By Keith Brookman
If you thought that not too much happens at a football club in the month of June, quite a lot of wheeling and dealing goes on behind the scenes while most players are away on holiday at the end of a long season.
In this article we head back some sixteen years, to June 2004 when Ian Atkins was preparing for his first season in charge and there was news of an incoming transfer on the first day of the month.
Craig Hinton, the 26 year old Kidderminster Harriers defender was the player and he signed a two year deal with Rovers and it seemed likely that he would team up with his former Birmingham City youth coach Kevan Broadhurst, who was on the verge of being appointed assistant manager to Atkins.
‘Craig is a very solid defender,’ said Broadhurst, before adding ‘he is quick, and he has a very good footballing brain. We are delighted to have him. He can play in a number of positions in the back line, from centre back to full back and also wing back.’
Hinton, the club’s third summer signing after Ali Gibb and James Hunt had agreed to move to BS7 in permanent deals, spoke of being excited about joining Rovers; ‘The manager has already made it clear he wants us to go for it next season. I know that Rovers are a club with a big fan base and that supporters will be expecting at least a play off place next season.
‘The chance to come to a club who are expected to be up there is exciting. Ian Atkins told me that he wants to take the club forward and that we will be going for it and now it’s going to be up to the players.’
Atkins, meanwhile, revealed that he had been thwarted in his attempts to sign some players because their families didn’t want to uproot and move to the area; ‘There have been three or four players already who have liked the club and have been offered more money than they might be getting elsewhere but they won’t come because their families want to stay put. But I don’t feel we have lost out because I only want players who really want to be here.’
It was reported that Atkins was hoping to persuade defender Adam Barrett to sign a new deal and that progress was also being made on a new deal for defender Kevin Austin. There was a question mark, though, over the future of striker Paul Tait, who was being linked with a move to Rochdale.
Speaking about Barrett and Austin, manager Atkins said; ‘I think I can help Adam to become a better player. I don’t think he’s ever been coached properly and he’s still young enough to improve. He already has a winning mentality, and that’s crucial.
‘In Kevin’s case, I think he’s been unlucky with injuries and Rovers have not seen the best of him.’
There was also talk of Rovers signing Kilmarnock midfielder Martin Hardie and the manager admitted that talks had been held with the player; ‘Martin is one of a number of players who came down to talk to us because we are trying to line up options in just about every position.
‘He’s a big, strong lad but he had quite a bad thigh injury towards the end of last season and would need to have a thorough medical first if he was going to join us, and that would be before we got anywhere near talking terms.’
In addition to signings on the pitch, there were likely to be additions to the Boardroom as Chairman Geoff Dunford revealed that the club were hoping to recruit two new directors. Dunford said; ‘It’s time for more local businessmen to come forward and share in what I believe will be an exciting next three years for the club.
‘These are very exciting times for the club, and we want more local people to become involved and to help us bring success to our supporters.’
The club released details of their pre-season schedule, which would take in a trip to the Isle of Man for the annual Steam Packet Tournament, and a home game against Queens Park Rangers which was to be Jamie Shore’s testimonial game.
In a surprise move Adam Barrett didn’t sign a new contract with Rovers but opted to join Southend United. Ian Atkins didn’t seem too bothered by the defender’s switch, though; ‘Adam had agreed a basic wage with us and there was just the small part of agreeing the bonus part of it.
‘As far as I’m concerned it’s not the be all and end all because you only want players who want to play for your club.’
Rather diplomatically Barrett, who had been a hugely popular player during his two years at the Mem, said; ‘I watched Southend as a kid and I’m delighted to have signed. I have strong links with them and the opportunity to play for my local club was too good to turn down.’
Two more players, Jamie Forrester and Liam Burns were being linked with a move to the Memorial Stadium, while it was looking increasingly likely that Kevin Austin would be signing for Swansea City whose manager, Kenny Jackett, was hoping to speak with him on his return from holiday.
