By Keith Brookman
A month ago today, in ‘What’s Happened to the Future?‘, we featured some of the young players at the turn of the new Millennium who didn’t quite make it through to the pro ranks.
Now we have a look at the careers of two more, Neil Arndale (‘Arnie’) and Danny Greaves (‘Greavsie’), both of whom came tantalisingly close to becoming regular first team squad members.
And as we shall see former Rovers defender Phil Bater, who was Director of Youth Football and, later, First Team Coach, features quite heavily in the careers of ‘Arnie’ and ‘Greavsie’.
Defender Neil Arndale was one of only two youngsters offered a three year scholarship in the summer of 2000, having been associated with the club from the age of eight and having been a member of the Rovers squad that won the Ian Rush Trophy in Aberystwyth in the summer of 1999. The victorious squad are pictured here and, as you can see, several of his team mates would go on to play first team football for Rovers.
The lineup for that photo is as follows;
Back (L-R): Dave Bell (Centre of Excellence Director), Simon Bryant, Jon Crowley, Drew Shore, Ryan Clarke, Gary Powell, Rob Scott, Phil Bater (Director of Youth Football).
Front: (L-R): Mark Pope, Christian Parker, James Zabek, Dave Gilroy, Lewis Hogg, Lance Spencer, Neil Arndale.
Bryant, Shore, Clarke, Gilroy, Hogg and Neil would all appear in the first team at some point, while some of the other lads are well known in local non league circles, namely Crowley, Powell, Zabek and Scott. I can’t be sure if Pope, Parker or Spencer continued to play after their release, so would welcome any information on their subsequent careers.
By the time he was offered a scholarship, Neil was already an England international, having appeared for the England U-15 side in their 1-0 win against Holland, at the Memorial Stadium, in March 2000.
That evening at the Mem is one he will never forget; ‘My international debut was a very special and unbelievable night. From a young age I was invited along to England training camps two or three times each season. That meant going away for up to five days at a time with a squad of 20/25 of the best young players from all over the country.
‘As you can imagine, there were never more than a handful of players, usually three, who were with clubs outside of the Premiership. I always felt slightly out of my depth, but it was always a great experience and I would always try to take away from them anything that I thought would aid my development as a player.
‘A few days after returning home from another of the England training camps I received a letter, from the FA, saying that I had been selected for the squad to play in the forthcoming game against Holland at the Mem. The letter was signed by the manager, Dick Bate.
‘I couldn’t believe it, and it took a while to sink in. Everyone at Rovers was thrilled for me because whilst selection was, obviously, a big thing for me, it was special for the club as well as it put Rovers in the spotlight and, especially, on the work that Phil Bater was doing with the youth team.
‘The night itself was great. Arriving at my home club to make my international debut, knowing that all my family, friends and teammates would be there to see the game was a very proud moment. Then, to play well and be on the winning side was something else. It’s definitely an evening that I will never forget.’
After that match I spoke to manager Dick Bate and this is what he had to say about Neil’s performance; ‘He did very well on his first appearance for his national team. Playing in front of his home crowd (the attendance was in excess of 5,000), meant that there was a little bit of extra pressure on him, but I thought he did exceptionally well.’
In addition to his international debut, Neil had appeared a number of times for our Youth team in the 1999/2000 campaign and went on as a substitute against Gillingham in the FA Youth Cup tie, played at the Mem, that season.
Although he had grown up supporting the Gas, our red neighbours did attempt to take him across town to join their Academy at one point. However, he stayed with Rovers because, as he says; ‘Phil Bater explained the changes he had in mind and what he planned to do for the club and myself, so I stuck with it and things worked out just as he said they would.’
It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that Bater selected him for the first U-19 fixture of the 2000/01 campaign, a game that saw Rovers register a 2-0 win against Cirencester, and he summed up his side’s performance by saying; ‘It’s always nice to start with a clean sheet and our back four of Crowley, Scott, Arndale and Chambers gave the opposition no scoring opportunities at all.’
Ryan Clarke was in goal for the U-19’s at that point, though he was also being selected for reserve team games and so Phil was looking at other goalkeepers for his youth team squad, among them Luke Buckingham, who was already playing for the U-16’s, Simon Arthur and Adam Hart, released by Southampton and Crystal Palace respectively.
Eventually, though, Phil settled on Danny Greaves for the role of U-19 goalkeeper. Initially he arrived at the club in November 2000, ‘borrowed’ from Mangotsfield United and his first game was against Cardiff City, which ended in a 3-1 win for the Gas.
