Archive for the ‘Cheltenham’ Category

A Night to Remember

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I am not one to steal other people’s words as a general rule, but I hope no one minds a few quotes from Phil Hay’s report in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“In a community made famous by thoroughbreads, the inhabitants of Cheltenham are of irrepressible ilk…
“Cheltenham Town are not a national treasure in the way that their annual (racing) festival is, but tradition plays a less influential part in football than it does in racing.
Leeds and Cheltenham are in different leagues historically and, before this season, the clubs have never shared the same division.
But after a 2-1 victory at Elland Road which was more emphatic than the final score, the unfancied squard possessed by Keith Downing had the satisfaction of being the first to beat United both on home soil, and in the shadow of Beeston Hill”.

If anyone wonders what drives the football fan to take time off work and travel the length and breadth of the country, then this match is the answer. One cannot beat the shared elation of being in the crowd that has just seen their team pull of an unlikely vcitory.

As recently as 1997, Cheltenham were in the Southern League. Leeds were members of the Premiership until 2004, and have reached the semi-finals of both European competitions since Cheltenham joined the league. Even if the two teams play on the same field, there is still a difference between them – this game was the lowest crowd of the season at Elland Road, but it was near enough three times the figure for the best crowd of the season at Whaddon Road. It should not be a surprise to learn that that game also involved Leeds.

I don’t know if Cheltenham can build on this result – hopefully the team will use it to drive their push to maintain their league position in final nine games of the season – but everyone knows that when the dust settles the public of this town will not head through the gates of Whaddon Road on a regular basis.

But for the moment, let us forget about the people who were not there – let us remember that we were there on the day that Cheltenham Town won at Elland Road. This is what it is all about

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Alleged Robbery

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Gloucestershire Police are today investigating a claim from a Mr Wise, originally a cockney barrow boy, but now giving his address as West Yorkshire, that three points were removed from his grasp in or around the vicinity of Whaddon Road yesterday afternoon.

Mr Wise claims to have just taken his eye off the points for a second, when they were snatched away, and says the culprit appeared to have a scouse accent.

However, the police have since interveiwed 7043 witnesses who state that in fact the points were not stolen, but given away by Mr. Wise, who allowed them to be placed into an area of the field where he had just removed any semblence of a co-ordinated midfield, and from where they were seen being kicked into any empty onion bag, while the designated security guard (one David Lucas) was elsewhere.

Trust in Dreams?

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

As we approach the second AGM of the Robins Trust, it is time to take stock of the project. Not surprisingly, that while the project is far from being an unmitigated disaster, it also has not been an overwhelming success. The question in my mind is whether the Trust has failed to live up to its potential due to failings of myself, and my fellow board members, whether other factors have kept us down, or whether my initial imagination of the potential of the trust was wildly unrealistic.

Achievements. As an enthusiastic and fund raising organisation, the trust has been as good as any in the past, there has been the ‘Sporting dinner’, quiz and race nights, regular raffles and the Christmas parties. All those involved were very proud of the achievement of the sponsored cycle ride, while the Sponsorship for youth scheme is still well supported. As a result of this, we have raised enough money to pay over £10,000 for club shares, and added significant amounts to the youth pool and to charities.

Dialogue with the club. One of our aims was to open up a dialogue with the board of the club, especially the chairman to put supporters’ views, etc. We do have dialogue running at all levels, but most of this is to do with our own organisation and how best to raise money. At the start of the season, there was talk of a fans charter to formalise how a supporter with a grievance could take this to the club – constructive talks have been held, and this is being taken forward by Brian Lancaster

Membership Numbers. The membership number is currently around 170 – and is showing a slow decline. This is equivalent to about 5% of the support the through the gate on any particular match day.

To be honest, the trust has done only a little better than other, earlier supporters organisations at Cheltenham. As a group, we do have the ear of the directors, but we can weald no influence, as we cannot truly say that we talk for the bulk of the support. I would have liked the trust to send a message urging caution, to the directors during the week before Keith Downing was appointed manager – but it would have been difficult to get agreement within our board on the wording, and it we could not be certain that the trust board would agree to send such a message – even though I believe our thoughts on the appointment were unanimous

In terms of the trusts other briefs when we started, (as opposed to the old CTISA), we have not yet achieved much – we have not really done anything to improve the clubs standing in the community, nor have we approached the business community in any significant way.

