"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Monday 27 August 2012

Away Day Diary: W@nky Wanderers 1-3* Bristol Rovers (25/08/12)

*Match Abandoned after 67 mins due to 'elf n safety'

^^^ Sunshine at the start. But, "there may be trouble ahead ... "
It dawned on me, in the run-up to this game, that Adams Park must be one of my most frequently-visited Football League grounds. Possibly behind only the Memorial Stadium, Bristol, and Stamford Bridge. Unsurprising, I suppose, bearing in mind it's proximity to Maidenhead. I first remember going there with the entire immediate family for a (dreadful) Boxing Day game in the mid-90s. My Dad remarked last Saturday, when discussing this on the walk to the ground from the parked car, that he thought Walsall were the opposition on that occasion. Subsequent research on Soccerbase indicates that the Saddlers, featuring ex-Chelsea striker Kevin Wilson, won 2-0. It was the 1996/97 season and W@nky had beaten Rovers at the Mem the previous Saturday ... by the odd goal in seven!

Many of my visits to Adams Park have been to watch the Magpies, usually in Berks & Bucks Cup finals. Most memorably in 1998 when a strong Reading side, containing Neville Roach, was beaten 2-1; our first County Cup success in 28 years. Roach had opened the scoring before Vernon Pratt equalised and knelt before the away fans in celebration. This image was on the cover of the following season's programme. If you look closely, you can see me in the top right-hand corner ... although my face is out of shot! The win was famously sealed by a 30-yard (plus?) screamer from Brian Connor, top corner from the moment it left his boot. This would immediately prompt a mini pitch invasion and, later on, the iconic "Royals rocked by Connor strike" headline in the local paper, a copy of which hung proudly in Stripes until Mark Steward - or some other ignoramus - took it down, most likely in a vain attempt to make the clubhouse more appealing to fat fighters, mother support groups and the like. 

^^^ See that headless bloke, very top right-hand corner, in the light-coloured jacket? That's me! Honest.
The 2001/02 final saw another success for the Magpies at Adams Park, this time over Chesham United. Macleod (P) and I were prevented by the stewards from putting the flag up for 'elf n safety' reasons (more on that later) before Macleod (M), Macleod (C), Craig, Willie and others belatedly turned up in the second half, having literally just arrived back from a trip to Barcelona. They were all wearing sombreros and would help cheer us on to a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win, after a goal-less draw. I'm not certain, but I think MUFC Hall of Famer Tim Cook - having recently fallen out with Alan Devonshire - might've missed a penalty for Chesham. Good lad!

The 2006/07 final at Adams Park was, I think, the first trophy won by the Franchise Dons (after a 2-1 scoreline). The match was played on a Bank Holiday Monday, just 48 hours after our Southern League Play-off final win over Team Bath at Twerton Park. United - resplendent in red - gave a good account of themselves, but I think the game meant more to the Franchise than to us (perhaps evidenced by Dereck 'Grandad' Brown coming on as a second half substitute?!). Good noise throughout from the Magpie support, however, as we chanted about our impending return to the Conference South and repeatedly reminded the Franchise that they had no history. A Timmy Mallet-filmed (seriously!) highlights package of the game can be found here, if anyone is interested. My Mum and Dad were evidently standing next to the 80s TV star, as they can be seen celebrating Maidenhead's goal alongside him (3:08 in). My Mum is, as I write, in Nicaragua visiting my sister. My Dad meanwhile - rescued from a list of DIY jobs that need doing around the house - would accompany me on my latest visit to the home of W@nky Wanderers ...

I actually like Adams Park, the ground, but it's industrial estate location leaves much to be desired. Indeed, a pre-match thread on the Rovers Alternative Forum suggested this was among the worst away days in the entire Football League. Hard to argue. Pessimism abounds on that particular forum, though, albeit perhaps with good reason; Rovers' summer preparations hadn't gone smoothly, with pre-season expectations dampened by the departure of talented but temperamental winger Mustapha Carayol, on/off transfer sagas (involving an Oxford United striker and Faroe Islands defender), plus the seemingly-annual goalkeeping crisis (hopefully resolved by the loan signing of Sam Walker, protégé of recently-appointed part-time goalkeeping coach Dave Beasant). 

Rovers' start to the league season had been unsurprisingly underwhelming; a 2-0 reverse at home to Oxford and a 1-1 draw at perennial strugglers Barnet. My two previous visits to watch the Gas at Adams Park had been a 2-0 Johnstone Paints Trophy win (en route to the final!) with Gav Villa in 2006/07, and a 2-1 League One defeat with Macleod (C) in August 2009. I was fully expecting a repeat of the latter scoreline as we set off on the relatively-short journey up the A404. The weather forecast was for intermittent heavy showers but it was sunny and humid as we parked the car. We debated whether or not to leave our jackets, eventually deciding to take them but leave the umbrellas ... 

^^^ A signed Caymanchester United shirt on the wall of a League Two clubhouse in Buckinghamshire? Noddy.
After a reasonably-priced pint (£2.80) in the small but smart clubhouse (with the bar now at the opposite end of the room, compared to my last visit) and paying £40 combined for one Adult and one OAP ticket (eventually; the ticket office operators were slower than a turning Pat Baldwin/Pat Sappleton) we took our seats in a three quarters or so-full away end, behind the goal where Pratt and Connor had scored some 14 years previous. My Dad would comment on one of the more 'interesting' tattoos on display, and also remark that Rovers' rotund centre half Adam Virgo - who would go on to make a couple of decent blocks - "looks like a Sunday League player". Rovers dominated the initial proceedings and deservedly lead when Dave Clarkson (a goalscorer for Scotland against the Czech Republic in 2008 ... as witnessed by Craig) drove down the left and Lee Brown neatly finished the cut-back. The away side were passing it around nicely, with Wayne Brown and Matt Gill patrolling the midfield, and new signing Tom Parkes looking assured at the back. W@nky equalised, however, when Parkes and full-back Jim Paterson combined to leave former Exeter City lump striker Richard Logan free, to head home at the far post.