A few weeks later it was reported that Danny had been taken on as a scholar, with Phil saying this about him; ‘Danny is a young lad who has come through the system, but no one has ever picked him up. He played for St Vallier until he was 16 and for the last six months or so he’s been with Mangotsfield, who have been very impressed by him.
‘Mangotsfield manager Andy Black suggested that we should go along to see him in action, and we did just that. We watched him a couple of times and invited him in for a few games. He did make a couple of mistakes when playing but, overall, he did well for us so now we are giving him the opportunity to develop. Danny is very talented though at the moment he’s a raw talent and he doesn’t yet have the right techniques. That said, he is an excellent shot stopper, good on crosses, and is very willing to learn.’
Looking back to that time, Danny recalls how he felt about being taken on as a scholar; ‘I think it meant more to me than many of the other lads as I didn’t have an Academy, or Centre of Excellence, background. I simply went from studying and playing non league football into that professional environment and loved every moment.
‘Even though I was at the club at some of the worst times in its history, which included relegation from League One and struggles at the bottom of League Two, with managers coming and going, it was still a great time and I have taken a lot from the experience I gained at that time.’
Danny would have been playing in the same side as Neil, but at that point ‘Arnie’s season had been blighted by injury, but once he returned to full fitness, the two were regulars in the U-19 side.
Speaking about ‘Arnie’ come the season’s end Phil, looking 12 months down the line, said; ‘By the end of their second year I expect scholars to be challenging for a regular place in the reserve side and Neil is no exception. There is an opportunity for someone to grab a place at right back, so it’s up to him.’
Danny replaced Neil, who was on international duty, in the U-19’s penultimate game of the season and played at right back in a 2-1 defeat at Cambridge United, though I’m not sure how well he fared as he doesn’t get a mention in the match report!
Of that experience, he says; ‘Like all keepers, I do fancy myself out on the pitch and I guess full back was the safest position for me to play as I wouldn’t embarrass myself so much back there!
‘I have painful memories of playing outfield on another occasion, though. It was in the second half of a pre-season friendly for the youth team and I had my two front teeth knocked out. I guess that taught me to think that I was a player!’
The following season began with Danny again in goal for Phil’s side, though Rovers were, initially, missing the services of the injured ‘Arnie’.
He was back for the game against Torquay United, though, on 8th September 2001 and just as Danny had taken his place in a game the previous season, he replaced Danny in goal after only 30 seconds. ‘Greavsie’ had to go off after having his two front teeth kicked out for the second time in his career! Rovers won 2-1 and Phil said this about Neil’s goalkeeping performance; ‘He did an excellent job. He’s very athletic and seemed quite happy diving about his area!’
‘Arnie’ seems to have enjoyed pulling the gloves on; ‘Yes, it’s fair to say that I enjoyed playing in goal. It must have been down to my gymnastic background. That wasn’t the only time I’ve played there, either, as there have been other occasions over the years.’
The two then featured in reserve team matches against Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers before ‘Greavsie’ was called into the first team squad and sat on the bench for the away game at Carlisle United on 6th October and the home game against Macclesfield Town a week later.
That season saw the youth team play at Golden Hill instead of Bath University and ‘Arnie’ and ‘Greavsie’ were in the side that defeated Swansea City 4-0 in the first game at that venue on 17th November 2001.
Injury prevented ‘Arnie’ from the England U-18 Training Camp in La Manga in January 2002, while ‘Greavsie’ was back on the bench for the first team for the away games at Oxford United and Gillingham (in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup); ‘The fact that I’d been on the bench before was a help,’ said Danny, adding; ‘But I was still nervous. It was good to travel with the first team again and they were all very helpful especially Scott Howie, who was talking to me and encouraging me before the games and during the warm ups.’
During his time at Rovers the senior goalkeepers were Scott Howie and Kevin Miller, though training sessions would often include Ryan Clarke and one or more of the younger shot stoppers; ‘To be fair, all the keepers I worked with were brilliant, something to do with the goalkeepers union! Scott Howie was probably the best in terms of giving his time and advice, but Kevin Miller was also a big help.’
Those two games were the first in a run of six as a first team substitute as there followed home games against Halifax Town and Hartlepool United and away fixtures at Macclesfield Town and Luton Town.
There were several more reserve team games for Danny before the season’s end, while Neil, already capped by England at U-15, U-16 and U-17 level, was selected for the U-18 standby squad for their game against Italy and although he didn’t feature in the game it meant that he was one of the top 40 players in the country for his age group.
In the final game of that season Neil was handed his first team debut by Phil Bater, who had been placed in temporary charge of the first team following the departure of Garry Thomson. That game came at Spotland, home of Rochdale, when ‘Arnie’ went on as a substitute for Rik Lopez.
