By Jonathan Harries
Jon has pulled off quite a coup with this edition of Trash Talk. In one of the highest profile of interviewees any of the media can remember we went to a professional writer who knows Cheltenham Town really well. We’d like to thank Mark Halliwell from The Gloucestershire Echo and Gloucester Citizen for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Are you content with Cheltenham’s start to the season?
We always knew it was going to be tough, especially after Michael Duff left in the summer. Our budget is one of the lowest in the division, and we fully expected that staying up would be the main aim. We have had some good results, and performances, notably the win over Bolton recently, but also some very poor ones, the worst being Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Burton, where we barely had a shot on target. I feel League One is really three mini leagues of eight teams and we are in the bottom one of those.
Are you happy with what you have seen so far under Wade Elliott Or did you expect more?
It was always going to be difficult for him, replacing a club legend in Michael Duff, who had got us into League One and then achieved our highest-ever league position. Results haven’t really been much different from what I expected but some of the performances have left a lot to be desired and he hasn’t helped himself with the fans with some of his post-match interviews, especially in the last two games against Bristol Rovers and Burton. There are a growing number of fans who have serious doubts about him and he needs good performances and wins against Morecambe (Tues) and Dons to help his cause with them.
Which players do you expect to cause problems for the Dons on Saturday ?
Unfortunately, our main threat, Alfie May, is injured which is a blow. Dan Nlundulu will carry our main threat up front and he needs to start scoring again, while Ryan Broom will hopefully start creating some chances again after a poor last couple of games (he isn’t alone in that), while Liam Sercombe is always capable of nicking a goal from midfield
Are you happy with Cheltenham’s transfer activity from the summer and which signings have impressed you the most so far?
I thought our summer recruitment was, on the whole, poor. We lost some big players in Will Boyle, Matty Blair, Callum Wright and Kion Etete (last two were loans, so inevitable they’d go) and in my view the replacements are not the same quality. But Ryan Jackson has been steady and West Brom loanee Caleb Taylor looks an outstanding prospect and it is good to have Ryan Broom back with us. However some others have not impressed and two of our signings, Tom Bradbury (centre back, Halifax) and Dan Adshead (midfield, Norwich) have barely been seen in the team.
Who or What made you support Cheltenham and also what was your pathway to become a reporter for the Robins?
I was born in Watford, and still follow them now, but moved to Cheltenham in 1977. First thing I did was to find out if they had a football team. A friend at school used to watch Cheltenham and he kept badgering me to go and watch. I was still watching Watford a fair bit but decided to give it a go and my first game was in September 1980 against Forest Green in the FA Cup (won 3-2) and I watched them regularly from the 1981-2 season onwards (including against Milton Keynes City FC!) bar a few years off when I lived in Devon, 1989-97. I came back home in 1997 and became sports editor of the local Pink Un sports paper in the early 2000s and started doing radio work for the BBC about a decade ago. Alongside that I am also the print sports editor for the area’s two local papers. Watching the club rise from non league football to League One has been fantastic, with ups and downs along the way.
What style of play can we expect to see from Cheltenham on Saturday ?
It will be a 3-5-2, or a slight variation. That hasn’t really changed much from the Duff days.
If you could have any Dons player, who would it be?
In know he has had a few injuries, but can we have Mo Eisa back please? We only had him for a season and he was outstanding for us, scoring 23 goals before Gary Johnson sold him to his son at Bristol City.
What is your most memorable moment following the Robins ?
There have been so many. FA Trophy win in 1998, promotion to the league 1999, two play off final wins, Cup games with Spurs, Everton and Man City, promotion to the league again in 2016 a year after going down and then the League Two title win. I’d say the two promotions to the Football League were the best as, having watched the team struggle in non-League, I never really thought we’d be a league club. The second promotion was outstanding as it was at the first attempt and with a whole new team put together in the summer by Gary Johnson.
Which Cheltenham games are you most looking forward to this season?
There is nothing better than trying to out one over the so-called ‘big clubs’ whose fans think they shouldn’t be in this division. I’m looking at you Bolton, Portsmouth, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday etc. I am looking forward to going to Derby too. It’s good to see us playing at these big stadiums.
The Dons have had a poor start to the season considering the highs that were achieved last season, where do you think the Dons will finish in League One this year?
I am really shocked at the Dons’ start. At the start of the season, I tipped you to be in the top two. As an outside observer, I am guessing the loss of excellent players like Darling, Twine and Parrott hasn’t helped? However I think you will be fine and finish somewhere around mid table.
Since being promoted to L1, Cheltenham had a superb debut season, particularly at home. What factors do you put that down to and what’s the next target for the Robins to progress as a club in your opinion?
Whaddon Road is a tight ground and the pitch isn’t the biggest so I do think some teams come and find it difficult. The fans do their best to get behind the team and especially on Tuesday under lights it can be tough, as Ipswich and Sunderland found last season and Bolton this.
The next target is to try and become established in League One. But that will be very difficult to achieve without more revenue, and that will only come from better facilities off the field. Our main stand is very old and needs replacing and if there is way the club can do that then it can move forward. But I don’t see that happening the short or medium term.
Thank you for participating, it really helps us get a stronger understanding of the opposition! Finally, what do you think the score will be?
We desperately need a win. I’m going to say 2-1 to Cheltenham
Dons fans travelling to Cheltenham are assured a friendly welcome both in the ground from some of nicest stewards we’ve ever met and prematch in the Parklands Community Centre on Wyman’s Road (just next to the ground)