Thursday, 30 June 2011

A deflating summer

Tomorrow, Cheltenham Town's players return to pre-season training. The 10-month slog starts here.
Among them, will be our two new faces, Russ Penn and Kaid Mohamed, our returning new face Marlon Pack and our young tyro Ethan Moore.
In May, we released Dan Lloyd-Weston, Martin Riley, Frankie Artus, JJ Melligan and Jake Lee, while Wes Thomas opted to increase his salary somewhat with a move to Crawley.
Add to that the position of Michael Pook, to all intents and purposes released, and more or less persona non grata, but still pulling in a decent wage given to him by the previous manager.
So that is six (and a half with Pook) players out, and, so far, four players in (one a youth team graduate).
So I think I am justified in calling 2011 a deflating summer. Another one.
It's not quite on a par with John Ward's summer of discontent when Lee Ridley arrived then we scrambled about to sign Andy Lindegaard, but forgive me if I don't get out the bunting.
Every summer the mantra is the same - there will be more players than ever looking for clubs this summer; there will be some real bargains out there; there will some top players up for grabs.
All that may be true - but they all go elsewhere.
They do that every summer as the same depressing pattern is repeated over and over again.
Cheltenham fans raise their hopes that this summer will be different - that the squad will look stronger come the start of pre-season than it did in May - but every summer that wish seems to be dashed.
I know that Mark Yates and Neil Howarth have been working tirelessly this summer talking to players and agents, but the cynic in me would suggest that the main reason Russ Penn signed for us as he has played for Mark before at Kidderminster.
Don't get me wrong though, I am delighted we got him.
My devil's advocate would suggest further that we got Marlon Pack solely because he was on loan with us - had that not happened, let's face it, no way would he have come to us. Same again, he is a great signing though.
But Kaid Mohamed is a gamble - probably a cheap one. A player who, at 26, is desperate for a shot at the Football League. Probably his last chance to make it.
Of course I hope he does well, and hope I end up eating my words, but I see him as a bigger gamble than Wes, as he is three years older and even less experienced at this level.
He might come off as Wes and Justin Richards (goals-wise if not attitude) did for Mark, and as James Constable and Matthew Barnes-Homer did for him at Kidderminster - but then again, he might not.
So here we sit, hours before pre-season, two players down on where we ended the season, and hoping that pre-season will see Mark pull some rabbits out of a hat.
I am sure there will be some triallists at Seasons hoping to catch Mark's eye, and already he has said that we are going to look at a couple of six-month loans - a sign, I am afraid, if we needed to be told, that Cheltenham Town cannot compete with their fellow League Two sides for experienced players.
Earlier this summer, I went through the retained lists and churned out a list of names who I felt represented the sort of players we needed.
There were about 60 or 70 names in that piece, we got one of them, Russ Penn.
Now, I don't know how many others we went for apart from two, Jack Midson, who ended up at AFC Wimbledon, and Ashley Grimes, who was too expensive and went to Rochdale in the league above, so fair enough.
Mark said in the Echo the other day that experience is the key to success in League Two - very true, but we can't afford any of it.
The players we had last season, the likes of Danny Andrew, Keith Lowe, Marlon Pack, Brian Smikle and Jeff Goulding, will come back more experienced - but they have not got five or six full seasons of League football behind them.
In most cases, last season was the first time they have played 30 or 40 games at this level.
Yes, we have Dave Bird, Steve Elliott and Andy Gallinagh, all with more than 100 games behind them.
A lot more in Bird and Elliott's case, but in an ideal world only Elliott would be classed as a first-team regular next season.
Scott Brown still does not have any competition for the goalkeeping spot, which I am sure will delight his legions of fans on the Whaddon Road terraces, we still don't have a partner for Elliott, no one to get down the flank, beat a man and whip in a cross, and no one to help Jeff Goulding stick them away.
It makes me laugh now when I think back to the play-off wins at the Millennium, when fans said we could establish ourselves in League One.
Back then, the board were castigated for not throwing money at it, for not spending big and trying to consolidate us at that level. Some still go back and point to that as the start of the problems.
Even now, I hear fans saying we should be competing with teams like Yeovil, with Rochdale, with Leyton Orient, all of whom have gone up and stayed there.
But when we were there the first time, we had an ageing team, lost our best-ever manager and could not build a new team overnight in our financial state.
The second time, we had to bust a gut for three seasons trying to chase an impossible dream.
John Ward and then Keith Downing performed heroics and ran themselves into the ground trying to keep us up - every week the players had to play at 120 per cent to scramble the points.
In Downing's case, three loans of Alex Russell, Richard Keogh and Steve Brooker (apparently at a combined £2000 a week) did the trick, but Keith was left drained and had nothing left to give the following season, hence our dreadful start.
Then we brought in the previous manager, threw money at him and nearly bankrupted ourselves, which has left us where are now, seemingly struggling to compete with teams like Hereford, Accrington, Barnet and Macclesfield.
So let's not run before we can walk - I'm afraid we have to forget promotion this season, forget the play-offs. 
As of now I would rip your hand off for 22nd - and it takes a lot for me, one of the most optimistic CTFC fans you will find, and frequently criticised for my 'rose-tinted' views, to write that.
I can't remember a League Two which has looked so strong on paper, and where clubs seem to have been pushing the boat out to assemble squads.
We don't have a boat to push out (maybe one of those £3.99 inflatable dinghys you get from the beach) - that is the reality, and that is what Cheltenham fans must wake up to.
What this summer has been is a big reality check to where Cheltenham Town stand in the pecking order of League football.
It has rammed home the message that we are not a big club in Football League terms as some fans bang on that we are. In fact, we are one of the smallest.
There are still fans of other clubs who forget we are even in the League - and once again we have to battle against the odds, as the bookies, for the umpteenth season in a row, have us as favourites for the drop.
I hope against hope we can prove them wrong once again, but I see this season shaping up to be probably the toughest we have had in our Football League adventure.
Good luck to Mark, Neil and the players - please prove me wrong.

