Opposition Preview Interview (for want of a catchier title) Number 4 is here and sees TT catch up with Paul Halford (@ttowel) on Monday’s opponents Gloucester City:
Hi there, thanks for chatting to TT – before we talk about the team tell us a bit about yourself and how long have you followed ‘The Tigers’?
My parents started taking me to watch City when I was small, but the first match I properly remember was a 1987 pre-season 6-0 walloping from the Arsenal first team. We were much better against teams at our own level and by the time City won the Southern League Midland Division title in 1989 I was hooked. It would be fair to say we’ve had more downs than ups since then, but have had a lot of good times over the years. Many of those highlights came in the 1996-97 season when we narrowly missed out on promotion to the Conference proper and a Wembley final, losing an FA Trophy semi-final replay to Dagenham. The manager of that side was Leroy Rosenior, who went on to manage Torquay. I still try and get to as many games home and away as I can manage, although I’ve lived in London for the past 20 years.
After a mid-table finish in 2017-18, what are your hopes and expectations for the team this season?
The pressures of our club’s homelessness and financial situation sadly curb any wild optimism. We’ve been punching well above our circumstances in staying at this level for the past decade and maintaining our NLS status may be a dull but still ambitious target. We saw a lot of good players leave over the summer but we still have a good crop of young players and players hungry to prove themselves. If they fight as they need to we’ll be OK and hopefully surprise a few more people again this season.
How has your start to the season been and are you feeling confident going into the game on Monday?
We’re pretty much where we expected to be five games in – we’ve won two home games against the type of teams we most needed to beat but haven’t really shone yet with goals seeming tough to come by. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly confident about the match on Monday. I’d certainly take a point offered ahead of kick off, but if Torquay don’t perform we have players who can take advantage.
Which Tigers players should we be looking out for on Monday afternoon and why?
Our main goal threat is Joe Parker, a fleet footed graduate of our youth team who spent a season away as a professional with Newport County before returning home to us. He improved his composure in front of goal last season and finished with 15 goals. Joe Hanks pulls the strings in midfield and is a gifted ball player who should probably be playing at a higher level. He had several loan spells with City before breaking into League football with Cheltenham Town – re-joining us after the Bobbins surprising decision to release him in 2016.
We also have a promising youngster in 17 year-old Noah Smerdon who made the step up from the youth team to join our first team squad at the end of last season. Noah’s featured for England schoolboys and is composed on the ball, and although a central midfielder at youth level he looked like he may have found a home in the side with a tidy performance at left-back in our last home match.
Have you got the right man in charge and what sort of tactics does he employ?
Marc Richards is hugely respected as a coach and our supporters have great faith in his ability to get the best out of our players and improve them over the campaign. He’s got a strong bond with the club having played more than 150 games at centre-back for us in two spells, including the play-off win that took us up to Conference North in 2009. He re-joined the club in 2014 as player-coach and assistant manager, stepping up as manager last December after the resignation of Tim Harris.
Rico did a good job in steadying the ship and taking us to mid-table last season. We have to be pragmatic about our approach to games and have already changed formation and tactics a few times this season trying to find a winning formula, but Rico’s teams always try to play passing football.
Who owns the club and do they have ambitions to take the club higher up the ladder?
Our fans are sick of being reminded of the great ‘potential’ of the club when harsh reality is the club has been struggling for mere survival for far too long. The club is owned by local businessman Eamonn McGurk. His stewardship has been controversial, especially given the added pressure of more than a decade playing outside of our home city. Plenty of supporters and sponsors have drifted away over the years in the belief the club lacks ambition and is being slowly ran down. Communication has sometimes been poor with players and fans unclear about the club’s prospects and plans, with the club structure creaking under the pressure placed on just a few individuals left trying to keep it going.
However the owner’s money has unarguably helped keep the club afloat and will certainly be crucial to our hopes of building our new ground. Some of the conspiracy theories and criticism may prove to be unfair and much will quickly be forgotten if the club is back playing in Gloucester at National League level. Recent announcements of a few new arrivals on the board have given some reason for cautious hope. The club certainly has the ‘potential’ to really take off, but the return to the city will be an opportunity that will need energy and strategy to be fully realised.
