“During the war…..” I always feel like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses when I start a passage with “Back in the day….’ But, back in the day, when I was appointed manager of Forest Green, it’s fair to say that the whole of the Gloucestershire footballing community was hugely underwhelmed.
The media has changed so much since back then. There were no mobile phones, just big red telephone boxes into which you inserted four old pennies and pushed button A or B when the call was connected. There was also this thing called print media, and if you’re reading this you are proof that some things never become outdated because you are probably reading it in the printed version of the Stroud Times. Once you’ve read the paper you can use it to batter flies to death, try doing that with your laptop!
The print media back in the day was big business in the area with the Gloucester Citizen and the Cheltenham Echo publishing six days a week and the Stroud paper once a week. There was also a weekly sports paper, The Pink Un, dedicated to Gloucestershire that came out on a Saturday evening, and supporters used to queue at local petrol stations waiting for it to be delivered. There was an insatiable thirst for sports news from these papers and the three football clubs, Cheltenham Town, Gloucester City and Forest Green Rovers dominated the back pages.
When I was appointed the local press were left baffled. Rovers had drawn up a shortlist of eight candidates and I was the least likely to get the job. The journos had prepared their pieces and headlines to get the story out on the day that the appointment was made and to be the first with the news. The late, great Brian Godfrey was considered a shoo-in but they had contingency plans in place should the second or third guy on the list get the nod.
I know all this because during my time at the club I had to work closely with the local press and I became friends with the Citizen sports writer, Mike Richards. who moved onto a career with the national press a couple of years later. Nobody at any of the papers had ever heard of me and consequently, the best the highly educated and quick-thinking headline writers could do was to take up half of the back page with a four hundred font headline of “FRANK WHO?”
At the time I was still serving as an infantry soldier which was a pity because if I had been a doctor it would have been a dream come true for the headline writer! I’m harking back to the days of yore because the appointment of Ian Burchnall as Head Coach at a League One club has been met with the same kind of bewilderment from many quarters with just about everyone scrabbling for their search engines to find out about the new gaffer at Rovers.
Next time around I’ll give you my views on the appointment. I promise it will not be a sit on the fence “let’s wait and see” piece but an honest opinion of what is really quite a bizarre bit of business by the club. And of course, if I’m wrong come the end of next season another old Only Fools and Horses classic saying can be revived and directed at me, “You Plonker!”