This is what he had to say about his debut; ‘That was another very special occasion for me. It’s a dream come true to play professional football and, at 16, to play first team football for Rovers is something I will always remember. There were a few butterflies when we were warming up, but it was a good feeling, nonetheless. When I went on there really wasn’t any time to be nervous. It was 1-1 at the time and we were playing well.
‘I enjoyed the experience and feel I did alright. I found the pace of the game a lot different to that of youth and reserve team games, but the biggest difference, I feel, was in the speed of thought required and the higher level of concentration required.’
Ryan Clarke also made his debut in the same game, which Rovers lost 2-1, and there were appearances on the bench for more of Phil’s youth team squad, namely Rob Scott and Drew Shore, while Tony Davis also travelled with the squad.
Phil Bater returned to youth team duties at the start of the 2002/03 campaign following the appointment of Ray Graydon as manager. Both ‘Arnie’ and ‘Greavsie’ would have had hopes of challenging for a first team place and ‘Arnie’ was on the bench for the Preliminary Round Worthington Cup tie against Boston United at the Mem in August 2002 and the away game at Carlisle that followed (ironic that both Neil and Danny would travel all the way to Carlisle without getting a game during their time with the club!)
‘Arnie’ appeared regularly for the reserves, while ‘Greavsie’ had to be content with youth team football as Ryan Clarke was second choice keeper behind Scott Howie.
Neil was also on the bench for the first team’s home game against Lincoln City and made his second appearance for the side, and first under Ray Graydon, in the LDV Vans Trophy tie down at Exeter. His first league appearance of the season came in the following game, a home fixture against Leyton Orient and he was on the bench for the match against Hartlepool United. In December he was again on the bench for an away game against Cambridge United.
In the summer of 2003, following three years as a scholars, both endured (that can be the only word used to describe it!) a week’s pre-season training at the Azimghur Barracks, Colerne, as well as pounding the roads around the Frenchay area of Bristol! These photos are probably a painful reminder of that summer!
Main Photo – The stretcher run at Colerne; looks painful! Top Right – Neil’s turn on the stretcher run! Bottom Right – Just the running now. Neil hits the front while Danny is just behind the leading pack – CLICK any photo to enlarge it [All photos by Alan Marshall]
Phil Bater stepped up from the youth department to become first team coach that summer and a new first team keeper, in the shape of Kevin Miller, joined the club from Exeter City.
It was after the pre-season period, in which he made appearances in three friendly fixtures, that Danny was on the move. A work experience move took him to Clevedon Town, where he made two appearances and from there it was back to his former club, Mangotsfield United in another work experience deal.
He appeared in their opening game of the season, a 2-1 win against Bedworth United and said, at the time; ‘The football is very competitive and you have to do well. Mangotsfield are looking to gain promotion this season, so I need to make sure I’m at my best as I don’t want to let anyone down.
‘I also want to do well for myself because if I can put in some good performances for them it will benefit me on my return to Rovers and when I return I hope to be putting some pressure on Ryan Clarke in the same way that he hopes to be putting pressure on Kevin Miller.’
Whilst with Mangotsfield he still trained with Rovers and so worked closely with Miller and Clarke, as well as Phil Kite and Director of Youth Education Rod Wesson, a former keeper himself, and who had worked in the England set up.
‘Arnie’, who had been offered non contract terms by Rovers that summer, played for Clevedon Town on Saturdays whilst waiting for a first team opportunity, along with other young Rovers hopefuls Lewis Haldane, Ryan Weisberg and Shane Hobbs. All of them featured in reserve team games, though, and continued to train with Rovers during the week apart from Thursday evening training sessions with Clevedon.
Phil Bater’s elevation to first team duties saw him ensure that a number of scholars, including ‘Arnie’ and ‘Greavsie’, trained with the first team squad to aid their development.
Whilst he appeared to be close to earning a first team call up, ‘Arnie’ did say this; ‘I think I’ve had a good last couple of months. I’m fit and I’ve played well, so I’m just waiting for a chance and I hope it comes sooner, rather than later.
‘Phil Bater just keeps telling me to keep plugging away as there’s a place, but it can be difficult to motivate yourself especially when you think you are doing well and in with a chance and you keep getting knocked back.
‘I do enjoy training with the first team squad, though. They are brilliant and just playing with them gives me a lot of confidence. They often say they think I should be playing, or at least be given a chance, and that’s comforting to know.’
