In terms of sheer loyalty and, I have to say obsession, there is no one who can compete with the football fan who goes to away matches. And not just some away matches, but all of them. In the days when I went to the Rovers every single fortnight, as well as for Paint Pot Trophy games, it was a commitment in itself. Family occasions missed, loved ones put to one side on one of the two days I had off every week, overtime at work refused. All because I just had to be on the terraces for a lowly football club.
There was a time when Bristol Rovers was the most important thing in my life. My partner once said to me: “You love Bristol Rovers more than you love me.” I replied: “I love Bristol City more than I love you!” Actually I never said that. It’s an old Alf Garnett joke, with the team names changed from West Ham to Millwall. But you get the idea. Rovers always came first.
Away games were simply too much for me. The idea of arriving early in the morning to climb on an elderly coach that stopped only in motorway service stations when I wanted to stop in a pub, to be escorted straight into the game, escorted straight out of it and then home, a four hour journey that was, to me, hell on earth.
I feel much the same about a day trip to Exeter City which is where the Gas are heading this week. We know the weather is going to be awful, with the heavy stuff due to start around kick off time, and we know that many thousands of people will be there!
Of course I get it. The feeling of unity and comradeship when you are part of a large, raucous away following is special. You are with, I have to say, the most seriously committed of all fans who have looked forward to the trip from the final whistle of the last game, They will have been all over the internet forums all week, checking the Rovers website on the half hour every hour, all waiting for when Saturday comes.
A trip to Exeter will be regarded by the media as a “west country derby”, since we currently have no local derby to speak of. And Rovers will win, lose or draw – I really have no idea. A few weeks ago, it was a banker away win, but now it’s the toss of a coin.
Whatever happens, those amazing fans, for whom Rovers is the great obsession – I have been there, so I know – will be on the bus two weeks later, off to who knows where, still chasing the dream of another three glorious points. They are the real heroes of football, every single one. And I’ll be watching too. Along with Jeff Stelling!