(from Issue 23, August 2003)
Just before Rovers took the throw in that led to Franny Tierney’s winner at Stoke our lass said to me ‘I hope they choose the lucky ball’ and I thought ‘only a girl would say that’. Now when I’m watching the video of the game, as soon as those two balls roll along the touchline I think to myself ‘come on, choose the lucky ball’. And we always do. Every single wonderful, glorious, fantastic, brilliant time.
When the goal went in my Conference life flashed in front of me. For a split second I saw the wasters like Carden and Alford, the useless like Halliday and Newell but then I saw the genuine individuals who helped us rebuild and take us towards the moment when Franny’s goal went in. People like Lee Warren, Simon Shaw and young Kirkie. And then the games flashed by me… Goodwin’s penalty at home to Kidderminster to break our Conference duck… Alford’s two fingers at Stevenage… Snod screaming in Ignacio Ibarra’s ear for the last 30 minutes at Southend in the Cup… the cup replay at Rushden and Duerden wiping the smugness off their faces a few weeks later… the 5-4 against Dover… Newell’s miss.
Strangely I recall nothing from the days of the Wignall reign where we seemed to meander aimlessly until Dave and Mickey arrived to put some backbone, direction and professionalism into the side. And I thought for the two Snods who brought pride, passion and hope back to the club. History will show that Wignall brought us his smart haircut and Stephen Halliday.
The overriding memory of the day is one of feeling great pride for the fans and the team. I hate to dwell on anything negative but perhaps I can make a brief mention of the shaved headed moron who thought it was OK, and funny, to pee in the sinks at the Britannia Stadium rather than wait in the queue. Why do we have to share our team and our planet with this socially retarded lowlife?
Off in the distance I can still hear the whinging along the Welsh border. Perhaps I can remind them that Rovers had to overcome the disadvantage of losing home territory in the second leg and had the disadvantage of being forced to take penalties at the home supporters end in the shoot-out. May I also suggest that Chester’s fans ask their promising young manager about his tactics in both games before they use the word ‘injustice’ on another Rovers message board.
Losing Beech and therefore the Ryan/Foster axis for the final didn’t exactly make things any easier in the final. Yet the side overcame these obstacles. It would have been nice to have seen Dave Penney and the side get some credit for the season and the guts they showed in the play offs but, by the time I’d read the papers and seen the video of the game on Sky, even I was under the impression that John Ryan had spent £4million assembling this team.
So, onto this season. There are plenty of pluses. Green and Ravenhill are a year older. And when did we last have a pool of forwards as strong as this one? Fortune-West, Barnes, Blundell, Gill, Jackson, Whitman, Burton. Blundell has been seriously impressive since he arrived at the club. His attitude has been fantastic. H e scored on debut, set up Whitman’s equaliser in the first leg of the semi, scored a penalty in the shoot-out and it was his fantastic ball that let Barnsey put Tierney in for the winner in the final. He helped take us up and no-one seemed to notice.
I doubt we will prosper this season. Our poor record against the better sides in the Conference last season and our ongoing inability to break down stubbornly negative teams suggests we have to be realistic. It could be late March before we have enough points to relax but there is enough youthful enthusiasm, talent and experience to help us survive. For me, the time being, survival will be enough. I’ve tasted the Conference and I don’t want to go back. I hope I never see Kevin McIntyre, Daryl Clare, Mark Wright, Hayes, Margate’s dancing nut of a manager, Graham Westley and the hill at Nailsworth ever again.
And one last thing. I was wrong about Paul Barnes. I said last season it would take another year to establish himself as a true hero. I must have had too much coal dust in my brain. He is a Rovers legend in his own playing lifetime.