Tents, Portacabins and Scooby-Doo Ice Creams: Reflections on the End of an Era.

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Tinpot is a footballing idiom used to describe clubs which fail to achieve certain levels of quality or professionalism in their play, facilities or conduct. The term is subjective, I have for example witnessed Arsenal fans referring to Spurs as tinpot, despite the fact that both clubs possess assets that would make Toni Watola’s nose bleed like a Terry Butcher header. Rovers fans will be most familiar with the term when it is levelled at our stadium.

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this attitude. It seems to be a symptom of a disturbing trend of fans pitting their club’s bank balance and marketing prowess against those of their rivals rather than actual football. With the tide slowly starting to turn within the fandom against the excesses of the modern league (boycotts, protests and walk-outs at Liverpool, Blackpool and Charlton to name a few and an increased interest in the non-league) I’m increasingly noticing certain fan-bases tying themselves in knots over these two stances. Bristol City fans, for example, proclaiming to be against modern football whilst using their relative fortune tucked away in Guernsey bank accounts as a stick to beat us with, is laughable.

So you could say that today’s news has put me in a slightly odd mood.

I never cared much for football as a kid. I enjoyed the anticipation and group togetherness that international competitions brought but was always a little too ungainly and timid to make it onto any school team. My Dad had been a Gashead in the 70s, playing on the youth team for a spell and selling raffle tickets at Eastville but had lost interest in middle age. I was born-again at 19 when I became friends with a fanatical Spurs fan at university who I would watch matches with most Saturdays. Seeing his breathless excitement as a young Gareth Bale tore up the Champions League got me interested, so on a trip home I decided to check out the family team and went, on my own one brisk March evening, to a Tuesday night match. We lost 1-2 against Dagenham & Redbridge but for some reason, I became instantly hooked.

I never really got before how Mancunians, for example, could get behind a bunch of blokes from Portugal, Germany and London and claim that they were “their club” but one match made it all make sense. There’s something magical about the lower league game in real life that hadn’t occurred to me, the free association of the terrace, thousands of people from the same part of the same city as me who all shared the same passion and report to the same spot every week, nestled like a secret society in the Horfield suburbs. More than anything it’s the friendliness of Gasheads that I still find remarkable to this day, the willingness to chat (or more often rant) to whoever they end up stood by that afternoon, zero pretense. Walking up Gloucester Road and slowly, without realizing, becoming surrounded by people in blue and white and knowing you were among friends.

These experiences made the Mem a little magical to me. Being a late adopter gave me no real perspective. It felt bad to go down but I didn’t realize what going into the conference meant to people, I even enjoyed the prospect of seeing more “proper” teams. The slog of getting back into the league opened my eyes but I still retain a great love of the non-league and groundhop whenever I can. I was aware that the board were incompetent through their hundreds of tiny cock-ups and knew that we should really be doing better with our fan base but I was content to enjoy my “proper club” and proud of things like having the second-highest standing capacity in the football league.

So now the money’s come and I’m excited for the first time in my short Rovers life about seeing us with a real solid prospect of competing but at the same time I worry. I worry that the closeness we seem to share with this squad and manager will disappear in a cloud of primadonna big-name replacements looking for a leg up to higher things. I worry that when the euphoria wears off we continue to bash fans of other clubs round the head with our new wealth and become like the club we claim to hate. I worry that when I find myself walking towards an all-seater stadium in Cheswick (or some God-forsaken retail park) it won’t feel the same somehow.

Listening to Wael speak today filled me with hope that he’s a genuine chap with the club’s best interests at heart and I’m delighted to hear he’s behind Darrell and in it for the long run. Realistically I know I’m hooked for life now, I have my small gaggle of Gas friends who come to games with me, I have the Gas twitter family keeping me laughing through the bad times and best of all I have my Dad nagging me to get him a ticket too after 30 years of disinterest. I’ll go as long as I can afford to. Life is good at the moment but I hope if we do reach dizzy heights, we’ll stay humble, take stock and proudly tell the kids that we were there when we were tinpot.

 

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Tom has been following Rovers since 2012, under the guidance of his father. A massive fan of non-league football, his pet project is Partizan Bristle which serves as a diary of his many adventures into the seamy underbelly of the Bristol football scene. He also contributes to the Rovers fanzine Last Saturday Night. He currently resides in Shirehampton with his long-suffering football-agnostic wife. Twitter: @tomvahkiin

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