Tony Roberts – the man behind the legendary Tour of Duty away day, which this weekend enters its ninth year – has described the visit to Solihull Moors as “the most important Tour of Duty ever”.
The Shots moved back up into the top five with Saturday’s victory at Macclesfield Town as the chase for a Play-Off place reaches a thrilling climax.
“Promotion out of the National League is so hard to achieve, and it would bring that much-sought-after appearance at Wembley!” he smiles as he considers what another successful Tour might mean. “I can think of no bigger motivation for the players and the fans! It would be a monumental achievement by the management and the players – and us fans, of course!”
Although working in America this week, and returning to the States on Sunday, Tony has ensured he is back in the country in good time to join the Tour. “I am like a ten-year-old at Christmas” he admits on the sense of anticipation. “I won’t sleep very well Friday night and I will find it a lot easier getting out of bed Saturday morning when the alarm goes off than I do Monday-to-Friday!”
In accord with the increased importance of the game, Tony is hopeful of record enrollment in the 2017 Tour. “The previous record was in 2010, with 583 at our second Tour of Duty at Port Vale, so our first target will be to beat that. I will be disappointed if we have less. Optimistically, I am hoping for 800,” he says, safe in the knowledge that such commitment will be mirrored on the pitch.
“Everyone loves the passion from Jake Gallagher at the end of a game when we have won – the fact that so many people stay behind after the final whistle on the East Bank waiting for the players to come over shows that there is a real appreciation of the efforts the players are giving when they put the shirt on.
“I think the squad has gone out of their way to forge a stronger link with the fans this season. I don’t know if it was a conscious move or something Gary instilled in them, but they have executed it very well! It started with the obvious togetherness in the squad and this has morphed into a togetherness with the fans.”
Boasting an impressive record of just two defeats in the previous eight Tours, Roberts sees The Shots’ current run of just one loss in the last seven away games as a great opportunity to showcase the club in a positive light on and off the pitch.
“I hope we grab the three points and that it is a memorable Tour of Duty – but I also hope that everyone travelling behaves themselves and, whilst enjoying a few drinks and great day out, we remember to be respectful to other people travelling on the train and at Solihull. Let’s make it memorable for all the right reasons.”
There is, of course, a need to replicate that Tour of Duty spirit in each of our remaining six games, home or away – something Tony is well aware of.
“Every match is the old cliche now, of being a ‘mini cup final’. Three points are important in each game but to actually go into the Play-Offs with momentum, and still delivering top quality performances like Dagenham & Redbridge and Macclesfield Town, would put us in a very strong position psychologically. Nobody will fancy playing us if we make it!”