The last few weeks have meant that unfortunately I've been unable to commit as much time to TadeFromTwoYards as I should have. I've found it can be difficult to carry on doing pre and post-match pieces when the games have tended to have similar narratives. Moving forward it's likely I'll do quarterly pieces every ten games in order to provide a summary of where Rovers are at and how things might progress looking forwards interspersed with pieces about older matches, squads or players.
Since the last piece against Arbroath, Rovers haved picked up a hard fought win against Alloa before drawing their last two outings in matches against Ayr and Caley Thistle respectively. The Alloa game saw us fall behind to a goal from Innes Cameron in the first half. In many ways it was a game reminiscent of our time in league one - a frustrating afternoon against well drilled opposition who would sit deep. Fortunately, Iain Davidson's equaliser was followed up by a well finished goal by Regan Hendry before Jamie Gullan added a gloss to what had been at times a frustrating afternoon.
While the matches against Ayr and Caley both finished nil-nil they had very different stories. Against Ayr, Rovers looked pedestrian and struggled to finish any cohesion in the final third. It was a game riddled with poor crosses and an inability to carve out any chances of meaning. Friday night brought the long trip to Inverness where the BBC covered the match. In a complete contrast of the game against the Honest Men, Rovers created numerous opportunities with Gozie Ugwu in particular having two gilt-edged chances. At the other end, the heroic displays of both Kieran and Jamie MacDonald ensure that the hosts didn't pick up three points.
So after 18 games, Rovers sit in third place on 29 points. Every team below in the league has played at least one more game but the congestion in the table means that fans will be looking nervously over their shoulder - after all, only 12 points separate Rovers from the foot of the table. The next three league games will see Inverness visit Stark's Park tomorrow before a trip down to Somerset Park to face Ayr next weekend. March will be rounded off with a journey to Stirling in the Scottish Cup before Greenock Morton are hosted at Stark's Park.
Although 9 games remain of the league season, John McGlynn is already at work preparing for next season. Ross Matthews, David McKay and Robbie Thomson have all penned new deals with the club. Thomson will replace David McGurn (who will leave the club to focus on lecturing full time) as goalkeeping coach. Matthews in particular looks an astute bit of business given how imbalanced the team have looked without his ability to graft in midfield.
The manager has also been active in recruiting from other clubs. Firstly, centre half Tom Lang will arrive from Clyde. The defender is a key figure for the Bully Wee and has a reputation as somewhat of a ball playing centre half. McGlynn previously identified him in post-match interviews as a player he had admired so it wasn't a surprise to see a move being made for the former Rangers youth player.
Secondly, long term nemesis James Keatings will arrive from Caley Thistle. The striker has an outstanding record of being promoted from the Championship (having done so with Hamilton Accies, Hearts, and Hibs). Rovers fans will be happy to see him sign not least due to his incredible track record of scoring against the Kirkcaldy club - 13 goals in 24 games. The move has already seen an upside - temporary Inverness manager Neil McCann opted not to feature the forward against Rovers in Friday's fixture.
The additions of Keatings and Lang will hopefully set a benchmark for what McGlynn wants to build for next season. There's still big question marks over many of the squad - there are a number of key players who will be out of contract in the summer so it wouldn't be a surprise to see further moves made in the coming weeks both from inside and outside the club.
Outside of the transfers, one of the more positive stories to come from the club was the news that Fernandy Mendy had been called up to the Guinea-Bissau national team for their upcoming matches against Eswatini and Congo in Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiying matches. Guinea-Bissau currently sit third in their group behind leaders runaway leaders Senegal and Congo. Rovers fans were delighted to learn of the call up last week and took to social media to congratulate the defender. It's a brilliant story to see given his willingness to take on the challenge of a move to Scotland and his upbeat personality. It goes without saying we'll all be keeping an eye out for the results!
Another set of results which some Rovers fans have been keeping an eye of recently is that of Fulham under-18s. Having moved in the summer, Kieron Bowie now seems to have hit the goal trail as the young Cottagers have climbed to the top of their league table. The former Rover has found the net 6 times in his last 5 games having now settled in down in London. Hopefully we'll see that continue moving forwards!
