Thursday, 23 June 2011

A tale of loyalty

At this time of year, the main thing you hear is X player has left X club on a free transfer, to join Y club, as the fallout from Jean-Marc Bosman's infamous court case in 1995 carries on being felt across the game.
So that's why it was great to hear the news from Whaddon Road this afternoon that David Bird has signed a new contract with Cheltenham Town.
It will take the imaginatively-nicknamed Birdy to 10 years service with the club, and earns him a richly-deserved testimonial to boot.
I first saw Birdy play for his home-town club Cinderford Town at the end of the 1990s, when he was 15 or 16 years old and remember one game on a Tuesday night at their ramshackle Causeway ground where I turned up and saw our then-management team of Steve Cotterill and Mike Davis in the grandstand.
I wondered why the hell they had ventured out into the deep-dark Forest of Dean on a Tuesday night. I had an excuse, I was covering the game for the Citizen, but they could have been at home watching the soaps.
The previous weekend, Birdy had scored a hat-trick for the Foresters in a 4-1 win over Evesham United - so I put two and two together and deduced that was who they had come to see.
Dave chose football over cricket (he was a decent batsman for Cinderford) and rugby (yes, played for Cinderford at colts level...) and his dad Alan used to run the youth team at Cinderford Town.
So it came to pass not long after that Tuesday night that young Dave joined the Cheltenham centre of excellence and progressed into the professional ranks.
Robins fans look at him, along with Michael and Shane Duff and Andy Gallinagh as the beacons for the youth set-up - those players who went on to our first team and beyond.
Birdy's debut came in unusual circumstances under Bobby Gould's management at Huddersfield in February 2003 when Antony Griffin hurt himself in the warm-up and Dave stepped in at right back in a 3-3 draw.
He flitted in and out of the side for the next few seasons, under Gould and then John Ward at right back (not his best position) and central midfield, where he came into his own as a ball-winner.
He got his first goal at the end of the 2005-6 promotion season - a penalty in a 5-0 win at Mansfield with the fans baying for him to take it break his goal duck.
Dave then took Grant McCann's place in midfield alongside John Finnigan and in 2007-8 he was an ever-present and won the Supporters' Player of the Year award by a mile.
Last season, he overtook Jamie Victory to become our highest Football League appearance maker and will surely this season go past the 300 League games mark.
At 26 (he turns 27 on Boxing Day) Dave will probably not beat Roger Thorndale's all-time record of 702 games, but he has become a firm favourite with the fans.
They see him as one of their own - a local lad who battled hard to come through the ranks and deserves his place in the team on merit. A real unsung hero who gives his all every game.
We have a lot of fans from the Forest, and they especially are big fans of Dave - many of them went to school with him - and he remains a down-to-earth bloke who deserves his new contract, and his testimonial.
Congratulations Birdy.