17th May 2007, League Two play offs, semi final second leg, Lincoln City 3 Bristol Rovers 5, the last Rovers away game I went to. We went on to win the play off final at Wembley and gain promotion.
Where did it all go wrong?
Sod it, I’m not going over that anymore. It’s been done to death. But this was an incredible night out.
We took a narrow 2-1 lead from the first leg which I thought might not be enough. But that demonstrates my threadbare understanding of football. Rovers hammered them.
I have no recollection of the journey to Lincoln, nor the journey back. I can’t remember if we had a pre or a post match drink, which rather suggests we might have done, and the only part of the game I recall was captain Stuart Campbell’s long range goal.
I do remember seeing loads of old friends, which is what I miss these days having chosen not to attend games because – oh, I can’t be bothered to go over that again, either – and I remember the corner of the ground we were in which was bouncing up and down as we sang a Johnny Cash song, or a version of it.
Even thought we won with a great performance, I spent much of the game dreading the long drive home. This feeling was not solely to do with the time and the place – I felt every bit as bad years before at Filbert Street and the Goldstone Ground (ask your dads, kids), watch-watching, wishing I could fall asleep and wake up at home. Stopping at some god forsaken service station and buying a chocolate bar I didn’t really want and looking at books in W H Smith, maybe stopping at a grotty boozer miles from anywhere.
I appreciate that for many, the away trip is something to be cherished, it’s part of their lives. They build up to it all week and the whole day is set aside for their true passion in life. And as someone who derives pleasure from watching planes take off and land and golf, who am I to criticise or decry them?
I did it once or twice, in the dim and distant past, aboard the supporters bus where the regulars always have the same seats by virtue, presumably, of seniority. It was always the slowest vehicle on the road, it didn’t have a toilet (that, more than anything, indicates just how long ago it was!) and the gear stick, jutting out of the floor, was about eight feet long. ‘Crunch!’
And what made it worse – and what could be worse than a four, five hour crawl up the motorway, or worse on an A road? – was coming back from a defeat, which I invariably managed to do. Therefore, it was better if you could get to the game by train, independently on a scheduled service and not the official football special with its geriatric coaches hauled by the oldest locomotive in the land and with no refreshments at all. At least you could buy a beer before the game, always essential for watching the Rovers, I always thought.
Today, Rovers play Lincoln away, albeit not in a play off game but in the Conference. The admirable, loyal horde will have left Bristol hours ago (I write late on a Saturday morning) and the talk will be all about the game. It is hard not to respect those loyal supporters without whom the club would be nothing. At a guess, the supporters bus will chug back down to Bristol, arriving at around 9.00 pm, maybe even later, win lose or draw.
Some of them will ring the BBC Radio Bristol phone in with Geoff Twentyman, to explain the catastrophic defeat or the heroic victory, on a dodgy mobile signal from the other side of the country.
I can imagine it must be a hard habit to break but speaking for myself I’m eternally grateful that it is a habit that never appealed to me.
Good luck everyone and have a safe journey there and back. I’ll be thinking of you clambering aboard that bus when the landlord of my local pours my first pint of Thatchers Gold!