Your old ground at Meadow Park was flooded in 2007 and had to be abandoned, tell us briefly happened in the last 11 years in regards to ground-sharing and the development of a new ground?
This is a long and painful saga, an abbreviated version can hardly do all of it justice. We’re now in our fourth groundshare of a nomadic purgatory that has extended beyond a decade and beyond many people’s endurance. Having pitched our tent at Forest Green, Cirencester and Cheltenham we’ve now even moved out of our home county to fetch up at Evesham.
Frustratingly many years have been wasted exploring other possible sites for a new ground in the city, obstacles in obtaining planning permission and meeting an expanding list of concerns raised by the Environment Agency. However, years later, we do now having planning permission and seem to finally be making substantive steps to return to a new stadium on the site of our old Meadow Park ground.
Work has been done to demolish the old ground and substantially raise the ground level well beyond that of the nearby River Severn’s 2007 record breaking flood height. In the past few weeks progress has been made shifting utilities, electrics and removing a mobile phone mast that is on the footprint of the planned new pitch. Hopefully building work will actually start soon and the club is still hoping to return to Meadow Park at some point next season.
Our fan base is largely exhausted and emotionally drained from the whole saga; we just want to go home. If everyone who has promised to go to our matches when we return to Gloucester actually turns up we’re going to need to build something with the capacity of Wembley. The fact we’ve won a promotion and then survived so long at that higher level during this ordeal is an incredible achievement, one that is a huge credit to a small group of people – largely volunteers and supporters – who have worked thanklessly to make it possible.
Let’s talk about your current home ‘Jubilee Stadium’ in Evesham; what’s the venue like for supporters and what sort of attendances do you expect to get this season?
To be honest the Jubilee Stadium isn’t great. The ground is very open on two sides, there’s virtually no effective shelter if it rains and it’s hard to generate much of an atmosphere. None of this helps encourage people to travel up from Gloucester and our support is down to a real hard-core with our average attendance likely to be around 300 this season – the bank holiday visit of Torquay will probably bring our highest gate at Evesham to date.
That said, we can’t complain. Evesham United have been friendly and welcoming of our club and allowed us to make improvements to bring the ground up to the minimum required by the National League. We’re grateful to be playing here and to be overly critical is churlish of us in the circumstances.
The Yellow Army will be there in good numbers to support the team as usual, which pubs near the ground are the best options for pre-match refreshments?
Not sure we’re the best people to ask really, given the distance to the ground and lack of convenient public transport virtually all of our fans drive up so don’t get to the local pubs too much. That said, Evesham is an attractive market town popular with tourists and worth a trip even if you do need to share a taxi to get back to the ground. The Evesham United club bar is good, but failing that there’s a Wacky Warehouse a few minutes walk down the ring road from the ground!
Sounds like fun!! And finally, it has been frustrating start to our season in many respects – what are your thoughts on TUFC entering the NLS and give us a match prediction?
No doubt that the arrival of Torquay – and to some extent Woking, Billericay and Dulwich – have made the NLS a more competitive and perhaps even more glamorous division than it was last season. However we spent eight seasons in the Northern division where nearly half the sides were fully professional and included the likes of Stockport County, Darlington and Halifax so we may be a bit less star struck than a lot of other clubs in NLS!
Although it was in theory a level move for City to the South last season for most of us fans it felt like a relegation. As this campaign unwinds I’d expect Torquay to stabilise and challenge in the top three but Stockport County’s experiences have proven you can’t just turn up and presume clubs with a League past will bounce straight back from this level. Although the club names may not be so well known there are plenty of good players and well financed teams in NLS so I think while Torquay will be in the promotion mix the title will be a close ran thing this season. And as for this match, I’ll go for a slightly optimistic prediction of a 1-1 draw.
I hope that new ground finally gets built Paul, sounds like a turbulent number of years for the club. As for Monday’s match, after our dreadful performance V Hampton…I’ll predict a 1-1 draw as well! Dom