Things have felt different at Whaddon Road this summer. Better, certainly. The wind of change has blown stronger than anyone expected, bringing with it developments that have left most CTFC fans starting to feel things that they have not felt for a good few years.

Optimism. Pride. Excitement.

Words that were taken for granted during Cotterill’s era as the club marched from the Southern Football League Premier Division to an established professional league club, picking up the FA Trophy along the way. But since Cotterill left for greater things, the momentum and energy that he wove into the fabric of the club has gradually unravelled. Graham Allner and then Bobby Gould were unable to instil passion and pride into the players. Things improved under John Ward with better results, decent players and even a promotion. But it was not nice to watch. Then Downing and Allen presided over relegation and near-financial ruin – dark days for the club and the fans.

For many years there has not been a great deal for fans to get excited about. And even the first year of Yates’s tenure has not been that inspiring. The 8-1 drubbing by Crewe still hurts, and the drop off towards the end of last season is worrying, as is the apparent indifference that was shown by some players.

But things have changed. One of the busiest transfer summers in the club’s history has seen the side transformed. On the eve of the new Football League season, Cheltenham Town have a squad that I really believe is capable of reaching the play-offs. Not that I necessarily think that would be a good thing. The club’s financial situation may still be too precarious to cope with the pressures of surviving in League One. But relegation should not be on anyone’s minds with the squad of players that Yates has assembled.

And you have to give Yates, Baker and the board massive credit for pulling off what are, relatively, quite astonishing signings. I, like many fans I suspect, expected the odd cast-off on the cheap here and there, maybe a couple of free gambles and non league prospects that would hopefully come good.

What we certainly did not expect was to be signing players that were wanted by other clubs, or had received contract offers from other clubs. For a club like Cheltenham to be aggressively competing, and succeeding, in the transfer market is testament to the skill and passion of all the staff.

All you can ask from any period of transfer activity is that you end up with players that are better than the ones you started with. You need to sign players that will improve the team. And that is exactly what Yates has done with every one of his signings. A truly amazing feat given the club’s limited financial means.

Let us briefly consider the signings he has made, starting from the back:

Sido Jombati

One of the non-league players that was reportedly being watched by League One clubs. Has pace to burn and excellent attacking instincts. If he can link up well with Josh Low down the right (no stranger to a bit of defensive work himself) then it could be a potent partnership.

Alan Bennett

El Capitan and the big voice on the pitch that the team lacked last season. More of a ball playing centre half with excellent experience and came to the club with ‘unfinished business’. That’s the sort of attitude we like. Should form a good partnership with Elliott.

Harry Hooman

Has done well to earn himself a deal. Yates is not a sentimentalist and dealt honestly with the trialists he brought in, keeping those he liked and getting shot of those who did not make the grade. A lot will depend on how Hooman develops over the season, but his claim that he wants first-team football suggests he has he right attitude.

Russ Penn

Probably the player Pook should be. Tireless midfield general, doing the dirty work and creating space for Pack and the other midfielders. Is likely to be one of the most important players in the side this season, though will probably go unnoticed – which is probably how he likes it – although he has proved in pre-season that he knows where the net is.

Marlon Pack

One of the marquee signings of the summer. Showed enough whilst on loan to suggest he can fill the gap left by Grant McCann in being the team’s creator in chief. Has a physical presence, his passing is superb and he should relish playing alongside pacy and skilful wingers and strikers. Talks a good game on Twitter, now needs to do his talking on the pitch.

Luke Summerfield

Howarth has indicated that Summerfield is ‘all but signed’ and the fact that the squad has made room for the young ex-Plymouth player is testament to the impact he has had in pre-season. Has been watched by Premier League sides in the past and has a beautiful first touch. If he can play alongside Pack then it could be an exciting midfield.

Bagasan Graham

Oddly monikered ex-QPR left winger who, like Hooman, impressed on trial and has earned himself a deal at the club. His consistency during pre-season in mixed team performances suggests he was a gamble worth taking. But like Hooman will need to show development and progress over the season.

Kaid Mohamed

Striker/winger who has impressed with his skill and trickery on the ball and blistering pace up the wing. Has suggested that he prefers playing on the wing. Will provide a potent attacking force with ball at feet, as well as being a decent finisher, and if his delivery is up to scratch then he could be a big player this season.

Darryl Duffy

The other marquee signing of the summer. Ex-Bristol Rovers and Swansea striker who spent time on loan at Hibs in the SPL. Knows where the net is and, if he can stay injury-free, he should prosper against League Two defences.

Add to that James Spencer, on long-term loan fromHuddersfield, who has already proved he has a keen goalscoring touch, and a loan goalkeeper to provide decent challenge to Scott Brown, and you have a side that is able to compete and compete well in League Two.

