Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A guide to love, loss and desperation...

Okay, so I questioned a few things on Saturday evening as I travelled back from Accrington.

We'd just lost to a poor side. Again. I'd travelled all the way up to The Crown Ground hoping that we could get back to back wins for the first times this season - I wasn't confident though. I stood on that cold, open terrace at 2-0 down and really wondered why I had to support a team that simply frustrates and fails to deliver time and time again. I mean, why could I not support a club that actually played exciting football and brought success?

I think it was that exact question that made me realise that, deep down, all things said and done, I wouldn't want it any other way. I was a Gashead and a proud one at that.

Yes so I could support a club that sit at the top of their division season after season - from where I'm standing at the moment it seems really quite a tasty prospect - but where's the excitement there? Okay so you'd be winning games week after week and have a half decent side to watch, but is it the same? It made me think of all the incredible times I've enjoyed as a Bristol Rovers supporter over the past decade and just how I felt after witnessing a Gas triumph. Take the most recent derby game against City for example. We were the underdogs and very few people other than Gasheads would have thought we could win the game. It was insanely tense and the atmosphere was just electric. City had their chances and I can remember standing in the Family Enclosure and just hoping that we could stay strong at the back. I couldn't bring myself to daydream about scoring a goal at that point, I didn't want to jinx it... But then, Steve Elliott whipped in a cross that was half cleared as far as Rickie Lambert on the edge of the box, who rasped home an unstoppable strike past Adriano Basso, who could only fall to his knees in awe and admiration. Cue the most jubilant scenes at The Memorial Stadium. Despite a nervy final few minutes, we held on, won the game and beat City to make a cup final, stopping them from doing so in the process. Bragging rights were ours. I was living a dream that I'd had for years, it was an unbelievable high - amongst the very highest I can remember as a Rovers fan.
(Not the best footage, but still great!)

Then there's our days at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley, where I really got to acknowledge just how large and phenomenal our support could be. They are both days I'll never forget. Even the defeat against Doncaster Rovers in the JPT Final... the fact we'd got that far and beaten City along the way was just sensational. The atmosphere was out of this world when we made it 2-2 and I was there to experience it. Then there's Wembley. The home of our most recent success back in 2007 and the setting to one of the best days of my life so far. We'd got on to the most prestigious of worldwide football stages with the chance of winning promotion to League One. 40,000 Gasheads were making the trip with me to London - this was our day, it had to be. It was the most fascinating and breathtaking games I've ever seen. To go 1-0 down and then go on to score 3 goals, including a strike from just inside the Shrewsbury half when their goalie had gone up for a corner... just unbelievable. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end just thinking about it. We'd won the League Two play-offs and were getting promoted for the first time I could remember. - Millennium Stadium - Wembley

Days like those don't come around all too often and as you will all remember, they all happened in a crazy 4 month period in 2007. They were special, special days that were made all the more exciting because we just didn't experience them very often. They were, for some people, once in a life-time games of football where their beloved side had come out on top. The inconceivable amount of defeats to teams like Boston United and Chester City were made worth it simply for those days mentioned above. Those soul-detroying lows were outweighed instantly by the memories listed above - the good days are made worth it because we'd experienced the lows.

It's not just the massive one-off games like at Wembley that stand out to bring uncontrollable amounts of excitement and happiness. I can recall an ordinary league match on a Tuesday evening in September 2009 that brought one of my best footballing memories to date.

We were away to Southampton in League One. Saints had a points deduction for going in to administration in the previous months, but had since been taken over by a wealthy businessman (who has since passed away, RIP Markus Liebherr) who had sanctioned some truly staggering signings, including our very own Rickie Lambert. They had a team of superstars and were one point away from reversing their -10 point deficit and reaching positive numbers. We had been on a decent run of form ourselves and were very quietly confident we could cause them trouble. But nobody could have imagined what happened on that night at St. Mary's. Thousands of Gasheads had made the trip south to watch us fall behind early in the first half when Adam Lallana scored for the hosts, set up by Lambert. But, on the break, loanee Chris Dickson ran through down the right, before rounding Kelvin Davies and striking low towards goal from 16 yards out on the right hand side. Two Saints players chased back to clear the ball, but it trickled over the line and Rovers were level. We went wild. It remained 1-all until the second half, when Southampton went in front again - Lambert headed against the bar before Papa Waigo (a loanee from Fiorentina) followed up and tapped home. You feared the worst at this point, but Rovers never gave in and netted a deserved equaliser with 25 left. Carl Regan went on a crusade down the right and when he made the byline he crossed to find Jo Kuffour who swept home in front the Rovers fans to level again. Cue mayhem in the away end. We then pushed for a winner and came close but so did the Saints. We'd got to the 96th minute of an enthralling encounter and were really pleased with a point considering their quality and the fact we'd trailed twice, but we had possession and the ball was played right to Andy Williams.

The striker-cum-winger cut inside 25 yards out and fired goal-wards with his weaker left foot. The ball powered it's way through the box and curled perfectly and sublimely past Davies and nestled in the far corner... oh my days. We'd won it in stoppage time and everything after that is slightly blurred. I went mad, with all the Gasheads for about 30 minutes after the goal, celebrating at full-time like I'd rarely celebrated before. 'There's only one Andy Williams' rung around St. Marys over and over again, he'd become the hero. Games like that don't happen too often but are worth their weight in gold too all of us. - Highlights - Mobile footage of winner from the away corner

We have to take times like the defeat at Accrington Stanley to enjoy the phenomenal times when they do pop up. I wouldn't want it any other way. In typical Rovers fashion ironically, we pulled a goal back relatively quickly in the second half on Saturday and despite pressurising them and going oh so close 5 or 6 times, we couldn't equalise. They always have us on the edge of our seats and take us on a roller-coaster ride every single year. But would you swap it? Yes, we'd all make changes at the club and have opinions on those in charge, but would you change your memories of the great times we've had?

I think it's important to remember this sometimes when you're feeling down and depressed about it all. We just need to make sure we enjoy the good times when they do come around, whenever that may be. It may not be this season, but it'll come again.

I know this isn't very related to Saturday's game, but it is related to Rovers and I felt I needed to write it all down so I can look back on this if we lose away at Hereford in January. Or maybe if we lose to Corby on Saturday! We need to stay behind the team and the club and do our best to make a difference.

Always believe. Always Gas.

(All videos lifted from YouTube, great stuff!)

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