“Do You Go?

Gas-in-Exile Maff Tucker on missing the Blackthorn Roar.

Suddenly, it stopped. No more number 75 up the hill, no more pre-match pint in the Crafty Cow, no more post-match pint in the Annexe. No Piglet Pie, no skate across the waterlogged bogs, no colourful cascade of ripped-up 50/50 draw tickets thrown in the air. A big fat hole in your Saturday routine.

For you this happened when Coronovirous hit in 2020, but for me the same thing happened 18 months earlier, when I moved away from Bristol to Turin, to start my new life as a straniero in Italy.

I’d been a regular on the Bass/Blackthorn/Thatchers for 21 years and seen it all. Bignot vs Everton, Agogo’s one-man miracle vs Yeovil, “you never made it Caskey”, Culkin in a crash helmet, Lincoln in the playoffs, and both the recent relegations. On my wall is my season ticket for the conference season, of which i went to every game (big shout to Jem for carting me up there on a wet Tuesday night when i didn’t want to go!). And then of course, Browners Right Foot.

Gasheads surf a flag over the Blackthorn Terrace

If anyone asked, everyone knew – “Maff’s a gashead”. It was part of my identity that i took with me, to countless conversations on holiday, at work, at the bus stop, everywhere. But it was all based on “going” to the Mem.

“Do you go?” I would ask Gasheads I met, and if the answer was “not for a while”, I would lose interest in their opinion. We need to get it in the box more – how would you know? Such and such is crap – oh, is that what the Green’Un/message board/WhatsApp said, was it? If you don’t go, you don’t know. Even if you don’t see it (from behind the pillar, or over the shoulder of the basketball squad that always seem to find me to stand in front of), you feel it, absorb it. Harsh, but true.

Now, I don’t go. I don’t know, and it hurts. Were Couglans Cloggers a return to old skool Rovers or more ‘managed decline’ under the Al Qadis? Don’t ask me, all my info is second-hand. I don’t go. When i do come back to Bristol I’ll come to a game, but it’s not the same. I love it, love seeing everyone, love being back on the Thorn, but I’m a stranger there now. I’m not at home.

I’ve started going to watch Torino at the Stadio Olimpico. Good times, got good mates i go with and, it being Italy, everyone is very friendly and interested to see an inglese on the curva. Very much the smaller team in the city, the atmosphere is “ragbag” and authentic (my first game was their historic 1-7 defeat to Atalanta, textbook Jonah!) and so it feels comfortable. But “I am a Rovers Man” and so it’s only methadone for my Gas addiction. I’m sure it will grow the more I go, but at the moment I still feel like a tourist.

So, while I’m here, the only place i can get a fix is I Follow. It’s a good hit in many ways, and I get a better view than I ever had in the stadium. Its much easier to rate performances, assess team shape, see when we lose and gain momentum. Also very welcome is the Radio Bristol commentary; I never thought I’d miss the voice of Richard Hoskins but it certainly beats watching the updates on Twitter. So, yep, a good product and well worth the fee.

But it’s not the same as going. There’s a great line in the Vietnam war film “Apocalypse Now,” where the soldiers recreate a Calfornia surfing beach and BBQ on the Mekong river:

“The more they tried to make it just like home, the more they made everybody miss it”

Jonson Clarke-Harris celebrates a goal for Bristol Rovers

I don’t want the best view in the stadium, I don’t want HD quality, and to be able to hear what Garner is shouting to the midfield. I want to read the teamsheet on the terrace and talk about it with my brother and my nephews. I want to barrel half-cut down the middle terrace with the lads at 3.05pm, and make the moaning old men tutt and shake their heads at me. I want the goalie to show me his ass, to see the ecstatic face of the striker running towards me after he scores. I want to join the chorus, to sing of the country and town, of gambling and rambling, and jumping in rivers to drown. I want to applaud the players and give them the thumbsup as the boos rain down, and know they saw me, and appreciated it. I want to make the club stronger, to be a part of it. To go.

So, this feeling you have now, of missing it – remember it. When the season starts again, when we’re shit again, when it’s a sunny Saturday and you’re ready to sack it off and stay in the garden. You don’t know what you’ve got til its gone, so go.

Don’t worry about me by the way. The summer here lasts for six months, you can drink beer on the terrace, and the best pizza you ever tasted costs five quid! Until the next time I’m back on the Thorn; Up the Gas! Come on my Blue Boys!