Diminutive ex-Didcot Town and Weymouth striker Stuart Beavon had a hand in the equaliser and he looked lively as W@nky came back into the match with the scores once again level. Rovers would regain the lead around the half hour mark, however, with a strike as good as Connor's back in '98. Target man Matt Harrold - who held the ball up effectively throughout the afternoon, against one of his former clubs - caused confusion in the W@nky defence and, as the ball broke, recent Wales U21 international call-up Eliot Richards took a touch before leathering the ball into the net from fully 30 yards. A truly great goal. 

Richards would soon score again, to put Rovers two up, with another almost as good; a first-time effort from inside the box after a poor defensive header. Word on the street (or, more accurately, the forums) is that Richards might enjoy the off-field trappings of being a professional footballer a little too much. If he applies himself properly, then League Two (and above) had better watch out. Rovers were again in complete control at this stage and, as the half-time whistle sounded in glorious sunshine, I looked forward to them possibly extending their lead. Regardless, three well-deserved points were surely in the bag. I really should have known better, though ... this is Bristol Rovers after all!

^^^ The match called off at this point, I could well understand ...
With the players back out and lined up, the referee - Andy Davies, your name shall go on the list - prepared to signal the start of the second half. The skies had darkened rapidly and the heavens opened. The rain poured down noisily and the scene was almost apocalyptic. The referee hesitated, for what seemed like ages but probably wasn't more than a minute. He eventually decided to continue. A mistake, in hindsight. If he had taken the players off at this point, I could have understood it. Instead he played on, as the rain got heavier and the conditions increasingly problematic for the players; the ball was still rolling OK (ish), but they were sliding about (Clarkson falling over when it would have been easier to score). As lightning forked in the sky, rain lashed down and into the stands; fans clambering back from the exposed front rows. After one particularly loud clap of thunder (the last?), the referee spoke to someone on the touchline and then took the players off. The electronic scoreboard showed 67 mins. 

Ironically, it had started to brighten and the rain almost immediately subsided (there would be no more thunder and/or lightning). The tannoy announcer declared that the match WASN'T abandoned and instead the referee was going to take time to 'assess' the conditions. W@nky sent out a member (just one) of the ground-staff with a garden fork - to much laughter from the away end - while Rovers sent out their subs to knock the ball about. Then, after about 20 mins or so - and with the referee not once having emerged to 'assess' the conditions - Mark McGhee signalled to the Rovers support that the game was off. Cue a loud chorus of boos and chants of "We want our money back" from the away end as the W@nky fans - complete with drum (quelle surprise) - celebrated. 

^^^ Instead, the match was officially abandoned at this point! W@nky.
Eventually we filed out of the ground, rather miserably so. Some took their frustrations out on advertising hoardings and wheelie bins. A police car with sirens wailing whizzed past us, heading towards the ground, as we walked to the car in the rain (sans umbrella). Photos in yesterday's Sun newspaper apparently show a policeman being pushed back/over and ticket office windows being thumped. While such behaviour cannot be condoned, it can be understood. The decision was an unfunny joke, IMO. Not as farcical as Anthony Coggins calling off Dorchester Town vs Maidenhead United after 86 mins in March 2008, but close. At Dorchester, there was standing water on the pitch and the ball was barely rolling; my issue was not with the game being called off, but waiting until 86 mins to do so. At Adams Park on Saturday the ball WAS rolling, however, and the referee had played through the worst of the storm. The official line from W@nky - which explicitly mentions Bristol Rovers fans, when it doesn't need to, and so reads to me like an attempted justification - is as follows... 

So the referee abandoned the match on the advice of the ground's 'elf n safety' officer (who is, presumably, a W@nky Wanderers employee)? I imagine Davies would (now) say that he had to stop, initially, because of the lightning and then couldn't re-start - after the lightning had passed - because the incessant rainfall had subsequently made the pitch unplayable. I very much doubt, though, that the same decision would have been reached if the home side had been 3-1 up. There were plenty of thunderstorms and heavy rain across the country on Saturday, but how many League games started and failed to finish? Just the one. 

Rovers certainly have many positives to take from their performance but it is difficult to focus on that, in all honesty, at the moment. As a Maidenhead United fan, my dislike of W@nky Wanderers (a term coined after their then-manager Martin O'Neill made some disparaging remarks about the Magpies when linked with the Nottingham Forest job in the early 90s) was already deep-seated. I now dislike them even more (if that were possible). As such, I'll feel exceedingly sore when they win the re-arranged game. Which they will. W@nkers.

^^^ "Travel home safetly" (sic). W@nky all over.
PS. Back to my place, after the game, to watch Chelsea vs Newcatle on ESPN and enjoy a fine chicken curry, lovingly made by the wife. We then all watched 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' (as my Dad loves Indiana Jones, almost as much as he does Chelsea!). My verdict (on the film, as I don't give a #### about Chelsea)? Well, clearly the 'Last Crusade' should have been exactly that.

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