By Mark Scully
From the Bernebeu to the Memorial Stadium in just under a week, does that entitle me to be called a Ground Hopper? Or is that just a non-league term? Either way, one Saturday I’m seeing Iker Casilles, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo the next Matt Duke, Guy Branston and the magic man Gary Jones.
As Jason (McKeown) picked me up bright and early Saturday morning, I was as excited about seeing Bradford at The Memorial Stadium just as much as I was seeing Real Madrid seven days earlier. You couldn’t get two more contrasting football venues if you tried, in the Bernebeu I was sat under heaters and had free Real Madrid WIFI to play whilst watching some of the world’s best players. Certainly a treat, but could I get used to it?…Not for me, would I want to be one of the many that enjoyed tucking into my tapas (lest call that the prawn sandwich brigade over in Viva Espana!) I wouldn’t is the answer.
Back in Bristol and The Gas couldn’t even offer me a roof over my head, well they did but I’ve seen better marquees at a wedding! I was very disappointed with The Memorial Stadium; it was a new ground for me to tick off the list as I had never previously been to Bristol Rovers. It was a complete mix of stands, whilst they have clearly spent some money on the main stand the rest of the ground is quite poor which surprised me, traditionally The Gas have been a strong lower league team and especially in League Two are big name at this level. Although they generally live in the shadow of their cross city rivals, they have tended to be a difficult opponent to many a team at the best of times over the years.
In the pub prior to the game, we met fellow Width of the Post writer David Lawrence and as we all enjoyed a pint we decided standing out in the elements would be a good idea. Given the fact it was lashing down with rain and was only going to get worse this wasn’t my best idea, but one which at 5pm, whilst looking like a drowned rat, I was happy I’d made. The entertainment value of the game softened the blow of getting drenched, it’s a good job Jason had some good heaters in his car though otherwise I’d be off work with pneumonia in the coming days.
In the ground we set about taking our vantage point, as we also met another Width of the Post writer, Alex Scott. We had barely picked our spot before the obviously predictable happened and Guy Branston headed home to give the home side the lead. The former City captain appeared to celebrate and taunt the travelling away fans, something he has since denied on twitter. Either way you couldn’t get a worst start to a game if we’d tried.
Without wanting to do another match report, as Jason has already provided one yesterday, the story of the game has already been told. I think all three of our goals were extremely well taken, with Nakhi Wells bearing down on goal more often than not the net is going to bulge. Carl McHugh, who had a tough game against Tom Eaves, absolutely bulleted his header in the net whilst Garry Thompson provided a Nicky Summerbee-esc cross for James Hanson all three superb goals.
On the other hand, two of the three conceded goals were soft. The first McHugh lost Branston then Atkinson should have cleared on the line, whilst Duke in my opinion should have done better with the second goal. I think the weather played a huge part in the general performances of both keepers, but he looked nervous at times and struggled to hold the ball on occasions. The weather was utterly horrendous which made conditions difficult for all the players.
Fingers will be pointed at Duke and some will question whether Jonny Mac should be back in the side, the latter was dropped after the 1-0 defeat to Burton Albion when between himself and Thompson proceeded to give The Brewers all three points. Whilst at Rotherham earlier in the season when Duke was deemed to be at fault for a least one of The Millers goals he was immediately dropped, which would suggest if Parkinson feel’s Duke should have done better then he’ll be warming the bench against Brentford as Parky has seemingly been quite ruthless with his keepers when they have made mistakes this season.
At full time after witnessing The Bantams three times come back in horrendous conditions I was extremely pleased with the result. Despite Bristol Rovers struggling currently, Bradford have not done well there down the years and it’s easy to say but in years gone by we would have lost that game. The character and spirit in the side is a joy to behold at times. Yes we make mistakes, but we are serious contenders this season, how serious we are going to be will be told on February 1st if Nakhi Wells is still a Bradford player or not. If we lose Wells that has the ability to derail what has so far been a very successful season.
For me this is what football is all about; blood, guts, thunder and passion. Tearing my hair out one minute and jumping for joy the next. Texting my brother the score updates only to update him straight away again that we have gone behind again or drawn level again. Could I get that at The Bernebeu? Not likely, just like the fans who turn up in there thousands at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford every week, it’s a theatre environment. Nice every now and again, but not every week. Not for me anyway.
Driving back with the Shandyman Jason (given a little shout out by Robbie Savage on BBC 606!) it had been a long trip, I’d had it easy been co-pilot but it had been a great day a great advert for League Two. A 3-3 draw and six different scorers on the score sheet, okay the two red cards could of been left of the advert but this is what football’s all about, not witnessing Karim Benzema or Ronaldo doing tricks and flicks playing to the crowd in front of a huge stadium not only in the stadium but to millions of football fans around the world watching on TV.
I like my comforts but heaters and WIFI at a football match, two or three times I’d enjoy that, but watching my beloved Bantams come away with a well earned point was mightily more satisfying than the 5-1 thrashing I’d witnessed Madrid hand out seven days earlier.