If I was to start off a sentence by saying “Ever since I was a young boy”, you might then expect me to launch into a tuneless cover version of the Pete Townshend classic “Pinball Wizard”, but no. My next sentence reads, “I have watched Bristol Rovers play in a succession of crappy, dilapidated stadia”.
Yes, I was there at Eastville, the spiritual home of the club, although the club never owned the ground in my lifetime (honest). The smell of the Gasworks, the smell of the River Frome, the smell of one of my five Park Drive, along with the sights of the busted floodlight bulbs, the flower-beds behind the goals and – oh yes – the football. I knew I had forgotten something.
I was younger than, a bit more of a dreamer, dreaming of Eastville’s tired old ground being brought up to date. It was a dump all right, but it was our dump. It was our rented field of dreams. It was by the fledgling motorway, near a railway station, on quite a lot of bus routes It had the lot, except that we didn’t own it. I have never forgotten Eastville, even though there is virtually nothing left of it to suggest there was ever a football ground there at all. But I have driven by where the ground used to be on literally hundreds, probably thousands, of times and never, not once, have I forgotten what once was and what could have been.
Whilst Eastville was and wasn’t ours, Twerton Park definitely wasn’t ours. We squatted there in the 1980s and 90s and I even got to enjoy it. Somehow, the spirit of the Rovers was kept alive, although I still don’t know how. The unity must have been part of it, the determination to keep alive the name of the club, we would not let it die. And it didn’t die.
The Memorial Stadium where Rovers now play is an old rugby ground made more bearable by the money spent on it by Rovers. It is not fit for purpose unless you are a Gashead who enjoys lower league football or you relish the Ragbag Rovers image so much you can’t let it go.
And now a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in a brand new state of the art stadium hangs in the balance with the announcement by a High Court Judge tomorrow morning which will determine whether Sainsburys will have to honour their contract to buy the old ground, thus enabling Rovers to build a new one with all that money.
Please take with a large pinch of salt any suggestion that it will be a matter of “Back to square one” if Rovers lose the court case. Things would be much further back than that. I could allow myself to dwell on the consequences of a High Court defeat, but you, my loyal reader, are not so stupid that you can’t work them out for yourself. I shall look on the bright side.
I shall look on the bright side because it makes me feel better. I have absolutely no idea how the decision will turn out and neither does anyone else, save the Judge and those who have spent the weekend printing up copies of the judgement for first thing tomorrow morning. I do not know why Justice Proudman couldn’t announce her decision on Friday afternoon rather than making us all sweat until Monday. She must have known the result by then since she was the one who had made the decision. It is probably because the judgement will be accompanied by a shed load of legal documents that will require complex explanation. It has taken her seven weeks, after all. I just sense she will get it right.
I do hope that this is not a shit or bust moment for Bristol Rovers and that the owners have a Plan B contingency at the ready. No businessman, surely, would gamble everything on the basis of a High Court judgement and run the risk of losing everything.
Not that I have any inside knowledge. In fact, I have no form of knowledge at all about the decision but I have been convinced by the optimism of the football club and its owners. At no stage has there been so much as a minuscule expression of doubt, which is in striking contrast to Sainsburys who said that they needed to know quickly in case they were “stuck with the contract”. That, to me, seemed an oddly pessimistic and indeed defeatist thing to say at such an early stage. But perhaps I am reading too much into it. Maybe that’s how these things are talked about, I don’t know.
My own relationship with the football club is an irrelevance. I am seeing chairman Nick Higgs very soon about completely unrelated matters and I hope that he will still have a few crates of Moet & Chandon to share with me when I get there. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the biggest moment in the history of the club and if the verdict goes the right way, Bristol Rovers has the opportunity, probably its best and only one, to finally move forward to a brighter day.
Speaking personally, I would like, one day, to return to watching Bristol Rovers live and in person. The events of the past have passed and there is no point in going over them again. We have all had our arguments and our differences. I was once told to get over myself which, at the time, felt a little harsh, but in retrospect it was so right. I think I might have been wearing a false crown of martyrdom and now I know it didn’t fit very well.
In fact, I am in a very good place regarding the Rovers, despite not having seen a game for nearly three years. That’s been my decision and mine alone and we live and die by our own decisions and choices.
I have too many friends who would be devastated tomorrow by Rovers losing the court case to want anything other than a positive result for them and the club. I still know what it feels like to love your club, even though I started to fall out of love with mine some years ago.
I can see a brighter day for Bristol Rovers and it could come along as early as tomorrow. We have all said and done things which we regret and if I have offended or upset any of you, I apologise unreservedly. I only ever wanted the very best for the club I started supporting in 1972 and no more than that. I am well over the arguments and divisions of the past at Bristol Rovers, but one day I would like to think that I can be part of its future.
As the youngsters say, tomorrow really is “massive”. My heart says Rovers will win the court case and the dream of the UWE will, finally, become a reality.
And when it happens, just you make sure that the Rovers run out song for the final days at the Mem and the first days at the UWE are “The Boys Are Back In Town”. On and off the pitch, that will be oh so true.