By Keith Brookman
Following on from our look back at June 2004, we now look at July and see what was happening in BS7 16 years ago this month.
On the first day of July it was reported that Rovers were likely to be without the services of defender Aaron Lescott for the start of the new season. Having impressed during the final eight games of the previous season, when on loan from Stockport County, it had been hoped that he would sign a permanent deal for the 2003/04 campaign.
Assistant manager Kevan Broadhurst said this about the situation; ‘Aaron has probably missed the boat here now. He had the chance to come here but delayed a decision and meanwhile we had to get people in. He isn’t out of the equation completely, but it now looks unlikely he will be joining us for next season.’
Meanwhile Jamie Forrester, who had won promotion with Hull City the previous season, said he was hoping to be involved in another this time around; ‘I can see similarities with the way things were this time last year at Hull and I think we should be thinking about getting ourselves in the top three, or at least the top seven.
‘There is competition for places here and nothing is guaranteed, but hopefully in August I can get the nod and start putting the goals away. But it’s such a strong squad that, to be honest, I’ll be happy just to get a game. There are a lot of good players here and from talking to the rest of the lads, you can tell that everyone is confident.’
On this day also, it was reported that former Rovers defender Lee Maddison had been admitted to hospital in Newcastle after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Syndrome, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. At the time of the diagnosis Maddison was on the books of Scottish club Gretna.
Meanwhile midfielder Dave Savage, who had played under Ian Atkins at Northampton and Oxford, admitted that it was going to be a battle to make the starting XI once the season began; ‘The manager has brought in proven players who have done it at this level or higher, so there is going to be a lot of competition for places.
‘Some people may see that as a threat, but I think that if you are going to have a chance of winning promotion then you need players on the bench who don’t think they should be there. The chances are that when we start the season there are going to be players on the bench who think they should be starting.’
Rovers spent the second week of their pre-season training at the Azimghur Army Barracks at Colerne, and Savage said; ‘This is one of the hardest pre-seasons I’ve been through but people have already been feeling the benefits.’
Defender Christian Edwards, like Savage, was also impressed with the strength in depth of the squad being assembled by the manager; ‘Maybe last season the squad did lack a bit of depth and there were times midway through when players like myself weren’t doing so well, but there wasn’t really a challenge for your place.
‘This time if you are not playing to the level the manager requires, then there will be people there to replace you.’
Rovers announced the appointment of a new director, Midlands based businessman Mike Turl, which took the number of board members at the cub to ten. On his appointment the new man said; ‘I’ve supported Rovers all my life and used to watch games at Eastville from the North Enclosure. I am still a member of the Supporters Club and travel to home and away games from the Midlands.’
New defender Steve Elliott, who had been on the bench for Derby County when Rovers were 3-1 winners in an FA Cup tie at Pride Park in January 2002, was looking forward to his first season playing for the Gas; ‘I was at Blackpool last season, but the prospect of dropping down a division doesn’t bother me because I only expect to be playing there for a year, to be honest. I’ve signed a three year deal here and I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think we were going places.’
Ian Atkins was poised to add to his strikeforce and was closing in on a deal for former Aston Villa and Blackpool marksman Richard Walker who had already been training with the squad.
The manager also added another defender to his squad and was delighted at landing Millwall full back Robbie Ryan to his list of new signings. Ryan’s last game for the Lions had been in the FA Cup Final, against Manchester United, when he marked Cristian Ronaldo. Atkins said of him; ‘Robbie will become a cult figure here because of the way he plays. He’s very combative, he’s got a fantastic left foot, nothing gets past him and he’s got tremendous enthusiasm.’
The manager, who had made ten new signings and released 11 players, also told Lee Hodges, Sonny Parker, Ryan Williams and Ijah Anderson that they were free to leave if they could find new clubs.
Over in China, Tony Ricketts was in charge of a Bristol Rovers Development Squad that finished third in the Guangzhou Sister Cities Tournament. Guangzhou, the third largest City in China, entered into its twelfth Sister City relationship with Bristol in 2001 [It now has over 30 of them!].
Rovers won a penalty shootout 4-3, after a 2-2 draw, against New Zealand side Three Kings United in the third place play off match. Tyrone Topper and Darren Mullings scored for the Gas.
On 14th July Rovers held their Annual Golf Day at the Kendleshire Golf Club and, as you can see, one or two of the new signings were keen to make their mark on the golf course!
Back to Ian Atkins, and the Rovers manager said that he was aiming for an automatic promotion spot when the new season began; ‘We have a three year plan in place and it’s up to us to get it right on the pitch. We’ll need a gelling period but, with the players and ability we have, we should be able to compete with anyone.
‘I set targets for myself, and targets for the players, but realistic ones. If we meet them then we should be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. I’d like to be in the top three.’
Rovers played their first pre-season match on Friday 16th July when they took on Bath City at Twerton Park. Two days later they were due to head off to the Isle of Man to take part in the week long tournament that involved Port Vale, Wrexham, Rushden & Diamonds, Carlisle United and a team from the Island.
Atkins made it quite clear, though, that he wasn’t in favour of the trip; ‘If it was up to me, we wouldn’t be going, but it’s something I’ve inherited and supporters have already made bookings. It won’t be on the agenda next year, but we will make the most of it.’
The game against Bath City was goalless and will be featured in another article looking pre-season games played in 2004 which will be posted shortly, as will the games played in the Isle of Man, which saw Rovers beat Port Vale and Wrexham and lose to Rushden & Diamonds.
Two days after their return from the tournament, Rovers were in action again, against Queens Park Rangers at the Memorial Stadium. The game was a testimonial for Jamie Shore and almost 6,000 fans saw QPRs win 2-0.
The day after that game Atkins revealed that Richard Walker had signed a one year deal with an extension for a further year possible, depending on appearances. The manager also confirmed he would be offering a short term contract to defender Jon Beswetherick and would continue to monitor the progress of triallists Liam Burns (ex Port Vale) and Simon Ford (ex Grimsby).
Two days later Rovers were in action again and played out a 1-1 draw against Moor Green, a game in which the club fielded five triallists.
The final pre-season game of the month, against Swindon Town at the Mem, also ended in a draw (2-2) and the final day of the month saw the club host their annual open day and Supporters Club Director Jane Brown said, beforehand, that she hoped the day would be well supported; ‘You only have to look at the thousands that turned out for the QPR match on Tuesday to see the fans are in the mood to go again.
‘I sense more optimism this time than in previous years and there’s a really positive feel about the place again.’
Rovers were due to launch their new sky blue and navy away kit at the open day, while Ian Atkins and his players would be on hand to chat to supporters and sign autographs.
In our next article we will take a look at all of the pre-season games played by the club in the summer of 2004.