday from Cambridgeshire to London. In the evenings and at weekends, I find myself watching or listening to sport or planning where I can next get my fix of sporting action.

Most of the time it’s Football, but being from Gloucester, Rugby is in my blood. My Grandfather played for Gloucester and England and I feel bad at times when I realise I haven’t been to a match in a while. Must do something about that soon.

In fact, guilt on matches I haven’t been too has been playing on my mind for the last couple of months.

Finally, thanks to encouragement from a person I met on Twitter, I made my way back to Whaddon Road and the ABS, to see my first Cheltenham Town match in 9 years. For that, I will always be grateful to them – you know who you are, so thank you!

The trip was not without a lot of emotion behind it. The last time I’d set foot in the stand, I had been there for BBC Radio Gloucestershire and assisting with the coverage for a Tuesday evening match. This time, the sun was shining, it was warm and the beautiful sight of the Gloucestershire hills and countryside pouring over the In2Print Stand made me more than a bit emotional. Normally, I’m very good (too good perhaps?) at keeping my feelings hidden. But from the look on the face of the steward in front of me, I’d say I must have looked a bit of a sight. He kindly suggested I sit in one of the closest seats to the entrance and I settled in to watch, what would be a slightly disappointing game, drawing 0-0 with Hereford. However, being there was something very special for me. The atmosphere was electric and the gentlemen around me were animated in their support of the lads. The only disappointment, the result. However, even that couldn’t overshadow just how happy I was to be back in the county and at a ground that has always meant so much to me. Match Report – CTFC v Hereford

The following week I made it to Forest Green Rovers to watch them play Mansfield and it’s probably the only time I will ever be at the New Lawn and boil! I couldn’t get over the heat and even after we had confirmation it was 31 degrees pitchside, I just couldn’t believe I’d finally been to a match there and I hadn’t frozen. Again, it wasn’t a brilliant match. 1-1 but as Rovers had gone 1-0 down after just 18 seconds, I thought a draw was fantastic! There were slight moments of brilliance from an otherwise out of sorts Rovers side. At times, it pains me to say, they looked like strangers having a kick about in the park on a Sunday. Match Report – FGR v Mansfield

Then, finally, last week I took myself back to Whaddon Road and watched a match which would leave me smiling for days afterwards (excluding the last 15 minutes where I was on the edge of my seat!). 2-1 against Dagenham and Redbridge was brilliant. The passing and space Cheltenham created made it look easy at times however, Cheltenham being Cheltenham, would never allow it to be easy. After Dagenham equalised just before half time to take it to 1-1, I was left wondering whether this was the third week in a row I would witness a poor show… and dare I think it, a defeat? But they came out in the second half fighting and Spencer confirmed their intent by slotting in the second on 49 minutes. Yes the last 15 were nervous, but will I go back? Too right. Match Report – CTFC v Dagenham

There is one thing I couldn’t understand from the last Cheltenham match… Dagenham and Redbridge still have Dave Hogan on their books. To explain, I help at St Neots Town FC, a small club in the Evo Stik Southern League Central division, promoted last season from the UCL Premier division. On 5th February 2011, St Neots took on Kings Lynn in a match declared as the one to decide the season. St Neots’ manager brought in a goal keeper whom he felt could handle the pressure of 1,500 fans and a need to win. It was Dave Hogan. St Neots lost 4-2, with some of the worst goalkeeping I have ever seen. In fact, at times it made Gomes’ failures look good. How the man is still on the books at Dagenham escapes me. Good luck with that one!