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.

Finally arrived

The first day of the football season was welcomed in with glorious sunshine and warmth. With Cheltenham taking on MK Dons at home in the Capital One Cup and Forest Green Rovers opening their season at home to Cambridge United, I couldn’t help but visit the New Lawn to see my old local club visit Rovers and hopefully see FGR start the new season in style.

Forest Green finished in 10th place last season and the fans belief that they could face promotion this season was heightened.

With the new signings over the break strengthening the squad up front, it seems that the injuries to the defence were more noticeable. Missing Hodgkiss and new signing Green are both big blows to the team.

By half time yesterday, Rovers were 1-0 down to United. Elliot had put the U’s ahead with conviction and he was definitely one of the strongest players of the day. I was surprised at just how much space we afforded them. There was a lack of imagination and width in a Rovers side that I have high hopes for.

I have never based my thoughts about a squad or team on one game and certainly not on the first game of the season, but work is needed.

The change in the team when Styche came on around 80 minutes was obvious and even Norwood seemed to settle and produced some good runs and touches. Forbes had a brilliant game and there were some great touches and balls in from Rowe but it was Collins, our aerial threat, who was named Man of the Match.

On 88 minutes, Norwood was brought down on the edge of the area by Roberts to win a penalty which was swiftly converted by Klukowski. Unfortunately, Yan injured himself in the process and was left on the pitch to make up numbers for the last few minutes as we were out of subs.

Looking ahead I think we have great promise, but when faced with a tight outfit such as Cambridge, the team need to learn to utilise the wings and make the space work for us.

Off the pitch I must say that there are a few points that need improving on. I’m a perfectionist I know, but the scoreboard referring to the home side as Forets Green in the first half was a little disappointing as was our opponents being called Cambridge Uniyed in the programme!

Ignoring that, I can’t wait to get back there to cheer on a squad with so much potential. Hockaday has his work cut out (as most managers do!) but I think these players have the determination and passion to make it.

Countdown

It’s that time of year when people like myself start to count the days til the new Football season begins. Although it’s been good to still be able to watch games (or work them in my case), in the form of Euro 2012, I think most fans will agree that there’s nothing better than standing on the Terraces supporting your club.

Fellow Cheltenham Town fans will, I hope, agree that last season was amazing for us. A trip to White Hart Lane and Wembley were the obvious highlights, but there are other less ‘glamourous’ times that I look back on more fondly.

Standing in the Speedy Skips stand with friends while the rain fell heavily (after trying to convince ourselves that it wasn’t going to rain) and refusing to leave or stand under cover. The banter in the Nest pre (and post) match, meeting some of the brilliant people working at the club and best of all meeting fellow Cheltenham fans and feeling like I’d never been away. Getting back in touch with an old friend and standing in the Kemble discussing our chances against Hereford and another time in the Kemble with a friend who supports Port Vale and meeting the Port Vale mascot.

The times I look back on less fondly are those where the fans turn against the players. I’m not referring to slating a player on their performance in the heat of the moment, I think we’ve all been there and anyone who claims otherwise is lying (or in denial!).

I’m referring to the times where Scott Brown was blamed for everything going wrong over a long period of time (yes he made mistakes, but I’m pretty sure a team’s defence isn’t supposed to be one man) and then, when loan periods end, ‘fans’ slating a player for going back to their parent club.

In all honesty, I have no idea what makes someone come out against players when overall they have been brilliant servants of the club and given their all.

Looking back over the years and some of the players (and management!) we’ve had, I would have thought that our fans would be a bit more tolerant. Passion for your club is something I am a big fan of, but sometimes people take things a bit too far.

Anyway, I refuse to end by moaning. On the whole we have amazing fans and I’m proud to be part of that. Next season is on it’s way and I for one can’t wait to be back there cheering on our team.

What will the season bring? Will Fleetwood do a Stevenage/Crawley and power their way straight into League One? As for us, who knows if we are strong enough to make it to an automatic place next year. I don’t really think my heart would cope with playoffs again, but I wouldn’t say no to auto’s or playoffs. In fact, I’ll be happy if we play good football and get our attendance up to where it deserves to be – come on people of Cheltenham!

No matter what, I can’t wait for Saturday 18th August. Bring on 3pm and Dagenham & Redbridge. Will we get to witness Dave Hogan come on again? Those at St Neots Town FC will appreciate that thought… 5th February 2011 v Kings Lynn Town FC anyone?

