Having experienced three relegations following Grimsby Town, it’s days like today that I have most empathy with fans of other teams. Two of those three relegations came on the last day of the season – at Tranmere in 2004 and Burton in 2010 – and it wasn’t simply the defeats that hurt the most; it was the hope you invested ahead of those afternoon’s big games that caused the most pain.
Even when we were relegated at Burton, there was only one scenario us Mariners fans could hope for, and that was for us to win and Barnet to lose. As it transpired, the Bees won – but we failed to do our bit anyway, and the match was effectively over after 58 minutes when we went 3-0 down. So we had more than half an hour to deal with relegation to the Conference before it was confirmed at the final whistle.
But for Bristol Rovers fans today, they would’ve had hope right up until the last kick of the game. All they needed was an equalising goal against Mansfield and they’d have saved themselves from dropping into what is widely regarded as the graveyward for former Football League clubs. Relegation at the final whistle would’ve hurt like hell – especially as they spent barely any time in the bottom two before today.
Rovers will join Torquay in what is turning out to be a heavily southern-based Conference for the 2014/15 campaign – just another reason for the Mariners to get out of this division and save on their petrol bill.
About a month ago Look North presenter and reporter Harry Gration dared to ask Doncaster Rovers manager Paul Dickov whether he could claim his team had achieved safety after they won 2-1 at rivals Leeds. But just one point from their next seven games saw them slip into the bottom three at the death when Birmingham saved themselves from the drop with a dramatic equalising goal at Bolton in the third minute of injury time.
In League 1 it looked at one point as though Tranmere had clawed their way out of the relegation zone when they led Bradford 1-0 and Notts County went behind at Oldham. But it all went wrong for them in the last 15 minutes when the Magpies scored a crucial equaliser from the spot – and then Bradford scored two goals in the last nine minutes as the news of County’s equaliser no doubt filtered through to the fans and the players at Prenton Park.
I lack a bit of empathy for Tranmere’s demise, if I’m honest with myself, since they were the club that sent us down in May 2004. The Mariners didn’t help themselves, throwing away a one-goal lead to lose 2-1, but then Chesterfield scored an 88th-minute winner against Luton to save themselves and relegate us in the process. Our match at Tranmere was just coming to its conclusion when news of that late, late Spirites goal filtered through to us, and it’s a feeling that I would never want to experience again.
The Rovers fans took delight in our demise at the final whistle, and reminded us of our relegation when we went there a couple of years later for a League Cup match. Mind you, we effectively relegated them from the Championship in 2000/01 when we beat them 3-1 at Blundell Park. I hate the phrase, but it really is a case of what goes around, comes around. (They beat us 4-0 that night in the cup game, so perhaps I’m just incredibly bitter.)
It’s been a bad day for all three Rovers teams. Doncaster, Tranmere and Bristol will not be happy places tonight.