Finally, after the most painful football-free summer I can ever remember, finally, the new season is here. Three months of made-up transfer guff, rumour-mongering, “S*y Sp**ts understands…” and (God help us) tit-peddling club mascots can at last be chucked over the back fence like the pest it is as the actual game of football returns. I’ve never missed the game more, in fact if I could I’d have run to Brighton in slow motion with my arms out, backed by a dramatic string section. Ahhhh football.
Of course the start of the new season means the end of an even more significant wait for Rovers’ opening day opponents. In late April 1997 Brighton beat Rovers 1-0 to aid their survival hopes and bring the curtain down on their last true home, the Goldstone Ground. Fourteen years after grown men wandered home through the streets of the South Coast town carrying lumps of turf, stadium seats and anything else that hadn’t been nailed (too firmly) down, Albion are back to a place they can call home. After a couple of season’s ground-sharing at Gillingham and a decade between the long jump pit and hammer age at the Withdean, the Seagulls finally make their competitive bow in Falmer.
Ever since that last match at the Goldstone Ground there has been a strong affinity between the fans of Brighton and Doncaster. Though the atmosphere for much of that game had been unsavoury, at the final whistle a comarardery was born between two sets of supporters who were being shat upon by unscrupulous club owners. Fans from both sides partied on the pitch that early spring evening, and the following season, as Rovers’ troubles worsened, Albion fans played key roles and gave vital advice to those running the Save the Rovers Group. Indeed a significant number of supporters who attended the first Fans United day, staged at Priestfield in February 1998, were desperate Doncastrians.
And so for all those reasons an empathy remains between supporters on both sides, people who have seen th very worst football in this country has to offer, and are now enjoying much healthier futures having come blinking into the light at the other end of the tunnel. Had you suggested to anyone at the Goldstone that in fourteen years time the two sides would come face to face in the second tier, each boasting popular owners and their own shiny new all-seater stadiums, the subsequent hilarity would certainly have diffused the early match tension. It’s fitting that we should have the honour of being the first to visit the Amex (for a competitive fixture) and the significance certainly won’t be missed by the majority of the 1500 travelling south.
Of course, sentiment aside, the main reason we are in Sussex is to see a game of football, and hopefully get the new season off to a positive start. The last week has been one of notable encouragement to Rovers’ supporters with tentative fears about the strength of the current squad allayed by the acquisitions first of Ryan Mason on a season long loan, and then yesterday of Rachid Bouhenna who has impressed pre-season, and the talented Giles Barnes. Concerns still remain in defence where notable talents remain unavailable, but the future looks much rosier now than it did in mid July.
Brighton would be a tough prospect at home this season, but its arguable that this weekend is the worst possible time to face the Seagulls. The positive momentum of a League One title has been given further fuel by the new stadium good vibes, and so the atmosphere that surrounds the whole club is sure to be nothing less than buoyant. The key to Rovers will be to assert themselves early and try to reign in the home frivolity; if Doncaster can mobilise their passing game in the opening half hour it should temper the key 12th man, and deaden the adrenaline of the other eleven.
Earlier in the week Rovers got in touch with the Viking Supporters Co-operative to ask for Doncaster fans’ memories of the last game at the Goldstone for a feature on the official club website. unfortunately, the game wasn’t the one long love-in its come to be regarded as and for two hours until the final whistle many Rovers fans were genuinely scared for their safety in an intimidating atmosphere. Here’s a few memories that didn’t make the official website piece;
BarnbyDunnyRover: “The closer it got to kick off we got the felling it was going to turn nasty. We made our way to the ground and I remember getting interviewed by Gary Stevens on Skysports. He asked “What do you thinks going to happen?” I think I replied “We will get the shit kicked out of us if we don’t get beat!”
Muttley: “I copped off with a bird in a nightclub opposite Brighton Pavilion and got a shag…is that the sort of thing you’re looking for?”
I-was-there1976: “…[some] Brighton fans were throwing bananas at Darren Moore.”
Scuzzer: “It’s without doubt the most intimidated I’ve ever been in a stadium and I wondered how the hell we were going to get out – until they scored! Then it all turned into the Brighton Donny ‘love in’ that we’re expecting to see again on Saturday”
King Barnes: “I can recall it being a pretty tense affair for most of the match – it was only after the goal and at the end when things became a bit calmer.”
