First of all I’d like to make an apology to all the Bristol Rovers fans on Twitter who have been asking me to write this one up since the first day of the season. I’ve only just this minute recovered from all of the travelling.
After our last Gibbons outing in February 2012 when we went to Charlton Athletic v Stevenage, we were on the road again; this time we were driving down to Bristol… and a whole host of other exotic southern places. Setting off from an overcast Atherton on the Friday morning, we stopped at Kidderminster Harriers and Cheltenham Town before arriving in Bristol shortly after 18:00.
We checked in and dumped our bags in the Holiday Inn, Filton – where we were staying for the evening, before setting out to briefly explore Bristol before it went dark. My first impressions of Bristol were good, and I was surprised by how nice the place was. I especially loved the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the fact the river went through the city centre.
The following morning we woke up and enjoyed a Full English Breakfast at the hotel. They had black pudding which made me feel very very happy. It even made me shout “BLACK PUDDING!” in my strong Northern accent. I was dancing around the dining room in my Bolton shirt with a plate full of black pudding. No guesses who the Lancastrian was then!
We had to check out of the hotel at 12:00, so we loaded the car with our belongings and made the short drive over to the Memorial Stadium, or “The Mem” as the locals call it. With Grandad not being able to walk too far we drove into the main car park, and asked the steward if we could park in there. Unfortunately the car park was fully booked “with it being a local derby”. However, he was helpful and showed us a sneaky place behind a gate where we could park the car, meaning it was only 142 steps to the turnstile (I counted).
I got out of the car, and had a stroll around the place. The Memorial Stadium is nowhere near as bad as the majority of people make out. As soon as you walk through the gates, you are greeted by the Centenary Stand, which turned out to be our perch for the afternoon. Towering above the rest of the ground, I think it looks quite impressive.
I continued to walk around the ground, and noticed they had a social club built into one side of the ground. I always love to see Football League grounds with a social club, as it gives them that traditional non-league feel.
After walking around the ground for a while, I eventually found a programme seller. I tracked him down in a little portacabin which was owned by the supporters. At first I thought it was the club shop… and I was highly disappointed. In fact, I burst out laughing. Fortunately the club did have an official Club Shop built into the Centenary Stand.
However, I came across a bit of a problem. Apparently I was not allowed into the Club Shop without a matchday ticket? What sort a rule is that? After being patronised by the awkward steward, I had to march back to the car to pick my ticket up off my Dad. A few minutes later, I arrived back, and produced my ticket to this steward. Still, he wouldn’t let me in. If Bristol Rovers want to stop people from going into the club shop, then that’s their problem.
Dad and Grandad soon joined me and we entered the ground together. The pitch was glistening behind an expanse of terracing. The rest of the ground was hidden behind the protruding Centenary Stand.
Sitting at the top of the Centenary Stand meant quite a hike up the steep structure. Once at the top though, you were rewarded with a fantastic view of the ground and the local area. The Centenary Stand is the largest stand at the Memorial Stadium. The stand only runs about half the length of the pitch, with terracing filling in the gaps.
To our right was The Blackthorn End. Consisting of 23 rows of terracing, it runs the full width of the pitch behind the goal. The vocal home backing packed into this area of the ground, to make a brilliant atmosphere.
Opposite was the West Stand. One of the strangest looking stands I’ve seen on my travels so far. The stand is split into 4 separate sections. At the front was a section of terracing, with a few rows of seating found directly behind that. An over hanging balcony separated one section of seating from the next. The stand is then completed with a gantry which is found at the top. It really doesn’t look like a stand found at a football ground.
To the left was a temporary stand called the South Stand. The away fans were given this side of the ground. Similar to the home stand at Barnets Underhill, the roof always appeared to hanging on by a thread.
I was sent on food duty. Normally I would opt to have a pie at the football… being brought in Wigan and all. However, I couldn’t go to the South West and not have a pasty could I? Well, I could have done in hindsight, but I did opt for the strangely shaped snack in the end. I took three meat and potato back up the Centenary Stand, nearly dropping one right down the stairs in the process.
The music was blasting out around The Mem whilst we waited for the two sides to appear on to the carpet of a playing surface. The music really wasn’t to my taste… but my Dad loved it. I think that says a lot about how old the music was. However, I stopped complaining soon after when The Smiths came on.
Out came the teams. Bristol Rovers in their distinctive blue and white home kit, Oxford in their all yellow strip.
