Pick of the Promotion Pops – The TOP THREE

Pick of the Promotion Pops – Part 5

by Martin Bull

Greetings pop pickers and welcome to the final part of this special edition of Pick of the Pops, featuring the year 2015/16 and focusing on 10 golden topics in an unprecedented second promotion in two seasons for Bristol Rovers.

Today we finish with the top three themes that endowed us with a fighting chance on that extraordinary day on the 7th of May 2016.

THE TOP THREE

At Number 3 we have – A Spring return to decent away form

When our home form was dreadful (seven points from our first nine games), our away form kept our head above water, with 19 points from our first nine games. By New Year’s Day Rovers had gained 24 away points from 12 matches.

A winter depression saw our away form disintegrate (four losses in five, mainly to play-off rivals) and even the turn around in home form couldn’t keep us from temporarily dropping as low as tenth place.

But after the placid loss in the quaint village of West Wycombe results perked up at a pivotal time of the year, with 11 points from our final six away games, including the following valiant rescue mission…

At Number 2 we have – One, two, buckle my shoe

Whilst it is impossible to single out one specific point as the one that ultimately pulled us level on points with Accrington Stanley, just like you can’t pick out just a couple of the goals that made our goal difference superior, the 2-2 draw at Northampton Town in April was possibly the most important salvaged point of the season given the: (a) circumstances – two down with 15 minutes left; (b) the opposition – unbeaten since Christmas and top since 23rd January; and, (c) the occasion, as the Cobblers had to win to guarantee promotion in front of their own fans, and although they gained promotion anyway, thanks to Plymouth Argyle losing to a typically blustering 88th minute ‘Beast’ goal, they were not to know that was going to happen.

Whilst the aftermath of the final whistle was bitter sweet because we lost our space in the automatic promotion slots (again! this time to Stanley, who won at Luton Town), in the long run that point was crucial.

and finally…

At Number 1, the Top of the Promotion Pops…

we have…

 

Rescuing 20 points from losing positions

If a wag had made a T-shirt in the summer of 2014 boldly exclaiming ‘Bristol Rovers – Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory since 1883’ we could hardly have condemned his ridicule too much.

The truth hurts. But the truth will also set you free.

By that same Autumn Rovers were a different beast and began to show a resilience and a never say die attitude that had previously gone walkabout for what seemed like an eternity.

The tenacity shown in front of the live TV cameras against Gateshead in December 2014 (winning after twice being behind, and all only six days after the mortifying FA Trophy defeat to Bath City); the perseverance exhibited at Halifax Town in March 2015 (two down with seven minutes left); and, the fortitude displayed at Wembley (battered by the Mariners from the first whistle and clearly showing nerves), all pursued the Pirates into League Two.

Rovers came back six times from a goal down to win, versus Cambridge United (A), York City (H), Oxford United (A), Morecambe (H), Newport County (A), and finally the mother of them all, Dagenham & Redbridge (H). Two crucial away points were also filched at the death, at Plymouth Argyle and the Cobblers.

Rovers were now experts at grasping victory from the jaws of defeat; scoring a staggering 54 second half goals, including 20 goals in the last 10 minutes.

Those 20 rescued points are not just a nice figure for geeks to stand back and admire though. The points were gained not by luck but by judgement. By hard work. By an unswerving attention to detail.

The detail of carefully choosing the right players for the squad, and then choosing the right players for the right match. The detail of mentally conditioning players to work as a team, and to be winners at whatever they do. The detail of demanding peak fitness and giving them the tools to achieve it. The detail of creating a tight knit, competitive, yet friendly and relaxed, dressing room.

In March the Bristol Post’s excellent chief sports writer Steve Cotton recalled a text he had from Chris Giles, Darrell Clarke’s former skipper at Salisbury, who recollected how DC ‘bonds lads like I’ve never known’, and singled out his ‘genius banter’.

The UEFA Pro License can be studied for and achieved by anyone with a reasonable intellect and football knowledge (Mark McGhee got his way back in 2003), but there is no course available for genius banter, nor any certificate that can be proudly displayed on a corpulent Premier League office wall.

In April I mentioned Hereford FC’s charming motto; ‘Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall’. Gasheads can now truly understand that motto because we have lived it and emerged out of the other side of a dark tunnel as a ‘proper’ club once again.

All hail the new Bristol Rovers, under the leadership of Darrell Clarke.

Not ‘arf.

Martin Bull became a Gashead in 1989 and immediately fell in love with Twerton Park, standing near G pillar. Three of his seven books have been about Bristol Rovers. ‘Away The Gas’ is packed full of over 50 years of ‘I was there’ away game moments, all written by fans, ‘Print That Season! – One man’s weekly meanderings throughout Bristol Rovers’ promotion campaign of 2014-15’ is the antidote to obedient season reviews, with none of the hindsight that most writers rely on, and ‘Double Darrell’ is similar, but chronicles the 2015-16 promotion, and is even better.

Full details of all are available at www.awaythegas.org.uk

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