Fan’s View 2017/18 (No.15) Bristol Rovers away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, October 15th, 2017  

Bristol Rovers – Ownership and Finances

For the second week running we play a side that accompanied us from L1 to L2 at the end of season 2015/16. The latest published accounts to June 2016 therefore do not reflect what is going on at the higher level and in Rovers case I guess matters are very different now because they were taken over in early 2016 by Dwane Sports Limited when they acquired 92% of the club’s shares. The Bristol Rovers Supporters Club hold the rest.

Dwane Sports is owned by the Al-Qadi family whose personal wealth was estimated by the Bristol Post earlier this year to be £400m.

Wael Al-Qadi, who graduated from Harvard Business School, was appointed as the club’s president. He is a member of the Jordanian F.A, vice-president of the Asian Football Development Project and also works to develop grassroots and women’s football in Asia.

The out-going chairman said that the family were attracted to Rovers because of the club and city’s massive potential. I have to agree that there’s a passion around this football club that you don’t find everywhere.

There’s no argument that these owners are not into their football. As a kid Wael attended Westminster school and went to Chelsea with his father who founded the Arab Jordan Investment Bank (AJIB) in 1978. Wael is Assistant General Manager of AJIB in which he and his brothers have a 13.5% shareholding. AJIB also has interests in Qatar and in 2014 acquired HSBC’s Jordan operations.

The family also has interests in tourism.

Whilst no billionaires, quite wealthy you’d have to agree.

I’m pretty sure Rovers are the only club I’ve visited with Oxford to have had three different homes. Who can forget Eastville and then there was their time in Bath. One of Wael Al-Qadi’s initial priorities was to establish the club at a new ground. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been at the Memorial Stadium for over 20 years.

In 2012 planning permission was granted for a £40m 21,700 stadium at the University of West England at Cheswick just off the M32. Sainsbury’s agreed to buy the Memorial Stadium in 2011 and lease it to the club while the new stadium was built. There has been constant wrangling between the two parties and in July 2015 Sainsbury’s won a High Court battle over the termination of the £30m deal to buy the Memorial Stadium. Appeals failed.

In the Directors report in the accounts it states that the new owners recognise that if the club is to progress to the Championship and beyond it is essential to have a larger modern stadium. Can’t say they’re not ambitious.

They’ve now ditched the idea of moving and are looking to develop the Memorial Stadium. In August this year Al-Qadi told BBC Points West “If you look at its size (of the land at the Memorial Stadium), it’s kind of ideal. Our size is exactly the same as Everton’s stadium. It’s a beautiful piece of land, in the heart-bed of Rovers fans.”

Since coming in they have invested in their own training ground at Almondsbury where they intend to base the first team and their Academy with a view to upgrading the latter from cat 3 to cat 2.

Remember this statement from Oxford United less than a year ago? “Oxford United are disappointed that Oxford City Council did not allow the football club to formally tender for the opportunity to develop the new sports complex in Horspath Road.”

At the time of the publication of the accounts Rovers, like us, were in with a chance of making the play-offs. Their ambition and belief, which I suppose is only natural after back to back promotions, is shown in that Directors’ Report: If this is not to be our year this season, Darrell (Clarke) and the team will work even harder to achieve promotion next year and to this end we have in conjunction with Darrell, begun to assemble a squad for 2017/18 that will challenge for promotion.

In 2015/16 their operating loss was £831k, down from £956k the previous year.

Turnover was £4.7m made up of football receipts £2.8m and other receipts £1.9m.

Operating expenditure was £5.6m of which players and staff cost was £3.6m, match and ground expenses £1m and the rest admin expenses and the cost of goods sold.

The average number of monthly employees were playing staff 40, management and admin staff 23, commercial staff 7, Academy 24, bar and catering 47 and match-day stewards 70.

At the end of the accounting period the club were £8.7m in the red.

All of the above was written prior to the game based on internet research and I’m fairly confident it is accurate. However, I’ve long felt that if you really want to get to the heart of what is happening at a football club you need to talk to a selection of dyed in the wool supporters. That’s the reason decades ago I abandoned the glossy sanitised club programme for the earthy irreverent hard copy fanzine. Some ‘zines were just drivel but some had content amongst the piss-taking about worst haircuts and the like that any investigative journalist would have been proud of.

