The first week of May seems an absurdly early time to be writing end-of-season reviews. So many sides still have something, or everything, to play for. But, thanks to League One finishing a week earlier than our colleagues above and below, and the impossible third consecutive promotion dream not quite coming true, here we are. While we still bask in the light of a seven-goal final day thriller, albeit a losing one, against play-off bound Millwall, let’s take a look back at an utterly satisfying season.
Now, given that you’re reading this, I’ll bet you’ve got a reasonable grasp on the games and goals of Rovers’ 2016/17. So instead of re-telling those stories, here are some alternative end-of-season awards. Luckily, the club has dealt with the difficult issues, such as Player of the Year and Goal of the Season, and I could wax lyrical about the delights of Darrell Clarke’s management for thousands of words – so here’s a look at everything else.
Best opposition team:
This is a tough one; Charlton hammered us twice, but in all honesty our criminal defending, and some goalkeeping howlers, flattered them somewhat. Millwall did the league double over us, but only via a very offside goal last week, and after some obvious diving reduced us to ten men at the Den back in the Autumn. Bolton are also worth consideration, but losing to them was our own doing in August; a game against an ex-Premier League side with big name players came too early for us and we showed them too much respect. Bizarrely, I’ve opted for a side that didn’t beat us: Bradford were as dangerous going forward as they were competent at the back, and they’re my tip for the play-offs.
Most bizarre kit clash:
Back to the two league games v Charlton. Rovers wearing their yellow away kit at the Valley against the red-wearing Addicks was odd enough, but when they visited the Mem, they swapped their red shirts for a….blue change strip.
Given that Lee Mansell and Steve Mildenhall aren’t actually leaving the club, this isn’t a contest. Mark McChrystal fought for this club when it was at its lowest, and getting Rovers back where it belongs meant a lot to him – just look at the photos from Wembley of him in tears. He’ll be remembered as our only double promotion-winning captain. Honourable mention to Steve Yates, of course.
Least successful transfer window:
And the winner is….the summer transfer window. The two permanent signings were Peter Hartley (who did well before his season-ending injury) and Byron Moore (let’s say the jury’s out on that one). That duo was joined by six loan signings: Luke James, the striker who, despite his bright moments and best efforts, didn’t score a single goal; Kelle Roos, who’ll make someone a good ‘keeper one day but whose time at BS7 was littered with howlers; two Chelsea loanees who have the talent to play higher up but who didn’t seem to have the fight for third-tier football, and two more Premier League youths who barely featured. Honourable mention to the January transfer window, but more on that later.
Duplicitous, two-timing snake of the season:
It shouldn’t take you long to work out who wins this award. I won’t say his name. Folk will rightly point out that opportunities to go up a level don’t come often, that football is a short career, and that there’s no loyalty in the game. Despite that, he’ll rightly be hated in the blue half of Bristol long after he hangs up his boots. The dust has settled on the whole affair now but we still have two questions: how did that club know EXACTLY how much the release clause was, and did that club sign him because they thought he’d contribute, or was it a cheap (by billionaire standards) PR move to ease the pressure on them during a record-breaking run of defeats?
Worst opposition of the season:
I’ll tackle this one not on footballing terms, but on how clubs treat one another. Swindon Town might not be to blame for August’s fixture at their place being abandoned – that was down to nature – but their decision to charge Rovers fans again for the rescheduled fixture was greedy, and left a sour taste in the mouth from the terraces right up to the boardroom. Wael Al Qadi tweeted “Karma” when we won the replay, and karma was indeed served when the Robins got relegated to League Two.
Good news story of the season:
It has to be the plans for the new training ground. For too long, Bristol Rovers has had all the infrastructure of an expensive parish social club. Wael and co. are changing this ragtag mentality piece-by-piece, but having a modern facility of our own is the silver bullet. It’s possibly more important than getting a new stadium. But maybe I’m just saying that because the training ground is definitely happening, and the ground is still subject to tiresome Twitter speculation. Second prize in this particular race goes to the recent discovery, via Twitter also, that Mr Al Qadi is a fan of deep house music.
Before you know it, we’ll be back, marking our calendars, Googling our new signings, booking time off work for those long Tuesday night trips, and bemoaning the EFL’s latest farce, whether it’s a new, B-team-only Checkatrade Trophy with 30 minute halves, or fining clubs for picking their own teams in league games (imagine that!).
So, enjoy your summer, and get ready to dream again in August.