A rare dilemma for Sean O’Driscoll this weekend as the Football League’s switch back from seven substitutes to five means that for the first time in about nine months there will be some fit and healthy Rovers players not involved in the matchday squad. Still there remains a number of notable absentees through injury with Brian Stock, Martin Woods, James Chambers, Adam Lockwood and James O’Connor all unavailable. Yesterday’s signings Rachid Bouhenna and Oscar Radford are still awaiting international clearance and Shelton Martis may also be unavailable, I don’t know. Such has been Shelton’s close season anonymity I actually had to check back to see whether he’d been sold.
Gary Woods has been nominated as first choice ‘keeper for the season so thats one starting place guaranteed and we expect Richard Naylor and Tommy Spurr to make debuts in the back-line tomorrow too. The restricted number of subs however means that one of new signings Kyle Bennett and Giles Barnes are likely to be omitted and simply on the basis of experience I’d expect it to be the former.
Gus Poyet has two definite absentees for the season opener, whilst two other members of the Albion squad are reportedly touch and go. According to the official Brighton site, local lads Tommy Elphick and Adam El-Abd are both unavailable with long-term injuries. Former Rotherham forward Will Hoskins is a significant doubt after picking up a knock in training, though Mauricio Taricco is expected to recover from the injury he sustained in last weekend’s friendly with Tottenham.
The Brighton side will also feature two faces familiar to Rovers fans. Tipped as one of Albion’s most dangerous players is Kazenga LuaLua, the former Newcastle midfielder who spent the back end of the 2008-09 season on loan at the Keepmoat Stadium. Also expected to line-up for the Seagulls is Scottish centre-half Gordon Greer, subject of one of my favourite Rovers’ chants of recent years; “He’s here, he’s theer, he’s every f***ing wheer, Gordon Greer, Gordon Greer”. An obviously talented defender that he has made it back up to this level is of no real surprise, although the news that he has staved off injury did cause this reaction at Viva Towers.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Gary Woods; Mustapha Dumbuya, Richard Naylor, George Friend, Tommy Spurr; Simon Gillett, John Oster, Ryan Mason; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Neil Sullivan, Sam Hird, Paul Keegan, Giles Barnes, Chris Brown
Travelling to the Game
As this is the first competitive game at the Amex, for the first and possibly only time we’re going to divert you to the Rovers’ official website for travel information as they have reproduced an instructional leaflet sent out by Brighton. As such all travel options are presented here.
One area in which you may have problems is if you’re driving to the game and collecting your tickets at the stadium, as it appears you need your ticket to enter the Park and Ride car-parks. As such one tip doing the rounds amongst Rovers fans is to park up at Glynde station (off the A27, just east of Lewes) and travel into Falmer on the train from there. Trains from Glynde leave at 23 minutes past the hour according to Rovers fan ‘Herman Hessian’… so if they don’t, its his fault ok.
Rejoice good people for a new season also brings a return of comprehensive 140 character or less match coverage. Yep battery and phone reception permitting Viva Rovers’ much heralded in-game twitter feed will be back in action for this game. If you’re on Twitter follow @vivarovers for our take on the game and events at the Amex. If you’re not a Twitter user you can still keep up with our reporting by refreshing the page at twitter.com/vivarovers.
If its proper live commentary you’re after then this is available via the club’s own Rovers Player service, though you will need to subscribe and touch a lot of wood to receive it. If you’re in South Yorkshire or on the South Coast expect updates on the match via BBC local radio. Alternatively online there are regular updates via BBC website’s Live Text service, though sadly for throw-in fans they no longer notify you each and every time the ball goes out of play. It’s a poorer service for it too. On the box the BBC’s Final score is accessible via the red button and with the Premier League yet to start we’re sure of a mention. Garth Crooks might even offer his expert opinion on Rovers’ fortunes… giving you the perfect opportunity to go and make a brew. Rumour has it Football Focus is being beamed live from Brighton too… just to rub in where you could’ve been.
If You Can’t Make the Game
Just because you’ve been unable to get a ticket for the game, or get down to the South Coast doesn’t mean you can’t cheer on the red and white hoops in person this Saturday. Get yourself down to the Keepmoat Stadium where the Doncaster Rovers Belles entertain Bristol Academy in the FA Women’s Super League. The match kicks off at 5pm and tickets are just £6 for adults.