Like most of the wonderful people on VB, I have been a football fan since I can remember. All of the males in my family are football mad and luckily they are all Rovers fans, so naturally I grew up loving football, and Rovers from a very early age.
Being a football fan you learn to expect twists and turns, you learn that you can go from elation to heartbreak within a heartbeat, you learn to expect the unexpected, but most importantly you learn that no matter what may happen you stand by the team you love. Through the good times and the bad, the highs and the lows, the star signings and the flops, the wins and the losses. For every Shearer there's a Grabbi, for Every Tugay there's an Andrews, and for every great win there's a humiliating defeat. It plays with your emotions, messes with your mind and toys with your heart. It can make you feel like the king of the world and it can also make you feel down in the dumps. It's a game for everyone, regardless of age, sex, gender, class and race. It's tribal, it's us against them and we will show them that our boys are the best, we are not to be messed with and we are the best fans in the world!
All of the above and more are what make football so wonderful. There's a reason it is called the beautiful game, and all you need to do is watch the FA Cup's 'giant killing' ties to see why. In what other sport would a plumber from Penzance get to play against the likes of Rooney and Tevez? It's the stuff of dreams and it's what makes this game so unique.
It provides us with memories and moments to treasure, and on the flip side it provides us with moments we would sooner forget, which is what lead me to think about my best and worst moments as a Rovers fan.
The year was 2001, we had just been promoted back to the big league under Graeme Souness and we were widely expected to struggle to make an impact in the league. But Souness, armed with the likes of David Dunn and Damien Duff, had different ideas.
We started off rather disappointingly, with only 5 Premier League wins from 20 matches by the end of December and at this point we were in a real relegation scrap. Despite our lacklustre league form, we had been plodding along quite nicely in the League Cup, progressing to the Semi Final stage with an emphatic 4-0 win over Arsenal only 3 days after getting losing at home to Leeds in the league.
2002 began with another loss away to Tottenham, and at this stage you could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. But things began to look up when we beat Sheffield Wednesday 6-3 on aggregate to progress to our first ever League Cup final. With a sense of renewed hope and optimism around the club, we held our collective breath in anticipation that we would begin to turn our league from around, but it was not to be and between beating Sheffield Wednesday and the Carling Cup final, we had managed to lose 3 consecutive matches in the league and we were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesborough. By the time the final arrived on February 24th, we were all but doomed in the league and were expecting a thorough beating from Tottenham, as were the press. Tottenham were hot favourites to lift the cup and the odds reflected this.
We went into the match with the legendary Andrew Cole partnering Matt Jansen up front. Not too long beforehand, then Tottenham manager Glenn Hoddle stated that Cole 'needs 5 chances to score one goal' words that would come back to haunt him by the end of the tie.
The match started at a blistering pace, Tottenham looking more likely to score. Les Ferdinand had a 1 on 1 with Friedel and Rovers fans throughout the stadium thought for sure that we were going 1-0 down, but the big man could not finish and Friedel once again showed us why he is, in my opinion, the greatest goalkeeper to pull on the Rovers jersey. After weathering the storm, Keith Gillespie hit the ball from the edge of the area but the shot was saved by the keeper, only to be rebounded to Jansen and the man once tipped to be an England star slotted the ball past Neil Sullivan, 1-0 to the Rovers after 25 minutes.
Rover`s fans lifted the roof off the stadium with rapturous celebrations and for the first time that season we had something to cheer about. But our elation was short lived, when only 8 minutes later Christian Ziege netted a simple tap in to level the scores at 1-1.
The rest of the half was played out with both goalkeepers doing their bit to keep the scores level.
By the time the 2nd half kicked off, we began to believe that we could triumph against all odds.
The second half resumed with the same attacking emphasis as the first, both teams having chances to take the lead. Gus Poyet with perhaps the closest effort, hitting the woodwork after an error by the usually resolute Henning Berg. But on 68 minutes a calamitous mistake by Ledley King allowed 'Five Shot' Cole to hook the ball past Walker, eat that Mr. Hoddle! Rover`s fans once again lifted the roof off the stadium, as we sensed we were less than 30 minutes away from a major victory. There was even time for Jordi to come on and make a cameo appearance, almost getting on the score sheet in the process. Friedel continued to goal out of his skin, stopping another attempt from Ferdinand.
The 90 minutes elapsed, but Graham Poll seemingly wanting to give Rovers fans a collective heart test added 3 minutes of inury time. They were 3 of the longest minutes in my life and 3 minutes of sheer nail biting suspense.
And then the moment arrived, Poll blew his whistle and the Rovers fans erupted with sheer ecstasy. It was one of the loudest noises I have ever heard as we sang and cheered in our thousands, and not a single Rovers fan in the stadium kept quiet when 'Rocking All over the World' was played over the tannoy. We had done the seemingly impossible, a newly promoted team lifting silverware.
The coach trip back home was hands down the best coach trip I have ever been a part of. The whole coach was buzzing, with everyone in conversation and song throughout the whole journey. To make it even more fun, the coach driver had 606 on the radio and every Tottenham fan ringing in used the word 'gutted' and one of them even blamed Steffen Iversen for the loss, a player who was only introduced after 84 minutes. It was and still is to this day one of the greatest days in my life and one day I hope to emulate that moment by seeing Rovers lift another trophy.
The Carling Cup win kick started our season, and we managed to win 6 out of our remaining 12 league matches with 3 draws and only 3 losses making up for the other 6 results. This allowed us to finish in 10th position, and the cup win allowed us to qualify for Europe. Not a bad achievement for a newly promoted club.
Kudos to Graeme Souness. No matter what anyone may say about the guy, he gained us promotion back to the big time, he won us the Carling Cup and for one of very few occasions in our history he allowed us to dream of European glory.
Some of you may be wondering how I can choose our Carling Cup win over our Premier League winning season, and the reason for that is simple. Even though I was present when we won the Premier League, I was only 10 at the time and whilst I was ecstatic to see my team lift the ultimate prize, I don't think any of us can truly understand what it is to be a real fan at such a young age. When we lifted the Carling Cup, I was 16 years old and by that point I knew in my heart that I never want to spend a minute of my life not following the team I love.
I apologise for the length of the post, I hope it at least helps you sleep!
Some time in the near future, I will post another coma inducing story chronicling my worst moment as a Rovers fan.
Thanks for reading
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