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.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Twitter ye not

I love Twitter.
In fact, in recent weeks and months, I have become addicted to it, and it has replaced the former love of my life, Facebook, at the top of my daily and evening entertainment schedule.
On Twitter, I can keep up with the latest  football news, cricket scores, tennis scores at Wimbledon and snooker updates - all my great interests in one.
But today it's greatest interest has been held by rumours.
We love them at this time of the year don't we?
Every so often, a post will flash up, X player set to sign/linked with/turns down deal from/ X club.
Most of them pass me by as they don't involve Cheltenham, yet today, at about 1pm, probably the most bizarre tweeted rumour I have ever seen flashed up before my eyes.
It said: 'Lokomotiv Sofia forward Jemal Johnson has failed to settle in Bulgaria, and is set to sign for Cheltenham Town.'
It took me a couple of reads for it to sink in.
Left field (and no, I don't mean the musician who teamed up with John Lydon for the single 'Open Up').
I remember Jemal Johnson terrorising us for MK Dons and the help of Uncle Wikipedia told me the American-born 26-year-old former Wolves and Blackburn man is indeed playing in Bulgaria.
So is there any truth in it? Who knows - the club's media officer, James Brown has adopted a Boycott-style forward defensive pose to Twitter requests for clarification.
Maybe there is something in it, simply because it is so random.
I mean, if you are going to make up a rumour about a player, let's face it Cheltenham is not the first club you are going to think to link them to.
Wishful thinking maybe on my part, as Johnson would bring pace and trickery to our squad if we did land him.- stop it now, don't get carried away Mark, can't see it happening.
Just as I was digesting that one, along came rumour number two - linking us to Charisma Agbonlahor, the brother of Villa's Gabby.
A quick question to my Midlands football expert at work said he played for Castle Vale, then Alvechurch and ended the season at Redditch.
Very quick, like his brother, and a Google search tells me he has interested Kettering and York, and has indeed got League clubs on the trail.
Whether we are one of them is again open to conjecture, as is whether the interest in Charisma (what a headline-writers dream...) is down to his ability or who his brother is.
The final bit of Twittering today which caught my eye was from Damian Spencer (@damo_7 if you want to follow him), telling us he won't be coming back to the club, following today's Echo story.
That is a good thing in my opinion, as Damian is not what he need right now, someone who will be an impact sub, and would probably not get more than five goals in a season.
Twitter comments today have said it would be 'fun' to have him back and he tries hard - but that is not going to keep us out of the bottom two next season.
Mark Yates wants 18-19 players to challenge for the first team - not 18 players and one bloke who will come on for the last 10 minutes and hold the ball in the corner to protect a 1-0 win. May as well get Julian Alsop back if that's what we are looking for.
We need to get away from calls for former players to return, and if our budget is that low then we should be looking for a teenager or striker in their early 20s from a Premier or Championship side on a season-long loan, someone like Ashley Grimes, who came from Millwall and got 17 goals in Lincoln's relegation side.
They must be out there somewhere.
Meanwhile, if you want a laugh, have a look on here - - some cracking rumours!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Kaid comes in

