There are more questions than answers

by Martin Bull

After two months of transfer speculation and relatively minor off the field changes (new kit supplier, UWE talks, and a few modifications to the Mem) it’s come to that time of the year when I have the lyrics of Johnny Nash’s classic 1972 reggae hit ‘There are More Questions Than Answers’ rattling around my head.

Johnny Nash wasn’t Jamaican, as many people (including myself) assumed. He was born in Houston, Texas and had already seen many of his singles and albums released in the US, as well as being a bit-part actor, before travelling to Jamaica in 1968 to immerse himself in the Rocksteady music of the vibrant island. He emerged as friends of The Wailers, and at the beginning of a continual journey that would result four years later in the release of the smash hit album and single ‘I Can See Clearly Now’.

Nash was clearly a man with an eye for flair and the record label he co-founded, JAD, rapidly signed Bob Marley, his wife Rita, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh as musicians and songwriters. It was also arguably his version of Marley’s ‘Stir It Up’ that first brought Bob and his prolific song writing skills to the world’s attention.

There certainly have been an avalanche of questions since that late, late goal from Lee Brown’s boot gave Gasheads a few extra weeks to engage in speculation, debate, rumours and conjecture. Most involved transfers, and as nearly all the players relatively swiftly signed new contracts it rather knocked the other side of that particular coin (i.e. what newcomers we might catch sight of) into a cocked hat.

This lack of transfer movement feels like we are going back to the days of the 80’s and early 90’s when each summer would see just a handful of players leave, and another handful join. This was an era were one club men still existed, information was scarce, Bovril was still served, loans were few and far between and rarely lasted for more than a month anyway.

When owner Wael al-Kadi talks of ‘evolution not revolution’ he is almost invoking these past decades, where the order of the day was slow and balanced progress rather than boom and bust, or, if our recent history is anything to go by, bust and boom. The fact that Gerry Francis, a total flop in his only previous managerial job with Exeter City, took over after Bobby Gould’s dire Third Tier 19th place finish in 1986/87, and raised the Pirate ship to eighth in his first season, then onto fifth and a narrow play-off final loss, then Champions in his third season, and finally a sturdy 13th in what is now called the Championship, spoke volumes for the steady tweeking and improving that used to be commonplace in football.

Whilst there have been some answers to today‘s issues (the squad is almost full, Macron kits are coming soon, the UWE is still complex… the Pope is still Catholic) it is quite natural that the next line of Nash’s song has now come into play; “and the more I find out the less I know”, as a double promotion has surely made it beyond difficult to accurately predict what to expect on the pitch for the next nine months.

I was confident we’d do OK in the Conference, and strongly suspected we’d carry the resultant form into League Two, League One is yet another step up, and with little change in personnel it is putting a lot of faith in stability over change. Overall I am rather glad of that, because we have a talented, settled squad, who still have room to improve, and large scale changes would be a real gamble.

These steady, measured changes can be witnessed in the starting XI’s for the opening game of the season. Given that Rovers have risen two divisions since playing Grimsby Town on that hot first game of the Conference season in August 2014, I would suggest that the similarities, rather than the differences, in the three selections will be telling.

Seven players from the starting XI against the Mariners also started against Northampton Town at the comparable fixture last August and I wouldn’t be surprised to see seven or eight of that 2015 XI start again at Scunthorpe in less than three weeks time. I am also quietly confident that history will show that Steve Mildenhall, Daniel Leadbitter, Tom Lockyer, Lee Brown, Matty Taylor and maybe Stuart Sinclair were on the team sheet for all three matches, in three different divisions, which is truly admirable.

Questions will undoubtedly continue to rattle around in Roversville for a little longer yet because DC recently said, “I’m sure there will be two or three new faces before the end of the deadline, so we will see what develops over the next five or six weeks”.

This season also sees a new loan system implemented. Loans have to last at least half a season, and must be agreed in a transfer window, meaning that ‘emergency loans’ have bitten the dust. The use of ‘emergency loans’ became so ingrained in the lower leagues that they rather became the norm, and we got used to them being part of the woodwork as much as Americans have to young black men being shot dead.

The upshot of this is that managers will have to plan ahead even more than before, players may need to be more flexible than ever, and the flurry of August games will prove even more crucial as big decisions may need to be made before the transfer window closes on the 31st; all using relatively little game time evidence.

By that point I trust it’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshine day.

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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