It does feel quite peculiar that a year has now went past since the games against Falkirk and Forfar at Stark's Park in our final two league one fixtures. Fans took to twitter to reminisce about what they miss about the games - the click of the turnstiles, the chatter with those about you, the scent of the pie stall. Looking back at those two games it's one of the final points where you could point to a degree of normality in society. By mid-March, it was clear that this wasn't going to be a run of the mill outbreak and that things were going to escalate.
Even back last Summer, John Baird pinpointed out that McGlynn was hammering home that a pandemic would see the season curtailed so every point was vital. The club were under no illusions even if other areas of society were naïve. With hindsight, the SFA deserve some praise for taking action relatively early compared to other areas of society - they took the decision to suspend the leagues on Friday 13th March. The following day, there were still gigs of 10,000+ people to see the likes of Stereophonics and Lewis Capaldi. Cheltenham festival still proceeded the same weekend. It wasn't until almost two weeks later on the 23rd March that the UK government announced the first lockdown. While the situation regarding promotions and relegations turned into a farce the SFA at least deserve praise for taking decisive action to stop the leagues.
The likelihood is that we'll have seen players come and go from the club without ever having had the chance to show our appreciation from the stands. The vaccination roll out offers some degree of hope and the financial assistance provided by the Scottish Government will undoubtedly have been invaluable. But there's a sense of frustration among fans, particularly those following clubs in League 1 and 2, that the handling of football matches (especially the decision to suspend leagues temporarily) has been misjudged and not founded with any statistical backing. Prior to announcing the return of the leagues cases were lower than they were when the first league matches in October.
The sport of football in Scotland hasn't been without it's detractors over the last while. Firstly, Celtic's misplaced trip to Dubai saw them take an injured player who later tested positive for COVID while a war of words erupted between Neil Lennon and the Scottish Government. Several Rangers players were then shown to have attended a house party which further criticism. Matters appear to have come to a head last weekend with huge celebrations taking place in Glasgow city centre as the Ibrox club sealed their first league title since returning (or arriving) to the top flight.
Consequently, there's been somewhat of a narrative which has being perpetuated both in the media and in wider society. The actions of a few football players and fans are used as a rod to hammer the majority of fans who obey the rules. There's been a perception for as long as I've been a supporter that football fans are usually white, male and ignorant. While the majority of fans might fall into the first two categories it's easy to paint a picture which doesn't reflect tell the whole story.
Last week OldFirmFacts was invited on Radio Scotland's Call Kaye to discuss the events which took place in Glasgow and was met with the viewpoint from a fellow guest that football fans as a thick group of men who are likely to leave their wives and neglect their children. It's the classic tale of fans being nothing more than a group of lads who wear stone island tops, travel the country and love nothing more than causing trouble while drinking. It's a story which has frustrated me for some time - anyone who goes through Haymarket station of the day of a 6 Nations game will tell you that rugby fans will see far more leniency compared to football fans for their game.
Scottish football might get painted as being a homogeneous group of blokes but it does the game a complete disservice. While I can't comment on the experiences of female football supporters, there's certainly more of an attempt to welcome fans of all backgrounds into the game: An example is the On the Baw campaign has seen clubs taking a more proactive approach to providing sanitary products at matches. Even at Rovers, there's a focus on International Women's Day - this is something which you wouldn't really have seen ten to twenty years ago. The days of wolf whistling towards a female physio are greeted now with more embarrassment than laughter.
One of the aspects which I love in particular about football is that it's such a broad array of individuals who will follow a team. I've been fortunate enough to have met fans who have come from all walks of life. The lad I sit next to at the football came over from South Africa and we'll often chat about our experiences of the differences between the two countries whether in sport or every day life. While football is indisputably a sport for the working classes, that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't without nuance or intelligence. You're just as likely to find a supporter nowadays who can tell you the xG of Scottish Championship clubs as you are to find one who can rattle off the best place to get a carry out for the train home. I've met scientists, teachers, actuaries and engineers and with the rise of social media it's easier than every to interconnect with other fans.
Each person has their story to tell and a passion for their club - it's a lazy narrative to suggest that football fans are thick. When you tar a group as a whole all you do is paint yourself as ignorant and unwilling to look at the specifics. There's plenty to be optimistic about in the Scottish game even if ill-informed media commentary suggests otherwise.