LAST Friday, we were put on tenterhooks with the news that on Monday we could expect a new signing, so as usual the old rumour mill went into overdrive.
Lots of names were mentioned - on Twitter and Facebook alone, I saw the plausible, Calvin Zola, Rene Howe, Steve Kabba, Robin Shroot, Shaun Jeffers and the utterly ridiculous Ade Akinbiyi and Lee Trundle all linked with us.
But the name which came to my attention over the weekend was none of those, and as was confirmed this afternoon, Kaid Mohamed has signed a two-year contract.
When Kaid's name was first mentioned to me, the initial feelings were of disappointment and slight concern.
Disappointment that we were signing another forward with little or no Football League experience, and concern that the statement it sends out to fans is that we cannot compete financially for those players who have that proven quality.
Positive comments on Twitter and Facebook since the signing have pointed to Wes Thomas and Justin Richards' lack of League games and goals when they were signed, and how they then scored 19 and 15 goals respectively.
True - but now once again we are pinning our hopes on someone coming good after moving up to a level they have not played at before, trusting very much to luck.
Thomas and Richards had both played more League games - Kaid has played 11 in his career with only three starts, all during his spell with Swindon - so once again we must hope he is a late developer.
I saw him play a few times for Forest Green and he didn't pull up any trees then - plenty of pace, yes, but not a great goalscoring record, although to be fair he has done well since going to Bath.
He got 13 goals for them last season as Bath did superbly on their return to the Blue Square Premier - but did leave Twerton under a slight cloud.
The story suggests that he refused to sit on the bench against Grimsby, which led to his move to AFC Wimbledon, and we certainly don't want to see any of that, thank you very much, having over the past two seasons got rid of our big-time Charlies.
Hopefully Yates spoke to Archie Howells and Adie Britton about him to check that story out.
But he added five more goals with the Dons, four in the two play-off semi-final games with Fleetwood, in which he scored a hat-trick.
So 18 goals last season is not to be sneezed at, but the perennial question is can he re-produce that at the higher level?
Mark Yates seems to think so, and having seen Thomas and Richards leave after one season has given Kaid the comfort blanket of two years to prove himself.
It also depends where Yates sees him fitting into the squad. Was he the 'number one target' Yates spoke about the other day in the Echo?
Does Yates see him as the Wes replacement, being first choice alongside Jeff Goulding, or is he looked upon as the third striker out of four, ahead of Ethan Moore?
The arrival of that fourth striker will tell us - if it is proven League performer, he will be number three, if not he is our new Wes - or maybe that other striker Yates wants will be more viewed as competition for Goulding, ie more of a target man than a poacher.
One thing he does have is pace. Plenty of it. That is something he have really lacked and will undoubtedly be an asset next season - if the service is right, and with Marlon Pack and the intelligent Jeff Goulding, it should be.
But what message does another non-League gamble send out to the fans, who were hoping for a Jack Midson-type signing up front this summer?
The arrival of Russ Penn from Burton shows that we can attract players from other League Two clubs, and we have also seen Marlon Pack - who surely attracted interest from higher-level clubs, pick Cheltenham, so that could be said to refute that argument - although strikers always cost more money.
Midson was a target as the player has admitted himself - in his blog he said:

The truth is that I have spoken to Mark Yates at Cheltenham a few times and was trying to go to Cheltenham on loan towards the end of last season. After that, as far as I’d known, no official contract offer was sent my way. That remained the case until the day I got back from holiday and the day before I’d agreed to sign for AFC Wimbledon, when an offer did come in from Cheltenham. It was a flattering offer and I had a nice chat with Mark Yates who is very genuine, but I decided to stick to my word and sign for AFC Wimbledon as agreed.