In recent seasons our pub of choice in Horfield has been the Annexe which is hidden away behind the Sportsman but that has now been trumped by Bristol’s first micro-pub, the Drapers Arms, which opened less than two years ago and is no more than a five minute walk from the away turnstiles. It doesn’t serve keg beer, lager or spirits. It does serve seven real ales straight from the barrel and a good variety there was too. With no music or TV, conversation it is and it was here that I talked football in a convivial atmosphere with some home fans.

When I said you’ve got owners with quite a lot of money who are really into their football there were little shakes of the head. The view was that they would be judged on whether Rovers ended up with a properly developed ground and I got the impression they weren’t that confident this would happen. I then said but they’ve got you the training ground. The reply was they might have bought the land but so far there has been no development. Their future may not therefore be quite as rosy as I’d previously believed.

I know that there is a need for police at football matches and as it turned out their presence was required at the Wellington after the game but before hand I thought the numbers were a bit over the top. A discovered a possible reason if what my mate picked up from speaking to a steward is to be believed. The figure of 70 stewards they claim is greatly over-stated hence the need for significant police numbers on match days.

Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 1

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One of the other topics discussed in the pub was obviously Liam Sercombe. The Rovers fans were quite surprised when I told them he’d been really good for us in L2 but in L1 was no way guaranteed a starting slot. They thought he was one of their best players so probably thought how strong is this Oxford team then? They’d already said they thought we were pretty good.

The same could be said about their current form. After losing their first two home league fixtures, they’d won the subsequent four and a week previously had won 6-0 at Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Northampton. (There were some who were annoyed we didn’t opt for JFH when we picked Pep.)

I don’t know whether the commentator on the brief snippet of the match on Channel Five’s Goal Rush was obliged to try a play on words or was just clueless about football. Possibly both. “Not a memorable match at the Memorial Stadium”.

Goal Rush is a title that belittles the game I love. Of course goals, or in this case just the one, win matches but football is about so much more. Seeing so many goals back to back devalues them and ignores what was put into the entire 90 minutes. The battle to win the right to score the goals is overlooked and in many cases they don’t even show the whole of the build-up play before the goal is scored. How they must hate a quality 0-0.

The BBC were much more in tune with what actually occurred. “Oxford edged a high-quality game in which both teams competed strongly and demonstrated skills that would not have been out of place at a higher level.”

I thought this encounter was gripping from start to finish but such was the tension I can’t say I enjoyed it until the final whistle when, looking back, I could deem it to have been a great game.

The home side began at a high tempo and we soon had a proper old school game of football on our hands where there was some real tackling and defending. If lines were crossed it wasn’t by much.

On the physicality front I think they were just edging it but we refused to be broken and managed to play bits of quality football too.

I heard someone stood near me say Bristol were just long ball but whilst they were more direct than us I wouldn’t go that far. They too played it on the floor a bit and when it was hit forward with some distance they were well aimed passes, often out to the wings. Rory Gaffney and Ellis Harrison needed a lot of looking after.

Gaffney got the ball past Simon Eastwood in the first period but he was given off-side and as this doesn’t seem to have been included in any of the highlights clips, I can’t give much of an opinion as to whether that was correct or not.

As to be expected there were chances for both sides before the break but I can’t remember either keeper flying across or out from his goal to ensure the scoreboard remained untroubled. That was so in the second half too.

Quite early on we were caught out by a long ball which possibly should have resulted in the off-side flag being raised. Our defenders raised arms but also got back quickly. Curtis Nelson was especially effective in this regard, heading the ball out in what was an awkward manoeuvre which could easily have resulted in an oggie.

Ricardinho doesn’t panic in possession and will hang on to it as long as physically and sensibly possible whilst looking to see what is available and he did just that before setting Wes Thomas off. WT let the ball run, took control, beat a man and fashioned a chance from the edge of the D that went narrowly over the bar. He has a lot to his game, much of which is only just becoming evident.

In this attack he was greatly helped by Jack Payne being ahead of him and giving the blue and white quartered shirts something else to think about.

