Who Are These Jobbers?
Never in my life would I have thought I would be describing a Tuesday night away at Bristol Rovers as being the “big one”, but, ladies and gentlemen, this is THE BIG ONE.
We are 90 minutes from Wembley and 90 minutes from frantically scrabbling to booking.com to reserve our spot in some god awful hostel in central London with the justification of “well, we’re only going to be sleeping there”.
All that stands in our way between a repeat of packing the streets of Covent Garden, singing songs about Alan Shearer and annoying literally every person in the Greater Borough of London is Bristol Rovers. That same Bristol Rovers we comfortably put to the sword ten days ago, that same Bristol Rovers with their uncovered stands and a Picasso painting of a football ground.
That same Bristol Rovers who Aiden McGeady popped over a free-kick and Charlie Wyke missed all those sitters against will also be incredibly excited at the prospect of pissing on our collective dreams. The Gas have, of course, already been to the “new” Wembley twice in recent years and won on both occasions.
Not only did they enjoy a League Two play-off final win back in 2007, but the national stadium was also the scene of their ‘phoenix from the flames’ moment when they beat Grimsby Town on penalties to win the Conference Premier play-off final in 2015. And since we last met they’ve got all big for their boots and roundly bodied Blackpool 4-0.
While many supporters are already wetting themselves with the thought of boring every man, woman and child in London about how we “took over” Covent Garden back in 2014, wouldn’t it just be #peakSunderland if we managed to conspire to lose to Bristol Rovers and deny us all of a memorable day out?
That is what is definitely going to happen, so don’t come crying to me when it does.
What’s The Ground Like?
For those that were not lucky enough to experience the Memorial Stadium on our most recent visit, I’ll will quickly surmise what to expect. You are unlikely to find anywhere similar in world football as the Bristol Rovers hierarchy have seemingly plucked stands from any source possible.
While are there two traditional football terrace for both the Blackthorn Terrace and part of the away end, there is also a cricket-style pavilion, a rugby-style seating stand and a series of awnings that wouldn’t look out of place at a wedding or country fair. It really does add a sense that the owners just did a one-stop shop at the football stand outlet store and brought everything back.
Sunderland supporters are housed in both the East and South stands and with rain forecast for Tuesday evening, take a coat if you’re in the East Stand because it doesn’t have a roof.
How Do I Get There?
Ha’way you should know the drill by now, if you’re driving it’s the A1(M), M1, M42 and M5 down to Bristol before leaving at junction 16 for Gloucester Road into Filton and the ground is just past The Wellington pub.
If you need a little more guidance then smash BS7 0BF into your sat nav.
Should you be taking the train down then Bristol Parkway is the nearest station to the ground but you’re more likely to arrive at Bristol Temple Meads. From here you can hop on the 73, 73A or 73B bus to the ground.
A Love Supreme buses leave the Stadium of Light at 11am with return fares priced at £42. Book your place here.
Where Can I Get The Sesh Started?
If you are the thinking man’s football supporter and opted for a half day in Bristol then you can enjoy an excellent pub crawl from the city centre to the Memorial Stadium. Head onto Gloucester Road and you will wander through the achingly trendy area of Montpelier which is home to a wealth of excellent hostelries.
Starting at The Pipe & Slippers at the bottom of Gloucester Road you can work your way up sampling the fine ale and cider this city produces. A highlight en route is the homely Prince of Wales while The Bristol Flyer is also another decent option. Closer to the ground both The Anchor and The Annexe Inn will quench your insatiable thirst.
I’m Staying Owa, Is There Owt To Do?
If you manage to have any spare time after the match then you can swing by The Louisiana to catch the fascinating audiobooks or The Lewis Creaven Band at Gallimaufry. If not simply bask in the beauty of *knocks very loudly on wood* Sunderland reaching a Wembley final or bemoan those stupid red and white bastards’ inability to reach London’s famous arch.