So clearly we made a last-minute attempt to hijack AFC's deal with Midson, so that suggests that the money is there for a proven signing to follow Kaid in - and we are looking to have four strikers.
It is a shame that we didn't make Midson an offer earlier in the summer before his verbal agreement with AFC - now ironically his arrival there seems to have pushed Kaid out.
Hopefully that is our gain, he can be a success for us and put my nagging doubts to rest.
If he gets the 15 goals he spoke about in his website interview I will happily eat my words!

Friday, 17 June 2011

The fixture conundrum

I wasn't going to blog on the fixture list as I didn't really see the point, but what the heck.
We know we have to play everyone home and away between August and May, and this just tells us in what order, when all is said and done.
Cheer up you miserable sod, I hear you cry... but I remember back only a few years when you wouldn't get all this hype about it.
As a kid I would open the Daily Telegraph sports pages (high brow my mum and dad you see, no tabloid rubbish in our house...) and there would be the opening day's games, and that was that.
Now we have massive pull-outs in every paper listing every team's games and hours of endless debate on Twitter, Facebook and Sky Sports News about the prospect of the opening day's fixtures in the Premier League and when the first Grand Slam Sunday will be - or whatever ridiculous name the marketing bods can dream up next.
Such is how times have changed.
When I was at the Echo and Citizen, after Cheltenham got into the League, the fixtures meant a lot of paperwork to fill in and a licence to print them needed to be awarded.
This meant a great long form, signed by the editor, accompanied by a letter from CTFC giving the paper permission to use their fixtures, and a hefty cheque allowing publication.
This was in the paper only - not on the paper's website which would involve an even heftier cheque - yes, all this just to print a list of matches.
A massive hassle and headache, so maybe now you understand why I don't get the fuss, as it has turned into a huge money-making scheme for the Football League DataCo company.
Imagine it. There are 92 clubs, so their local papers all have to pay the money, and the nationals will have to pay for EACH club's fixtures separately in  those pull-outs, as I suspect do the BBC for their website.
I think it is quite ridiculous that this happens, all for the right to print the fixtures in the papers.
Woe betide any website or forum where the fixtures are printed without a licence. They will come down like a ton of bricks and a breach of copyright action will be launched. They must make a fortune out of it.
The fans have a right to know this information without the papers having to pay for it, but DataCo have them over a barrel to be honest.
It isn't like this - not yet anyway- with the Conference or Southern League - or with the Premiership and lower league rugby fixture lists, or the county cricket. Only the Premier League and Football League operate this draconian scheme.
The clubs don't pay for putting it on their website of course, another drawback of the Premium TV deal, which has allowed them to try and control the way stories and club news is broken, making life harder for the newspapers and radio stations to break exclusives in the way they used to.
Ah, feel better after that rant...
Now, where was I? Yes. Fixtures.
Well, we have Gillingham away again on the opening day, for the second season running, so thanks for that.
Last season we drew 1-1 in what we thought was a decent result, Wes Thomas scoring on his debut before Bayo Akinfenwa equalised.
Neither player will be at Priestfield this time around, but we will meet  them both in August on successive Saturdays, Bayo with Northampton on the 20th then Wes with Crawley a week later at Whaddon.
Whether he is on the pitch is debatable though as Steve Evans currently seems hellbent on signing just about every forward who has ever played in League Two or the Conference.
The first home game is Swindon, which is a good opener - still remember Ben Gill scoring and getting sent off against them on the opening home game in 2008-9, having come on as sub in the 39th minute, scored after 62 then getting himself sent off after 69.
It's a shame Torquay away is on a Tuesday, and the same goes for Morecambe away, meaning no seaside piss ups, but I am looking forward to Plymouth away on the final day, as long as there is nothing on the game...
Apparently Mark Yates wants some Friday night games, not sure about that as it won't help attendances discernably, and I would hope we would play the likes of Macclesfield or Southend, who might not bring many fans anyway.
I guess Yatesy's thinking is that he would then be able to watch a match on the Saturday, and if we had a game the following Tuesday it would give us some extra recovery time, so I can see his reasoning from that point of view.
You cannot get away from the fact that a scan of the fixtures once again shows what a difficult and competitive league we are in for this season.
We are promised a new signing on Monday and pre-season training and the friendlies are drawing ever closer.
Yes 'Fixture Friday' or whatever Sky were calling it may be ridiculously over-hyped along with everything else in football these days, but OK, I will admit it - the excitement is definitely building towards August 6. Even if for us that means a pig of a trip to darkest Medway.
Bring it on...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

