If there are nerves jangling inside the Bristol Rovers first-team coach Paul Trollope as he prepares to lead his club into arguably the biggest game of their 125-year history tonight, they are well hidden. The air of quiet confidence emanating from the 35-year-old ahead of the visit of West Bromwich Albion has carried on the breeze and filled the nostrils of his squad, staff and supporters from at least the blue half of the city.
Few outside it will give Rovers much chance of making it to Wembley against arguably the best side in the Championship for their first FA Cup semi-final, but Trollope may feel destiny is on his side. Overcoming odds is a family trait, after all. Trollope's father, John, played in the Third Division Swindon Town side who won the League Cup against Arsenal in 1969, and his experience remains a big factor in his son's steep learning curve.
"He doesn't talk too much about the good old days, but it was a great achievement for Swindon," said Trollope. "They won that game [because] they had a lot of belief within the group, and that's what we have to have. That belief hopefully will see us through.
"Dad offers thoughts and advice all the time. With his years in the game, and managerial experience, it's good to be able to call on him every so often. These opportunities don't come around too often, and that's one of the things he has said to me – you have to take the [chance]." Rovers have certainly worked hard for the chance. Tonight's match will be their eighth in the competition this season, and the fifth time they have enjoyed home advantage. There is a certain amount of sensitivity at the club as to quite how much advantage the Memorial Stadium pitch has offered them, but there can be little doubt that Southampton were affected by the surface when they lost 1-0 on it in round five.
Whether or not Albion's style can be employed on a part-time rugby pitch will be a sizeable factor in determining the result, but Trollope and his side have not taken kindly to implications that their success has beenbased on anything other than good football.
"A lot was made of [the pitch] after the Southampton game," said Trollope. "We're not going to make sure the pitch is of a poor standard just to suit us. The groundstaff have been working very hard, but obviously it's difficult with rugby being played on it. You can still pass a ball on it, it's still flat."
After last season's promotion to League One and a losing appearance in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final in Cardiff in only his second season as manager, Trollope's effect on this club since taking charge alongside the director of football, Lennie Lawrence, has been profound. It has come as no surprise, however, to those who knew him as a player.
Stuart Campbell, who will captain Rovers, was brought to Rovers by Ian Atkins at the same time as Trollope, then a fellow midfielder, in the summer of 2004. The preparedness and attention to detail were evident then. "As a player he was always very thorough and looked after himself really well," said Campbell. "In any walk of life you get people who are naturals for certain things, and you could just tell Trolls was a natural coach."
Campbell is relishing the chance for Rovers to steal a littlemore of the limelight from their cross-city rivals, even if it is at an unusual time-slot. "It's a bit of a weird kick-off time [6pm] but it's great for the club to be on television. Knowing we're only one win from an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley is mind-boggling. It's a great year for the smaller clubs in the Cup but we deserve to be here." And, as more celebrated sides than Albionhave discovered, it is unwise to confuse smaller with lesser.
Watch Rovers and Albion at the Memorial Ground on BBC1 this evening, kick-off 6pmReuse content