Gas away days – The good, the bad and the just plain wrong – Part 2
To celebrate some of the away days Gasheads will be looking forward to in our new League, I’m looking back at some of the away days I’ve (cough) enjoyed in the recent past, and also looking forward to what our plan might be this time around.
After evoking ‘the good’ trips to Shrewsbury Town and Walsall in Part 1, today we look at ‘the bad’. The ‘just plain wrong’ will make up the final part next week.
My one and only visit to Bradford City, in January 1994, went down in notoriety for my brother and I as the only time we’ve ever been attacked by so-called football fans, and it was a cowardly assault from behind whilst we peacefully walked back to the train station. If Bantams fans were such bad losers 20+ years ago (a Lee Archer goal gave us the double over them that season, and he scored there again the following season – his lone goal of that campaign) I hope they’ve grown up by now because supporters of ‘little’ clubs might as well get used to the fact that football almost guarantees you more disappointment than elation, and that the gulf between big and small is getting wider, not narrower.
Whilst we have never lost to the Bantams at home, there have been several mildly frustrating episodes when we braved those West Yorkshire paths again.
The 1994/95 meeting doesn’t sound too bad on paper; there could be worse trips on a Saturday in February, but the unruly fixture computer had already sent us to Huddersfield Town three days previously, just 15 miles away. They were the first two games in a run of five consecutive trips on the road, all of which featured West Bromwich Albion loanee Carl Heggs, whose one and only Gas goal wasn’t enough to save a tired Rovers team from a 2-1 loss at Valley Parade.
Fast forward to Spring 2013 and the return of John Ward had sparked a surprising upturn for our fortunes. 19 points from a possible 24 had given Rovers the merest sniff of the play-offs and ebullient Gasheads were letting their imaginations run wild at a possible 2007 style ending to the season. With four games remaining Rovers visited the League Cup finalists on a Tuesday night knowing that a win against their fellow play-off chasers would move them up to ninth place and just two points off the play-offs.
Sadly reality bit harder than a hungry alligator and after a 4-1 drubbing Rovers shuffled home with their tails between their legs, whilst it was the Bantams who entered the play-off zone for their first time since New Years Day and went on a late sprint through the play-offs and up into League One.
Bristol Rovers play at Bradford City’s Valley Parade on Saturday 17th September
The plan for this season? Err, bring Lee Archer out of retirement? At 43 he’s only two years older than Stanley Matthews was when he won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956.
My first trip to Gillingham was nothing if eventful.
It was the first away game of the infamous 1999/2000 choking season and within 20 minutes new signing Ronnie Mauge had been ordered off and was skulking down the tunnel. It was the third consecutive season a Rovers player was sent off at the Priestfield Stadium, but as a sign of things to come our talented team still dominated the game and triumphed thanks to a Jason Roberts goal.
As we gaily trouped out of the away terracing the Gills fans were doing the same, but less cheerfully, separated only by a metal fence. Out of the blue a voice came from the other side of the railing telling my wife to ‘go back to where you came from’ and other choice racial abuse. As I looked over to locate the execrable mouth this was dribbling out of I didn’t quite expect a lady who looked just like my auntie (my father was one of 12 so I have lots of aunties; all Wiltshire aunties look the same though). It was difficult to know what to do in such bizarre circumstances, and hard to know how to reply to a 70 year old ‘adult’ who in a different situation would usually be afforded respect by our culture. I think my mouth remained open, like a whale taking in plankton, for a good ten minutes afterwards.
We’ve lost all five of our League and Cup clashes there since, conceding 13 goals in the process, but I hope for the sake of that foul woman that we can snatch three Easter points from their grubby hands this time.
Bristol Rovers play at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium on Good Friday 14th April
The plan for this season? Get home alive and hope we don’t catch any diseases.