No luck of the draw

So it goes on - Cheltenham Town's rotten luck in Cup draws, that is.
In 12 years as a Football League club, only the home tie against Newcastle in the FA Cup can be construed as a decent bit of luck in draws for the Carling Cup, FA Cup or the JPT.
Yes, we have been to Fulham - losing to a last-minute Louis Saha goal - and Sunderland, we have won at Norwich and played Stoke at home, but we have never pulled out that real plum tie.
Three away games at Southend, and utterly fruitless trips to the likes of Brighton, Brentford, Cambridge and Crystal Palace
The Carling Cup draw this morning paired us with Milton Keynes Dons, at home, and the immediate Twitter reaction was that the CTFC faithful were distinctly underwhelmed.
Most of the words describing the draw started with an 's' and ended in a 't', or an even adding an extra 'e' if the twitterer wanted to really emphasise their displeasure.
To be honest though, of the 18 seeds in the Southern section, there were not many who could have been described as a really plum attraction.
There was West Ham, obviously. Maybe Cardiff or Reading. There was Portsmouth for the Steve Cotterill links, Colchester at a big push for John Ward and our former players to come back.
On a personal basis and for my own sentimentality, there was Watford, even if they are doing their best to utterly self-destruct at present.
Bristol City would have been a good local draw and would have filled the away end, but apart from that there was not really a lot to get excited about.
Aside from those games, and the thought of making a bit of money from the game, the next consideration was to have a home game, and something which, given a decent performance and a bit of luck, could be winnable.
With the Dons, we have that - however, with our recent home record, maybe we should have been drawn away...
One consolation from not getting that really plum draw was that someone like Hereford or Yeovil, who always seem to get the plum games and the TV cash, also missed out, Hereford getting Brentford and Yeovil away to Exeter.
As it is, I can see Nottingham Forest v Notts County and maybe Leeds v Bradford City being in the driving seat for the Sky roadshow.
Meanwhile, we make do with a visit from the Dons, who we have played twice before, losing 3-1 up there in a game which saw Scott Brown save a penalty, and 5-3 at home with Damian Spencer scoring a hat-trick as a second half substitute in a crazy game, ironically when we had a crazy manager.
MK are managed by Karl Robinson, who is younger than a lot of his players at 30, and played all of his career in non -league for the likes of Prescot Cables, Alsager Town and Marine.
But he was the youngest holder of the UEFA Pro-Licence and coached at Liverpool's academy and at Blackburn before getting the job in Buckinghamshire.
He is assisted by the former Swindon boss John Gorman, and had Robbie Fowler on the coaching staff last season, and followed the likes of Paul Ince, Roberto di Matteo, Danny Wilson and that mad bloke who managed us in charge at stadium:mk, where seemingly capital letters are banned.
Last season, they finished 5th in League One, and missed out in the play-offs against Peterborough, 4-3 on aggregate after winning the first leg 2-0.
Today, they have rejected a double approach from Peterborough United for Sam Baldock and Stephen Gleeson.
Posh, who had an offer worth more than £1million for 22-year-old Baldock, who they had earmarked as Craig Mackail-Smith's replacement, turned down two weeks ago, tabled an improved bid for the striker, and have now said they won't be back for another bid.
Baldock and Peter Leven are the main dangers for the Robins, as Baldock got 14 goals and Leven eight, while 10 goals were contributed by midfielder Danny Powell, a former Forest Green loan player, scoring six goals in 24 games at the New Lawn.
They will be a tough propostion, and will no doubt add to their squad before they come to Whaddon as 
Robinson will be under pressure to go one better than the play-off defeat last season.
But a good performance at home from us, and we might be able to turn them over and go into the hat for round two, when the Premier League sides not in Europe come in - so Liverpool, Everton and Villa are possible opponents.
However, we all know that with our Cup draw luck, if we do get past the Dons, we will get an away draw at Carlisle ...

