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.Long serving fan John Coyle starts his nationwide tour of the Football League’s bottom division with a look at some of the more “local” trips that await Rovers fans next season.
There is approximately 35 miles between the Keepmoat Stadium and the ground most of us know as Field Mill. Now the One Call Stadium, MANSFIELD TOWN have transformed their home into an all-seater stadium with a capacity of 9,295. Rovers’ last visit came in December 2006 in a second round FA Cup tie, when a late Brian Stock goal salvaged a draw against lower division opponents. The replay, which Rovers won 2-0, was the last FA Cup match played at Belle Vue. Others may remember our last League visit, in February 2004, when two second half goals from Gregg Blundell secured a 2-1 victory.
That win took Rovers to the top of what was then Division Three, a position they did not forfeit for the remainder of the season. A similar outcome this season would be appreciated. Rovers fans will be accommodated in the 1,800 capacity North Stand, which as previous visitors may remember used to be the home end.
Another Nottinghamshire opponent awaits in NOTTS COUNTY (48 miles) whose Meadow Lane ground will be familiar to many travelling Rovers. Our last visit was only just over a year ago, in April 2015, when we lost 1-2 to a County side who still failed to avoid relegation to League Two.
Meadow Lane has a capacity of over 20,000, a figure that has not been tested for a number of seasons. Seating for 1,300 visiting fans is available in the Jimmy Sirrell Stand, a structure named after a long serving County manager. Recently “long serving” hasn’t been a phrase that can be associated with this club’s bosses. In fact, “Manager of the Month” has been less of an award and more of a job title at Meadow Lane of late.
Following GRIMSBY TOWN’S victory in the National League Play-Off Final, Rovers fans can expect a 54 mile trip to Blundell Park, which as anyone who has taken part in a football quiz will know is actually based in Cleethorpes. Rovers have not won at Blundell Park since May 1979, when a hat-trick by former Town legend Jack Lewis secured a 4-3 win over the already-promoted home side. Rovers’ last visit came in November 2007 when they lost a penalty shoot-out 5-4 in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie. This was controversial, as a retake was ordered after goalkeeper Ben Smith saved the decisive kick. Away fans are accommodated in the Osmond Stand, which as I understand is not a tribute to a 1970’s Boy Band from Utah. Up to 2,200 away fans can be accommodated in what is now an all-seater stadium with a capacity of 9,062.
The west side of the Pennines is better represented in League Two than the east, and ground-hoppers will be looking forward to the 86 mile trip to ACCRINGTON STANLEY. Stanley’s 5,057 capacity WHAM Stadium, also known as the Crown Ground, is not somewhere which Rovers have ever visited. Fans of old-school spectating will be licking their lips with anticipation at the prospect of standing on the uncovered Coppice Terrace, which can accommodate 1,800 people. There is also some seating accommodation in the Whinney Hill Stand.
The clubs have met twice since Stanley’s rebirth, once at Belle Vue in 2006, when Rovers won a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie 2-0, and at the Keepmoat in August 2010 when Stanley won a League Cup tie 2-1. Incidentally the name of the stadium is not a tribute to 80s pop duo George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, rather it is due to corporate sponsorship from an on-line retailer of plastic boxes.
Another north-western trip will be more familiar, especially to those who had the misfortune to attend the recent game at CREWE ALEXANDRA, which all but confirmed Rovers relegation from League One. The 98 mile journey back from the Alexandra Stadium, also known as Gresty Road, was not a pleasant one for Rovers fans, following a 1-3 defeat to a team already relegated. The pre-match visit to the excellent Gresty Road chippy was the highlight of the day for most travellers. Three years earlier Rovers enjoyed a much better day, when substitute Billy Paynter’s two goals secured a 2-1 victory and took Rovers a step closer to the League One title.
Away fans are accommodated in the Whitby Morrison Stand, named in honour of a local manufacturer of ice cream vans. I’ll have a flake in mine, thanks very much!
