My second return to Bristol Rovers after a three and a half year hiatus was spent in the Gods, or as they are properly known, the executive boxes. Ignoring the ‘No riff raff’ signs by the posh seats, it was terrific to be among friends of yesterday at the football club, hopefully, of tomorrow.
Our view of the Rovers v Mansfield game was just terrific. Rovers played pretty well against a team that hadn’t come to play at all, their plan A being a point and their plan B not existent. It does not make for a good spectacle but no one who was there yesterday will give a toss about that.
I am not in a position to say whether the positive feel at the Memorial Stadium is solely down to the departure of Nick Higgs and his failed regime or the arrival of Wael Al-Qadi and the near revelatory style at the Rovers, which appears to be professionalism. I rather think the team itself and their exceptionally talented manager are bigger factors.
I did manage to see Wael himself, but only as he was going to the Gents toilet. I thought it not the best time to shake his hand and engage him in a lengthy conversation about his plans for the future. I just smiled and nodded as he probably thought, “Who’s that idiot stinking of Ashton Press Cider?” He is undoubtedly a very popular man and hopefully a strong one too given the number of people who were slapping him on the back.
The view from the West Stand boxes reminds me, if I really needed reminding, of what a crap ground the Memorial Stadium is. A tent at one end, a stand that isn’t long enough on the other, put together and, occasionally improved only when it was absolutely necessary. I am still amazed when I hear people staying they prefer the Mem to any idea of a new stadium – and believe me, they exist – and revel in the image of Ragbag Rovers. Boy, are these people in for a shock. Little homespun Bristol Rovers, held together by sticky back plaster, run by volunteers and with borrowed money. Why would anyone want to leave those days behind?
Because of my long absence from BS7, I had been highly apprehensive about going back. I don’t know why. As it turned out, going along was one of my better decisions in recent times. I even found myself enjoying it and that’s not always been the case. Not everything nor everyone from the past has yet been exorcised from Bristol Rovers. The old board are still in the executive boxes, albeit not Box One anymore, and there are still employees and officials from the old regime lurking around each corner, reminding you that the new broom still has a bit of brushing to do. I am hoping these faces have been retained purely for transitional purposes because some of them are constant reminders of how the club ended up in the Conference.
The supporters were great, of course, although my one minor criticism would be that they should be belting out a deafening version of Goodnight Irene before the team have finally broken down a determined and entirely negative opposition rather than after. But that’s football everywhere, I suppose.
It was great being up with the prawn sandwich brigade (Cottage pie for us actually) and it was even better that we won. I don’t know when my next game will be, but it won’t be another three and a half years, that’s for sure. We’ll probably be in the Championship playing at the UWE by then!