Money, money, money

AS we await the Carling Cup draw and the release of the fixtures, Mark Yates continues his search to strengthen the Cheltenham Town squad for what is gearing up to be another tough campaign.
All around League Two, we have seen clubs recruiting and some of the numbers I have been hearing for wages being thrown around are pretty staggering for this level.
As we know, Wes Thomas went to Crawley and my understanding is that he has more than doubled his wages on the deal, which should be enough to make up for the aggravation of travelling around the M25 each morning.
Elsewhere, there is a striker who has signed for another League 2 club on what I have heard are wages of£1,700 a week - yes folks, nearly £100k a year - so that shows what we are up against as we will not be paying anywhere near that.
Now, I don't know how all this stands up against the wage restrictions of 60 per cent of turnover, and I hope the authorities are able to keep a check on that, because if we are playing by the rules and others are not then what's the point of having the restrictions in place?
Once again, we will have one of the smallest budgets in the division - I would say definitely in the bottom eight, so we will have the quality of team we can afford, and that is what CTFC fans will have to understand.
The board have always tried to be prudent, bar the one occasion when our previous manager (you know the one - bit mad, now in Nottingham) was recklessly allowed to spend money like tap water and took us from League One to the bottom end of League Two.
That won't happen again, and it seems blatantly obvious to me that we cannot compete for the type of players who would really push us on.
There is a rumour that the ex-Lincoln loanee Ashley Grimes is set to snub contract offers from Bradford, Colchester and Crewe to sign for Shrewsbury Town - I understand we had a conversation, but he is too expensive for us.
Jake Robinson joined Northampton, another player who would have been a great signing for any L2 club, and we await Jack Midson's decision - yet on Twitter he said we had not offered him a contract, so maybe again he would have broken our budget.
Disappointing, yes, but not a great surprise, and it shows again that Mark did well last year to assemble the squad he did - and it shows the need for a reality check.
Fans expecting a play-off push will, I am afraid, be disappointed as there are a lot of clubs in League Two with a lot of financial clout, financed in many different ways.
Bradford's gates are five times the size of ours, so it is plausible that their budget could be five times the size as well.
Crawley are still living off the profits of last season's Cup run and now have Macclesfield's Tyrone Barnett on the radar to further bolster their firepower.
Northampton are chucking it about, Swindon have just paid £30,000 for a player and Bristol Rovers will not be worried about the money.
It shows the desperation of some to get out of this division, but will leave the rest of us feeding off the scraps and fighting for a top half finish at best.
So how do we generate more money and find a way to compete?
We don't really have any major saleable assets on the pitch just yet - although a good season may see Danny Andrew or Marlon Pack get the scouts coming in.
Off the pitch, our commercial department do their best but it's tough world out there - and with the racecourse and several decent hotels on the doorstep they are not going to generate massive income.
The location of the stadium does not help in my opinion as business people etc are not going to take clients to Whaddon I am afraid - hence they will go to the racecourse, a posh hotel in town, or to the rugby at Kingsholm.
At Chesterfield, they have 5-600 people every game sitting down for a pre-match three-course meal. At say £20 a head, that's a lot of income, at least 23 times a season.
And their new stadium is regularly used for business functions and conferences as it is the only decent hospitality venue in the town.
Down at Torquay, Boots and Laces brings in money for the club as it is used during the week by the local community. 
In contrast, how busy is the Whaddon Road bar or the Nest bar when there is no game? Answer: Not very.
When we went to Accrington last season, the shop manager told me that the night before the game he had received £500 in online merchandise orders from all over the world - and that is a regular occurence.
The name 'Accrington Stanley' is all they need to generate much-needed income from football fans in Italy, Greece, Asia - all over the place.
There is no easy answer to this problem, and it is one the club will continue to struggle against I am afraid.
But there is one thing that will help - a good Carling Cup draw this morning - West Ham at home maybe and a phone call from those nice people at Sky...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Early prospects

