These programme notes were written by Associate Director Stephen Browne for the Cheltenham Town edition of This Is Our Town.
A very good afternoon to everyone.
A warm welcome to the travelling fans who are sure to give excellent support to Gary Johnson, his staff, and their players. The Robins are not having the best of runs at the moment but they are in a mid-table position so are not flirting with any danger.
Of course they will want to cement their League Two place for next season as soon as they possibly can, so yet again at Kenilworth Road we will witness a tough encounter where we can take absolutely nothing for granted. Let's not forget that after our goalkeeping crisis last season, Cheltenham got two early goals and went on to collect all three points! The Robins are a cracking club that will take advantage of any mistakes we make, so it's all to play for.
We are approaching the last quarter of the season and over the coming weeks the fog will lift from the league tables and we will start to see which teams are jockeying for what positions. This is the time for well-placed teams to make runs for either auto or play-off spots. These are the weeks when the months of hard work start to pay off for some, and break the hearts of others.
As I wander amongst Hatters I hear hushed talk of promotion, whispers of League One, widened eyes at the prospect of finishing the season as Champions... we are indeed in exciting times. But we are Hatters, we've seen it all before, so of course, there is not only anticipation, but naturally worry too. Let's remember, there are countless other fans at other clubs who are worried too. The achievements of the team so far, and the position they have gotten to, have put us in the very best position we could have imagined back in August. From here the pressure is on others to catch us and so our focus must be to keep doing what we are doing.
Some teams will challenge us right to the last game, and there are no 'gimmes' in this league. We have tough teams to face, all fighting for points for themselves. Teams like Accrington Stanley have very hard run-ins on paper, playing most of the top teams, so if they do finish above us, they will thoroughly deserve to do so! Also, many of our challengers have to play each other, so our lads have put us in a fantastic position, and we can just concentrate on ourselves.
We could bathe in the glory that has been achieved so far, but we all know we've not achieved anything yet, and it would be silly in February anyway. We are not arrogant and we are all still focussed on just one thing – promotion. Anything more than that is a bonus for us to enjoy should the time come.
Objective No.1 is to finish above fourth, and only once that is achieved, we will then do our best to finish as high as we can. The last time I wrote in these pages we were 11 points ahead of fourth with 66 points available (22 games). Today, with most teams around us equal on 33 games played, we start effectively nine points ahead with just 39 points available. We are not there yet, but we are closing in....
Like you, I am thoroughly enjoying the season and all the positive things going on at the Club at the moment. I am very lucky in that I get to see and feel the amazing enthusiasm behind the scenes, and the vibrant culture that we now have. Monday will mark the tenth anniversary of LTFC2020's foundation, and if we achieve our ambition at the end of this season, we will finally be in a higher league position than when we took over formal custodianship of the club on 1 August 2008 (and for those that remember, a lot of 'tbc's' on the official programme teamsheet!).
The 'Conference Years' were not what I would call enjoyable and everyone at the Club – players, staff, and management – was under huge pressure week-in, weekout to deliver results and win that league. Under such pressure and with so much at stake, it was always hard to gain any satisfaction out of any points we earned and instead we yearned for season(s) to be over so we would know our fate and if we had regained League status. I, personally, would wish away a game just to get to the result and move on to the next week, impatient for our final position to be decided.
Now, it's very different. We are in one of the most competitive leagues in the world and we are trying to do things the right way, so it's not that there's any less pressure. But what we do have is football back in our lives! Now, I savour every minute of the 90. We are never out of a game even if we go down to ten men or lose a key player early on to injury. Going a goal behind does not breed further mistakes.
Now, the 90 minutes is full of twists and turns, ooos and ahhs. You always feel there is another gear or a piece of magic just seconds away. It is just fantastic to be engaged with football again rather than next week's cashflow, this week's attendance, or whether Wrexham got a last minute winner. Our future really is in our hands and from the stands we are a vital part of it.
And talking of fast, exciting, engaging football, Mick was at the Club Shop in The Mall on Thursday (pictured) reminiscing about our Littlewoods Cup win, accompanied by the Carabao Cup – the modern day namesake. This was part of a country tour the Cup was making to past winners.
This is being followed by our 30th Anniversary Exhibition that will take place at Wardown House Museum between 6th April and 4th May. It's free to visit so get yourselves down to the museum and put a smile on your face – there will be many fantastic memories to relive.
There is something you can do today though that will also make a difference and put a smile on some other, less fortunate, faces. Today is our collection day for the Supporters' Charity of The Season – Keech Hospice Care. I'm sure many of you will know of the fantastic work Keech Hospice does so please give as generously as you can – every penny helps in some way.
Keech Hospice brings joy to the lives of children and parents at the most difficult times anyone can face. They have given so many children and families memories that they will treasure after having endured some of the most traumatic circumstances any of us can imagine. Whenever I have visited or worked with Keech, I have been humbled by the amazing work they do. The players will be wearing Keech shirts in the warm-up, and we know the work that Jack Sapsworth did for them, so as it's exactly a year since dear Jack passed away, please empty your pockets as much as you can to those collecting for this wonderful charity.
As ever, let's play our part today.
Sing loud and proud and help us get one step closer to what we all desire. COYH!