Burns, a 25 year old Belfast born central defender had been on Port Vale’s books for nine years and said he would be interested in a move to Rovers; ‘I am ready for a new challenge and Bristol Rovers strikes me as being an ambitious club with an ambitious manager. It certainly appeals to me to go there.’
As Kevin Austin departed for Swansea, Burns wasn’t the only one being lined up to join the ‘Atkins revolution’. Forrester we’ve already mentioned, but there was, allegedly, Rovers interest in Mansfield’s Craig Disley, Grimsby’s Stuart Campbell and defender Steve Elliott from Blackpool.
Paul Tait eventually left the Gas and, as expected, signed for Rochdale, while Rovers eventually succeeded in signing Campbell and Elliott and were close to securing the signature of Disley.
Of Campbell, his new manager said; ‘Stuart has so much ability it’s frightening. He has played Premiership football with Leicester and, like a lot of youngsters at that level, had his path blocked by all the players coming in.
‘He was good enough to go to Grimsby for £250,000 three years ago and he turned down Burnley to come and join us. Not only is he a good player, he’s a terrific lad and will be excellent around the training ground.’
Campbell said; ‘I spoke to a few clubs but as soon as I spoke to the manager here and saw how enthusiastic and positive, he was, my mind was made up.’
Atkins and his players began pre-season training on 28th of the month.
On that day assistant manager Kevan Broadhurst, who had jointly managed the side with Russell Osman at the end of the previous season, said; ‘I am really looking forward to it and It will be fascinating to see how good the players are and how well they settle in and blend with each other.
‘Even though we had to make sure we got the points last time out, I sensed as soon as I arrived that we weren’t going to go down, provided we got a couple of decent players in to help bail us out, which we did. Now we have brought in several more over the close season and the beauty is with each of them is that we know their strengths and qualities inside out.’
While the aforementioned Campbell and Elliott had arrived in time for the start of pre-season training, Disley, Forrester and Paul Trollope signed on the day pre-season began.
Of Disley, Kevan Broadhurst said; ‘Craig is a fine box to box player who can break well from deep.’ Forrester, he said; ‘is a great acquisition and got a lot of goals for us when we were together at Northampton.’
Trollope was another who had played under Broadhurst at Northampton and the assistant manager said of him; ‘he is a good passer of the ball; he can score goals from midfield and he is a model professional with good experience.’
At the end of the month Chairman Geoff Dunford was quoted as saying this; ‘As directors we have to follow the recommendations that managers put to us and I think now, with Ian Atkins, we have a man who is spending the money wisely and putting a lot of hard work and analysis into building the team that he wants to put together.
‘In fact, I think Ian has probably spent more of other people’s wage budgets than he has his own, as a lot of players have been given better deals by their clubs once we have shown an interest in them!
‘I am very pleased with what has been happening at the football club since Ian and Kevan Broadhurst arrived. Having had a very difficult journey in recent times, I think we can now see light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m certainly hoping to see the club go forward at a very progressive rate.’
Atkins and Broadhurst hadn’t quite finished reshaping the squad as the month ended, but for the record, the departures and arrivals were as follows.
Leaving the club were; Neil Arndale, Kevin Austin, Adam Barrett, Danny Boxall, Simon Bryant, Wayne Carlisle, Danny Greaves, Shane Hobbs, Graham Hyde, Rob Quinn, Paul Tait and Anwar Uddin.
Newcomers up to that point were; James Hunt, Craig Hinton, Steve Elliott, Stuart Campbell, Craig Disley, Jamie Forrester and Paul Trollope. Ali Gibb and John Anderson, who had played for Rovers at the end of the previous season, had also signed deals to keep them in BS7.
There was also an addition to the backroom staff with the appointment of Paul Molesworth as chief scout. He had previously worked with Atkins at Oxford and Northampton and had brokered some of the deals completed by Atkins that summer.