Various Positions (a.k.a. Leonard Cohen was a Gashead)

by Martin Bull

Note – This was published in the BRFC matchday programme vs Crawley Town on Tuesday. I had sent it in on the previous Monday, the day we now know the great Leonard Cohen sadly died – it was not announced until Thursday though. I may have therefore contributed to LC’s death, just like Danny Baker may have done to Bob Marley… he didn’t, it was a fake rumour…I just wanted to mention it)

The Peterborough game sharply demonstrated the fluidity of modern football. Pitch positions are rarely as static as they used to be, and with improved athleticism footballers are expected to be box-to-box players, especially the full backs.

Daniel Leadbitter was named as the sponsor’s Man of the Match for his pacey display, including the surging run that won the penalty, but was no-where to be seen when, in the last few minutes, the ball found its way to the right side of our own penalty box. This is not a criticism per se, as he was pushing up the pitch in search of our own winner, but it does highlight the predicament facing modern day full backs, as every game there is a war raging between attack and defence.

Stuart Sinclair was even more omnipresent than usual, regularly popping up in the opposition penalty area. The Beard was also the player who almost managed to save the first goal on the goal line, using his famed flexibility to very nearly do the splits. Sadly his little legs were not quite long enough.

Sinclair is an enigma to some doubters who perplexingly cannot get their heads around two undemanding concepts; first, that every team needs a Stuart Sinclair, just like an ‘Ollie needed a Reecy, a Disley needed a Campbell, (cough) Matt Gill needed Craig Stanley, and even Eric Cantona needed Didier Deschamps, the man he derided as a mere water carrier; and second, that players can improve over time – that’s what coaches and managers are there for. So when they show progress shouldn’t our opinion of them also surely shift?

The following tale may well be an apocryphal ‘quote’ but its thrust will always be valid. Whilst the economist John Maynard Keynes was extremely influential, nay almost blindly followed by some, he also drew an avalanche of detractors (many sullied by ideological agendas) who accused him of inconsistencies and changing his mind too often. Today’s parlance would call it flip-flopping.

Keynes’ supposed retort to one such critic was arresting though – ’when the evidence changes, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?‘.

As for Posh, their scorer Shaquile Coulthirst (sadly no stranger to scoring at the Mem, as his opener for Torquay United in April 2014 was a rusty nail in our relegation coffin, as was his passing through the eye of a needle for a certain Lee Mansell to double the lead) was also the man who displayed an over-enthusiastic strikers challenge to gift us a penalty, and was first man covering back when lesser legs were tiring and a promising Rovers breakaway had to be marshalled out of play.

Compared to my favourable memories of him in the quarters from 2011 to 2014, Michael Smith looked strangely ineffective for Posh, possibly suffering from too much freedom. Smith was first on the six yard box when Kelle Roos had his moment to forget, but it was also Smudger who left the space behind him that Lee Brown utilised rather well.

Although his early days at Rovers exposed the defensive naiveties of a young man more used to semi-professional ranks, he improved exponentially and became a stable and dynamic force in several inconsistent squads, culminating in perplexingly getting relegated one day and next day being named in the PFA League Two Team of the Year.

His subsequent departure was not ideal, with some fans feeling that’s no way to say goodbye, but could we really have begrudged a player of that calibre his chance to play at the level appropriate for his ability?

The sole position that remains inflexible, yet very visible to mistakes, is that of a goalkeeper, and everybody knows that in these days of seven on a bench the chances of seeing the likes of Ray Mabbutt (R.I.P.), David Mehew, Ian Alexander, Bob Bloomer or Mark McChrystal amusingly pulling on the gloves are alas now slim. Kelle Roos though showed resilience between the sticks and now even has a chant to encourage him (it is ‘Roooos‘, not ‘boooo‘).

This is one aspect of the partisan nature of football I find irresistible; supporting a bunch of lonesome heroes when they are under fire, and (tastefully) antagonising the opposition with songs of love and hate. Honest passion should never be banned in football grounds, be it from supporters, owners, staff, or even the manager.

When I think of the latter my mind always turns to the infamous Steve McClaren moment as England manager, sheltering behind a wally brolly and famous blue raincoat. If a football manager can’t get a bit wet for the sake of the game that provides his livelihood then I do worry about his ability to motivate others or command respect.


So… did you find the full XI of LC song and album titles hidden in the piece?

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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