By Ruth WilliamsMy first Rovers match was in 1990, a 1-1 draw with Hull City.
I was 12 and went with my Dad, a passionate Gashead. We still go to this day and have South Stand season tickets.
This is a story familiar to many of us here today – we were taken to our first games by our fathers. What makes this story different however is that my father is totally blind.
Roy Williams’ first match was a 3-1 victory over Swansea in 1951 aged just four. “I went with a guy called Mervin”, says Roy. “It came about as a complete surprise that he arranged with my Mum.
One Friday evening, as I was arriving home from the Royal School for the Blind at Henleaze, Merv was repairing a window in our old condemned house off Ninetree Hill. He knew I was the cause of the breakage! I told Merv ‘It’s not my fault – it was my football!’
What’s wrong in wanting to be as good as Geoff Bradford even though I couldn’t see where the goal was, I thought! We got talking about football and I told him that my brother Mike never stopped talking about Bristol Rovers and hence, my love of the Gas was born, though I was limited to listening to the matches on the wireless.
Merv turned up the following day, telling me to get my coat on as I was going out with him. Not thinking about what day it was, I just thought we must be going to The Sally Army.
Little did I realise we were going to be part of a 35,000 congregation and, as they say, the rest is history!”
Over the ensuing 64 years, Roy has witnessed many a great Rovers moment. When asked what his favourite Rovers memories are, we might expect him to say winning the Watney Cup or beating City to the Third Division title.
But Roy’s favourite memories are more recent. “The 2007 play-offs. That second leg away at Lincoln – we went there on the supporters coach and had no voice left after! And, of course, Sammy Igoe’s amazing goal in the final at the new Wembley.”
People ask a lot why Roy loves going to games. He’s certainly one of quite a few visually impaired football fans but it’s still hard for those of us blessed with sight to be able to understand why he’d rather sit in the cold and rain at the Mem than stay in the warm with the radio commentary.
Surely, if he can’t see the game, there’s little point?
But Roy is passionate about attending games. He says it’s the atmosphere and the humourous banter of the crowd that he loves. “It is to be expected that match officials are not so good in our division.
However, I got so exasperated one Saturday that I stood up and informed the ref that his eyesight was even worse than mine - The stand erupted!”
He listens to the commentary and learnt a long time ago not to rely on me commentating – I’m rubbish at it!
Radio Bristol provides him with all he needs to know. We also sometimes have the pleasure of sitting with the hospital broadcast gang. “Radio Bristol come into their own at the final whistle”, says Roy, “when the record button goes down for future reference and listening live to Geoff Twentyman on the bus home.”
There have been times when he’s been without the radio but still been able to sense what’s occurring on the pitch. I recall one of these times when someone remarked that it would be a goal kick and he said “No, it’s a corner” – we all looked amazed as he was right!
He explains, “it’s because fans in the stands have been stamping. You don’t have to be a scientist in order to realise when the ref has made a bad call when you can hear the chants. It’s obvious what’s happening thanks to the Rovers Choir when the opposition shoots high, is play acting, or makes a bad tackle, or when their goalie is taking a kick, or time wasting.”
“Sorry to lower the tone but I do have to give a mention to a City fan friend Pat who, for the past 38 years, has recorded anything football related from the Evening Post for me, exchanging cassettes in the mail or in person.” So not all Teds are bad then!
Roy’s all-time favourite player is Wee Georgie Petherbridge, who lived 2 doors away from him back in the day. But, like the rest of us, Roy is concerned with looking forward than back.
He says, “Most fans enjoy wing play and I’m no exception, where Brown and Monkhouse link up so well.
The Gas are going up!”