In comparison with other trusts, we are ‘ordinary’. Some trusts boast around 30% of the regular support as membership, and have members of the football club board, but these have almost always come about through a financial crisis at the football club in question. As we have no desire to make a crisis out of any drama here. Most trusts of clubs that have not had to face any crisis appear to be of a similar size to our own (source, Football Governance Research Centre, Birbeck, University of London).

Where do we go from here? It is quite clear that our trust is a critical point. The membership is in decline, and around half our initial board membership has left – without replacement. Several other board members, including myself would like to take a back seat for a while and let others take the lead. I think it would be advantageous if the trust board could take on some of younger blood and organise more events that appeal to the younger sections of the support.

The most likely course over the next few months for the trust is more of the same, with similar types of funding raising events and regular raffles. In this case, I can see the overall membership levels continuing to decline. The fact that the football club appears to already be preparing for relegation at the end of the season means that the general mood will remain one of depression for the foreseeable future, but we do not have the crisis of the type that has galvanised support of other clubs into action.

What I would like to see at some stage is a big push forward by the trust board, with a sudden rise in membership numbers. I still imagine a trust with over 1000 members – a figure that would make us a force to be reckoned with. I think a 1000 member trust would be able to force its way onto the board (not that there would be a great opposition here, so long as it was understood that certain details, like individual employees pay would remain confidential). A 1000 member trust needs a board of around 15-20 members (some could be sub-committees) in order to keep regular events going on – not just in Cheltenham, but in other towns in the area.

It would be expected that a larger trust would have a larger influence on the community. I could see the Trust, and hence the football club playing a larger part in other events in the town. This is a festival town, with a series of festivals; literature, music, cricket and racing – there is no reason why the football club cannot be part of these festivals, and that the trust should be the key link.

The biggest change in trust activity though, would be with the business community. And it is to forge these links that we need to first have a sizable group. When we first started, we negotiated an agreement with McDonalds for our members to buy cheap meals from the High Street branch. I believe this is still valid, but I do not know if anyone takes advantage of it. It is poorly advertised at our end, and I suspect at their end as well. I wanted to see this as the first of a number of links, but I cannot go up to a shop or restaurant and try to negotiate a discount for our feeble membership numbers. I want to see ways of the trust presenting benefits for its members within the town and the surrounding areas, but at the same time building up the profile of the football club within these establishments. I want the whole town to feel that the Football club belongs to them

The trust started at just the wrong time for me, personally. I had been unemployed for a couple of months prior to start up, but I have been in near continuous employment since, and my employment has continually been over 100 miles from the football ground. I have my dreams of how a football trust could run for the benefit of all, and where the town pulled together to support the club – rather than asking the nearest single rich person to subsidise it.

But, if I am being truthful, I know these are just dreams and here in Cheltenham, apathy will continue to rule.

Cheltenham in the Cup – The Early Years

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

The first mention I can find of Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup results was for the 1914-5 tournament. However, this was the shortest lived of all cup runs – with no result recorded, and both ourselves and our opponents, Trowbridge Town managing to get disqualified without reaching the next round.

In this article, most of our matches are in either the Extra Preliminary Round (XP) or the Preliminary Round (P) – there were then a number of further qualifying rounds (1Q, 2Q, etc) before the first round proper.

With war intervening, it was not until 1919 that Cheltenham finally got a result on the board – not a particularly inspiring result, being as it was a 4-0 defeat at Chippenham Town. For the next decade or so, entry to the cup was patchy, results even more so. In 1920, we got through XP after a 2-2 draw with Melksham & Avon United, due to our opponents being disqualified, but then lost in PR at home to Trowbridge by 3-1. The following season we fell to XP defeat at home to Devizes, while in 1922-3 – the season of the first Wembley final, we were missing from the competition. This may have been because we had just entered the newly formed Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, which had finally brought organised football to this area. Up to this point, teams in the area played in a number of local leagues, such as the Cheltenham league. Each league had a limited number of teams, but many clubs competed in more than one league, leading to frequent chaos with the fixtures.

