It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the first home game of the season. It’s always a special day. Bristol Rovers are yet to lose at home, you can believe anything is possible, and you’ve not spilt cider down your new shirt yet. Magic. But that first game with fans in at the Mem after 18 months away will be something else. I don’t go to that many away games – one or two each season – but I am all in this year and went to Mansfield away on Saturday because I could not wait to be back in amongst the Gas faithful. In true Rovers fashion, we lost.
I’d rather watch football on TV than not at all so I’ve been grateful that games have gone ahead. Watching on iFollow, when I hear Goodnight Irene played through the tannoy, I can almost smell the pasties. But I just haven’t felt that same connection. It doesn’t help that Rovers have been officially the worst team in League One – some of those games have been absolute dogsh*t and the atmosphere would have been toxic. But I’ve even missed that.
It’s always nice to walk into the ground and nod at the old familiar faces. The bars will be alive with the din of people catching up, and giving their views on the summer’s signings. As you go and find your usual spot, you’re filled with hope that this might be our season, even though you might well feel less hopeful 90 minutes later.
Another big plus of the first home game of the season is that it’s nice and warm. Part of the reason I don’t tend to wear a Rovers shirt to games is that it gets covered up most of the time by a coat. Before it turns cold though, it’s an impressive sight, all those blue and white quarters walking up Gloucester Road. I can recall some really hot ones – I remember being at Twerton Park in the pasty queue and passing out briefly from the heat, with the refreshment hut luckily breaking my fall. It might get a bit hot at times but I find that infinitely preferable to those freezing drizzly winter night games.
I’m mainly excited because it’s a welcome return to those old routines that we’ve all missed so acutely. Back to choosing which scarf to wear; the pre-match pint; ordering the same lunch you always order; directing away fans up to the Mem; finding your mates on the terrace; deciding whether to have a pasty; buying a programme from the same seller you always buy from; saying you won’t bother with a 50-50 but getting one anyway; wishing you’d brought your warmer coat; waving at other regulars; poring over the line-up on Twitter; flicking through your programme; shouting at the lino; necking a pint at half-time; planning your next away game; cheering too soon when you think we’ve scored; comparing your bets with those next to you; cashing out your accy; looking around the Mem and feeling pride that this is your club; waiting for the crowd to die down before making your way out; the post-match pint; saying you’re only out for one but still being out at 11; getting annoyed that the chip shop is closed; going to bed and reading the rest of the programme.
In many ways, going to football is not just about what happens on the pitch. Except, for those 90 minutes, I will be completely lost in the most beautiful of games. And the game after that. And the game after that…