Dover & Dover again – the ragged glory of Bristol Rovers

By Martin Bull

Sometimes in life you just have to go and make your own mind up rather than listen to what other people say.

I may be an enthusiast of Neil Young, the Canadian singer-songwriter who warbles like a first round reject on The X Factor, but I almost never made it the delights of Youngsville.

I have a distinct memory of not plunging into the pool of Shakey for a very long time because I read some music critic who described his music as unlistenable, atonal and consisting mainly of feedback and industrial noises. Whilst the experimental ‘album’ Arc certainly was the latter, and masterpieces like ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ gave more than their fair share of inspiration for the 90’s grunge phenomenon, Young is accessible, melodic, plays as good as the best of them and can rock like a granite quarry.

Unusually it wasn’t ‘After The Gold Rush’ or ‘Harvest’ which finally turned me onto Young’s unique vocal inability and capacity to craft both delightful folk songs and raging guitar wig outs, often on the same album, but his contributions to the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970 super-group classic ‘Déjà Vu’.

‘Ragged Glory’, his distorted 1990 reunion with long time backers Crazy Horse, includes the beautiful ‘Over and Over’, the inspiration for the title of today’s article.

Exactly a year ago I composed my feelings after our gutting draw at Dover, when holding the future in our own hands was rudely wrenched from us by a dodgy late goal in a game crying out for pace and width. It is an experience you can only truly touch and feel from being at the game, and something you ultimately need to make your own mind up about, and not be too put off by. If any of us thought that supporting your small-ish local team would be an easy ride, we might need to go and take up fishing instead.

Whilst Tuesday’s insipid draw at bottom feeders Stevenage is not in the same cataclysmic category as Dover was, partly because this year we have three games left to seek atonement, it reminded me vividly of that day on the sunny South coast.

Tuesday saw almost 1,400 Gasheads invade Hertfordshire for the penultimate away game of the season, similar to the numbers who made the 2015 trip to Dover, with both on warm spring days and fans hoping to see us really cement an automatic promotion chance.

More importantly though both draws were a result of a dearth of creativity and a lack of leadership when trying to break down a resolute and impressive defence, and then getting the jitters with their decision making.

Both games offered up unexpected starting line-ups and formations. Dover saw Tom Lockyer still favoured over Daniel Leadbitter at right back, Adam Dawson was no-where to be seen, and Nathan Blissett was shoehorned into a 4-3-3 that simply failed to offer any width or penetration.

Stevenage presented us with an unforeseen return of Jake Gosling and the safety of Tom Parkes and James Clarke, thus eschewing the skills of Bodin and Monty. Macca was not in the squad at all (presumably injured?), Mansell remained unused on the bench, and there was an unanticipated switch back to a 3-5-2 that the players never got to grips with. Whatever frailties Macca has he is an experienced leader on the pitch, as is Mansell, and they were missed when the nerves set in and our usual style of play went out the window.

Long balls, hopeful balls, percentage balls. Quite a lot of balls. If you play like that on a bobbly pitch you might as well just give up on having any tangible tactics, unless you consciously want to call that a method and take pleasure in the ball bouncing everywhere, and their lumpy centre backs winning bags of headers. This hopeful percentage game was not only dire to watch, but more importantly was never a technique that could attempt to control a vital match.

The above paragraph is actually my verbatim description of the Dover match, but you would be forgiven for thinking it was written on Wednesday morning after the late trip home from Broadhall Way.

It’s only one game of course, and the season contains 46 of them, but at this business end of the year it is hard not to analyse it and to trudge away feeling like a huge opportunity had been missed, and then sense the rising anxiety that comes with your destiny no longer being in your clutches.

In the bigger picture the ragged glory of Bristol Rovers is still on the rise and judging from past bounce backs, we’ll return hard and fast, and we’ll still be following our men over and over again.

Martin Bull became a Gashead in 1989 and immediately fell in love with Twerton Park, standing near G pillar. Three of his seven books have been about Bristol Rovers. ‘Away The Gas’ is packed full of over 50 years of ‘I was there’ away game moments, all written by fans, ‘Print That Season! – One man’s weekly meanderings throughout Bristol Rovers’ promotion campaign of 2014-15’ is the antidote to obedient season reviews, with none of the hindsight that most writers rely on, and ‘Double Darrell’ is similar, but chronicles the 2015-16 promotion, and is even better.

Full details of all are available at www.awaythegas.org.uk

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