We were back at XP in 1925, when Union Jack (Bristol) continued our run of defeats, the score was 3-6, so maybe it was not a surprise we gave 1926 a miss – returning in ‘27 to lose the XP 3-5 at home to Warminster. Still, our league form was improving – as we became the dominant team in the league for the next few years, although we recorded only one title, compared to four runners-up positions. But although 1928-9 was the championship year for Cheltenham, it was a double disappointment in the cup, as we were drawn away to play Gloucester, and still lost, this time 2-1 (XP) – Gloucester went out 1-0 at Spencer Moulton, two weeks later. The next two seasons went by without Cheltenham entering the FA Cup. Finally, on 5 September 1931, at the start of our last season in the Northern Senior League, we went to J.S. Fry & Company, at the chocolate company’s grounds in Keynsham and won an FA Cup (XP) match – not only that, we won it 5-0. This only kept us in the competition for two weeks, after which we travelled to Kingswood and lost 2-0, but it was a start.

In 1932, we moved into the Birmingham Combination, a professional league requiring far more travelling. We had a successful first season, finishing 3rd behind Redditch and Birmingham ‘A’, while our reserves replaced the first team in the Northern Senior and won the title. Perhaps in view of the greater commitment to league games, we did not enter the FA Cup. As it was, this was the final season in which we did not enter. The following season, we started the league campaign with a 3-0 home win against Atherstone, but then lost midweek at Aggborough in the Worcestershire Senior Cup. The second Saturday of the season brought Mount Hill Enterprise to Whaddon Road for an FA Cup game (XP). We won 2-0 with goals from Horace Payne and George Knight. Two weeks later, it was down to Bristol to play St. Phillips Athletic, and a Reg Smith goal gave us a draw and a home replay (which was played the following Wednesday, late afternoon – no floodlights then). Smith got a hat-trick as we won 5-0. So it was into 1Q, when Western League side Street came to Whaddon Road and lost 4-0. Then to Pennydarren Park, to play Merthyr Town. The former football league club, now playing in the Southern League had drawn with QPR in the previous season’s first round – Roy Hill and Harold Yarwood scored a brace apiece as we won 4-2. It turned out to be the Welsh team’s last ever FA Cup match – they folded at the end of the season. Another Southern League club in Wales in 3Q – Llanelly, (they changed the name to Llanelli in 1960). A 2-2 draw in Wales (George Knight, Horace Payne) led to 3000 people at Whaddon Road on a Wednesday afternoon, (1st November, so kick off surely could not be later then around 3pm). Despite Harold Yarwood’s goal, the Welshmen won 2-1.

But that was not the end of it – the FA found out that Llanelly had played ineligible players in both matches, so Calne and Harris United made the trip to Cheltenham in 4Q. Calne were a relatively minor team, (playing below Western League level at that time) and had reached this round with a series of relatively local home wins, beating Devizes 3-0, Frome Town 5-2, Radstock 2-1, and Clandown 3-1. On the 11th November they met their match, with 5000 in Whaddon Road to see Harold Yarwood score four times, George Knight and Roy Hill two each, George Blackburn and Fred Hazard one each, as Cheltenham marched into the competition proper with a 10-1 win.

Serious stuff now, even if it was a home match against non-league opposition. Barnet had won the Athenian League in both 1931 and 32, and were to reach the semi-final of the Amateur Cup in the following spring. Such a reputation seems to have been lost on Cheltenham, as Payne (2), Knight (2) and Yarwood led us to a 5-1 win, and then the longest trip imaginable – to play Third Division (North) club Carlisle at Brunton Park. If the majority of the 7347 crowd expected to see Carlisle win, then they were wrong, Cheltenham went home with a 2-1 victory, Reg Smith and a Bradley own goal doing the trick. So a club that had only win in 7 previous FA Cup attempts, now had 7 wins in one. All good things come to an end, though and Blackpool, relegated from Division One the following season came not to Whaddon Road, but the larger Athletic grounds, 10,389 came to watch, and Horace Payne who had scored the first FA Cup goal of the campaign also got the last, with Blackpool winning 3-1.

