June 24, 2013 by backofthenetjl
In the latest of the series, Nathan Bees gives us insight into what it’s like being a Bristol Rovers fan.
I think being a true football fan of any club, to the point where you are so passionate that you feel the pain of every defeat (and believe me there are plenty of them at BRFC), is almost indescribable. It’s unbelievable, really. So many people share the same devotion to their clubs and yet we would all struggle to put into words just what it feels like and what it means. How can you express your love for a football club without sounding foolish? How can you explain the mood swings they inflict, depending on results, transfers and managerial changes? Most importantly, how on earth do you provide a logical response to the question ‘why is this season going to be any different?’.
I don’t think you can. Not without outsiders sniggering.
Having said that, I’m going to give it a good go. I’ve never really taken the time to think through and write out how I feel supporting Bristol Rovers. I don’t really care what non-football fans think about this ‘crazy obsession’ I have or their insistence that it is a ‘waste of money’. They don’t get it and never will. No amount of explaining will change that. They do have valid points though – a lot of the time it is a waste in terms of value for money – I accept that. But the key thing for me, slightly worryingly, is that I can still justify spending an entire Saturday sat on a coach travelling to a far flung northern town even in defeat. That’s because it’s not just the club itself that influences me, it’s the social side of it and the feeling of identity alongside your fellow supporters. There are so many ingredients that go into making football the magical experience that it is and if you mix them all together you have yourself the body and soul of a true football supporter. I’m under no illusions as a fan of a club in League Two – it is difficult trying to surmise the thought process that leads to the decision: ‘yeah, I quite fancy Accrington away next Tuesday night’, but I think that those of you taking the time to read this will understand where I’m coming from.
I’m going to start it off as if I was introducing myself at an Alcoholics Anonymous-styled meeting for football fans:
My name’s Nathan and I am a self-confessed Gashead of 19 years – my entire life. I was born into a family where football was a way of life and I had absolutely no say in the matter. I take after my dad. He would travel home and away to watch the Gas and would spend all week looking forward to the next fixture. I’m exactly the same.
I found out that I had no choice in the matter when I was small. I was carried to games at one of our previous homes, Twerton Park, when I was 2 months old. Of course, I have no recollection of this, but looking back I can identify this as the time in which the Rovers bug infiltrated my body. It did take a while for it to kick in, though. When I was 5 or 6 I had no interest in football and was bribed to attend matches with bags of sweets and chocolate. For this I now feel most ashamed. It all changed though when I was encouraged to play football myself. I found out that I was pretty good at it and I began to appreciate what the game was all about. This changed everything.
Almost overnight I had transformed into somebody who loved football. I hadn’t properly realised what this was going to lead me to feel about Rovers but I knew something was going on. My dad, who had almost given up any hope of me following in his footsteps, was most shocked when I told him the next Saturday that I didn’t want a bag of sweets to go to the Mem, our current home, with him. I wanted to go because it was football. I went and watched the match, soaked up the atmosphere and observed the emotions that the people showed around me. The passion, the loyalty and the sheer volume of noise that was created amazed me. We lost the match but by the end of it I had fallen in love.
In the following years I made the most of my season tickets and looked forward to going to watch the lads in action. I kept on top of everything that was going on at the club, developed opinions on subjects ranging from players to tactics, and developed into one of the biggest Rovers supporters you’re ever likely to meet. I sung, I swore, I gesticulated… I also got funny looks from the older people around me in our ‘Family Enclosure’. My dad didn’t care. I remember him smiling and looking on proudly. We had a mutual understanding – whatever got said at football stayed at football. My mum need never know that I could give blokes 4 times my age a run for their money in the language stakes! I didn’t think it was big to swear but it was a release of pent-up anger and frustration. We all feel that. I’m not just talking about frustration with the match, I’m talking about all the little things that got to you during the week. The sort of things that shouting ‘**** off you clown’ to a random bloke can help relieve.
I knew I was hooked on Rovers when I started to feel the pain of a loss for a couple of days afterwards. I would bombard my dad at every available opportunity with 101 ways in which our defence could mark better from set-pieces and the players our manager should and shouldn’t use. I think he loved the conversations at first but they began to get very technical and these days he doesn’t enjoy it quite so much. When it comes to Rovers I always know best.
It was very much father-son time initially on a Saturday afternoon. My mum was a keen fan and came when she could, like my brother, but it was me and my dad mainly. Being Bristol Rovers fans gave us a shared interest. As I grew older though I began to harbour desires of travelling to away games alone. By this point I’d struck up friendships with a number of the lads I stood with and fortunately they were keen to give it a go too. We’d just enjoyed our most memorable season in recent history having finished as runners-up in the JPT and having won the play-off final at Wembley 6 weeks later. We took in excess of 40,000 fans to both matches and this initiated my want of going to away games and standing alongside my fellow Gasheads. So me and my mate joined the supporters club and caught the coach to Leyton Orient on the final day of the following campaign. We went without our parents and there was an adventurous feel to the whole experience. Despite the fact the whole day cost me more than £30, I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing every time we had an away game.
The years rolled by and my original away-day partner fell by the wayside, paving the way for a school-friend and fellow Gashead to join me. That was around 2009/2010 and to this day we both continue to go to away games together. Our most recent was Torquay United on the final day of last season and our next will be Exeter City on the opening day of next season. Now we’re above the legal age to drink we catch the train to some matches, making the most of the whole day by getting pub breakfasts and getting drunk. That’s not to say we didn’t get away with being served in pubs before then but it opened up the potential to take booze with us on the trains without being chucked off. Good times. My dad works every few Saturdays now and has to miss some games, forcing me to ask my mate’s dad for a lift when I was 15-17. He never used to mind because he’s a close friend of my dad’s but I’ve become self-reliant in the past couple of years as I’ve learnt to drive and can take myself now. It limits my post-match activity in the supporters club bar but that’s life.
To other clubs and their supporters I think we’re seen as a big club who have failed massively in recent campaigns. We take excellent away followings, despite having been bottom of the entire Football League last Christmas, and so it is a bit of a coup for other sides when they beat us. It happened weekly pre-John Ward but not anymore. The messiah returned 20 years after first managing us to produce top 7 form consistently in the new year. The old-fashioned dogged Rovers spirit has been restored and our anthem ‘Goodnight Irene’ is bellowed loudly and proudly once again during every game. He has given us our club back after a period where Gasheads had never felt more detached from what was going on. It may not sound like much to shout about but it’s a big deal to us. Having Bristol Rovers means everything.
Let me quickly attempt to answer the 3 questions I mentioned earlier on in the article. How can I express my love for Bristol Rovers? I genuinely don’t think I can. They are part of my life and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. How can I explain the mood swings Rovers inflict? It’s an uncontrollable byproduct of being passionate about them. I don’t want to feel angry after a defeat but I am because I’m so absorbed by everything that happens. Finally, why is this season going to be any different? Well, as a fanbase we appreciate what we have now and have reason to be very optimistic for the future. The UWE Stadium, once built, is a massive step forward for us in terms of fulfilling our potential and if we can be in League One by the time we move in then anything is possible. I think this encapsulates what being a Gashead is all about. Having hopes and dreams and clinging on to them to believe that there is a brighter future on the horizon. This time, however, we are within touching distance of making it a reality.
Follow Nathan on twitter: @Harddtobeatt
Follow me on twitter: @DisguisedPass