The New Legends – Cheltenham Appearances 1999-2009

The New Legends.
Today’s game may be a celebration of the players that won Cheltenham Town a place in the league 10 years ago. But that was not the end of any story. As a club we have managed not only to survive for a decade as a league member, but to spend four of those seasons above the lowest tier of league football. This achievement must never be under-estimated – after our ascension, the next three Conference Champions failed to establish themselves and are now back in the Football Conference.
Ten years of the Football League adds up to 460 matches, we have played six play-off games, and then adding the FA Cup, League Cup, League (LDV or JP) Trophy and a Conference Championship game in our first season; we have a total of 533 in the period.
Only two players have played more than half these games, with our league appearance record belonging to Jamie Victory – Jamie has played 473 times for Cheltenham and scored 47 goals, a great record for a full back. Jamie was ever present in our first league season, missed most of the following season through injury, but then came back and played most games for the next four seasons and retiring in 2007.
Second on the list is the only player who has had a ten year tenancy at the club, arriving in the summer of 1999, and leaving this summer. After three years, this player’s was noted mainly for his patience, having played just one LDV game (we lost 2-0), and coming off the bench twice in the league. It was only near the end of the relegation season that Shane Higgs was given his chance, and he took it with both hands, quickly becoming our first choice keeper, a position only rescinded when his ambition drove him to pastures new, spending the end of last season on loan at Wolves, and who knows where next?
John Finnigan arrived from Lincoln in March 2002. He came in mainly to cover for injury, but has stayed ever since. He has played 252 times for us, all but 14 starting. Before arriving at Whaddon Road, his record was as an uncompromising midfielder, with only 3 goals in over 100 appearances for Lincoln. Curiously the last was at Whaddon Road over two years before becoming a Cheltenham player. Finners scored on his debut for the Robins, but his third goal for the club – at the Millennium stadium in the play off final secured his status. So far he has scored 27 times for us.
Mark Yates and Michael Duff were both with the club on promotion, and added over 200 appearances in staying with the club for a further five years. Yates ended on 240 appearances (22 goals) while Duff made 372 (16 goals). Yates is now managing Kidderminster, while Michael Duff is still with Burnley, hopefully about to make a Premier League debut.
Grant McCann arrived at Cheltenham no less than three times, on loan in 2000 and again in 2002, before finally signing for £50K in 2003. His third stay at the club was for three and a half years, while he picked up 33 appearances in his early loan spell (with three goals securing him in the hearts of the supporters). In the end, he played 222 time for the club, and scored 46 times. McCann marked a change for Cheltenham – a player we paid for, and then sold as a profit, we even picked up a small bonus when he moved on from Barnsley to Scunthorpe.
If there is a surprise among those who have made 200 starts for Cheltenham in the league, then it is Jerry Gill. Already nearing 34 years of age when arriving from Northampton, Jerry played in 90% of the games in four complete seasons with the club. He left last autumn to take up a coaching post at Forest Green.
Also making 200 appearances since we joined the league are David Bird (whose next appearance will be his 200th start, but has also added 47 sub appearances, and eight goals), Shane Duff (three short of 200 starts, but with 11 sub appearance and three goals), Martin Devaney and Damian Spencer. Devaney like Higgs, was a new signing when we joined the league. He stayed for six seasons, making 173 starts, 55 appearances off the bench and scoring 42 goals. ‘Big’ Damian Spencer scored 39, even though nearly half (128) of his 263 appearances were from the bench.
Finally, a quick mention for Steve Book, who if I have my sums right made 199 of his 319 appearances since we joined the league.
Grant McCann is our top goal scorer for the last ten years, and Devaney weighs in third on the list. Second is another big man, Julian Alsop with 44 from 117 starts, and 22 bench appearances. Damian Spencer is fourth top scorer, while two others have more than 30 since we joined the league. Kayode Odejayi scored 34 from 119 starts, and 55 sub appearances before being sold to Barnsley, while even injuries do not disguise that Gillespie scored 33 goals in only 69 starts (and another 26 appearances from the bench). Like McCann, Gillespie was twice on loan from Bristol City before signing on. He then played for 18 months before switching to Colchester. Since leaving the club, he has been hampered by injury, but still scores when he plays.
At the other end of the scale is what I call the nowhere men. Official statistics only show those players who actually appear, either by starting or as a substitute, but with at least two players staying on the bench throughout every game, (increasing to four, as we will be allowed to name seven subs this season, but can still only play three), there are always a few that make it to the bench, but never to the field. One web site, www.soccerbase.com, records these players and includes them on the seasonal squad statistics, with a zero in every column.
From my counting, I believe there have been ten of these players since we have joined the league. It says something (but who is sure what), that no less than three of these were youngsters selected by Martin Allen last season in Dean Maynard, Lewis Fathers and Cathal Tosh. Will Puddy would also have been on the list if he had not made his debut in the last game of the season – Puddy had also been on the bench without appearing in each of the previous three seasons.
The first of the nowhere men was Nicky Marker, who at the height of his career spent 5 years at Premier League Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn had signed him from Plymouth, and he then went to Sheffield United before coming to Whaddon Road. Marker only spent a month at Cheltenham, and went on to Tiverton. Most recently he has been at Plymouth club Tamarside, where he combines youth coaching and being chairman. The majority of the nowhere men are youngsters who did not quite make the grade, and many appear in local non-League sides later. This is true of both Lee Burby and Stuart Mitchinson, who “non-appearances” were in 2000-1. Both have since been sighted at Slimbridge. Burby is now a personal fitness trainer in Gloucester.
Luke Buttery, who made the bench in 2003-4 season, was at Bishops Cleeve last season, while we also signed goalkeeper Craig Humphries that season, and let him only the bench at least once. He was named players’ player of the year at Malvern Town last season.
The last two, Sam Foley and Shane Paul played in 2006-7. A lot of those who watch reserve games rated Foley quite highly, and were surprised he was released last year; he went onto Kidderminster, and in fact was in the nowhere category last season, getting onto the bench, but still to make his first appearance. Shane Paul was signed from Scunthorpe, and spent six months without playing for us. He went on to Halesowen, but has not played since breaking his leg in March last year.
I have based this report mainly on records at www.soccerbase.com, and my summary file is attached (Chelt League Appearance). I have since been given Phil Ruck’s stats file, which is also attached (players) and can be used for comparison. A third set of statistics, on paper, and supplied by club secretary Paul Godfrey is available. Unlike the two attached files, this official record includes the non-League appearances of those that played before 1999. I can make a copy for anyone who wants.