The following season was to be the last with our first team in the Birmingham Combination, before we moved on to 50 years in the Southern League, we played only one more FA Cup game, and again lost at home. This time, at 4Q our opponents were Barry, and we lost 4-2.

Early data from Tony Brown and www.thefa.com – post 1932 data courtesy of Keith Iles and Roger Knapp.

The Betrayal.

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Tuesday. I left my office an hour earlier than normal, and drove for three and a half hours. I arrived at Port Vale only a few minutes before kick off. I watched the game, which Cheltenham started OK, were unlucky with the referee’s decision for the first goal, then declined sharply in the second half. After the match, I had a two hour plus drive home. As it happened, a blockage on the motorway added an extra 30 minutes to the time. And yet I am not complaining about this. My friends do not think they are mad – in fact many of them envy me because I can leave the office an hour early and drive for over three hours to see the game, while they cannot.

At the end of the game, I was of course unhappy with the performance. I wondered if the manager had picked the best XI from the available players, and I was frustrated that I could not follow his logic on substitutions, (I could see that it failed to work). Looking forward, I expected the manager to motivate the team and move us forward by Saturday, (he has done so often in the past), and I hoped that the much hyped fresh player could be brought in on loan (although I was cynical about that – knowing our record of signing players has been poor).

But critical as I may have been, I did not boo or call for the manager’s head. The other supporters at the game were the same – unhappy about the game just played, yes – but still supportive of the manager and expecting him to try and change things around by Saturday.

And then the news comes in – the manager has left our club, to be announced as manager of Carlisle United in the morning.

A year ago, our manager signed a five-year contract to manage the club. Yes, five years, not 14 months. The contract was signed when the manager’s star was rising – we had just been promoted and other clubs (including, incidentally, Carlisle) were interested in taking him on. His assistant, Keith Downing followed on his coat tails and signed for three years. The new contracts meant big increases in salary, along with securing some of our players on longer term deals, there was little in the way of new arrivals.

Despite losing two of our best players during the transfer window, Ward pulled off what appeared to be a minor miracle and kept the team in League-1. In the summer, we sold our top striker, lost two players to rivals on Bosman transfers, and released two of our more experienced, well paid players on the basis that age and injury was now against them. The replacement players were somewhat less inspiring.

Throughout his tenancy of the manager’s seat, Ward has shown an ability to bring on young players. The three that left for fees all went for considerably more than the initial transfer fees on arrival. The two that went on Bosman transfers both left because they could now earn more with other clubs in the division.

Several of the new players to arrive were young and untried – but as these are exactly the sort of players who have come good under Ward in the past, we accepted them into our ranks. Indeed it looks as if our defence has been strengthened more by players coming through from our youth and reserve set up, then by signing more experienced players.

This was the project the manager had signed up for, a five-year project to sign and bring through youngsters. To bring out the best from these players and use them to establish our position in this division. Relegation was a possibility, but the project would carry on, and this young team would see us challenging to return to League-1.It was a project that I, and other regular fans of an admittedly small club could believe in.

By giving the manager a five-year contract, the club had shown a belief in the manager that has never before been shown to a manager of Cheltenham Town. That is reflected in the fact that the sums required to pay off the manager would be so great, the club would not be able to afford to sack him. That meant that there could be no knee-jerk panic reaction should relegation threaten. It was the manager’s job to lead the team, and if this took us into a wilderness, then it would be his job to lead us out again.

But this works both ways, if the club is committed to the manager, then the manager must be committed to the club. To just up and leave at the first sign of difficulties is a betrayal of the worst sort. By leaving on the back of two poor results, our manager has left us again close to the relegation door. He has left us with a pool of young players still learning, but now without their tutor. He has left us his assistant manager, they may have arrived as a package, and renewed contracts as a package, but they are a package no more. Everything is the way Ward wanted this club to run – but Ward is now to run Carlisle instead