It is also 98 miles to HARTLEPOOL UNITED’S Victoria Park, though travellers should head north rather than west. The ground has a capacity of 7,833, approximately half of which is seated and away fans are housed in the all-seated Rink End. This is named not after an ice skating arena but the Queen’s Rink Ballroom, once Hartlepool’s premier night spot, which stood behind the ground.
The ballroom closed in 1968, so the fact that the end has not been renamed suggests change happens slowly in these parts. Rovers last played here in the 2012-13 season, when the sides finished at the opposite end of League One. Rob Jones’s late equaliser, after Rovers trailed to a disputed penalty, made the smile drain from the face of Sky presenter Jeff Stelling, perhaps Hartlepool’s best known fan. I witnessed Rovers’ last League victory here, on a surprisingly bright and warm day in January 1997. Colin Cramb scored a hat trick in a 4-2 win and I had my first ever look around Hartlepool Marina, a reminder that this is a coastal town. Hartlepool’s maritime connections produced the local legend about a monkey washed ashore, the only survivor of a shipwreck. The fate of the unfortunate creature gives rise to the nickname of both football club and townsfolk- the Monkey Hangers!
BLACKPOOL will be familiar to Rovers fans young and old, both as a holiday destination and as a recent opponent. The sides met in League One in 2015-16, both winning on opposing soil. Rovers’ fans that made the 114 mile trip to the seaside in November 2015 were rewarded with a 2-0 victory, goals from Andy Williams and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair sealing the win.
Bloomfield Road has a seated capacity of 16,750 which is seldom tested these days, as the club has plummeted from the Premier League to League 2 in the space of five years. Away supporters will be accommodated in the Stan Mortensen Stand, a fitting tribute to a man who scored a hat-trick in a FA Cup Final for which another player (Stanley Matthews) is actually best remembered. An early season visit to the town noted for ”fresh air and fun” would no doubt be appreciated by Rovers fans, although past form suggests we’ll be going there on a cold Tuesday night in February.
Not many people from Doncaster would consider CAMBRIDGE UNITED to be a local game, but due to the diverse geographical spread of League Two next season the 119 mile trip to the R. Costings Abbey Stadium is in fact one of the shorter ones. It is also a familiar one, as Rovers played there in the FA Cup in December 2015, coming away with a 3-1 win thanks to two goals from Conor Grant and one from Mitchell Lund. The ground has a capacity of 9,617 with seated accommodation for away fans in the 1,600 capacity Marston’s Smooth South Stand (don’t be put off by the name- you don’t actually have to drink the stuff. Mine’s Bovril!) In order to get to the stand you have to cross part of Coldham’s Common, which has existed as common land since at least the 14th century. The land is used for both recreational activities and grazing cattle, so beware of flying balls and cow pats. Your correspondent lived in Cambridge in the mid-1980s and has watched many games down here, though they were never an adequate substitute for watching the Rovers in action.
Finally in this section a ground that will be new to most Rovers supporters. MORECAMBE’s Globe Arena opened in 2010 and the coming season will see the first Football League meeting between the two clubs. Those making the 123 mile trip to the North West coast will find that unusually for a new stadium, the Arena’s 6,476 capacity is only partially seated. Away fans will be housed in the standing East Terrace (1400 capacity) with additional seating available in the Peter McGuigan Stand on the south side of the ground.
Rovers have met Morecambe before during our five year sojourn in the Football Conference, with all games played at either Belle Vue or Morecambe’s old home, Christie Park. Rovers won all four meetings in their first year at that level, two in the League, two in the cup, but thereafter lost on every subsequent visit to the seaside. As with Blackpool, sun and seaside lovers, will be hoping for an early season trip to the birthplace of the comedian John Eric Bartholomew who took the town’s name as his professional surname. A shame that he then became a Luton Town fan!
Look out for part 2 of ‘Rovers on Tour’ next week for all your League Two Lowdown!