At Christmas / New Year he was on the bench for the club’s final game of 2003, an away game against Kidderminster Harriers and again for the first home game of 2004, a home fixture against Scunthorpe United. He was sent on in the 89th minute of that game, which turned out to be Ray Graydon’s last home game in charge.
Phil Bater took over from Graydon, as caretaker manager assisted by Tony Ricketts, and shortly afterwards there was a rare reserve team appearance for Danny as he was in the side beaten by Cardiff City’s second string in mid February, while Neil was again on first team bench warming duty at Cambridge that same month.
There were three more first team call ups for Neil in March; he started the match against Yeovil down in deepest, darkest, Somerset, went on as a substitute in the home game against Torquay United and was an unused substitute up at Boston.
That game in Lincolnshire turned out to be the last in charge for Phil Bater, who made way for joint caretaker managers Russell Osman and Kevan Broadhurst, who were keeping the seat warm for Ian Atkins.
Phil did take charge of a couple of reserve team games before the season’s end and in one of them ‘Arnie’, not really known as a prolific goalscorer, scored a hat trick in a 5-3 defeat by Oxford United, a game Danny missed through injury.
The summer of 2004 signalled the end of the road, as far as Rovers were concerned, for ‘Arnie’, ‘Greavsie’ and Phil Bater. However, they were not lost to football altogether, as we shall see.
Being told he was being released was quite a blow for Neil; ‘My time with Rovers had its ups and downs, as I’m sure other players at other clubs and at different levels will understand.
‘To be involved with the England youth setup and to make my league debut by the time I was 16 allowed me to think that things could only get better but that isn’t always the case.
‘I felt that I had a good work ethic, always gave 100% and felt that I was always improving as a player though it did become quite frustrating travelling all over the country with the squad only to find myself on the bench and knowing it was unlikely I would get the chance of any game time.
‘It’s difficult for any player who works hard and gets so close to playing and then another managerial change sets you back and that happened a more times than any of us wanted during my time with the club.
‘Eventually it was the appointment of Ian Atkins as manager which saw the end of my career with Rovers. To be told by many players, and staff, at the club prior to his appointment that I would be ok because I was young, fit and playing well didn’t prepare me for what the new manager told me.
‘He said that he couldn’t offer me another contract because he wouldn’t select me as each of his defenders was 6’ tall. He also said he was sorry but that was the way he worked.
‘I was devastated and it took me a while to come to terms with that decision. I then did what many players released by pro clubs do; went out on trial during pre-season. I spent time with three league clubs, but nothing came of it, so I went into non league football.’
One thing I hadn’t realised, even though I was working at the club at the time, was that Danny had received a verbal offer of an 18 month contract following a meeting with Ray Graydon and club secretary Rod Wesson; ‘We met in the hospitality lounge in the East Stand and the offer was made. Naturally, I was buzzing. I felt that Ray liked me as a player and he had introduced me to the first team, played me in pre-season games and selected me on the bench on a number of occasions.
‘A week or so later Ray was sacked and when Ian Atkins came in, he offered me a month to month deal, which I rejected, and that was when I joined Forest Green Rovers.’
Ironically, Danny had played against Forest Green in a pre-season friendly; ‘I was very disappointed that the offer of a contract wasn’t honoured. I’d had a taste of what it was like being a pro footballer as I sat on the bench for the first team on a number of occasions. I also played in a pre-season friendly at Forest Green Rovers, which was designated as a first team friendly.
‘I thought I was travelling for the experience, as both Kevin Miller and Ryan Clark were both in the squad, but when the team was announced, I was in the starting lineup. There was no time for nerves and I went on to keep a clean sheet as well as setting up a couple of goals with long kicks.
‘Those experiences were great, but when I was told I was being released it left a bitter taste in my mouth as perhaps, under a different manager, things could have worked out quite differently.’
‘Arnie’ enjoyed two spells with Cirencester Town and three spells with Mangotsfield United. In his second spell at Cossham Street he played under his former Rovers boss Phil Bater. In 2015 he moved to Larkhall Athletic and he remains with them assisting none other than Phil Bater!
‘I was around, and played with, a number of very experienced defenders while at Rovers. In the early days of my time at the club the likes of Andy Tillson, Steve Foster, Trevor Challis and Andy Thomson stood out and then, later on, Anwar Uddin and Adam Barrett were brilliant.
‘Having Phil Bater, one of the Rovers greats, as my youth team manager who later gave me my first team debut means he has been the most influential person on my career both on and off the pitch.
‘I’m sure a lot of the other lads he managed, including Danny, will agree that he had a huge impact on their careers. Although we didn’t see eye to eye all the time, Phil would always tell you the truth which, on occasion, was hard to take. Now, a few years on, I’m his assistant manager at Larkhall Athletic and still learning from him!’