Things seem to be hotting up around the divisions as the summer merry-go-round builds up pace and some League Two sides have been very busy.
While Cheltenham have recruited Russ Penn and rubber-stamped Marlon Pack's arrival, we have seen Wes Thomas leave for Crawley, who seem to be most people's tip to win the title next season.
But it is shaping up to be a very tough league in 2011-12 - and I could make a case for as many as 15 or 16 clubs to battle it out for a place in the top seven - and at the moment I don't include Cheltenham in that.
Mark Yates has come back from his holidays  and says he has identified the players he wants... now it's a case of going out and getting them, which could be the hard bit.
I've already mentioned Crawley, and besides Wes they have landed John Akinde, so they will have goals in them with Matt Tubbs there as well.
You can bet that Shrewsbury and Torquay will be pushing to go one better than last season - but Torquay could depend on who they appoint to succeed Paul Buckle.
He has gone to Bristol Rovers, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Gas will not want to hang around in League Two, and he has taken Scott Bevan, the giant goalkeeper from Torquay, and added Craig Stanley - in my book one of the best midfielders at this level - to his squad.
I suspect also that he will be after Jake Robinson after Shrewsbury let him go, as he had him down at Plainmoor, and there is talk of a six-figure move for the Shrews' big forward Matt Harrold (the Prince Harry lookalike who came on at our place towards the end of the season).
Swindon and Plymouth have been quiet so far, as have Dagenham, but I am sure they will also be under pressure to get back into the higher division.
Swindon will depend on how long the Di Canio circus will last. My opinion is that we need to play them before Christmas if we want to see him in the opposing dugout.
Plymouth is all about the off-field woes and how they will affect Peter Reid's plans - they have let a lot of players go, and Yannick Bolasie has joined Bristol City. Can he replace them?
Dagenham will go one of two ways - either be right up there or struggle, and I am backing John Still to get them challenging to bounce back.
Rotherham have landed Gareth Evans from Bradford, a good signing in my book, and he will help compensate for Adam le Fondre's expected departure, and Ben Pringle from Derby is another good arrival for Andy Scott, a manager I rate highly - unlucky to get the push from Brentford I thought.
Port Vale, with Micky Adams back, will be another team up there challenging after all the shenanigans there last season saw them falter badly, and if Crewe can keep Clayton Donaldson and Shaun Miller, they too will go close.
Gillingham have lost Cody McDonald, Bayo Akinfenwa and Andy Barcham - three big players - and Andy Hessenthaler was in the mix for Wes Thomas, but I would back him to bring in decent replacements with his decent budget to get them in the top echelons.
Akinfenwa has gone back to Northampton, and they will have a much-changed squad this season. Although I am not Gary Johnson's number one fan by a long chalk, Bayo and Shaun Harrad will get goals at this level, and in Michael Jacobs they have one of the best young talents around. They will have a better season.
One team making a big statement and some big moves so far is Oxford United. They have brought in defenders Andy Whing and Tony Capaldi and forwards John-Paul Pittman and Deane Smalley - all useful performers - and topped that off with former Chelsea and Leeds centre-back Michael Duberry as well.
Not cheap I would imagine - so Chris Wilder had better have them in the top eight or 10 very quickly with a promotion challenge to follow, or the P45 could be forthcoming.
Bradford City must surely perform better than they did last season. How can they keep failing with 10,000-plus crowds and presumably decent resources? The latest to try and solve that riddle is the wily and experienced Peter Jackson, and he has been linked with several high-profile players and I expect him to get them moving this season.
The enigma could be Accrington. Brilliant at home last season (except when we went there and played them off the Crown Ground beach) they question will be whether they can do it again.
John Coleman has done an unbelievable job there and has taken them to a higher league position in every season he has been in charge - that means he will probably have to get them automatic promotion this time to keep up that record.
That might be beyond him, and their fortunes could depend on whether he can keep Jimmy Ryan, Sean McConville and Terry Gornell.
So that's Crawley, Shrewsbury, Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Swindon, Plymouth, Dagenham, Rotherham, Port Vale, Crewe, Gillingham, Northampton, Oxford, Bradford and Accrington - 15 clubs who could, in my opinion, all mount a top-seven challenge.
Aldershot are bubbling under that list. They were functional under Dean Holdsworth, who seems to be taking non-League players and giving them a chance - Alex Rodman from Tamworth, Jamie Collins from Newport and Bradley Bubb from Farnborough for example.
Stevenage did that last season, and look where it got them, so could Holdsworth do the same? Don't rule them out.
So that leaves 8 other clubs - ourselves, Morecambe, Hereford, Burton, Barnet, Southend, Macclesfield and AFC Wimbledon.
The latter will be an unknown quantity, while I can only see it being very tough for Barnet, Macclesfield, Hereford and also for Burton, who still have not replaced Harrad and have lost Penn to ourselves.
They have re-signed the winger Cleveland Taylor - but they look like losing Jacques Maghoma, who is another of their best players, and the goalkeeper Adam Ledzgins is wanted by Derby. Tough prospect for Paul Peschisolido.
Morecambe have lost Sammy McIlroy and gone internally for Jim Bentley as manager. Sorry Shrimps fans but to me that smacks of a cheap option - a club without much money - but they have signed Kevin Ellison from Rotherham, a good, experienced player, but I can only see them being in the lower reaches.
Southend started last season in crisis, but Paul Sturrock got a squad together which was solid in mid-table, yet I can't help thinking he will need a few more rabbits to get them up there.
That leaves us - and on paper League Two looks very tough indeed, and as it stands I can't see us breaking into those top eight or 10 places, unless Mark can bring in the players we need.
That's two strikers, a winger (or two), a centre half, a goalkeeper and - if there is anything left in the pot - a goalscoring midfield player and cover for left back.
Russ Penn and Marlon Pack are good for starters, but the biggest work of the summer is still to come.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Situation vacant

