An old friend of mine told me some years ago that his psychiatrist had warned him that watching Bristol Rovers was making his clinical depression worse. At first, I laughed, but he didn’t and I felt about two feet tall. I spluttered a garbled apology, but then he did laugh. Lesson learned!
In the early 2000s, I certainly took Bristol Rovers far too seriously. The club I had started to support in the early 1970s had become an obsession. From fortnightly visits to the game, I was visiting the ground on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. I had been roped in as a volunteer, I began to think about how the club was being run, how it could be run better. Every evening, I scoured the internet forums, engaging in debates with some people I knew and many more I didn’t know, all of which led nowhere. It was like a drug. Turn the computer on and head for anything to do with Bristol Rovers. And so it was, for hours and hours days and days and forever and ever amen.
I’d help at, indeed arrange, fund-raising events, I’d argue for a new way of running the club. While all this was going on, I all but forgot the reasons, decades before, I started the trek from Brislington village to Lawrence Hill (on the number 36 bus), followed by a walk to Eastville Stadium via the quiet streets of Easton. I went to watch the football. I heard the shouts, calling for the board to resign, but that was for others to worry about. Everyone seemed to dislike one of the directors, a moustachioed pantomime villain character figure called Barry Bradshaw. Who’d have thought some 40-odd years later that today he’d still be held in the same contempt by many of the fans? Like all the directors, Bradshaw has now left the club following the Jordanian takeover. No one will be shedding any tears about that. He’s gone, he’s history.
I am hoping that my return to the Memorial Stadium is not far off now that new owners are in place. If all goes to plan, I’ll be back in my usual place, cheering on the team, worrying and fretting about nothing else. No more trusts, no Supporters Club shareholding initiatives, no more attending Supporters Club meetings – just the football, the reason I started watching football in the first place.
The change of the guard has come not a moment too soon at Bristol Rovers. Quite apart from the lingering acrimony and division that existed in some quarters at the club until just over a week ago, the club had become directionless on and off the field. I saw no evidence of a long term sustainable plan, there was little evidence of realistic ambition beyond lower league survival and above all the fear that the new UWE stadium, surely the very key to the club’s future, had stalled. Now, under the leadership of Wael Al-Qadi and his family, I see evidence of a better day in every single area.
My only club politics in future will be hoping for better beer in the football club bars. I won’t be getting involved in any campaign because if the beer is still rubbish at the Mem, I’ll drink in one of the nearby pubs instead. If there are a few bad results, I won’t be heading for protest meetings at the Wellington pub and if the new owners aren’t what they seem, I won’t be staffing the barricades to see them removed. And I’ve given up on the idea of fan ownership and democratic representation at Bristol Rovers, a decade after everyone else did.
And I am certainly not going to allow a mere football club make my clinical depression worse. The last decade, in terms of football, has been a wasted decade for a good few people. We have all learned lessons, sometimes harsh lessons, that it really doesn’t pay to rock the boat when the vast majority of passengers are happy with the direction, or lack of direction, it is taking. I won’t be rocking that boat and, in the worst scenario imaginable, I won’t be dashing around rearranging the deck chairs. It’s all about the football how and thank God for that.