Kicking things off with a win

Starting the Football season off with 3 points is what every football supporter dreams of. But to get that win when your current manager, who used to play for you, has never won a season opener in all of his years spent at the club, means so much more.

My feelings going into Cheltenham’s opening League Two game against Dagenham and Redbridge, we’re more positive than perhaps they should have been. Seeing the talent that Yates has brought in over the summer and with the core squad still in place from last season, I was convinced that it would be a good display.

The first half is a bit hazy for me due to being on some slightly stronger than usual painkillers for a sinus problem, but the goal from Harrad just before the break was more than welcome. A chance to celebrate and with the impressive work of Deering and good work by Jombati, my positivity in the run up to the match was starting to feel a little more realistic.

I must admit to having concerns over Zebroski and Hooman, but Zebroski picked up in the second half and I’m sure they’ll both settle over the next couple of games. The second goal, on 49, by McGlashan was brilliant and he definitely put in a lot of hard work over the 90 minutes. Official match report here.

Dagenham threw everything they could at us in the second half and came close to getting a goal but our defence stayed strong enough to deny them and start us off on the right foot.

I was pleased with the turnout for the match, but appreciate that some supporters will feel disappointed with the numbers (att: 2655 with 164 away fans). Yes, we deserve more and yes it’s the opening game of the season but remember that we’re into holiday time and just past the Olympics. Many people are either not around or cannot afford to make it to a game yet, but the lads deserve more support and we do need to find our voices. They’ve proved to us (time and time again) that they’re worth it, so let’s hope that more make the effort to join us.

Finally, a point of note to any women out there who love football and want to go but aren’t sure they can go to a match alone… do it. You’ll soon find you have people chatting to you (yes, to you, not chatting you up…. Although you never know…) and you’ll make friends who’ll be around, week in week out. Yes, it can be strange for the first game but I’ve never felt out of place going to games alone, especially at Cheltenham, as everyone is so friendly. Highly recommend it.

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.

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.

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