Robbo talks about the last year at Boro…
Mark Roberts had a chat with the official website today, a year on from his stint as Caretaker Manager after the departure of Graham Westley to Preston North End, and he spoke of another happy period in the Boro camp.
Thinking back to his time in charge of the team is clearly a happy memory for the skipper, who laughs while speaking of the mood in the camp leading up to, and after, the victory at Rochdale, and with fondness he told us, “The 5-1 win at Rochdale was probably a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life; the atmosphere in the changing room afterwards, the camaraderie and togetherness and that team spirit that you can never underestimate in a successful team was amazing and it was a pleasure to be part of. I thanked the lads afterwards for the part that they played in that time and the part they were in that success.
Mark as Player/Manager against Rochdale.
“I said at the time it was an incredible week and a half [as manager], something that I wasn’t expecting to have thrust upon me at that age but something that I relished and really enjoyed. The lads were magnificent and fortunately we got the results that the effort we put in deserved.”
His Boro side remained unbeaten under his guidance and whilst being very proud of that managerial record Mark admitted that he doesn’t want to take all of the praise.
“It’s something that I am particularly proud of. It’s not just me who has that record it’s the players that played for me. We all played for one and other and that togetherness that we had built up over two or three successful years shone through. That was probably the difference that helped us in those games in a time when it could have had an adverse affect on the team’s fortunes. Credit will always go to them and it’s always about the team not the individual.”
His final game as manager came in an enthralling victory over promotion rivals MK Dons at the Lamex Stadium, and on a night when Smith watched from the stands it was in fact Roberts who revealed to Sky Sports that the former Colorado Rapids boss would be taking over.
Looking back at that night and that interview, Roberts joked "Although things went really well for me on the pitch, I had a little slip up off it. I was doing my post-match interview live on Sky and told everyone who the new Gaffer was. It wasn't until after the interview had finished that I realised what I had done but after the results that we had got the Chairman wasn't too upset!"
He admitted that although it was enjoyable there are no plans to hang up the boots and get on a jacket just yet though, describing it as a “relief” when Gary Smith took over and adding “it was easier handing over the reigns knowing I was leaving them in safe hands.”
Smith took over in January 2012.
It has been a year since then but when asked if the time has flown by, Robbo replied, “It some ways it has but in other ways it seems like a long time ago! A lot has happened, we’ve had mainly ups since then and as always with Stevenage it has been a rollercoaster journey. We want to keep the success going. When the Gaffer came in we did tremendous in that second half of the season and took us on a level from where we were. He made sure we got into those Playoffs and took us to within 91 minutes of a third consecutive promotion. It does seem quite a while away.”
Smith’s appointment was one that came under different circumstances than that of a new manager normally. Rather than join a failing team who were forced to seek a new direction with a new man at the helm, he came into a side that were pushing for a third successive promotion and had momentum with them.
At the time it was deemed as one of the easiest tasks in football, but in truth it was a situation that would have made it harder for a manager to come into. Smith handled things well though, and Roberts has nothing but praise for the work he put in after being appointed boss.
“When he came in he respected the things that we had in place and tried to keep those qualities in the team. He obviously brought in new ideas and implemented new skills into the group and he’s definitely done that. I know the squad changed over the summer and it’s a different group of players but coming into a team that had a lot of success was not an easy job but I thought he handled that superbly.
“He took us on and we were so close to sealing that third historic promotion but fell just short. It was a big job that followed over the summer in terms of overhauling the squad, getting everyone together and onto the same page and working for one and other and we had a fantastic start to the season. To take us up to second in League One was a tremendous achievement, I know we’re not the biggest club but we are always trying to punch above our weight and get the very best out of our resources and the best out of ourselves as players. I’m a bit disappointed with the way that the season has unfolded but there’s still a massive opportunity for us and we are 3 points off the Playoffs with 20 games left and we know what we have to do to push on for the rest of the season.”
Robbo was clearly disappointed after the Playoff Semi Final.
Going into more detail on the changes to the squad in the summer, Roberts told of a time of learning for himself. 17 new faces joined the fold but one thing that remained was his authority and leadership over a dressing room, a credit to what a captain he is, but he admitted that it wasn’t easy to begin with.
“I suppose it was difficult at first. When we came back after pre-season it did feel very different, I’m not going to lie about that because I was used to coming in and seeing certain faces day in day out for the past two or three years and suddenly they had gone, and they were close friends as well.
“It has been a case of adaption and learning to integrate with new players and to get what I always intend to get which is the very best out of the players that I am playing with. That’s not just me as a captain but as a person too. Obviously there are some different characters to what we have had in the past but they’ve got different skills and qualities. It has been massive learning curve and something that I have really enjoyed.”
The passion is still easy to see.
As well as change on the pitch there has been growth off it – the Main Stand developments are complete and the removal of the trees, no pun intended, brings the stadium out of the wilderness. In the second part of our interview which will be online next Monday, Mark spoke about how off-the-field progression will only help the club and how it is as important as the work he and his side are putting in off it.
It certainly has been a big year in the life and career of Mark Roberts, and also the history of Stevenage Football Club, two things that seems to have gone hand-in-hand over recent years.