By Bethany ColeSince speaking to friends about last year’s trip to Sabadell, it was always in my mind that I wanted to go this time around, particularly as the other team in blue and white quarters were playing, my beloved Bristol Rovers.
I’d also been trying to meet with Chairman Steve Hamer since expressing an interest in combining my work as a television producer with Rovers and so after several failed attempts to meet in London or Bristol, we agreed to meet in Barcelona.
I arrived in Spain in the early hours of Sunday morning, along with my friend Mike, who you may know as Full Kit Gashead! We took the unorthodox approach to stay in the airport overnight, before catching the train into Barcelona. Mike headed off to Santa Susanna, where the majority of Rovers fans were staying and I caught up with some friends on the beach for a few hours.
That evening, Steve Hamer invited me to dinner, along with, Rovers President Wael Al Qadi and CE Sabadell President Toni Reguant. I have supported Rovers since birth, under the influence of my father and two older brothers, so to meet and spend time with, the people who own ‘my’ club, is something that made me feel like a kid at Christmas. After the first half an hour or so, I managed to grow out of that ‘excited fan’ feeling and it soon became like having dinner with friends.
On Monday morning I received a message from Steve asking if I could meet him and Wael, so I headed to a café in the harbour and we continued our conversations from the previous evening. Steve suggested I write this blog and Wael was eager to do a live Periscope interview, which you can view on his twitter page: https://twitter.com/waelalqadi/status/757531376828686336.
They then drove me to Santa Susanna to meet some more Rovers fans, and Wael, as always, was keen to be involved. On the journey we spoke about the players, about Darrell Clarke, potential transfers, the youngsters coming through and much more, with both always interested in a fan’s perspective from myself. We also spoke about our families – it was like being with friends.
On the road we encountered a couple of toll booths. Steve was driving and after a slight mishap at the first (not parking close enough and having to open the car door), Wael and I suggested the second would be easier as he had made the mistake at the first. However, having finally picked the right lane, the same thing happened, prompting Wael to announce “Once again, you didn’t listen to the President”. It was at that moment that I realised how strong their relationship was.
We arrived at The Drunken Duck pub in Santa Susanna where around 20 Rovers fans were enjoying the Spanish sun. As soon as they knew what was happening, the atmosphere changed. Wael even criticised Mike for making us stay in the airport overnight, before asking if he was the ‘Full Kit man’. As he and Steve spent an hour or so chatting to Gasheads and posing for pictures, it was abundantly clear just how much the club and the fans meant to them. And vice versa.
On Tuesday morning, a couple of friends and I headed to Barcelona’s Nou Camp for the incredible stadium tour. While there, I received a message from Wael asking if I could contact Points West’s Andy Howard, who wanted to use what I was filming for a feature in the local BBC evening news.
The atmosphere before the game was starting to build, both Rovers and CE Sabadell fans looking resplendent in their blue and white quarters. The pre-match party was complimented when six coaches carrying Gasheads arrived from Santa Susanna, a testament to the efforts of John Kayes and Stuart Harding who had organised the travel.
I made my way to meet Toni, Steve and Wael, who also had his cousin and cousin’s son in tow. I spent an hour or so with the Rovers fans, watching them appreciate their new President and it was abundantly clear that both Wael and Steve Hamer were more than happy to engage. One fan approached the President and thanked him for choosing his club adding “It feels safe”. I said “We are in very safe hands. You can trust these guys. They have my complete faith” – to which Wael responded “Thank you Bethany, your cheque is on its way!”
I then headed to collect my press pass – or a very fetching luminous green bib as it turned out to be and headed outside to soak up the atmosphere in and amongst the hundreds of Rovers and CE Sabadell fans that had continued to gather.
I then moved inside the stadium. As I was walking towards the pitch, I saw Darrell Clarke. He asked if I wanted some photos and with my answer he shouted in the direction of five players sat at the side of the pitch – one of whom was Cristian Montano. We had a good chat about the takeover and the direction of the club and he seemed excited and optimistic.
I headed to my press box to send material to Andy, who only had an hour to make his feature, which you can view here: https://youtu.be/iSVaggCzZQ8. I managed to get back pitch side, just as the players were walking out of the tunnel. The access I had was superb and I spent the first half jumping between the pitch and the fans in order to capture the atmosphere.
As for the game, Rovers were denied an early goal, with Rory Gaffney harshly deemed to be offside following Liam Lawrence’s free-kick. CE Sabadell took the lead through Gabi Lopez in the 35th minute, flicking on a corner past Will Puddy with no one on the far post. They doubled their advantage early in the second half, Cheikh tapping in from close range with Rovers once again unable to clear a corner.
Most of the attacking intent in the second period came from the Spanish side, with the woodwork coming to Rovers’ rescue. However, a minute from time the third goal came via a neat one two as Yeray curled a delightful shot into the bottom corner. 3-0 a disappointing scoreline, but still a wonderful occasion for both clubs and the 1,500 supporters.
Toni, Wael, Steve and I said our goodbyes as the six coaches had headed back to Santa Susanna and I continued to savour the post-match atmosphere with friends, fans and the Rovers team who popped by to thank supporters.
Although I travelled to Spain for a holiday, it ended up being so much more. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Wael and Steve and to spend time with them. Having been a supporter for 29 years, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more confident about having someone in charge of my club. Put your complete faith in these guys Gasheads, trust what they are doing and enjoy the very exciting road ahead.