Cheltenham Town

The Robins have soared to new hights, but their rapid rise looks to be coming to an abrupt end. Cheltenham fan Mark Herron explains what has hampered his club's momentum

Does Cheltenham’s poor start suggest there is a significant gap in standards between the Second and Third Division?
A lot of people are saying the gap is greater than that between the Third and the Conference, but there are other reasons for our poor start, not least the loss of Steve Cotterill, whose part in our rise can never be overestimated. Also, it should be remembered that we went into the Third Division as Con­ference champions, whereas we got into the Second through the play-offs. Neither Plymouth nor Luton, the two best teams in last season’s Third, appear to be struggling.

Since joining the League, have Chelten­ham picked up local fans who might otherwise have supported other clubs?
Cheltenham has never fitted cosily into the catchment area of any established League club, so I think the overwhelming maj­ority of our new fans are people who attended few professional matches but have jumped at the chance of watching a club on their doorstep. If any club has been hit at the turnstiles, it is probably Gloucester City.

What level do you feel Cheltenham could reach?
As I write, 23rd in the Second Division looks quite appealing. Simply establishing ourselves in the Se­cond represents another huge challenge and will require several years of progress both on and off the pitch. Let’s not forget that we were tipped to be relegated from the Conference five years ago.

Is it fair that Cheltenham have been characterised as a “long ball team”?
Most of those charges came across as sour grapes, being made by managers or fans of teams we’d just beaten. It’s true that under Cotterill we didn’t play as much pretty, pas­sing football as most other Third Div­ision sides, but I’d like to think we were capable of adapting our style to exploit the opposition. If other teams couldn’t de­fend a long ball up to Julian Alsop, that was their problem.

Milestones & Millstones 
1892 Town begin life with a 4-3 defeat to Dean Close School. Playing second fiddle to the town’s rugby club, they spend 40 years in local leagues.
1932 Cheltenham move into a new home, the Victory Ground, later more ­modestly known as Whaddon Road.
1933 The first and only non-League giantkilling, a 2-1 win at Carlisle, whose disallowed last-minute goal leads to a pitch invasion. More dignified standards back home, where the win is greeted with exultant shouts of “Bravo, Cheltenham!”
1961 Player-manager Tommy Cavanagh is sacked for swearing during matches, following complaints by two supporters’ club members. Cavanagh later finds employment at Old Trafford.
1968 The Robins poll only three votes in a bid for Football League status, 35 fewer than re-elected Workington.
1969 Level on points with Margate, Town are relegated from the Southern League Prem by 0.002 of a goal.
1979 Dave Lewis, the club’s all-time leading scorer with 290 goals, secures his reputation when a stand-in goalkeeping display at Altrincham earns him the nickname “the Flying Pig”.
1997 Relegated by the ground graders in 1991-92, the Robins return five years later as Southern League runners-up, when the Moat Street home of champions Gresley Rovers has the inspectors similarly tutting with disapproval.
1999 A Michael Duff header six minutes into injury time secures a 3-2 win over Yeovil and promotion to the League.
2002 The Steve Cotterill years end with a 3-1 Third Division play-off success over Rushden. His reign also includes an FA Trophy win at Wembley. 

Fondly remembered 
Steve Cotterill ~ He may have been ungracious in defeat, rude to the media, eyeballed fans who offered criticism from the terraces, and successfully brought through only one young player in five and a half years, but Cotterill performed miracles with players who were probably no more tal­ented than those of our opponents.

Best forgotten 
Chris Robinson ~ Appointed manager in 1995 after the club had been Southern League Premier runners-up for three seasons in a row, his new signings were woeful. At a fans’ forum Robinson responded to the accusation that his team was boring by saying: “If you want entertainment, go to the circus.” He was gone within days.

From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month