‘Greavsie’ meanwhile, played for Frome Town, Clevedon Town, Mangotsfield United and Cirencester Town; ‘I played with a number of former Gas players when I dropped into non league football and won the Southern League title with Mangotsfield United, playing alongside James Zabek, Drew Shore and Michael Meaker. When I was at Clevedon Town we reached the first round of the FA Cup with a squad that included Billy Clark, Geraint Bater, Rob Scott and Mike Trought, with Phil Bater as manager.’
‘I stopped playing in my early thirties, as injuries crept in, so I began coaching as assistant manager at Manor Farm in the Western League. Coaching was something I always enjoyed, ever since taking some of my badges when I was a trainee with Rovers. I enjoyed my time as a number two and felt I could be successful as a number one.’
That opportunity was handed to him by Bradford Town and, in 2018 he became manager of Frome Town, who are currently in the Southern League Division One South. He recently signed a two year contract extension and says; ‘I played for a number of years at this level and Frome have a lot of potential. They are an ambitious club looking to progress and, hopefully, I can help them and play a part along the way.’
Tell him that not too many goalkeepers become managers and he soon shoots down that old cliché!; ‘It’s true to a certain extent, but locally we have Ray Johnston, another former Gas keeper, in charge at Hallen and Richard Fey is another well known local goalkeeper who has managed at Bridgwater Town, Paulton Rovers and Melksham Town.’
Will he manage at a higher level eventually? ‘I certainly have ambitions to progress as high as I can, the same as I did as a player.’
The two former team mates now find themselves in different dugouts when their sides meet. Larkhall Athletic, like Frome Town, play in the Southern League Division One South. When the 2019/20 season came to a premature end, Frome were in second place and Larkhall third, so both must be doing something right, though ‘Arnie’ isn’t sure if he will go on to be a manager in his own right; ‘It’s possible I might follow Danny into management eventually, as I feel I have many of the right attributes needed, but Phil and I have worked very hard to get where we are with Larkhall.
‘Building a strong squad with fairly limited resources has been challenging, but we have just achieved the club’s best finish on record.’
‘Greavsie’ says this about being in opposing dugouts to his former colleagues; ‘Phil Bater was brilliant, and I have so much time for him. Not just on the football side, but also on a personal level. He was always there for me and for all of the other lads. He wanted nothing more than for the younger players to progress. His record speaks for itself when you look at those who progressed from his youth teams through to the first team.
‘Nowadays it’s always interesting standing in a dugout next to Phil and ‘Arnie’ when we play Larkhall. Naturally, emotions take over during the game and sometimes you have to hold back when you look over and see Phil; you have to pay the man ultimate respect!’
Both combine their part time football careers with full time employment and with young families to care for.
Neil is in the motor trade and is married to Kirsty, with two young daughters, seven year old Ruby and four year old Maya; ‘I’ve worked with Staple Hill Motor Company for 15 years now and, over the years, my boss has been great with the fact that I’m involved in football. It helps that he used to play and loves the game and would often come to watch myself and Danny when we both played for Mangotsfield.
‘Kirsty, my wife, has always been great about my football involvement and the amount of time it takes up. That’s even more true since our daughters have come along. However, she still supports me and without that I don’t think I could have carried on doing what I do and it’s great that, when they can, they all come to watch our games.’
Danny works for a cruise ship retail concessionaire, Harding Retail; ‘The office is based in Avonmouth where I am the Head of Merchandising and responsible for the £30m stock holding across 60+ ships. It’s fairly stressful, but good fun, and I have a great team.
‘At home I have twin boys, who are eight years old and full of energy! Managing in non league takes a lot of time and commitment, with training during the evening’s, scouting, and travelling for Saturday and midweek games.
‘Balancing everything is a challenge, but one I love!’
Both ‘Arnie’ and ‘Greavsie’ were unfortunate to be with the club in what were particularly unsuccessful times. Perhaps, in other years, with different managers, they might have become first team regulars, who knows. Would things have worked out differently if Phil Bater been handed the manager’s job on a permanent basis?
Of course, we can’t say, but both can look back on their careers with pride, knowing they gave it their best shot.
It’s good to know that both are still involved in the game and enjoying their time with their respective clubs. They are still young men, with a wealth of local football knowledge behind them, so who knows what the future holds.
Good to know, also, that Phil remains involved in the game and to learn of the immense respect he is still held by those who have come into contact with, and played for, him.
Neil, Danny and Phil Bater. Thanks for the memories lads and best of fortune in your future endeavours. UTG.