Time flies when you’re having fun

by Martin Bull

As a breathless start of the season has whizzed by in a ‘two games a week’ fashion it has been hard to keep up with all the remarkable goings-on at our mighty Bristol Rovers.

Whilst the on the pitch comebacks almost feel like a ‘when will it end?’ conundrum, the off the pitch
progress seems healthy so far, with record attendances, various interesting ticket offers (the likes of which the previous regime forgot or refused to offer), huge staff improvements behind the scenes, potential progress on the UWE stadium and a training and academy centre, and a general sense that this could be the time of a real Rovers resurgence.

As a history scholar I can’t let our home record go unmentioned as Rovers equalled, but could not surpass, our record for consecutive home wins in the League; a record that dated back to 10 wins in 1935. The 1935 run started with a 7-1 mauling of Northampton Town and was ended by Clapton Orient (one of the numerous names of Leyton Orient), on a day when Rovers fielded five ‘mcs’ on the field, emphasising a deliberate policy for recruitment from Scotland and the North of England. Oddly the 7-1 subjugation was our largest inter-war win in the Football League, but counter intuitively it was watched by the lowest League crowd (circa 1,500) in Rovers’ entire history at Eastville.

The mid 1930s were the days when double barrelled gentlemen were managers (Captain Albert Prince-Cox), when men were men (heartily laughing in the face of five games in eight days during Easter 1935), and when silverware rained down like a monsoon from the skies, with the Gloucestershire Cup, the Allen Palmer Hospital Cup (thrashing Division Two Southampton 5-2) and most impressively the Division Three (South) Cup, all bagged. The later was almost a forerunner to the Football League Trophy of today, but instead of 60,000+ at Wembley, that final was won in front of two men and a sausage dog at Millwall’s Old Den because Rovers and Watford rather petulantly refused to toss a coin to decide who got home advantage.

Today we also have a true gentleman leader at the helm, and fit, strong and motivated men on the pitch, so all we need now to emulate the 1934-35 season is the silverware. Err, OK, skip that…

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Rovers have also recently had not just one, but two, players celebrate their 250th appearances for the club, with the the party poppers and a bottle of the finest Pomagne (to share, we aren’t THAT loaded you know) coming out just one game apart from each other.

Chris Lines and Lee Brown were our first 250 men since Steve Elliott hit the milestone during a dull-all draw with Tranmere Rovers in March 2010, where Bas ‘one goal for City‘ Savage and Luke Daniels lined up amongst the opposition duffers. Earlier that season Super Stuart Campbell broken his own 250 barrier during the famous win at St. Mary’s in September 2009.

This ‘Class of 2004’ endowed Rovers with our last golden era of stable club men. Craig Disley and Aaron Lescott both agonisingly fell just eight games short of the landmark. Aaron is a particularly neglected stalwart, with 242 solid appearances in six years as a Gashead. James Clarke may be comforted to learn that although Aaron remained goalless for his first 198 Gas games, he scored an outlandish brace in his 199th and finished with five goals in his final 44 games.

Imaginary long service medals were also awarded to Craig Hinton and Richard Walker, both bubbling just under the 200 mark.

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Rovers have already played Chelsea for the first time in 35 years, Bolton Wanderers for the first time since Gerry Francis’s 1989/90 promotion season, and met Sheffield United for a first League meeting since the 1988/89 season.

We’ve endured a highly contentious match against an Academy team where stay away fans forced a new record low home attendance, beaten Cardiff City for the first time since 1995, mugged our first ever point at the MK Dons, and soon Pirates will be meeting [Coventry] Sky Blues for the first time since January 1964.

Although I previously described the abandonment of the Swindon game as “a freak deluge in August“, I immediately regretted my description as I have painful first hand experience that August can be a very adverse month.

In fact I devoted most of a chapter of my book ‘Away The Gas’ to it, chronicling the freezing August rain that hit us on our first ever meeting with MK Dons in 2006 (whilst they played in the soulless, and open to the elements, National Hockey Stadium), as well as the infamous ‘lightning stopped play‘ incident at Wycombe Wanderers in 2012.

I‘ve never been back to Adams Park and frankly never wish to be seen there 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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