As I was in Cardiff for the Wales v Northern Ireland match, I decided to make a weekend of it and stay afterwards in the South-West of England.
I was spoilt for choice when it came to matches, with Swindon Town, Cheltenham Town and Bristol Rovers all in close proximity to where I was staying. I plumped for Bristol Rovers, and it turned out to be a good choice.
The match against Cambridge United was a sell-out, with Rovers fans hopeful of a second successive promotion. As recently as February 27th, a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe left them 10th, but five successive wins had now seen them kick-off in the third automatic promotion place.
With Good Friday not being a Public Holiday in Northern Ireland, the 3pm kick-off went this was the first time i’d been to a football match during a working day.
Bristol Rovers had envisaged that by March 2016, they’d be playing at a brand new UWE Stadium. It’s not names after Uwe Rosler, it’s so named as it is in collaboration with the University of Western England.
For various reasons, that fell through, so Rovers are still at The Memorial Ground, their home since 1996, that they used to share with Bristol Rugby, until they moved out in 2014. The entrance to the ground still references it as the home of Bristol Rugby.
The ground is named as a tribute to local Rugby players who died in World War I, and there is a memorial to them as you enter the ground.
Prior to that, Rovers played at Twerton Park in nearby Bath for ten years after having to leave Eastville in 1986 due to financial difficulties.
Stadium issues were the last thing on people’s minds, it was all about three points and promotion.
I managed to get to the ground a bit later than hoped due to buses running a reduced service. I literally just got off at the same stop as people in Rovers shirts, and managed to make my way to the ground with no problem.
My ticket was behind the goal, in the North Terrace.
As I was relatively late, a lot of the good spaces were taken, I had to take what I could get, a spot beside the corner flag.
Rovers fans packed into the North Terrace were expectant of victory, but had their watch their side be on the back foot in the opening minute, with Cambridge testing their keeper with a shot. On of many nervous moments for Rovers in the opening minutes.
There was some Northern Ireland interest in this match, in the shape of Rovers defender Mark McChrystal.
Rovers fans were soon celebrating, when Billy Bodin (Son of Paul, who missed that penalty for Wales against Romania in 1993) got enough space to fire a speculative shot goalwards, which went under Cambridge’s keeper and put Rovers 1-0 up.
It was poor goalkeeping, not that Rovers fans cared.
Soon after, it was 2-0, Bodin again, after he got enough space in the penalty area to head in via the crossbar.
After scoring with their first two chances, it was fair to say that any nerves Rovers would have had were now gone.
Now playing with a swagger, they almost made it 3-0 close to half time, when a Clarke volley narrowly went over the bar.
Cambridge had some attacking possession in the second-half, but never looked like scoring. The next goal was always going to be a Rovers one, and it came on 73 minutes, when Matty Taylor created space in the box to fire home to make it 3-0.
The game won, Rovers fans went into party mood, singing “Wael Wael give us a wave” at the club’s new owner, Wael Al Qaid. He obliged.
They then sang “Wael Wael, give us a dance”. He didn’t oblige.
The next song, was “We’re Man City in disguise” – a reference to their bank account perhaps and not their recent form, as they’re doing a bit better than Man City at the moment.
The next chant aimed at the Owner was “We want Messi”, suggesting a possible transfer target, before a more modest “We want Easter”, aimed at their manager urging him to bring Jermaine Easter off the bench. They got their wish.
He couldn’t get the goal they wanted at the time of year he shares a name with. Three points was more than enough for them.