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.

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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.

As the warm weather finally decends on the UK, it seems that we need less than 24 hours of warmth, before people start to complain that it’s too hot!

I could’ve done with it being ‘too hot’ last Wednesday. I decided to embark on my first fishing match in 4 years. Harescombe Fisheries have several lakes which are ideal for catching Carp. Well, they’re ideal if you’re not me. The 3 hour evening match had a good turn out and within 15 minutes I was already a good 5lbs behind the men pegged around me. 35 minutes in and a section of my pole smashed.

Fishing at 7 metres, the float buried, I struck, the elastic came out and the number 6 section of my pole splintered. A quick lunge forward to grab the pole before I lost the lot and a lot of very unhappy thoughts. To make matters worse, by the time we were 30 minutes from the end I was cold, hungry and the few fish I had in my swim had decided to join the rest of the shoal and emigrate to the pegs next door.
At this point, my thoughts centered around whether I should even bother weighing in and that I was dying for a nice hot cup of tea. I did decide to weigh in, just shy of 7lbs – leaving me in a really successful last place.

The latter part of last week saw the rise in temperature that we were all hoping for and a reduction in the water cascading from the sky.

With this in mind, on Thursday, we finally made a trip to Cheltenham to attend the Brewin Dolphin Cheltenham Cricket Festival. It’s been a number of years since my last visit and I was suprised at the lack of support. I can only assume that with the uncertainty of the weather, people were reluctant to visit. It was day Two of the LVCC game v Leicestershire and it was great to see Gloucestershire in action. Leicestershire were in to bat when I arrived and I didn’t move until the close of play, leaving Gloucestershire on 40/2.

Sadly I was unable to make it back to the College ground and this was probably my only live Cricket experience of 2012. Such a shame considering I had hoped to watch several Gloucestershire matches this year and make at least one England game. Maybe a plan for 2013?

Friday saw myself and three friends put on a charity gig at Cheltenham Town FC. I would like to thank everyone who took part and everyone who came along to support us. We had some people up and dancing along to the songs and successfully raised just over £200 for Help the Hospices and Cancer Research UK. Both charities are dear to me and I am thrilled that we’ve been able to help them a little. We’ve been asked to do another gig in the near future, which we will (hopefully) do and now I have a bit more of an idea on what’s involved, I’m sure we will improve!

Just a game

Slightly different  to 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!

——————————————

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 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.

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.