Euro’s – early thoughts

There has been a lot of concern over the last couple of months, regarding the holding of the Euro’s in Poland and Ukraine. I stayed away from a lot of the coverage prior to travelling out to Poland for work. I didn’t want my attitude to be coloured in any way by the media reports. For me, as long as there are no recommendations by the government to not travel somewhere, then it’s alright.

In the time since I have arrived, there has only been one day in Warsaw which has been ‘bad’ – Poland v Russia held in the capital. Other than this, there has been generally a great atmosphere with fans outside chanting, singing and generally being in good spirits. I don’t want to dwell on the behaviour of the isolated few on Tuesday, but it was impressive to see the number of police vans and the water cannon that appeared in the square where we are based, after the game.

So, back to the important stuff… the Football.

So far, I have been impressed by the games I’ve seen. Yes, even England. For me, they started brighter than they have done in a far few years. the second half (particularly toward the end) was slightly less impressive, but they started out chasing the ball and having that hunger that has been missing for so long. Even if they’re flying home next week, I think the squad is looking better and with time will come together. It all depends on whether they given the break they desperately need and deserve from the English public and press. Sorry, don’t care how poor the England team been in the past, they are not the same people, give them a chance.

The disorganisation of the Netherlands team has been a surprise, but I’m still hoping the last games in group B will throw it wide open and possibly give them the chance to qualify. You never know. This is a tournament, not a season. One good/bad performance will make or break it.

As for Republic of Ireland, I hope that they will get something back. So long out of the competition, I love to see them get a win. Or at least a point!

I’m not sure on a winner just yet, but Germany and Portugal are looking strongest for me. Croatia may be one to watch, but sadly Ireland’s performance wasn’t the strongest so I think we’ll need to wait to judge them.

Just a game

Slightly different ┬áto my previous posts – but I have the following little something I wanted to share during my lunch break at work!

My usual ramblings are sure to be back next week while I’m working away with tales from my travels!

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I stand and wait for you to appear
My heart is beating fast,
I hope that this could be our day
And hope it’s not our last.

Each time I’m here I look above
And pray that this will be,
Our day to shine and smile and laugh
For everyone to see.

I’m not alone, I look around,
Everyone is here,
The same as me, our colours out
Ready to sing and cheer.

You appear at last, strong and sure
It’s there within your eyes,
The passion, drive and will to win
Our support will never die.

A game they say, that’s all it is
I ask them what that means,
A game it is, but more than that
It’s life, our soul, our dreams.

End of season – finding my team of the year with a difference

As we approach the end of the Football season, other than who’s going up/down and who’s had the luckiest escape of the year, one of the big talking points is the player and manager of the year.

The likes of Aguero, Van Persie and Parker find themselves nominated for the PFA Player of the Year and as for thoughts on the Manager of the season, well, I think it’s unlikely to be ‘King Kenny’.

Rather than joining the millions of other people already debating this, I’ve found myself wondering about the season’s ‘Media Team Of The Year’. By this I mean the commentary team and anchor(s) that have most impressed this year. Either through sheer brilliance, knowledge or ability to convey what is happening/happened while giving us, the viewer/listener the best service.

While those on TV get to debate who their ‘Football Team Of The Year’ is, why shouldn’t we pick our own dreamteam to take us through a match. From the pre-match banter, to those at the ground taking us through the tackles, dives and goals, through to the post match analysis.

I think I need more time to publish my own ‘team’ but any suggestions are more than welcome for either Radio or TV. Obviously as this is a dreamteam, there’s no need to worry about the politics of which channel they’re working for.

That time of the year

The next few weeks are going to be really exciting.

Not just because I start a new job and begin the hunt for a new place to live (as I’ve finally got a short list of places to look at!), but because we’re on the run in to the end of the Football season and the start of the F1 season.

Two of the football teams I follow are on for top of the table clashes today. Cheltenham Town travel to Swindon and St Neots Town are at home to Slough. Both huge games. Not to mention Forest Green Rovers keeping the playoff dream alive if they can come away with 3 points at Grimsby.

Meanwhile, with the F1 season kicking off next weekend, fans everywhere will be wondering whether the dominance of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel will continue. Can anyone come close? Personally I’m hoping that McLaren can build on last seasons form and fight back, but, with all the work the teams have done on the new aerodynamic packages I think we’re set for a turbulent season.

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.