Outside the Premier League, the next six divisions in English football were won last season by teams beginning with B (Bournemouth, Bristol City, Burton Albion,Barnet, Barrow and Bromley).
In the first of the play offs, the sequence was continued by Bristol Rovers regaining their Football League status. It leaves two teams in the Vanarama National League, as it will be known – Gateshead and Grimsby – beginning with the letter G, but there will be enough managers called Gary to make up a five a side team.
Two will reflect on very different seasons. Gary Hill’s Woking mixed it with the play off hopefuls but didn’t quite make the top five, while at Kidderminster, Gary Whild’s squad was gradually depleted by Harriers’ tightening finances, with the word now that the budget will be reduced again for next season.
The other three, however, are all in new jobs. Gary Brabin has gone to Tranmere from the Everton youth set-up, Gary Mills has swapped Gateshead for Wrexham, and Gary Johnson has decided not walk away from Cheltenham after his seven game stint where he tried to keep the Robins in the Football League.
Johnson certainly hasn’t hung about in making changes, and one wonders how useful the un-successful rescue act in League 2 might be in the long run. He was able to assess the squad and work out that the rebuild needed was extensive. With only five players from the 2013-14 squad certain of their future when pre-season training gets underway, Johnson is almost starting from scratch.
What is already clear is that he’s adopting a common sense approach. Cheltenham have a parachute payment from the Football League for one season, so 12 month contracts are on the table. Johnson has traditionally done his transfer business early and late during the closed seasons, putting the building blocks down in May and extending around them later as the contracts of players who have been released run out. A player without a salary is in a weaker negotiating position.
Down the road at Gloucester Rugby, half a squad was recruited last summer, and it took them half a season to get their act together. Gary Johnson’s ability to mould a team more quickly hinges on his recruitment, and so far two of his three signings certainly know their way round the block.
Aaron Downes is a no-nonsense defender who has played over 300 senior games, mainly at Chesterfield and Torquay, who dropped out of League 2 in 2014. I’ve interviewed him when he was at Torquay and he speaks as he plays, in a forthright fashion. I fancy Cheltenham fans will draw comparisons with Mark Freeman from their last spell at this level.
Unlike Downes, Kyle Storer’s cv does not include any games in the Football League, but four seasons in the Conference with Kidderminster and Wrexham suggests a player comfortable in his surroundings. He was also captain at Aggborough, and repeatedly last season a lack of leadership on the field was seen as one of Cheltenham’s biggest problems. Whether Storer is captain or not, that experience will be useful.
The third acquisition so far is another midfielder. Jack Munns has the build of Sam Deering and the pedigree (and build) of David Hutton, another ex Tottenham youngster who was signed by Martin Allen, and released a year later by Mark Yates. Like Hutton when he arrived, Munns has played no senior football, only games in development sides at Leyton Orient, Spurs and latterly Charlton Athletic. He was nearly signed by Paul Buckle in January. His arrival now adds another player in an area where the futures of Jordan Wynter and Asa Hall will only become clear when they report back for training.
Many clubs offer incentives for supporters who renew season tickets early. It’s an easy sell after a promotion or a decent season but not so straight forward after a relegation. Fans want to see what is happening with the squad before they commit. Cheltenham made an early call with the appointment of Gary Johnson and it seems when potential signings have picked up the ‘phone and found Gary on the other end of the line they have liked what he has had to say.
I would expect Johnson to secure two or three more players before the end of the month, and then sit and be patient. Player movement at Whaddon Road in June is more likely to be out, and with the % of his budget still available clearer by that stage he can see what he still needs. What we do know is there will be a lot of new names and faces for fans to get used to. Those same supporters said the 2014-15 squad had no connection with them or the club. The new group may have little connection either at the outset,
but the crowd will soon warm to them if their attitude is right.
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