But it is also a big year for some of the existing players at the club, particularly with the influx of new players coming in and challenging for places.

Scott Brown

Often criticised last year for poor control of his area and inability to deal with crosses. Should do better this year behind a better midfield and defence, but needs to show week-in-week-out why he is number one – particularly if a good goalkeeper is brought in on loan to challenge.

Steve Elliott

The vice captain needs to show this year why fans were so excited that he came to the club last year. Much was expected, but he did not always turn in the sort of performances that were expected of him. Should do better with Bennett alongside him this season.

Dave Bird

A loyal clubman who, sadly, has never quite managed to nail down a starting place in all the years he has been at the club. Prefers a midfield role, but may struggle to displace Pack, Penn, Summerfield, etc. Big season for him. Decent squad player but needs to step up to the level of the new signings or risk this being his last season.

Jeff Goulding

Consistent performer last year in a supporting role to Wes Thomas, and weighed in with a few goals along the way. Should be able to play alongside Mohamed, Duffy, Spencer or Moore and offers strength and aerial ability to complement the pace around him. A valuable but underrated player.

Ethan Moore

A big ask for the 18 year old to come in and make his mark on the side, especially with the new signings, but did enough in the youth team to suggest that he could have a big future at the club. If he gets goals then confidence will follow.

The new players that have come in have brought confidence, swagger, energy, guile, pace and skill and their fresh approach and attitude should help to get the best out of the existing players. If they also have passion and commitment then it is a team that anyone would be proud to support.

Many of the newbies are also leaders. Bennett as captain is the obvious example, but the confidence and decision-making of Pack and Penn will also count as strong leadership on the pitch and Duffy will not hold back from telling his teammates what he thinks. Arses will be kicked when players are not putting in 100% – which reflects the manager’s own no-nonsense approach. The will to win and to perform well is strong and it finally looks like the team will match the fans’ passion and commitment once more.

Incidentally, I asked Marlon Pack over Twitter whether he thought the new recruits were proud to be a Robin. His response:

“Yes, all proud to wear the shirt”

I hope he’s right and that it shows on the pitch. And somehow, I think it will. There is a buzz around the place that I certainly have not felt since Cotterill’s days, and what better time for this to happen than in the club’s 125th year.

(Incidentally, as pleased as I am with all the new signings, there is a niggling worry that I have about how it has affected the club’s finances. I never thought we would have anywhere near the money to sign the number of quality players that we have. I just home the board is keeping a tight rein on the purse strings…)

So, finally, what hopes and expectations for the new season? I think we’ve got to see a safe mid to high table finish combined with decent, money-making cup runs as a good season. I’d like us to become once more a disciplined, hard-to-beat side that teams do not look forward to playing, but one with creativity and flair, capable of making and scoring goals.

I am looking forward to the new season and feel able to cry aloud, without any hint of irony…

COME ON YOU ROBINS!!!

 

Bozward beer 11…

01/08/2011

It’s been a bit quiet recently at Bozward Brewery. My recent health problems (which may or may not have been linked to homebrew) combined with some busy weekends means I have not really had chance to brew anything.

It’s been too long. Far too long.

But thankfully that dry, dark period is over. At the weekend I bottled a cheeky little Belgian beer called Ambiorix (from the Brewferm range). According to the website it is a:

“copper coloured summer beer with a light sourness but with a sweet aftertaste”

I added some medium spraymalt and 500g of dark Muscavodo sugar to the mix to try and give it a toffee-like edge. Fingers crossed it will work. it certainly smelt good when I bottled it.

Here it is:

It will be around 6.5% so I’ve put some most of it in 330ml bottles. But I’ve also put some in tall 750ml bottles for sharing with chums when they drop round on a chilly winter’s eve.

Takes about 6-8 weeks to settle properly, so am looking at end of September before being able to taste it. Will then keep it til Christmas so it becomes a right tasty little fella.

Speaking of which, Christmas is under five months away.

In case you were wondering…

 

Have taken up boxing recently. Well, to be more precise, I have enrolled at a boxing gym and am learning a bit of technique alongside doing a boxing workout.

It’s at this place:

http://boxfitness.co.uk/

I have to say that my respect for the craft of boxing has gone up immeasurably. This is no sport of thugs. The sheer discipline and technique that you need to master in order to be able to box skilfully and, more importantly, safely, is little short of incredible.

The gym caters for all ages and fitness levels, and I feel slightly out of my depth at the moment. The trainers are all perfectly pleasant, but are all either current or former boxers themselves and I cannot escape the thought that they could kill me with one punch if they were so minded. As a result I am perhaps being too friendly and coming over as a bit desperate for them to like me. Which I am. But I don’t want them to know that.