When we went forward we had options. In another instance when Ricardinho progressed there were four in front of him and each asked for the pass. This is massively encouraging. The opposition didn’t know where it was going to go. Jack Payne was the recipient and after a neat touch and turn he’d hit a left foot shot just wide.

We came close again when Thomas hit the post. (Just to clarify, he missed the ball and smashed into the post). Whenever he goes down, more than for your average player, everyone’s thinking, oh shit. Someone said why stretch for it he knows he’s injury prone. A stretcher quickly appeared and then even quicker was gone. From the terracing we couldn’t see what had really happened.

That chance had been created by us closing down and Thomas chasing a weak back-pass. Sam Slocombe got to it first but his clearance was rather hopeless. It went straight to James Henry and it was his cross that was nearly converted.

I was never a big fan of SS when he was with us but am pleased that he’s managed to fight his way back into first team football. The guy must have some bouncebackability. Released by Scunthorpe after they got promoted; released by us after our promotion having lost his place half way through that season; released by Blackpool after their promotion.

The game had only just re-started when it was our turn to be on the wrong end of a marginal and therefore debatable off-side decision. Ryan Ledson’s ball through to Thomas may have been perfect but the linesman decided it wasn’t. Thomas’s pull back was converted by Payne but by then the defenders had stopped playing.

As period two settled into a pattern it appeared that we were at the very least matching them physically and just shading proceedings. We generally looked fit and full of running.

It was at a stage with Rovers coming back into it a bit more and that I was thinking we had perhaps failed to capitalise on the slight ascendancy we’d had, that we scored the goal.

The Pirates tried to play out from the back. Again we did the necessary to make it hard for them. Henry, who is full of running and strong too, won possession and with momentum continued onwards. Tom Broadbent wasn’t set right and waved his wrong foot at the ball as it was pushed inside to Rothwell. A half challenge saw it at the feet of the advancing Alex Mowatt and he side footed low and accurately past our ex-keeper.

mowatt goal

A happy goal scorer. Photo, Rita Davis-Leigh

With the added five minutes there were still 13 in total to negotiate but we did this very well indeed. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable though.

It really helps having a settled side and again praise has to be spread throughout the team with many contenders for man of the match. Nelson and Henry would be names close to the top of my list but let’s just call it a team effort.

In most matches one or two players will have a few dodgy moments but the key is getting through them and sticking to the task at hand. A few around me were complaining a bit about Christian Ribeiro and I could see he wasn’t our best performer early on but for me he came out the other side with credit.

There were a couple of times when Payne looked light-weight but his class and what he brings to this team is huge and should not be under-estimated. Replacing him with Mowatt has become something of a feature and it worked a treat here. Pep knows what he is doing.

With Rothwell booked and now suspended for the next game, Xemi got a few minutes of play after we’d finally got the breakthrough.

It was also very interesting to see five minutes’ worth of James Roberts. The last time I’d seen him was playing for Oxford City and I could not see a way that he was anywhere near the level of league football. I have to say though that this was before City had their new pitch and the playing surface was awful and that cannot help anyone trying to perform on it. Here in this briefest of cameos he looked assured and confident on the ball. Some will be waving the coaching manual at him yelling that possession should have been retained, but that shot he let fly wasn’t far away at all.

After three defeats on the spin, rightly as I see it, the possibility of relegation was mooted. We have to talk about these things. At the time I had no idea how long we’d be without both Thomas and John Obika. That was my greatest concern.

With the return of Wes, selection of Josh Ruffels and a centre half pairing of Nelson and John Mousinho things have gone the other way and that’s not by luck. So it must now be fair to faintly mention the play-offs (or better?).

We’re in that last coveted position but Peterborough, Fleetwood and Blackburn have games in hand. In the latter’s case they’re two fixtures behind us.

Our next two matches, at home to teams above us in the table, will tell us much more. But one thing is for sure and that is there are many clubs still very much in with a shout and I wouldn’t write Brizzle off just yet. It is absolutely true that there are no easy games and to win such a hard fought contest is immensely satisfying.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 15th, 2017 at 6:11 pm and appears under Fan's View, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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