Sunday, 19 February 2017

18/02/17 Review: Port Vale vs Bristol Rovers

Port Vale 1-1 Bristol Rovers (League One)
Vale Park

A second write-up from 'Pint Of Football' Reviews would come from a follow-up visit to Vale Park. Having visited the Burslem ground at the start of last season for a friendly with Bolton Wanderers, I was now back at one of my local grounds with two of greatest chums, Will and Tom (Partizan Bristle), as well as another Rovers fan Jack.

Away days
With time on our sides, we headed through to Burslem with well over an hour of drinking time before the game, and our pre-match pit-stop would take place at the Bulls Head pub. We had a great time here and I would highly recommend this pub to home or away fans visiting Vale Park- a rough-and-ready kind of place, Bulls Head served up a refreshing beer to locals and travellers alike as well as offering up a BBQ in the back yard to quench the appetite of footy fans before they shoot off to the ground for some League One action. With fifteen minutes to spare before the match kicked-off, me and Will made a late dash for the ground knowing that we may well miss a couple of minutes of game time. Jack and Tom had already headed over- as Rovers fans they weren't as blasé in their approach to getting there as we were. In an afternoon of highs and lows, one great moment for me and my fellow Yorkshireman was when the away supporters decided to get us involved in the big away day and just before leaving the Bull we were honoured for our temporary allegiance to the Gas by being surrounded for a chant of "Yorkshire Gas, they're avin a laugh. They're Yorkshire Gas and they're avin a laugh". It is true, at this point we were almost definitely having a laugh.
Come on yoooooou Rooooooooovers
Unfortunately for us the afternoon did not carry on this friendly-spirited manor and as we walked to the ground, things would take a dramatic turn for the worse on Jenkins Street. Whilst merrily walking down the street, a bald man appeared from amongst a ramble of Vale fans and started shouting at the two of us. In an attempt to defuse the situation, we told the Burslem-bred barbarian that we were neutrals. His response was to walk into me and kick me in the shin, sending my shoe off down the street and therefore knocking me to the floor. By the time I'd stood up and collected my shoe, I looked up and the lads had gone and the only person in-sight was my shocked pal rushing to comfort me having just been assaulted by a 40+ year-old Port Vale gangster! It's safe to say that from now on I would certainly not be a neutral and we were delighted to be taking up our seats in the away end and cheering on Darrell Clarke's barmy army.

Here we go then
The away side today were sitting in 10th place at the start of the day, but after losing leading scorer Matty Taylor in the worst possible way to bitter rivals Bristol City they were in slightly lacklustre form. They have drawn the last three matches prior to this one and have managed just three away wins on the road all season, meaning that newly-promoted Bristol Rovers would need to pick up the pace again if they are to chase a third successive promotion. The Valiants on the other-hand have had a terrible season so far, sitting just above the drop-zone before kick-off and without a win in the league in 2017. The home side have, believe it or not, got a better defensive record this season than their opponents and since Rovers have no staring striker to boast at present I'd predicted a tight-affair. 0-0 was my pre-match guess. The game had just started as we took our seats in the ground, but it was apparent that we hadn't missed much. The atmosphere from the away support was nothing short of great from the off and chants were spewing out left, right and centre amongst the blue and white dressed Bristolians. Despite this though, the match remained goalless and half-time came around with the odds remaining likely for me to achieve my scoreline prediction. I used the majority of half-time to seek first aid attention for me knee which was still pouring with blood after taking a kick from the Burslem-bully. I was consoled my the St John Ambulance team before heading back over to the away stand to collect a beer that the lads had kindly purchased for me. And surprise, surprise, whilst I was stood in the back I missed the opening goal- an own-goal from the Gas left-back Bob Harris. Vale 1-0 Rovers.

The noisy away end from afar
This was my third time watching Rovers and on the previous two occasions I had seen them labour to a 0-0 draw against my beloved Macclesfield Town and just about overcome Grimsby Town at Wembley after winning on penalties from a 1-1 draw in the Conference Play-off Final. Ellis Harrison, who was playing up-top today too, was so far the only Rovers player I'd seen score a live goal in two and a half matches and after he was replaced just after the hour mark I wouldn't be seeing him chip-in again. The away side did rally though and as we clocked in to the 78th minute Billy Bodin decided he was going to do something to rectify his side's poor showing. He took the ball in his grasp, ran towards the Valiants penalty-area before unleashing a powerful strike past Leonardo Fasan and therefore sent the travelling support into instant joy. Vale 1-1 Rovers. By this stage, more off-the-pitch ugliness had seen several stewards evacuate a selection of Rovers fans from the ground and I'd also seen police start to form and take on Rovers fans as the match drew to a close. I was rather disappointed to see all of this violence from fans, stewards and police across my trip to Vale Park, as I am usually used to enjoying the match in a much different atmosphere. Having travelled to the rough-end of Belfast to watch Cliftonville back in October, this was by far the most hostile game I'd been to.

Full-time, 1-1
As we left the ground at the end of the match, we witnessed some truly horrific scenes and I felt that the afternoon's sour undertone had completely changed my opinion on certain aspects of the game. Granted, I am primarily a visitor of non-league football clubs and I am more at home at the likes of Kidsgrove Athletic than Port Vale, but to see images like we saw today brought to light one of the many reasons why I actually enjoyed the game I witnessed a day later at ex-Evo-Stik club Norton United's ground (Blog entry to follow) more than this one. We eventually pulled ourselves away from the skirmishes and headed back to the Bulls Head, wading past aggressive post-match fans from both sides, people wiping pepper-spray out of their eyes and even a bunch of policemen piled on top of a middle-aged man covered in blood on his head. Truly awful sights.

There are no words
It is safe to say that the presence of such an assertive police force made the situation far worse than it could have been, as some innocent Rovers fans laid in need of medical attention aside from the action. Despite this negativity and the poor game though, we did get chatting to some friendly Vale fans on the walk back to the pub and once we were there I even met up with my mate Ian, another Rovers fan, for a beer and a catch-up. As I've said it was definitely an afternoon of good moments and horrible ones, but it certainly wasn't a boring afternoon out and about with a couple of my best chums!

No comments:

Post a Comment