As we look ahead to the upcoming season, lifelong Rovers fan John Coyle continues his ‘lowdown’ with part two 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 continues his nationwide tour of the Football League’s bottom division with a look at eight slightly longer trips that await Rovers fans next season.
Regular opponents in Rovers’ days in the Football Conference, STEVENAGE (no longer known as Borough) played host to a notable day during our League One Championship-winning campaign in 2012-13. In January 2013 Rovers fans that made the 134 mile trip to the Lamex Stadium saw their team trail after 66 minutes and then equalise with 11 minutes to go. Then, in the last minute Rob Jones, in his first match as joint caretaker-manager, scored the winner with a trademark towering header. The stadium, better known to locals as Broadhall Way, has a capacity of 6,920, with room for 1,400 travelling fans. Despite the distance the relative ease of the journey via the A1 may make it a popular away day for Rovers fans.
It’s the M1 for LUTON TOWN, though with a similar distance of 137 miles from Doncaster. A visit to Luton tends to give the lie to the statement that “it’s grim up north,” although the sort of people who say that probably think Luton is IN the north! Luton have had more ups and downs than most clubs, having been regulars in the old Division One before just missing out on a place in the inaugural season of the Premier League. Then between 2006 and 2009 Town had the misfortune to fall from the Championship to the Conference Premier in successive seasons. They gained promotion back to the Football League in 2014. A move from Luton’s Kenilworth Road ground has often been mooted but has never materialised. Rovers have not won at the venue, whose all-seated capacity is 10,226, since 1952 but have drawn on each of their last two visits. Visiting fans are accommodated in the Oak Road Stand, which is accessed via a small alleyway.
Like Stevenage, CHELTENHAM TOWN are old Conference opponents of Rovers, and like Luton they have recently flirted with non-League football. Town’s exile from League Two has only lasted one season, and just now their ground really must be the World Of Smile Stadium! The ground, better known as Whaddon Road, is now named after a firm who provide conservatories, summer houses and sheds. The ground holds 7,066 people and away fans are housed in the 1,100 seat Hazlewoods Stand. Rovers’ last visit was a FA Cup tie in January 2009 which ended in a 0-0 draw. However, a more significant game took place eight months earlier. Despite many fans making the 145-mile trip, Rovers lost 1-2 in their final game of the League One season. That result meant they would have to enter the play-offs, while also preserving Town’s League One status. So thank you, Cheltenham Town, for that memorable Wembley day in May 2008!
CARLISLE UNITED’S Brunton Park ground is also 145 miles from Doncaster, although in almost the opposite direction from Cheltenham. The ground was severely affected by flooding last season and United were forced to play several games on neutral venues as well as totally relay their pitch. The ground has a capacity of 18,202 and away fans are allocated up to 2,000 seats in the Pioneer Stand opposite the older Main Stand. The open Petterill End, named after the river which burst its banks last winter, used to house away fans but is now only opened for big games. Rovers have been here relatively recently, winning 3-1 in November 2012 with goals from Rob Jones, David Cotterill and Tommy Spurr. Carlisle won the return game in April 2013, a result that threatened to derail Rovers’ League One promotion hopes, although things turned out well in the end.
Rovers have played BARNET on a number of occasions since they first joined the Football League in 1991 but the 154 mile trip via the M1 will represent our first visit to The Hive (home of The Bees, geddit?) Barnet moved to the 5,233 capacity stadium in Edgware in 2013, formerly their training centre, after being unable to extend their lease on Underhill. Their former ground still exists as a training base for Rugby League side London Broncos. Rovers have not played Barnet since their final season in the Football Conference, a 2-1 away victory at Underhill representing the only time Rovers have won at Barnet. Away fans should be accommodated in the new North Stand, due for completion this summer and with seats for 1,890 people. This could prove to be a popular away trip, especially for Exiles and ground-collectors.
Rovers’ other visit to the capital is a rather more familiar one, as we met LEYTON ORIENT as recently as April 2015. A Rob Jones goal secured a 1-0 victory and pushed the home side closer to ultimate relegation from League One. The East London side were expected to bounce back and lead League Two for a while, but disappointing results, managerial changes and disputes between board room and dressing room contributed to a season of under achievement. Those making the 166 mile trip from Doncaster to the Matchroom Stadium, perhaps better known as Brisbane Road will be accommodated in the south end of the old Main Stand. This houses the Peter Kitchen Snack Bar and while it is nice to see a tribute to a man who is a true legend to fans of both Rovers and Orient, wouldn’t it be more fitting if the whole stand was named in his honour?
Although the journey from Doncaster to WYCOMBE WANDERERS’ Adams Park is shorter as the crow files, it is actually 170 miles by the shortest road route. The ground has a capacity of 10,300 and up to 2,000 away fans can be seated in the Dreams Stand behind a goal. Nightmares might be more appropriate for Rovers where the Buckinghamshire club is concerned, as they have never beaten Wycombe in a competitive match. Following two losses in Wycombe’s first Football League season, 1993-94, Rovers last travelled to Adams Park for a League Cup 3rd Round tie in October 2006. The game was 1-1 at full time, 2-2 after extra time and the home side won 3-2 on penalties, on-loan goalkeeper Ricardo Batista saving from James Coppinger, Sean McDaid and Brian Stock. So remember, Copps- revenge is a dish best eaten cold!
Finally for now we come to an away day which will have recent and painful memories for travelling fans. Those who made the 174 mile trip to COLCHESTER UNITED’S Weston Homes Community Stadium on Good Friday will have gone home very unhappy. Despite taking an interval lead via Gary McSheffrey’s debut goal, Rovers crumbled on the second half to lose 1-4 to a team below them in the League One table. The result did little for the Essex side’s hopes of remaining in the Third Tier and they were duly relegated along with Rovers. The stadium, which was opened in August 2008, has a seated capacity of 10,105, and is used for other events as well as football. On 25th June Lionel Ritchie will play there and he will be doing a very lengthy show- All Night Long, in fact! Away fans will be accommodated in either the JobServe Stand or the adjacent Roman Cars Stand. Roman Cars? I thought they were called Chariots?