Trollope's troops plot upset with military precision

Buoyant Rovers scent a shock against Southampton today, but preparations at the League One club's training base are leaving nothing to chance, writes Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Football

Azimghur Barracks, home to the 21st Signal Regiment, occupy a remote and windswept location in the middle of Wiltshire. Originally established as RAF Colerne at the start of the Second World War, the site formed a base for fighters who went on to fly in North Africa or above the Normandy beaches during the D-Day invasions.

This week one of the vast hangars from which Defiants, Mosquitoes, Hurricanes and Spitfires were once wheeled out has been involved in preparing a sporting foray as the players of Bristol Rovers, primed for action in what has been their training venue over the past five years, seek a place today in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Naturally the interior of the hangar has changed a little since those wartime days. Where once the mechanics plied their oily trade there stands a well-equipped gym, complete with a suspended television playing a sports channel, while further down the echoing vastness is a room that contains a long, heated pool – one of the big draws for a team that, under its 35-year-old first-team coach, Paul Trollope, embraces advanced training techniques and nutrition that would not be amiss in the new, health-conscious environs of White Hart Lane.

The whole training ground operation is a good 20 miles away from the city whose name they bear, and where they have played these past 12 years at the Memorial Ground, which is due to be redeveloped next season.

Having spent a decade in exile at Bath's Twerton Park after being forced to depart their famous home by the gasworks, the Eastville Stadium, in 1986, Rovers are set for another period on the road. Next season they will be based at Whaddon Road in Cheltenham as a new 18,500 all-seater stadium is constructed on the site of their current one.

In the meantime, however, their supporters are enjoying richly successful performances on the field. Last season Rovers reached the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at the Millennium Stadium, and although they lost to Doncaster, they were successful in the League Two play-offs, as well as reaching the FA Cup fourth round.

Today could see another famous victory recorded as the League One side take on Southampton in a home fifth round match which kicks off at 12.30pm in front of the BBC cameras. Rovers' visitors may be a Championship side, but they lack a manager following the departure of George Burley to take charge of Scotland, with John Gorman and Jason Dodd acting as joint caretakers.

Any suggestion that Southampton may be vulnerable are scotched, however, by the man who acts as Rovers' Director of Football, Lennie Lawrence. Having steered Charlton Athletic back from administration and into the old First Division in the late Eighties he knows not to take anything for granted in football.

"We'll be telling the players they are playing against a team from a league higher, they need to be respected not feared, and we need to be confident not arrogant," says Lawrence as he perches a little uneasily on a piece of gym equipment. "And although they may not have been having a great time lately they have people in their team who can win a match at the drop of a hat – Stern John, particularly, and Bradley Wright-Phillips is useful.

"Just because they've had a little bit of an iffy time, if we make any assumptions or think it's in any way easy – we will lose. On the other hand if we are professional as we've been lately, and right up for it and right at it, we have a chance."

That chance will be hugely enhanced, Lawrence believes, by the presence of Rovers' fans, who were presented with the precious gift of a victory over local rivals City last season in the semi-finals of the JP Trophy. He admits he was taken aback by how much that win meant. "You expect it because it's local," he says. "But the sheer passion and intensity of it was a bit surprising."

Team captain Stuart Campbell offers another view on the special chemistry between Rovers players and supporters. "There's not a big divide between the players and the fans," the midfielder maintains. "There's no gulf. At some clubs I've been at previously it's just been a case of players and fans, but there's a special feeling at this club.

"I often go into the sponsors' lounge after a game, and it isn't restricted to supporters. I go there with my family and have a Coke or whatever before we shoot off, and we'll chat away to the fans. Other players do that as well." At the heart of Rovers, though, is the working relationship between Trollope and Lawrence. "Lenny is my mentor," says Trollope, who earned nine caps for Wales in a career in which he played at Swindon Town – where his father John played with such success for many years – and Torquay United. "We discuss all footballing matters, and I would be stupid not to take his advice and take his knowledge and experience on board."

Meanwhile Campbell is contemplating his next session in the pool, which forms an integral part of Trollope's training regime. "We use it for running and stretching – mainly a cool down. And it's bloody cool in that pool at the minute – the heating's broken."

There was good news on the day for Campbell, however – the heating had been mended. Today it may be Southampton's turn to be in hot water.

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