As we look ahead to the upcoming season, lifelong Rovers fan John Coyle continues his ‘lowdown’ with part 3 of ‘Rovers on Tour'Rovers’ relegation to League Two offers one small silver lining: the opportunity to visit some new grounds as well as some which we haven’t been to for some time. John Coyle concludes his nationwide tour of the Football League’s bottom division with a look at six long distance trips that await Rovers fans next season. (What’s the betting most of these are in midweek?)
Rovers’ fans over the age of 30 may just about remember when NEWPORT COUNTY were members of the Football League. Rovers last played them in 1986-87, when County still played at their old Somerton Park ground. They were relegated from the old Division Three that season, yet still managed to do the double over Rovers. The following season County dropped out of the League and soon went out of business, but they reformed and gradually worked their way up through the leagues, returning to the Football League in 2013. Somerton Park is long gone, now a housing estate and those making the 189 mile trip to South Wales will be going to Rodney Parade. County have shared this venue with the Newport Gwent Dragons Rugby team since 2012, and it is a ground that formerly hosted county cricket. It has a capacity of 7,012 and away fans will be accommodated in the Bisley Stand.
Last time Rovers visited CRAWLEY TOWN they had a grand day out, winning 5-0 in February 2015. That was the first time in four games that Rovers had beaten the Sussex side, following a defeat and two draws. Crawley only entered the Football League in 2011, guided by the ever-charming Steve Evans who later moved on to manage Rotherham United and Leeds. The Chackatrade.com Stadium, formerly the Broadfield Stadium, holds 5,996 people, just over half of them seated. Fans making the long 214 mile trip will be accommodated on either the KR-L Terrace or in the seats in the West Stand. For those fascinated by such things, Checkatrade is a website providing access to details of vetted tradespeople while KR-L is a logistics company with a base at nearby Gatwick Airport. So now you know!
It isn’t that long ago that PORTSMOUTH’S Fratton Park hosted Premier League and European football. In 2008, after winning the FA Cup, they reached the group stages of the UEFA Cup and they were only relegated to the Championship in 2010 following a series of financial problems. They were relegated to League Two in 2013, and Rovers’ last visit to this Hampshire venue came in November 2012 when they won 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Iain Hume. Fratton Park has an all-seated capacity of 20,700 and those Rovers fans who make the 236 mile trip will be accommodated in the Milton End. This covered stand was a former terrace and seat have been bolted onto terracing, meaning that leg room is rather cramped. Think of the stand behind the goal at Bramall Lane and you won’t go far wrong. Portsmouth have a noisy and passionate group of supporters including the tattooed bell-ringer John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood (his actual name, which he changed by deed poll.) When not adding colour to the game / being a dratted nuisance (delete where not applicable) he runs an antiquarian bookshop!
No bell-ringing book dealers frequent Huish Park, as far as I am aware. The 244 mile trip to see Rovers play YEOVIL TOWN will seem like an opportunity to renew an old acquaintance, as since Rovers dropped into the Conference in 1998 the fortunes of the clubs seem to have almost run in parallel. Yeovil entered the Football League at the same time that Rovers re-joined it, and both teams have risen as high as the Championship and now fallen back to League Two. Away supporters will be able to enjoy standing on an open terrace, the Copse Road Terrace, which can hold up to 1,500 visitors. Seats are also available in the adjacent Screwfix Stand. Rovers last played at the 9,665 capacity Huish Park on the opening day of the 2014-15 season and won 3-0 against a side that had been relegated along with them from the Championship the previous season. Goals by Curtis Main, Harry Forrester and Theo Robinson secured a first away win over the Somerset side since March 2004. A repeat of that success would not go amiss this coming season.
A long journey (269 miles, in fact) awaits those planning to see Rovers take on EXETER CITY. St James’ Park, not to be confused with the home of Newcastle United, has a capacity of 8,830, over half of it standing accommodation. Good weather in Devon would be appreciated by travellers, who are housed on the open St James’ Road Terrace, although covered seats are available in the grandstand. The teams have not met in a competitive fixture since December 2004, when Rovers, then in League One, travelled south for a Second Round FA Cup tie. Exeter were then in the Conference and in some financial difficulty: their 2-1 giant-killing victory secured them a Third Round tie away at Manchester United and went a long way to keeping them afloat. In Rovers’ ranks that day was former Exeter player James Coppinger, who will be hoping for a happier return to the club he left 12 years ago to begin his long career in Doncaster.
Finally we come to our longest trip of the 2016-17 campaign: Rovers will face a trip of 298 miles to the Football League’s most south-westerly venue to face PLYMOUTH ARGYLE. Home Park was almost completely rebuilt in 2001, with three new seated stands added to the existing grandstand. It holds 16,388 seated spectators and despite the long journey offers a decent standard of comfort to travelling fans. 1,300 can be accommodated in the Barn Park End. Rovers last played there in November 2009, losing 1-2 after being hampered by a red card for Martin Woods. Rovers also lost by the same score to Argyle at the Keepmoat but despite this the Devon side were relegated. A further relegation followed in 2011 and Plymouth have remained in the bottom division ever since. All the same, they will surely be one of Rovers’ main rivals for promotion.