As I clicked on the ‘pay now’ button on the insanely complicated Bristol Rovers season ticket purchasing web page, I reflected on how it had come to this: I had just bought season tickets for two seats in the Family Stand.
In August 1999, I watched the total solar eclipse, with an excited crowd of people, from higher ground overlooking St Austell Bay in Cornwall. The chill in the air, the feeling of anticipation and the quiet gasps from my fellow onlookers when it finally happened will always stay with me. I mention this by way of analogy- I will always remember where I was when that once in a lifetime event happened before my very eyes. Similarly, I will always remember exactly where I was when I saw Stefan Payne leave the ground in an attempt to win the ball in the air. I was standing in the Thatcher’s End, behind the goal, slightly to the left as you look at the pitch, and there was that same quiet gasp of awe from all those present as this unique spectacle transpired before us. I can’t imagine that a single person present at that 1-nil home defeat against Wycombe will ever forget it.
Late-era Darrell Clarke was partially characterised by the wildly inconsistent results of his forays into the transfer market. For every Billy Bodin there was a Tom Nicholls, for every Liam Sercombe there was a Stefan Payne. But a much less-heralded purchase has ended up providing a much more lasting legacy for the club. Step forward Tony Craig.