One of our new features this season will be to get regular updates on how some of the clubs we have featured here are faring this season. First up is Forest Green Rovers, who we visited back in March 2009 when they entertained (and they certainly did) Oxford United. Our resident TBIR Fan at new Lawn is Phil, so I will leave it to him to give us an update on a turbulent six months in rural Gloucestershire.
“During the close season we lost a lot of experienced Conference players, such as Lee Fowler, Darren Jones & Alex Lawless and sadly they were not replaced. The manager, Jim Harvey decided to go with players from a local college (Hartbury College), who played in our reserves, and try and mould them in to Blue Square Premier players. Rumours of budgetary cuts forced him to do this but I’m not so sure as these have been denied since by a board member. Then Jim Harvey was sacked and the whole pre-season build up was thrown in to the air. Then the Andy Mangan ban came into effect (Andy was one of five players who used to play for Bury and Accrington Stanley who were found guilty in a FA probe into betting last year and he has a five month ban) and we still have no experienced striker to start the season with.
In fairness I’ve never been a Jim Harvey fan. He didn’t seem to show the commitment to FGR. He’d been allegedly going for other Conference manager jobs whilst on contract to us but it had been built in to his contract he couldn’t do this without the clubs permission. His scouting network was somewhat limited to generally ex Morecambe players and recommendations. Couple that with a few high earning non-performing signings of his and we had problems. On the football side if a Harvey side plays well you will struggle to beat them as he likes the pure football 4-4-1-1 formation but in the rough and tumble of the Conference not many teams let you do this. Add in this was the only system he really had, bizarre substitutions on a weekly basis and players played way out of position you get the picture! The odd few excellent performances/results were overshadowed by far too many mediocre ones.
The fans position on Harvey were mixed. Some thought he was God-like but I was not in that group. I’d say it was 50/50 toward the end of his tenure. Good things I will remember from his era are the 3-0 win at Rotherham United (probably the best ever performance by a Forest Green Rovers side) and games against Derby County, Swindon Town and Rochdale in the FA Cup so we should all thank him for that.
When Harvey was sacked 30 year old centre forward David Brown was thrust in to the managers hotseat. The guy had no coaching/managerial experience and was also left with a squad not good enough to cope at this level. Couple this with his game suffering, a few loan signings to plug the gaps and all of a sudden after 9 games we only had 2 points!. He also played the 4-4-1-1 formation of a Harvey side but we don’t have the players this season to do it. In the past two years we’ve been spoilt with the Mark Beesley/Stuart Fleetwood and David Brown/Andy Mangan partnerships but this season we started with an 18 year old right winger playing as a lone striker.
It’s not rocket science to see that we needed a striker as soon as Andy Mangan was banned. This hasn’t happended to this day and in my thinking this is the main reason why we are struggling. In three out of our last four games we’ve kept clean sheets and apart form the drubbing at Cambridge where we played for so long with 10 men after our keeper was sent off, defending is not the problem. We also tend to raise our game against the better footballing sides hence the excellent goalless draw at Oxford last month.
The crowd at Forest Green Rovers are a more than patient lot. We only have a hard core of 5-600 fans and they do realise the position we’re in regarding finances (the new ground cost a lot more than budgeted as is always the case in football hence a shortfall) and the need for the club not to go under. Match day revenue is essential for Forest Green Rovers but then again the club have to help themselves. Blue Square football is becoming expensive business to watch so more incentives are needed to be brought in. The idea of Kids for a quid is essential and this has been done a few games per season but in my opinion it should be now at every game. We live in a rugby watching area so you need to try things to bring people in especially the younger generation and this is something the club need to address.
We don’t have a large traveling support at Forest Green Rovers. We took 11 fans to York the other week and 150+ to Oxford, which is our nearest other club but generally 50ish is our regular following. Couple that with our lack of strikers/negative formation and it does make it hard for people to get the enthusiastic to go. There is a coach going to Barrow this week for a 600 mile round trip so fair play to those 30 or so that are traveling.
This season if we stay up it will be deemed a success. We would be bottom if it wasn’t for Chester City’s huge penalty points. New manager Dave Hockaday has come in and the first thing he saw was a lack of fitness in the squad, something that came from the previous regime. I’m still 50/50 that we will survive as the damage could have already been done . If we start scoring goals I think we will, just!!!! One player we could sign on a free? ANY EXPERIENCED CONFERENCE STRIKER but more importantly for me is the 4-4-2 system for him to play in but then again I’m not the manager I am just a fan who pays his money and has no choices right?”
Many thanks to Phil for these words. We thoroughly enjoyed our day out at Forest Green last season and wish them well in their search for goals this season.