Bristol Rovers recent success story has seen The Gas rocket from the non-league abyss to the verge of the League One Play-Offs in just three seasons, and with Darrell Clarke in the hunt for a third promotion next season I’ve been looking at why it’s an exciting time to be a Gashead.
Rovers were only mathematically ruled out of a Play-Off place on the penultimate weekend of the last campaign with defeat at the hands of Peterborough United, but in the close season Clarke has both sought and been granted a “Competitive transfer budget,” by the board. Over the course of the next eleven months we will begin to find out whether the budget will translate to results on the pitch, but here is why Gasheads have a lot to look forward to in the not so distant future…
On the 31st May the Gas announced their first signing in attacking midfielder Liam Sercombe from Oxford United. In two seasons at The Kassam, Sercombe made 77 League appearances scoring on 17 occasions. He adds to an already strong midfield of Chris Lines and Ollie Clarke, arguably two of the clubs best players.
With just two weeks until pre-season kicks off it is slightly concerning that Sercombe has been the only signing, especially with Clarke saying he wanted ten or twelve new players, but most Rovers fans will have faith in Darrell Clarke and if the manager can pull off some signings of similar calibre then a very competitive squad could well be in the making.
Since his takeover of the club, Wael Al-Qadi has maintained that to grow as a club we must develop sustainably. The best example of this was the acquisition of 28 acres of land in Almondsbury which will become the new ‘Colony’ training ground. It will be the first time in my lifetime that Rovers have owned their training ground and it will allow us to be more efficient at developing our own young players to either sell on or improve the first team.
What’s been interesting over the summer was the signings of both Ghassan Abu Hassan and Rollin Menayese. It’s fair to say that Abu Hassan was unknown amongst Gasheads prior to joining the club, but the 18 year old has become a regular starter at left back for the Jordanian under-19 side, and having first been offered a trial at the club in September 2016, the coaching staff at Rovers are clearly aware of his potential. Best of all, with a name such as his, Hassan is destined for greatness in the quarters. Menayese is something of a different flavour, he was released from Cardiff City’s academy during his second year and moved to Weston Super Mare in December. After 23 appearances the Weston Mercury described the 19 year old centre back as a “Stand out performer,” and having trained with the club towards the end of last season, Menayese should have no trouble settling into the squad.
Mirroring Al-Qadi’s reign so far, the two young signings represent small changes and steps towards a bright future for the club. It’s never been in such a healthy position financially and having the ability to sign and develop youth players is a very exciting prospect.
Clarke’s new contract
More important than any player Rovers will sign this summer was the news that darrell Clarke had penned a new five year deal with the club. He is now verging on four whole seasons in charge of the club, making Clarke the longest serving manager since Paul Trollope and at the age of 39 is already a legend at The Memorial Stadium. It’s refreshing to see such an ambitious man in charge of the club, and when we got relegated to the Conference he took it upon himself to get us promoted back into the Football League, the raw emotions upon doing so were clear for all to see. A certain Grimsby Telegraph springs to mind!
The return of the football
The best part of this time of year is that the football is finally just around the corner, after months of talking we can finally begin to see the teams take shape, even if they are meaningless friendlies against local teams. Last years first friendly at Mangotsfield was fantastic due to both watching Rovers play again and seeing a fair amount of money going to a local side. The quality of football was far from fantastic, but fans were treated to eight goals and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
This time around pre-season kicks off on the eighth of July, just ten days away as two Rovers teams will be travelling to Melksham and Yate respectively. Melksham is one many Gasheads are particularly looking forward to because it provides a welcome opportunity to visit their new Oakfields Stadium. The regular fixtures are all there too, trips to Mangotsfield, Weston and a personal favourite is the visit to Twerton park. Hull City cast some doubts over the game in Albufeira, Portugal but confirmed yesterday that the game would go ahead as planned which will make for a great trip. Training in the heat will only benefit the players fitness, and the fans will no doubt enjoy themselves, the ‘strip’ is a mile long and Milwall and Oxford are in the same resort at the same time. If it is anything like Sabadell last season, everything apart from the football will be fantastic!
On top of everything I have mentioned above, the kits are to be revealed as well. Al-Qadi tweeted recently saying they are expected for the end of July and, spoiler alert, the home one will be blue! There are rumours circulating that the away kit might be black this year, but we will have to wait and see on that front.
With hopefully a few more signings incoming, and pre-season imminent, all roads at the moment really do lead to The Valley for the opening fixture at Charlton on Saturday the fifth of August.
Feature image credit: Getty Images