Another tense game in Doncaster’s’ promotion push means another minute-by-minute diary from Viva Rovers, despite somewhat extenuating circumstances.
Dust off your ‘part-time supporter’ accusations and your ‘where were you?’ chants its confession time. I’m not going to Southend. I’m not even going to the pub to watch the game. The massive downside from last week’s defeat at Cheltenham is that this play-off match has fallen on my girlfriend’s birthday. Football, as I constantly try to remind myself, usually whilst I’m chewing my fingernails on a terrace somewhere, is not everything. And so I have chosen not to abandon my girlfriend on her special day.
My plan instead is this. Tonight I will avoid all reference to the game and at 6:30am tomorrow I will be round at a friend’s house to watch Sky Sports repeat early morning showing. He won’t be up, he’s leaving me a key, which is nice given that I’ve never been to his house before. So for now I’m heading to my girlfriend’s birthday drinks asking everyone I know not to text or call me in reference to the game. As my mate from the Lincolnshire Echo replies; “That’s red rag to a bull mate”.
I get another reply to my request in the form of a text from Dean, a die-hard Leicester City fan; “That’s really good of you mate. She’s a lucky girl with you giving up donny for the night!” I show Maria and I can tell by the way she shakes her head and rolls her eyes that she’s really impressed.
When you’re not at the match your senses for it get kind of numbed. Because I’ve known all week that I would not be able to watch this match I am pretty much dead to its existence. Its happening, but right now, unlike Rovers’ other games it’s not happening to me. Because to everyone else here in this bar it is just a football match I am able to put it to the back of my mind too, and so whereas last Saturday I was feeling genuinely ill hours before kick-off, here, miles away from the match I am able to, for now, place it elsewhere and carry on in a conversation like a normal human being.
Whilst at the bar I realise its now kick-off and on my return to the table I share this with Maria; she shows her understanding by briefly looking at me with a distinct hint of anger before returning to the conversation.
In the kitchen lighting Maria’s candles (on her cake, not a euphemism) I glance up at the kitchen clock and realise it is almost full-time. I contemplate turning my phone back to ‘normal mode’ and checking the score, after all I’ll still want to watch it regardless of the result but I manage to resist.
In bed, Maria is out for the count but I can’t sleep. Now that the day is over and I have done everything I had planned for her birthday the match has been slung violently to the front of my consciousness. No matter how much I try to ignore it and get some sleep my mind wanders its way back to tonight and next Friday and all the consequences of those two matches and beyond.
Still awake I give up on sleep and head downstairs. I weigh up checking teletext but manage to resist as I turn on the tv and settle down to some time trying to find anything to take my mind off the game whilst also keeping me awake. An array of dubious nocturnal television from Goalissimo to Trans World Sport to Takeshi’s Castle to MTV Cribs just about keep me awake but there’s no taming the thoughts of Rovers’ match. How will I feel if I stayed up all night to watch us get hammered? What if we’ve destroyed Southend? How will I stop myself from waking up Jay and his housemates?
My contemplation is interrupted by the comedic distraction of Pascal Chimbonda showing MTV round his Manchester apartment in pidgin English; “This is my chair… where I sit” “My television, which I watch”.
Lincoln at dawn and a bright hazy morning light silhouettes the Cathedral spires against a yellowy hue. But for a lone goose on the canal there is an eerie silence that, like Cheltenham last week, far from sets the tone for a vital football match. The only signs of recent life as I cross the west edge of the city are a discarded chip laden takeaway box in the middle of the pavement and an abandoned barbecue in a student front yard.
At Jay’s house I find the key under the mat, but am unable to get it to work in the top lock of the door. Two whole minutes of attempting to silently twist and turn the key and handle and I am still on the doorstep. A slow panic creeps in, what do I do now? There’s nothing else for it, and I bravely turn on my phone. I avoid the three new messages and text Jay, deciding I can’t ring him at this hour. Because, well I wouldn’t want to wake him. Three minutes later and with no reply I am sat on the step on the verge of despair, when I look up and notice the bottom lock is of similar style to the top one; the key works and I’m in with two minutes to spare. Now all I need to do is find the TV without mistakenly entering someone’s bedroom.
Thirteen minutes into the game and to my horror Sky cut to adverts! F***ing adverts! What the hell is going on? F**k Super Sunday and Drink Drive ads, its 6:45am if you’ve elected to take to the road under the influence at this hour an advert aint gonna stop you. And who cares about f***ing Tesco at this hour? No matter how good their car insurance is interrupting this game is getting you no custom from me. And yet more ads; McDonalds, Carlsberg, Esure, Duracell, what the hell?! And f***ing Renault. And now Homebase. How many ads is that? Nine? And now an advert for Sky Sports… I’m f***ing watching Sky Sports already. And SkyBet… and finally we go back to the game and I look to the scoreboard anxiously, thankfully I’ve missed no goals, but now its the 28th minute; fifteen minutes removed at will by Sky.
“Neat little triangles by Doncaster, excellent play,” says the commentator and I think of ‘the Coach’; the annoying bloke who stood in front of us and hundreds others on the Popular Stand. He earned his nickname from yelling footballing soundbites like ‘triangles’ and also affording his own nicknames to the players, invariably by simply adding a ‘Y’; ‘Patterson-y’ being my particular favourite. He’s probably there tonight, yelling “Switch it Coppingery”.
So that’s that; 0-0. After all that I appear to have missed nothing, although that is of course never the case. Going to the game always means much more than just the result. I’ve been allowed a better view of most of the game’s incidents via the TV but it doesn’t compare to being there; had I been there I would have endured this rather than enjoyed it. The experience is always heightened when you’re within the match, which is why I hate missing games. You’ll always find a way to see the goals or the highlights but you’ll never get to experience the new jokes and anecdotes that come from the lived.
I let my self stealthily out the house and at the end of Jay’s road I call in the shop to pick up a paper, the shop is empty; people are always more trusting on a summer’s morning. When the shopkeeper eventually appears I buy my paper and head home, acknowledging a mate on his way to work with a wave. It’s a strange hour to have just watched such a vital game, and I feel somewhat distanced from the match. I check the paper to see what they think, and The Guardian is completely devoid of any reference to the game’s existence. Just as it felt for most of the past twenty-four hours really and I’m back in bed before my girlfriend has even stirred.