Back in 1998, I wrote a piece about Gloucestershire’s image to the wider world as a sporting backwater. My argument was that that image was wrong, as in that calendar year four teams from the county at various levels in different sports had reached finals, and a Gloucestershire horse also won the Grand National.
In the intervening years, the growth of equine sports in the county has been huge. We still have the best racecourse in the country, with the flagship Festival meeting now bigger than ever, and in Charlotte DuJardin and Laura Tomlinson Gloucestershire can also boast two of the best dressage riders in the world. A one trick pony then. Actually no, and just occasionally events come together to illustrate a depth and breadth that may be lost to those in the large urban conurbations.
Over the last two Olympic Games, rowing has been a major source of Gloucestershire success. Zac Purchase and Peter Reed both took gold in Beijing, a feat Reed repeated in London, when Purchase won silver. Alex Gregory, a reserve in 2008, joined Reed in the Men’s Four in London. The likelihood is that’s where they will be in Rio next year, but in the meanwhile both have been switched by the squad’s veteran coach Jurgen Grobler to the Men’s Eight, where a third Gloucestershire oarsman, Matt Gotrel, is also in the crew.
Last weekend in Aiguebelette in France, the trio won a third successive world title as the British boat held off a strong challenge from Germany to take the gold medal.
Naval officer Reed is known for having the biggest lung capacity in the squad, and Gregory has frequently spoken about their punishing and relentless training, yet two more grounded athletes it would be hard to find. Gotrel has put Chipping Campden firmly on the map too, and the 2016 Olympics could well see these well decorated men add further medals to their collection.
On the same day as their latest success, an Australian who Gloucestershire cricket fans have taken to their hearts produced a match winning performance to take the team to a Lord’s final for the first time since 2004. Michael Klinger is now being spoken about in the same breath as another Michael (Procter) such is his influence, and it is a status which resounded large and loud in front of a big crowd at Headingley.
Klinger, completing his third season with Gloucestershire and having signed a new two year contract, flew home to prepare for the domestic season down under after Gloucestershire’s quarter final win in the Royal London Cup against Hampshire. He had made a critical contribution with 87, and discussions were to be had over potentially flying back for the semi final.
After five days with his family, Klinger got on a plane for the return flight, and promptly made a match winning 137 not out as Gloucestershire knocked out the Division 1 champions elect to reach the final against Surrey later this month. It was Klinger sixteenth century for the county and his eighth in all cricket this summer, despite missing the first month of the season. Just like the rowers, Klinger is an unfussy professional sportsman but one without the international recognition that his batting surely deserves. The by-product of his latest stay at the crease is also a fitting match to end the career of retiree Geraint Jones.
Back in 1998, Earth Summit’s win in the Grand National came on the same day Cheltenham Town reached Wembley in the FA Trophy by getting past Dover Athletic in the semi final. Next Saturday, the teams meet again in the National League, the Kent side having knocked Cheltenham out of the FA Cup last season when the Robins were in League 2.
Their relegation means that for the first time in 16 seasons, Gloucestershire does not have a Football League club with Cheltenham and Forest Green Rovers in the same division, and it is the Nailsworth club that are making the headlines after a record breaking start.
Rovers lost in the play off semi finals last season against the eventually promoted Bristol Rovers, but their response has been a perfect record over the first eight matches of the new season, eight successive wins – the latest away at Chester – giving them a healthy lead at the top of the National League table.
Manager Ady Pennock, a steady defender at Bournemouth and Gillingham in his playing career, has tinkered with his Forest Green squad over the summer but also recruited a new assistant in former Welling boss Jamie Day, and together they look to have banished any thoughts there might have been of a hangover from last season. With talk of a new stadium as part of an Eco-park and Southport at home next, 27 points from 27 is a real possibility.
Gloucestershire’ sporting c.v. wouldn’t be complete without rugby, and just for good measure the World Cup comes to Kingsholm later this month. While Jonny May and Ben Morgan represent England, and Greig Laidlaw captains Scotland, Gloucester host four matches, starting with Tonga against Georgia on the day Gloucestershire’s cricketers are at Lord’s. Can the county really be called a sporting backwater ? I don’t think so
Photograph : Copyright www.nationalhickman.co.uk