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Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink

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A three-nil pre-season friendly down the road in Wiltshire bodes well for new manager Ian Burchnall. Simon Hacker headed to Melksham.

In the silent expectation, you could hear a chip drop. After so long away, the headline act was finally on stage. He’d got lots of new numbers he wanted to try out, but really all everyone wanted is some reassuring, cosy classics.

This is a dilemma every artist faces for a live performance and when Ian Burchnall and the Foresters rocked up at Melksham for their gig on Tuesday night I couldn’t help wondering if it wasn’t Macca’s big night at Glasto all over again. At Worthy Farm, they wanted unadulterated Beatles; at Melksham Town Football Club, the top request among those who still may feel a little jilted from that unspeakable cad who ran away for the glitz of Watford was simply a new suitor who wants to hold our hands, please please us and work on our imminent League One adventure eight days a week.

Pictures: Simon Hacker

  • IMG 8485 | Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink
  • IMG 8477 | Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink
  • IMG 8463 | Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink
  • IMG 8468 | Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink
  • IMG 8456 | Nervous about FGR? Last night would tickle you pink

I am perhaps over-dramatising notions of groupthink here because, despite the recreational high of all that promotion drama in May, you might say that the terraces of the Oakfield Stadium were not exactly over-inundated with Forest Green fans. This was, after all, a pre-season friendly, against a team that’s so much lower in the food chain you’d half expect FGR to turn up wearing scuba tanks. 

But that’s to underestimate the significance of this moment. This was FGR’s first outing with Burchnall and assistant Michael Doyle at the helm. And alongside some sensational player arrivals, further unknowns were set to be trialled. After eating our chips (which never takes long when you get so few you can actually count them), my son Rupert and I digested the likely scoreline. I declared 5-0; he reckoned 4-1. 

If you hate preamble and ceremony, you’d love a match like this. Melksham’s ground is good for what it is: an impressive main stand but with few seats, a rudimentary shed opposite and minimalist shelter behind the east goal. For a while we watched from behind the west goal, but a gaggle of Melksham lads who were more interested in kicking their own ball around and looking at their phones was too distracting. Announcements come via someone combining sinusitis and a cracked yoghurt carton; it was really just whistle, play, whistle, though their scoreboard was fancier than what you’ll find back at Nailsworth.

Despite anticipating 5-0, we were acutely aware of the value of a clean sheet but keeping that firm zero on the board was almost an issue in the first minute when Melksham broke free with a shot on goal that signalled they might not be a pushover. After that first minute, the game was not jeopardy-free, but you soon got the sense that it was all within FGR’s safety margins. You can get a misleading, compressed perspective when watching any game from behind a goal but Melksham’s style of play, were I offering tips, was to proceed with the co-ordination of an upended bag of rats: they showed muscle and determination but the fine motor skills of their visitors soaked all the energy like a solid pink duvet. In nearly every instance, the drama stopped well short of anything approaching true menace.

I’d like to offer more forensic appraisal of our new talent, but much of the action was a blur (which, in itself tells you that Burchnall’s slick, passing style of play is already coming to the fore). Men of the match, for us, were Dokes and Hendry who each had moments on the ball where you are mesmerised by the beauty of the game: each showed a flow, fluidity and command that threatened to undo Melksham with surgical ease.

The score namecheck, however, imparts the essence of FGR’s excellent start: Jamille Matt is functioning as nature intended (and let’s not undervalue this, as nothing in football is a given), Josh March is the on-fire delight he ever was (and was a whisker from scoring possibly two more) and then, best of all for nervous onlookers, Armani Little, the alleged terror of Torquay, showed his eagerness to crack on and confirm our hopes and dreams. 

Watching from the sidelines like a Holywood star, the legendary Matty Stevens continues to make a recovery that he describes as being “as good as it can be”. I expect he left last night feeling his absence during recovery, given the difference our new manager has already made to our repertoire, does not need to be over-rushed. 

Burchnall ran through 22 numbers overall, banging out old classics in a mix of fresh material. And we all went back north wanting more of the same.

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