“You’ve got to two options; walk away, pack it all in and we don’t have a football club, or you stand up and you keep fighting and you’ve got to be strong.” Those were the words of Gloucester City manager Tim Harris, a lone warrior surrounded by obstacles at every turn in the darkest hour of the club’s history.
Gloucester aren’t wealthy and haven’t pulled up any trees in regards to silverware when compared with other clubs in the West but the club is a community, in every sense of the word. In July 2007 that community had it’s world flipped upside down as Meadow Park became one of the biggest victims of the great floods which swept through the city.
It was the club's home for 21 years until the River Severn burst its banks and water rose as high as the crossbar, destroying the ground and leaving a shell of football’s past lying in ruin on the outskirts of the recently refurbished Gloucester Docks.
Almost a decade on this community, who would gather once a fortnight to watch an honest set of semi-professional non-league footballers kick a ball around for 90 minutes, are homeless, with many becoming disillusioned from the game.
Currently renting fierce rivals Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road, the Tigers have been crashing on the sofa of various clubs in Gloucestershire while funds have been raised and plans put in place for Meadow Park to return to its former glories. These grounds also include Forest Green Rovers’ New Lawn and Cirencester’s Corinium Stadium.
To put the heartache of into perspective, it’s the equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn having a burst pipe and sharing an office with David Cameron; they quite simply don’t like each other. Many Gloucester fans will testify to this, and the initial deal struck for City to play at the World of Smile Stadium was reported to be worth £45,000 a season – an astronomical amount for a club plying its trade in the sixth tier of English football to find.
Manager Harris is so much more than a football coach, but at times along with chairman Mike Dunstan is holding the shattered remains of the club together with sticky tape and Pritt Stick.
With debt and homelessness comes a fall in attendance. Those who gathered in Gloucester eight-and-a-half years ago no longer are willing to travel to Cheltenham and watch their side and average gates are around the 450-500 mark – perhaps half the number a city of its size could expect if they were playing back home.
Harris dedicated his manager of the month award for January – in which the Tigers won four of their five matches to pull clear of the relegation zone and into the top half – to the long-suffering fans.
He said: “All I can do is be strong for the football club and for the people who work so hard, and especially for the supporters. It’s a difficult time off and on the pitch, and I sympathise with fans.
“Those who don’t want to come, well I can’t do anything about that, but all I can say to you is that there’s people in this football club putting hours and hours into keeping this club alive and we’ve got to do that and we’ve got to keep believing that there’s going to a brighter and a better future.”
For those with a love for lower league football, it’s enough to bring a lump to the throat and the grim reality is that an entire generation of Gloucester fans haven’t had the chance to see their side play in their own city.
An end to the ordeal could be in sight, with the club securing outline planning permission, with 45 reserved matters to work through, for a new 4,000-capacity stadium on the existing Meadow Park site. With chairman Dunstan – who on match days can be seen tending to the playing surface with a pitchfork – setting a date for the club to hopefully return for the start of the 2017-18 season, stories of lost loves and torn friendships could maybe, just maybe, be put to right.
All that Gloucestershire knows is, City need to go home.