Have to say that I am enjoying it very much. I don’t like gyms as a rule – I get bored just working on machines. With boxing I am learning techniques and skills that are all new to me and it is holding my interest.

It is also motherfuckingcocksuckingly hard work. I went last night and today I ache all over. And I mean all over. There is barely a part of me which does not hurt. Muscle groups that I did not know existed and cannot possibly imagine using are hurting. Muscles that I’m fairly sure didn’t get much of a workout are hurting.

I’ve even got into the ring for a bit of pad work. No sparring though.

Not the face…

 

A large part of my job involves analysing announcements and legislation that come from government. Since the coalition came into power in 2010, these have come thick and fast…often with an emphasis on ‘thick’.

But most of them they have one thing in common: saving money. Whether it be through cutting public spending (and thereby denying thousands of people the services they need and rely on) or by charging extortionate amounts for basic rights such as education (£9,000 a year to go to university?!) the one common factor is cuts in spending. Or ‘tackling the budget deficit’ as the government puts it.

“Gentlemen, this is the face of the enemy…”

Clearly the nation’s debt is too high and needs to come down. But is cutting as swift and hard as this really the answer? This is a question that has been debated extensively elsewhere and one that I do not propose to rake over yet again here.

I would instead like to focus on the fact that the nation’s population is rising – people are living longer, having more kids, etc – at the same time that the government seems intent on cutting the number of jobs that are available.

Surely this is not sustainable?! In the public sector, the ‘efficiency’ agenda means that many organisations are having to provide the same services for less resources…and this includes staff. Redundancies are somewhat inevitable as organisations ‘restructure’ and ‘streamline’ themselves. Technological advances mean people are doing more for themselves online, meaning less people are needed for face-to-face transactions.

This is all very well in terms of cutting waste – no organisation should be wasting people’s money on unnecessary jobs or services. But this is not the government’s agenda. The government has imposed severe spending cuts on public services, meaning they are forced to change the way they provide services. And it is folly to imagine that all of these services will be as good as they were before.

So, less jobs for the workers. At the same time, the population continues to increase; students are leaving university with £30k+ worth of debt; people are having to work longer; and the cost of elderly care has increased.

How can the country cope with this?! Where are the new jobs coming from?! DEAR GOD WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!

And on that vaguely apocalyptic note, I wish you all a good weekend…

 

Some people claim to like rocket. Chefs and television cookery shows go on about things “sitting on a bed of peppery rocket”.

But does anyone actually like it? And why has it seemingly become the salad leaf du jour? It seems like you cannot buy any kind of lunch or dinner without it being piled high with the stuff.

I mean, I get that it may add a leafy bitterness to things, and that can go well with certain foods.

But surely just having rocket on its own and in great piles is a bit much?!

The lovely wife and I went to Pizza Express last night. I ordered a very nice pizza with crispy pancetta, sundried tomatoes, parmesan cheese and…rocket! On a bloody pizza. And not just on it. There was so much it was almost bloody hiding it!

Enough’s enough. You wouldn’t pile other salad leaves on top of things in the same quantity, so why do it with rocket?!

Utter nonsense…

 

There is something about seeing things in super slow motion that really captures the imagination. And also shows how wobbly everything is!

An inventive group calling themselves the Fluke Corporation have uploaded several videos onto YouTube showing things happening at 1000 frames per second.

This video showing a cymbal being hit is very cool:

And there are other showing a dog shaking itself dry, an oil drum hit with a hammer and a lovely collection of bits and bobs.

For super super slow motion though, check out these videos:

Ladybird opening its wings and flying (7000 frames per min)

Water balloon to the face (this is brilliant!)

Lighting strikes (2000 frames per second)

A match burning 

And finally, a punch to the face

When you get down to it, everything is just a bit slow and wobbly. Just like me really…

 

In the wake of Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 world cup, all eyes are now rightly on the country to see whether they have managed to get a hold on the racism that seems unapologetically endemic amongst many supporters.

Well, this incident involving Roberto Carlos suggests that they still have a long way to go after a banana was thrown at him during a game.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/13906779.stm

It does make you wonder how African teams made up predominantly if not completely of black players will be treated.

The well-known policy of Zenit St Petersburg in not signing any black players is discussed in a BBC article and shows that these are attitudes that still exist.

Such question marks do make you question even more the wisdom of allowing the Russians the chance to host the 2018 World Cup. And then of course you remember who is in charge of FIFA and suddenly it all makes sense…

 

Last Saturday I spent a very enjoyable few hours at the Stratford-on-Avon beer festival with Mr Bendigo Shafter (apologies for the shamelessly crass and uninventive title of this post).

I do enjoy a good beer festival and have much praise for this one. Located at Stratford-on-Avon Racecourse, it took place on hard standing at the edge of the course itself.

