Is a Sense of Pragmatism Creeping in at Cheltenham?

Posted by on Nov 1, 2012 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Is a Sense of Pragmatism Creeping in at Cheltenham?
Image available under Creative Commons © laurencehorton

I fell a little for Cheltenham last season. Whether it was their spunky burgundy kit; the thought that I’d personally discovered their terrific central midfielder Marlon Pack; the wonderful Kemble Brewery Inn around the corner from Whaddon Road; or the impression that manager Mark Yates had transformed the Robins into a side punching well above their weight, I’m not sure. But I was smitten.

I saw them twice, in October and on the final day of the season in a dead rubber after they’d already qualified for the play-offs. Therefore, two markedly different teams lined up, the latter a second string in which the likes of Steve Elliott, Alan Bennett and the now departed Luke Summerfield were all rested.

Yet on both occasions I was impressed, mightily, as the Robins ran out 2-1 winners twice in a row. Here was a youthful, attacking squad, with a seasonal average home attendance of just 3,424, knocking it about and looking dangerous, with or without their key cogs.

Ahead of a follow-up visit to the spa town last week, however, I was left wondering whether my view had changed. Sitting comfortably as they were in the top 7 of League 2, perhaps it was because they were now a known quantity; perhaps it was down to that syndrome which results in supporters holding disdain for the smaller clubs once they begin to threaten the natural order (see Phil Brown’s Hull City).

Either way, approaching Gloucestershire’s premier footballing hub, I was far less sentimental than I perhaps might have been. It was time to see these charlies taken down a peg or two.

The team looked fairly familiar, with the majority of their top, top players — Pack, Elliott, Bennett and Jermaine McGlashan — all still in situ. Yet, with lower league journeyman Chris Zebroski spearheading a new(ish)-look attack, supported by loan signing Shaun Harrad on the left and the unfortunate Darren Carter in a deep-lying holding midfield role, there was enough change to force minor intrigue as to whether the Robins would retain their free-flowing style of last season.

90 minutes later and I was left questioning myself; was this side ever one which had flown freely? This was, after all, a side that had included Ben Burgess in the latter part of last season and so constant was the direct play to lone man Zebroski; so graceless the humping and thumping from centre backs Elliott and Bennett that I wondered whether manager Yates had somehow misled me into thinking that this was a team that was trying to play football in ‘the right way’.

That’s not to say that there weren’t positives. Zebroski was effective and unlucky not to score on the night; McGlashan was a menacing threat, his pace and acute sense of balance offering the Robins an outlet throughout in much the same way that Aaron Lennon does for Spurs at a higher level. In an attacking midfield position, Pack showed as much willingness and drive as he had on my first sighting a year earlier.

And the bench suggested real depth; Keith Lowe, Sam Deering, Daryl Duffy, Jeff Goulding and Kaid Mohamed all more than capable performers in League 2. Indeed, it was the double substitution of Mohamed and Duffy that perhaps made the difference, the former heading home the winner in a closely fought 2-1 victory.

But, in the same way as I’d arrived, I trudged back to my hotel with a sense of disappointment. Yes, my team had been beaten, again, but this time round I didn’t at least have the consolation that we’d lost to a better, more deserving side.

That’s half to do with the strides made by my team — a much trickier opposition that that of a year previous — but I can’t help but think that this season’s Cheltenham are a more cynical team or — if you like — weather-beaten by their loss to Crewe, a truly free flowing side, in May’s play-off final.

But then, who can blame them? Results are paramount and, with a tight budget (the Robins and Alex could barely muster 24,000 for their Wembley date), it’s no surprise that the football is veering towards the more direct end of the spectrum at Whaddon Road. Best enjoy it while it lasts and all that. Or is that me falling victim to that aforementioned syndrome?

is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He's 31, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol. He tweets @lloydlangman.


  1. Frank Heaven
    November 1, 2012

    Is Cheltenham much of a football town? Always found it a rather well-heeled sort of place (one theory around the origin of the term ‘chav’ is that it comes from Cheltenham Ladies College, where girls described townies as ‘Cheltenham Average’ or chav for short).

    Also prime egg-chasing territory – at least Gloucester is – with support drawn more from the blue collar areas that would normally watch football.

    Still, as you suggest, being the only Football League club in Gloucestershire (now that it doesn’t include Bristol), maybe they should aspire for something better.

  2. Lloyd
    November 1, 2012

    Judging by crowds and the number of hits we get when we post on the Robins, I’d say not. But, the club appears to be run fairly well and there’s no reason why Cheltenham couldn’t become an established League 1 side.

    Oxford, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham are all far enough away to mean that their catchment area is reasonable, although Gloucester City are right on their doorstep. And, as you point out, egg-chasing no doubt competes for locals’ hard-earned cash given that Gloucester are now an established top-flight side.

    So all in all, it’s hardly a surprise that Yates is adopting a more physical approach. I’ll be interested to see how things pan out.

  3. Lanterne Rouge
    November 1, 2012

    I’m surprised West Bromwich Albion fan Frank Heaven managed to get past an article mentioning Darren Carter without taking a running karate kick at his computer screen.

  4. Paul
    November 1, 2012

    I think it’s very much a rugby town, a status that afflicts much of the West actually. Bristol and, far more so, Bath RFC have provided glory moments at national level, particularly during the 80s & 90s and it seems to have had an effect on local football in my opinion.

    I recently asked my followers how many Premier League players had either been born or brought up in the Bristol area and, aside from Scott Sinclair, the vast majority of the names (only about 15 named across 20 years of PL football) were from the inaugural years & few that have threatened the very highest level. Jason Dodd, Holloway, Marcus Stewart, Darren Peacock were about as good as it got.

    Must do a proper post on it soon…..

  5. Ben Swank
    November 6, 2012

    Cheltenham is far from a rugby town, Gloucester yes, Cheltenham no. There is a bitter rivalry between the city and the town.

    It’s a modest spa town that has a core support but it’s location hampers it’s growth as Gloucester stay away to watch the egg chasing, whilst Bristol has it’s own robins and gas-heads to wage war over. Other major towns or cities also have their own clubs Swindon, Reading etc. The catchment area for the town is actually quite limited the surrounding villages are too posh for this sort of game. The majority of football fans in the area support, who are around the 25-45 age bracket support Liverpool and somehow convinced their offspring to do the same. Just go back that long into the history books and you’ll find that was Liverpool’s most successful period and you could then assume a certain level of glory hunting in the area.

    The town is a decent league two side, nothing more nothing less notwithstanding the odd foray in to league 1 and the occasional risk of relegation as biggish players move on or the board have a temporary senior moment in hiring the likes of Mad Dog Martin Allen.

    Mikey Duff left the club and ended up in the premier league with Burnley, as did Carl Henry with Wolves, Clive Walker spent a decent spell here after Chelsea too back in the day, there is a history here if you look hard enough.

  6. darren
    November 8, 2012

    good article, i saw cheltenham against my team luton in the fa cup the other year and thought they played some good football (agreed with the burgundy kit also) although we lost it was good to see some football being played at kenilworth road.


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