View From the North West Corner
(or in this case behind a very wet goalmouth at Bristol Rovers)
It is 290 miles from my home to the Travelodge in Weston Super Mare where I’d based myself for the Checkatrade semi final against the blue and white Pirates of Bristol. The drive down on Monday was straightforward enough and fortunately not subject to the ten mile stationary tailback that I saw stretching down the southbound carriageway from J25 to 23A on my return two days later.
Travelodges are OK if you just need a place to rest your head and for a couple of nights it served its purpose, though you only get 30 minutes free WiFi which is a bit mean these days, especially when you’re trying to register with Ticketmaster along with 30,000 others, the morning after the night before. I am a bit paranoid about missing out on Wembley tickets after the play off game with Charlton, despite having been to 43 games that season whilst living in the East Midlands so I was desperate to make sure I would be in line this time.
I had decided to combine my trip to the semi final with a visit to RSPB Ham Wall and so spent Tuesday morning and the earlier part of the afternoon, looking at great white egrets, marsh harriers, both of which were almost impossible to find in the UK twenty or so years ago and a small flock of sand martens, which are always the earliest of the hirundines (swallows and martens) to complete their northerly migration but the first week of March is still early.
Despite stopping frequently my arthritic knees were beginning to play up as I just beat the rain and made the shelter of my car to head for the Gloucester Road in Bristol. How could I not go to the Drapers Arms after Sixer’s recent recommendation, but first sustenance of a more solid kind was required. Getting into Bristol at 4.00 pm meant finding a parking spot in the side streets near the ground was easy enough and crossword to the ready I went into Jean’s Bistro. Run by a Brazilian and his Thai wife, this is a no frills, cash only bring your own booze place, which has a limited but interesting menu. Spicy battered whitebait, veggie Thai curry with sticky rice and a milky coffee set me back around fifteen quid and more than adequately filled a hole as I waited for the shop/pub next door to open, where I had arranged to meet an old mate from the Heart of England Branch for a pre match bevvy.
It was not long after opening time when I wandered in and the place was already pretty busy but the first face I saw was Paul “Sobs” Dobson, sitting with Stan of the Durham branch and several others of our ilk. I wandered up to the counter, ordered a pint of porter and started chatting to a Rovers’ fan, who was having a pre match pint before setting off to the ground to do a bit of stewarding or programme selling or something. He didn’t say exactly what it was he was doing but did say he would probably only get to see the second half. There was a good range of ales on sale and chicken and chips for £1.50. Despite my appetite being sated from my hour in Jean’s I was tempted, but if ever you find yourself in the Drapers their version of chicken and chips consists of a pickled egg and a packet of crisps all crushed up. Mmm yummy as the Weight Watchers community would say.
The pub was beginning to fill, but wasn’t uncomfortable as my marra Jon turned up. He is now living in Monmouth and looking after 8 acres of wildlife friendly small holding, with it appears a wide range of mushrooms. Well he always was a fun guy. As the weather tried to emulate that which I had experienced at Accrington, Pete and his brother arrived and Jon and I gratefully swapped our standing tickets with the Twelvesmiths – ostensibly to save my tired knees but with the added bonus of saving us from the deluge.
It’s fair to say we were impressed with the side that JR had elected to turn out. I felt a bit for Robbin Ruiter and Alim Ozturk who I don’t feel have done much wrong in this competition but by the same token, as a fan I want to see us look to win every competition, even if that means fielding the strongest team and risking injury to key players.
Pete has covered the game in his Soapbox so I won’t go into too much detail. Grigg took his goal well and showed us what he is capable of. An excellent ball from Power played him in and Max had a good night, playing higher up the pitch, knowing Leadbitter was behind him.
Hopefully he will also start to recover some of the battling qualities he showed before that sending off at Walsall.
Morgan had a decent game too and took his goal well following up Gooch’s shot. Too often in recent seasons we have had no-one on hand to snaffle up chances when a keeper has failed to hold onto the ball. McLaughlin took a bang on the head when he did just that but recovered to grab the ball at the second attempt and keep a third successive clean sheet.
This may not be the most prestigious of trophies in the football calendar and a fixture requiring two nights in a hotel and 580 miles worth of driving may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I had a great time. I’ve said it before I’m loving the whole experience of this season. Unfortunately I won’t be in the Royal County of Berkshire (or even Buckinghamshire – thanks Eric) on Saturday and prior commitments mean I have to miss that important game at Oakwell, but I will be back to see if we can beat Walsall at the fourth time of asking a week on Saturday, when the chances of automatic promotion may be somewhat clearer.
Ha’way the Lads.