It was a heady cocktail - we were cock-a-hoop. That night Irene was seen in all our dreams

FAN'S EYE VIEW: No 119 Bristol Rovers LIZ LOXLEY
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The Independent Online
If you're an incipient football fan in the mid-1990s, it's grim down south. Up north they have Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester United, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers. Here in the South-west, we have City and Rovers, two Bristol teams in the Endsleigh League Second Division and one of them, the team I support, sharing a ground owned by their non-League landlords in a different city, Bath.

Visiting fans think they're being original with their chants like: "What's it like to have no ground?" and "There's only one team in Bristol!" but it's water off a duck's back (or defenders off Mark Hughes' back).

But I love the club; everything about it from the team's definitive blue and white quarters to the evocative anthem "Goodnight Irene", the moments of Marcus magic and Worrell wizardry. I'm realistic enough to appreciate that, despite the chants, we're probably not "the greatest football team the world has ever seen". That's fine, though; a mother loves her child even if he/she is not the next Shakespeare or Jane Austen, Paul Gascoigne or Marieanne Spacey.

What, however, about the children themselves - fed on an exotic diet of Cantona flicks and Le Tissier chips served up on a satellite dish? Well, as that famous foreigner, St Ignatius Loyola, not renowned for his skill in the penalty area, nearly said: "Give us the child and we will give you the fan."

So this season I've been taking my young nephew, Maxwell, to some of Bristol Rovers' home games. I took him to be a true blue fan when he said that going to watch Rovers was just what he had always wanted and made me paint his face in blue and white quarters. What I did not know was that on his summer holiday he had pretended to his new, fair-weather friends that he supported Everton so that they did not make fun of him...

In the first game we managed to scrape a 2-2 draw against a nine-man Swansea City. A blustering Anglo-Welsh scrap in sweltering weather seemed an incongruous initiation but Max enjoyed it. We had taught him the words to the chorus of "Goodnight Irene" in the car (actually, the words involve mainly "Goodnight' and "Irene" but it was getting them in the right order that proved problematic) and he sang his heart out for the lads. Football became a living thing.

The next game I took him to, we beat Brentford 2-0 and I breathed a sigh of relief - we had proved to him that we could win a game.

Max, with the taunts of his class-mates still ringing in his ears, did not think much of the opposition and intoned: "Well, if we're crap, they're crapper!"

In the third game, something special happened: we lost 3-0 to Notts County, but that is not what I mean. The "something special" was that, three goals down with about five minutes to go, I asked him if he wanted to come to Twerton again. I half expected him to say "No way" but instead he said, very seriously: "Of course, I'm a Bristol Rovers supporter." Football is an act of faith and mine was rewarded, and now I hope for something truly special to present itself to him.

Special like that balmy, barmy May evening in 1990 when Bristol Rovers beat Bristol City 3-0 at home to gain promotion to the old Second Division. It was a heady cocktail and we were cock-a-hoop. On the pitch at the end of the game we serenaded Gerry Francis with choruses of "Gerry, Gerry, give us a wave" - he could have walked on waves that night as far as we were concerned. That night Irene was seen in all of our dreams.

Special like that May afternoon last season when we narrowly lost out on promotion at Wembley to Huddersfield Town. If we get to Wembley again this season, I've promised to take my nephew. I am also going to enrol him in the Young Pirates junior supporters' club.

Supporting Bristol Rovers may not bring as many golden moments as following one of the Premier League giants, but there will be days for him to treasure. Besides, it is as plain as the nose on his nine-year-old face that the Pirates have stolen his heart.

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