Wild Rover

No nay never no more?

by Rick Johansen

It’s because some of my best friends are Bristol Rovers supporters that I rarely blog about the only club I have ever truly supported and the only club I will ever support. I haven’t been to a Rovers game in over five years now, but began to lose the emotional attachment almost 18 years ago after a boardroom split (this wiki article is not strictly correct, but there you are) by taking the wrong/losing side. Eventually, I did come back to the Memorial Stadium to watch games and for a while believed my passion would return. It never quite did, especially after a friend was banned from attending matches by a vindictive former owner, but I never gave up on the possibility of going back. The appointment in 2021 of all round wrong ‘un Joey Barton delayed any possibility of that, but now he has been sacked, maybe it’s time? Or maybe not?

I miss the matchday experience, at least the bits before and after the match, because I miss my friends and acquaintances who in some cases I rarely if ever see apart from at the Rovers. The last bit is the killer, really. Much of my time as a Gashead has been spent watching pretty grim football, but the off-the-field comradeship made it all worthwhile. And for a couple of decades, being at the Rovers resurrected my writing ‘career’ as I wrote regularly for both the matchday programme and the website. I have rarely been happier at the Rovers than I was in the early to middling 2000s, particularly after I was asked to become an active volunteer. Then it all went tits up.

In 2016, Bristol Rovers was acquired by Jordanian banker (I think that’s what people call him) Wael al-Qadi who via his baby-faced henchman Tom Gorringe started to hack away at the employees and volunteers who were at the heart of the club, from the programme editor to the matchday announcer to the matchday referee host to the stadium manager to anyone, it seemed to me, who was actually a Gashead. Seven years later, for the first time I can remember, not a single Gashead remains in a meaningful position at the club and even al-Qadi has sold most of the shares to a local lad – local in Kuwait, anyway – one Hussain AlSaeed.

One of Hussain’s first decisions was to axe Barton which was for “footballing reasons” and not because he’s a complete (insert your own insulting word, preferably beginning with c). That pleased me no end and kind friends reached out, saying they’d be pleased to see me back on the terraces and having said I’d not go back with Barton in charge, the feeling was mutual. I readily agreed that I should go back, but then something happened. I started to think of reasons not to go.

Despite the millions donated by my loyal reader through the Buy Eclectic Blue a coffee link, I do not fancy my chances in a court of law by stating publicly my objections to the very presence of Barton, so let’s just say that I have become a supporter of a national charity since he joined Bristol Rovers, which definitely isn’t this one. Now the not-so-great-man has gone, what’s to stop me going again? Oh, I know. One of Barton’s summer signings, Jevani Brown, was convicted for assaulting and spitting at a woman. No way would I be going with that little toad was still at the club. Then, there’s the continuing presence of Gorringe, who is now CEO of the club. Having shafted some of my best friends, I’m not paying towards his salary. And what about the new owners, Sunni Muslims from Kuwait who of course now love the club, as befits a family of wealthy Kuwaitis who had probably never heard of Bristol Rovers until someone told them the current owner was tired of pissing away his fortune on it and could they help out? Is that enough reasons or do you want more?

How about the price of match tickets? £26 to stand on a windswept terrace. All right, as a member of the geriocracy, I wouldn’t have to fork out that much, but that’s not the point. No. The real point is that I don’t want to go back and I honestly don’t know whether I ever will.

I do feel strongly about the continued employment of someone who hits and spits at women, I’d like to see the back of Gorringe and a bunch of distant Kuwaiti businessmen do not necessarily reflect what I would regard as an ideal ownership model. But with the exception of Jevani Brown, the rest is just excuses. and lasting sadness of what used to be at Bristol Rovers and never will be again.

I’ve kicked the idea of going again into the long grass for the time being, which certainly takes me into 2024 and who knows after that? I can’t see me going regularly again, especially with such a busy year ahead – ah yes, another excuse. Maybe a one-off, just to see if the feelings return. I mean, I still care, which is why I am writing about Bristol Rovers and not any other football club, apart that is from Feyenoord who I saw a month or two ago and was desperate to see them win. Some kind of passion for football clearly remains.

It’s being with friends at the football that matters most to me. Hopefully, I can find a way forward, which I feel will happen, or not, in an evolutionary kind of way. I’ve no other team to support and never will have. It’s Rovers or no one.


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