After beating Bournemouth in midweek Oxford started the better of the two teams. After knocking it about well for the opening few minutes, Adam Chapman tested Rovers keeper Sam Walker with a 25-yard shot. Sam Walker was making his debut for the Gas after joining on loan from Chelsea for the season.
It was the home side who got the ball into the net after 16 minutes. The Bristol fans were all celebrating their first goal of the season when referee Dean Mohareb dubiously disallowed it. According to the Oxford United website the ball had already gone out of play before Joe Anyinsah headed in from close range. According to Bristol Rovers, it was ruled out for offside… so who knows!
Rather awkwardly, Dean Mohareb was being interviewed on Bolton FM just days later. It’s still a relatively unknown Radio Station, so I tweeted in asking Mr. Mohareb to explain the decision. He seemed slightly flummoxed as to why a listener of Bolton FM was at Bristol Rovers v Oxford United… and he didn’t answer the question.
Back to the match! Oxford took the lead on 22 minutes when Brighton loanee Jake Forster-Caskey worked the ball forward and exchanged well with Sean Rigg and Tony Capaldi. Capaldi then layed the ball off to Forster-Caskey picking the ball up on the edge of the Rovers area. Forster-Caskey then cut inside the Bristol defence before smashing a left footed shot into the top corner past the helpless Walker. What a way to start a season.
More sustained Oxford pressure resulted in the away side doubling their lead on 32 minutes. Again, it was a special goal, and could be an early contender for goal of the season. Alfie Potter picked the ball up on the half way line and beat Michael Smith for pace. Opting to carry on himself, Potter then skipped past one challenge, then another… then another, before finding himself one on one with the goalkeeper. Potter slipped the ball into the bottom left hand corner, and you already sensed that Bristol would find it hard to get anything out of the match.
Half time arrived, and some old men came on the pitch with a trophy. It really is testament to the home support, that they haven’t won anything since that day, and yet they still fill The Blackthorn End week in, week out. I don’t mean to be patronising or condescending towards Bristol Rovers by the way. I think the trophy was the Third Division trophy, but I’m not too sure.
For the remainder of the break I opted to sunbathe in the lower section of the Centenary Stand before heading back up to the seats.
The home side started the second half in a slightly more encouraging manner, as they looked to salvage at least a point. Matt Harrold came close to pulling a goal back for the Gas, but Ryan Clarke did well to deny him. The Gas then enjoyed fifteen minutes where they dominated possession and penned Oxford back, but the majority of their football was played well in front of the United defence who remained largely unflustered.
German substitute Fabian Broghammer made a slight impact when he came on, and sent some great crosses into the box. However, Bristol lacked any real threat up front bar Matt Harrold. The Rovers were definitely a long ball side. Every attack the home side launched was through a long, hopeful pump forward to Harrold, and ultimately they posed little danger.
Bristol were unlucky not to score when former Motherwell striker David Clarkson sent the ball towards goal with a fantastic over head kick. It looked to be flying into the back of the net, but went just wide. The home side continued to press, but to no avail and Oxford rightly claimed all 3 points.
It had been a relatively good match, but only one team were ever going to take the three points. Bristol offered what has got to go down as one of the worst team performances I have seen on my travels. The only tactic they seemed to have in their locker (excuse the football cliché) was to pump the ball long to Matt Harold who possessed one of the worst first touches in football.
We left Bristol, heading for our next destination on our road trip which was Southampton. We did a slight detour to take in Yeovil Town along the way. Luckily we got there just in time, as the bloke in charge was just locking up for the night after their home match against Coventry City. We arrived in Southampton later that night, and enjoyed a lovely sunny day on the South Coast.
The remainder of the trip saw us take in Fratton Park, Portsmouth and The AMEX Stadium in Brighton. The AMEX looks spectacular and I can’t wait to watch a match there one day. It was certainly a long cry away from The Withdean which we also stopped off at.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Bristol. The fans were all pleasant enough, and really got behind their team. It was nice spending a few days with my Dad and Grandad, and I’d like to thank my Grandad for organising everything! It was decided when we were staying in Southampton for the evening that we will have a Gibbons Road Trip III the following season… this time to Scotland.
I look forward to visiting Bristol Rovers new stadium when it eventually gets built. The plans for it look brilliant. Hopefully the area can use the brand new facilities to have a sports team in the higher echelons of national sport.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 168 miles
- ADMISSION: £12 as an U16
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3
- PIE: N/A