My Shafter and I settled ourselves on a bench and proceeded to make our way through a number of fine ales (and one nasty cider), basking in the sunshine, of which there was a pleasant amount. 

A plentiful choice of around 50 beers and ciders were on offer and, although some ran out, I was informed by the staff that this was because there had been crazy demand for it.

There were even morris dancers there, to give the day some more English-ness (although three dances in little over three hours is a bit much chaps).

Beer of the day for me was Sadler’s Mud City Stout. Honourable mentions also go to Bird’s Firebird, Bushy’s Old Bushy Tail, and Breconshire’s Rambler’s Ruin.

Although, to be honest, after half a pint of Sharp’s Massive Ale (9% of madness) it all gets a bit hazy…

 

I do enjoy the close season in football – mainly because of the transfer activity that goes on. I find it fascinating to see how teams will shape their squads for the coming season.

One of the most interesting things for me is looking at what players are available on a free. As a Cheltenham Town fan I often look at the list of out of contract players that the FA produces each year in the hope that the Nam will be able to snap up a few bargains.

Looking at the list, the names Febian Brandy, Stephen Brooker, Nathan Ellington, Jonathan Fortune, Jon Harley, Shane Higgs, Kevin Lisbie, Stephen O’Halloran, Darren Powell, Paul Rachubka, and Marcel Seip, stand out and would be great value for money signings for some of the lower league teams.

But even in the money-rich world of the Premiership, there are lots of good players who are available for nowt this year. Consider the following list:

  • John Carew
  • Nigel Reo-Coker
  • Lee Bowyer
  • James McFadden
  • Seb Larsson
  • Benjani
  • Tamir Cohen
  • Jlloyd Samuel
  • Ricardo Gardiner
  • Zoltan Gera
  • Javier Garrido
  • Patrick Viera
  • Owen Hargreaves
  • Sol Campbell
  • Shefki Kuqi
  • Eider Gudjohnsen
  • Jonathan Woodgate
  • Danny Gabbidon
  • Matthew Upson
  • Stephen Caldwell
  • Jason Koumas

Any of these players could still do a job for a Championship or smaller Premiership side and just goes to show what talent can be picked up for free at the moment.

Whether this gives smaller clubs a better chance of surviving in the Premiership is another matter of course. After all, many of these players will still be on very high wages. But not having to fork out a transfer fee in the first place can only be a good thing.

I hope many of them stay in the Premiership. I think they still have much to offer…

 

Had some friends down at the weekend, so went out drinking on Saturday and then went for a hangover-tackling Sunday Roast the next day.

We went to The King’s Head in Worcester for the roast, and I have to say it was not too bad at all. But I also have to say that it did not even come close to the roasts that my mum, my wife or my mother-in-law do.

That’s not meant as a criticism against The King’s Head specifically. Indeed, it is a very pleasant pub with a good range of ales. But in my experience no pub that I have been to has served anything that comes even close to a homemade roast.

Let us consider some of the main problems:

  • Roasties: In my view, the biggest problem with pub roasts. My wife does amazing roasties. Crispy on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside, they really are very good. And I have seen how she does it and feel certain that this could be done on a mass scale. But instead of this too many pubs serve up what is little more than a boiled potato with a chewy yellow skin on it.

Now this is what I’m talking about:

 

  • Well-cooked meat: This means beef done medium to rare, chicken cooked enough and no more, pork served moist, lamb served tender. Dry, tough, lukewarm meat is an all-too-frequent aberration.

An excellent example of perectly-cooked meat:

  • Skin and fat: It is not just the meat that has to be right – chicken skin needs to be crispy and pork crackling needs to be crunchy.

Just like this:

  • Gravy: Thin, watery rubbish that is little more than a stock cube dissolved in some water is not good enough and can spoil an otherwise excellent roast dinner. Gravy should be made in the meat tray using all the juices and even the vegetable water. It should be stirred slowly and carefully and only served when thick and meaty.

How it should be:

  • Yorkshire Puddings: An increasing staple for every roast, not just beef, there is seldom anything more disappointing than being presented with a Yorkshire pud which is basically an Aunt Bessie’s frozen one that has been warmed up. Make some batter from scratch, make a big pud and give me a hearty serving.

A lovely example on the right, a nasty example on the left:

With pubs struggling to stay afloat in these troubled times, one excellent marketing strategy would be to make a name for yourself by serving a great Sunday roast, with proper roasties, good local meat, thick gravy and homemade Yorkshire puds.

Perhaps a campaign to improve the standard of the pub roast would be in order? Get people out on a Sunday and supporting their locals. If I found a pub that served good roasties, I would certainly go there frequently.

Unless the wife did one of her specials of course.

And no, that’s not a euphemism…