Wanted - one 19-goal striker. Please apply to Mr M Yates, Manager, Cheltenham Town FC, Whaddon Road.
Yes, the inevitable has happened, and Wes Thomas has decided to move on.
Any Cheltenham fan who was clutching at the straw that he would stay on was pretty deluded - from  January onwards it was obvious he was gone.
But there is a tinge of disappointment to see him join Crawley, who will be next season's Stevenage in League Two - the hate figures with the money, and the ever-so-slightly-dodgy manager.
I thought he would go to League One, but at least he has joined a team with the right initials, and they play in red...
However, this is the team that signed Richard Brodie from York for £250,000 and reputedly paid him £2.5k a week, so their financial muscle, helped even more by the Cup run last season, means they effectively going to be a League Two side on a League One budget.
The pressure will be on the lovely Mr Evans to take them straight through, with Wes joining another new boy John Akinde and the prolific Matt Tubbs in their attack, charged with firing in the goals to make it happen.
All pretty mouth-watering for the people of Sussex and I am sure Wes has got a decent contract to keep the new little Thomas in booties - even if the trip round the M25 from Enfield will probably take him as long as it would have done to drive to Cheltenham.
But he has gone, and so we move on and say thanks for the goals Wes.
He came to us as an unknown - three goals for Dagenham in 27 starts/sub appearances were the sum total of his Football League career.
So it was a pleasant surprise when he scored at Gillingham in the opening day - and carried on scoring.
He had six goals in the first six league games and we thought we had a gem on our hands.
Then he got injured, and came back just before Christmas, but the goals dried up slightly as the team's form suffered and his partner in crime Jeff Goulding fell victim to injury.
There is a little myth that he stopped scoring from January - but actually nine of the 18 league goals came after Christmas - his last strike for us being the scant consolation at Crewe in the 8-1 thrashing.
But he should have beaten Julian Alsop's record for goals in a League season - or at least broken the 20 barrier, and he would have but for missing the only two penalties we won all season, at Rotherham and Oxford.
There will be some numpties who will boo him next season - every club has them and unfortunately there is nothing anyone can do to stop them, but I have always found that counter-productive.
Boo a player and his chest swells out by that extra 10 per cent and he is more likely to score against us.
Some will moan about a lack of loyalty - but it works both ways as I am sure Burton fans are equally sick that Russ Penn has decided to come to us rather than sign on again for them.
Now we pin our hopes on Mr Yates - he found us Wes, and has dug up players like Matthew Barnes-Homer and Justin Richards before, so lets hope he can find us another nugget out there somewhere...