In a regular column, iconic former Forest Green manager Frank Gregan has teamed up with Stroud Times to look back on his time at the New Lawn.
Now living in Spain and a published author, the former sergeant major joined Rovers in 1994 – leading his side to back-to-back promotions and Wembley final. Frank transformed the club from non-league minnows, charting the way for what they have gone onto achieve under the late Trevor Horsley’s successor Dale Vince.
This week’s press conference at Forest Green should be a great game of count the cliche. “We just have to take care of our business. We can only focus on what we can control. If we win it doesn’t matter what happens elsewhere.” That’s the gist of what interim head coach Jimmy Ball is likely to be coming out with. But does he believe it?
Of course, everything above is true. If Rovers win they will be into the playoffs, a fairly mediocre achievement given their resources but an amazing rescue after the dreadful Barrow result. Should they be successful in the playoffs that fairly mediocre achievement is instantly transformed into a glorious season, the best in the history of the club. Such is the fickle fate of football.
Despite “focusing on what he can control” or perhaps even because of it, I’m pretty sure that Jimmy has studied the league table from every angle and worked out all scenarios. I’m sure the supporters of the club have been doing the same. I think it’s important to discuss these scenarios with the players prior to the game because should things start to go pear-shaped contingency plans need to have been put in place. Whilst it would be great to be proactive and get a two-goal cushion and manage the game to a conclusion it might be the case that the team needs to be reactive because things are not going to plan.
There’s a number of permutations if Rovers are not winning in the final ten minutes and none of them are helped by the club’s inferior goal difference.
For example, if Exeter are drawing at home to Barrow and Rovers are losing by the odd goal at Oldham heading into the latter stages of the game it makes sense to do whatever has to be done in order to find an equaliser. Invariably it culminates in Hail Marys and throwing the kitchen sink at the Oldham defence. If you get done on the break, que sera, it’s better than dying without trying.
It maybe the case that Jimmy doesn’t want to know what’s going on elsewhere and doesn’t want his players to know either. No mention at half -time of how things are going at Exeter and Salford enabling his players to maintain their focus and control what they can control. That wouldn’t be my preferred choice.
I‘ve experienced that kind of last day of the season drama at the other end of the table with the possibility of ourselves and two other clubs being relegated. Myself and the players knew from the moment the games kicked off the state of play at the other two grounds and had the Chairman, Trevor Horsley standing behind our dugout keeping me informed. The whole season changed in the last five minutes as a result of the kitchen sink, taps et al, being thrown forward in an attempt to snatch a win. We got it and somehow we stayed up.
The one cliche that is highly relevant to the game at Oldham is “we wanted it more.” Oldham have nothing to play for and really don’t want to be heading on their staycation or to a Covid safe Costa (the beach not the coffee shop) with a plaster cast on a limb. My message to the players would “be nice,” there really is no need to get in the Oldham players’ faces and provoke a reaction. So to be truthful I think my team talk would be full of cliches too. “Relax, keep your discipline, no sending offs, don’t wind the opposition up and let’s get out of here with the three points.” It never is that simple, that’s why the contingencies have to be put in place!
Follow Frank on Twitter: @Greegers