Sat 11th July 2015, Pre-season friendly.
The season at last begins in earnest. Midweek jaunts to North Somerset notwithstanding, the time was finally at hand to dust off my hopping shorts and mingle with normal people who don't feel the need to go to poorly advertised academy games and can wait for the real thing. Really, I can give up football whenever I want.
The destination of Rovers' first pre-season jaunt was the "Ray Mac", home of the recently reformed Salisbury FC who, sadly, succumbed to fiscal clusterfuckery at the end of the 2013-14 season and had to go through a torturous re-formation that saw them ejected from the Conference Premier and spat out in the Wessex League. Rovers of course have Salisbury to thank not only for our manager Darrell Clarke but also fan favourites Stuart Sinclair and Will Puddy, new boy defender James Clarke was also part of the final Salisbury line-up before moving to Woking.
The day began at Bristol Temple Meads where I again met up with Dave and his crew. We headed into the tiny town centre for beers and the ashes and I embarrassed myself with my lack of cricket knowledge. We got a taxi to the Ray Mac as it's about three miles out of town, behind several rows of posh looking flats with the biggest "NO BALL GAMES" signs I have ever seen.
When we got to the ground, we were immediately herded towards what turned out to be the home team's gym, which had been re-purposed for today as a bar. It had the distinct feel, as one of my companions for the day reflected, of being at an awkward teenage house party where the host has been instructed that he can have friends over as long as all drinking takes place in the garage. One thing I really wish I'd got a picture of was the 10-inch TV haphazardly bolted to the breezeblocks by it's side, left to dangle precariously like a long forgotten to-let sign on a shitty old abandoned warehouse and of course, it didn't work.
After a pint of suspiciously sweaty smelling local ale, we sauntered into the ground early to set up Dave's aforementioned best crowd-funded banner in the history of Bristol Rovers (if not football) for it's début.
We thought we'd be pretty safe just throwing the banner up anywhere at the Ray Mac but sadly moments after it went up, a steward came and told us off for covering up an advertising board so moss covered it would amaze me if the company still existed. So it had to be moved to a location slightly down the fence, in front of a bin that had been nailed, nailed, into place to prevent, I don't know, someone stealing it? Money really was still tight at Salisbury it seemed.
|Darrell Clarke's unfortunate bulge|
With that out of the way I turned my attention to the stadium. We were stood on the "Partridge Way Terrace" which was four steps deep but extended down the whole end of the stadium and a little around the corners where it met with a couple of little seated stands on one side and the much larger main stand and clubhouse on the other. Opposite us was a much larger home terrace. I really liked the place. You felt very close to the action, meaning we could enjoy some grins of approval from Steve Mildenhall and Nathan Blissett over their new personal chants ("Because maybe, you're gonna be the one that saves me and after all, you're Steve Mildenhall"/"Do you really like it? Super Nathan Blissett, we're loving it, loving it, loving it, we're loving it like this." - It had been a long summer.) With intimacy like that, I could forgive the overarching vibe of cow shed the wooden fence and breeze-block combo was giving out. Salisbury's ground is internet famous for being the site of an accidental pitch-invasion by a hapless parachutist in 2013. Sadly, as much as I willed this incident to recreate itself, it did not.
|Boring competent parachutists.|
|The little engine that could.|
The match itself delivered a good afternoon's entertainment. Salisbury's hastily assembled squad sprang from the stocks quickly and had Rovers defending for the first five or ten minutes but they seemed to lack a moment of inspiration in front of goal. Rovers quickly managed to find their feet on the bone-dry pitch and our new winger Cristian "La Araña" Montaño beat the already committed keeper to a loose ball and hit it into the path of recent youth team graduate Jamie Lucas for an easy chip-in in the 12th minute. That was it for the first half but shortly after the whistle for the second super Nathan Blissett took advantage of the fact that no Salisbury player apparently wanted to get near him at any point to roll in an easy second. Danny Leadbitter showed some lovely skill beating three men from the half way line to whip it in for a Lucas header.
|Macca goes ham on an unsuspecting midfielder.|
Salisbury's George Coulson finally provided the home team with some bragging rights when he unleashed a perfect 35-yard ball into the top centre of goal, apparently taking Mildenhall completely off guard, with much rejoicing from the whites faithful. Sensing our embarrassment, Blissett ran on to a wayward clearance from another Rovers trialist winger Billy Bodin, left his only pursuer in his dust and slotted home from a sharp angle. Probably the best goal I've seen old Luther score so far, a really strong performance from the big man.
|Look kids, it's the enduring symbol of the city of Salisbury: a... panda?|
|"Yeah, whatever dickheads, I got a stake n' ale Fray Bentos waiting for me in the changing room. Mmmmmm."|
Overall then, a lovely little away day and a promising start for Rovers in 2015-16. Congratulations to Salisbury for getting back on your feet and back into your lovely little stadium. Don't screw it up again.