TWO-TIME CONFERENCE WINNER
LOOKING back at the clubs I have played for, there have been some vast differences and contrasting fortunes.
On the positive side, Hull City have been promoted back to the Championship and Brentford are now hoping, for the second season in a row, to reach the promised land of the Premier League for the first time via the play-offs.
Northampton Town are battling to avoid relegation to League Two having only been promoted last season, while Oxford United are teetering near the dotted line at the top, trying to get into the League One play-offs.
And then there’s two clubs that may well be passing each other come the end of the National League season, Grimsby Town and Torquay United.
This week, Grimsby, my hometown club, had their relegation to the National League sealed after five years back in the Football League. To say the town is devastated is an understatement. Like so many teams in the National League, the football club is the lifeblood of the whole area.
And then to Torquay United, a team who had a ten-point lead in the National League at one point, then found themselves ten points behind at another. Now, they look like they have the bit between their teeth again.
Gary Johnson will be determined to get the club over the line. Like so many clubs around them, the importance of promotion to owners, managers, players, and fans is immense.
It’s certainly getting tense at the top with Sutton United, Hartlepool and Stockport County showing no signs of letting up. Only one space is up for grabs to go up automatically and it looks like it will go to the wire.
I have to give a special mention to Lucas Tomlinson who we at Bristol Rovers have loaned to Torquay for the run-in. Being on loan can be tough at times for a player of that age and at that stage of his career, but Lucas has trained so well for the Under 23’s and it would be a very special moment for the young man to be promoted, whether it’s as champions, or through the play-offs.
All of the top four have enjoyed fantastic seasons and the one who tops the lot will thoroughly deserve it.
Then it looks like it will be one of as many as nine clubs to go up through the play-off route – all the way down to Notts County, in tenth, as I write this.
For drama, tension, and sheer joy, the play-offs is the best way to go up!
I sit here in disbelief that we will still be wearing masks and could be seeing a relatively empty Wembley at the Promotion Final for the second season in a row.
I was on punditry duties last season for Notts County versus Harrogate and it just is not the same without the fans. What a shame for so many players and their families not to be able to cheer their loved ones on and what a nightmare for loyal fans who cannot make the famous 12th man count.
For the run-in, it’s about keeping calm, keeping the same actions each week that lead to the same performances on a Saturday. It’s all about momentum. Who has it and who can keep it?
There are some historic former Football League clubs that are fighting it out just for the right to get into the play-offs – and many will be left disappointed. The likes of Wrexham, Notts County and Chesterfield with big fan expectation and big financial outlay.
I’m sure that the managers of all of the clubs in with a chance of promotion will be hammering home the same messages, that the players can go and create some history – and they are right, they can.
Training is done on autopilot really, the games come so thick and fast it’s about staying fit and staying alert. The same routines that have worked so well during a season and then a bit of belief that it will be your year.
These lads have had to deal with no fans and a stopstart season, but they have to give it one last push, and they have to keep reminding themselves it’s a brilliant position to be in.