Walsall 0 Doncaster Rovers 3 nPower League 1 Att: 4, 205
Whilst the majority of my travels in the last couple of seasons have been in the non-leagues, at the start of the Football League season I fancied an upgrade.
I had actually hope to make a rare appearance to the Emirates (to watch my first love and therefore not notch up a new ground), but having let the ticket buying opportunity pass me by, I was scrapping around on Twitter for a spare at the eleventh hour. On the morning of the game I had a cut off point before I had to decide to look elsewhere. An hour after that had passed came three separate offers for tickets! “@*!^”
So an alternative was required and one that was fairly local. Walsall were at home to Doncaster and the Banks’s Stadium was the last Premier League / Football League Stadium I required to chalk off in the county of the West Midlands. The journey was less than an hour from home and gave me the opportunity to run the rule over a fellow Magyar, Walsall Goalkeeper Dávid Gróf.
As I alighted from my train at the station called Bescot Stadium – the stadium’s original name, I approached the ground by the away end. The stadium is an all seater affair constructed in the early 1990s, but surprisingly for a modern(ish) ground, still has its TV gantry uncomfortably located on top of one of the stands, almost like it was an after-thought. At the away end there was a Programme Shop, however with the prominent signs emblazoned everywhere telling me that this end was for away supporters only, I convinced myself that a bigger, better Programme Shop would be available at the home end.
I approached the turnstiles of the Tile Choice stand and asked the turnstile operative if I could but a programme inside, whilst handing over the money for my ticket. The words “you should be able to” should have been a sign that a programme farce (similar to my visit to Ground 71) was imminent. Approaching a steward inside the ground I had just two requisites and I wanted to know where I could get them, they were a) a beer and b) a programme.As polite as the steward was, I wasn’t filled with confidence when he said “Beers only served at half time and there will be a man walking around just before kick-off with a programme”.
With 35 minutes to while away, I thought I would sit down and soak up the atmosphere. Once I had done that , about a minute later, I thought the time would go quicker by watching the warm up of Hungary’s No.1 Goalkeeper – Dávid Gróf. OK he isn’t actually Hungary’s No.1, he’s never even represented them at full international level, but according to Wikipedia, his dad Attila, also a goalkeeper, did. In the warm-up he looked quite commanding, sometimes first impressions deceive.
The Donny fans had taken their positions at the other end of the ground in the Extra Bet Stand. They were a vocal bunch and at my reckoning brought approximately 400 fans. Whilst Gróf received a very warm welcome from the home support.
The game started in typical August weather swinging from brilliant sunshine to rain and back again in no time. Walsall had the first chance of the match when the pacy Ashley Hemmings ran at the Rovers defence, but he shot wide. On 7 minutes Donny attacked and a rather tame and innocuous shot was spilled by Gróf – right in the path of the on-rushing Chris Brown – 0-1. ‘We are top of the League’ came the chant from the vocal visitors.
Walsall attempted to get back into the game as quickly as possible to atone for the mistake at the back, urged on by a small section of standing fans in the all seater section behind the goal they were defending, and came close on 10 minutes, but fired wide. The home side continued to press and won a number of corners – but to no avail.
On 26 minutes Rovers’ Cotterill noticed Gróf off his line and took full advantage, lobbing the badly-placed, stranded goalkeeper from at least 40 yards. Gróf looked dismayed, the Saddlers’ fans looked distraught, but the travelling support were delighted as evidenced by another round of ‘We are top of the League‘. 0-2.
So shell-shocked were Walsall that within a minute it was almost 3. Straight from the kick off Donny won possession and steamed forward, the final product just whistled past the post. ‘Olé, olé‘ shouted the away fans with every incisive pass from their team. Whilst this may wreak of smugness, their fluid forward movement was a delight to watch for anyone other than a Walsall supporter.
Half time couldn’t come quick enough for the home support and the queue at the bar testified that quite a few of them needed a drink. I got to the bar with 5 minutes to spare before the 2nd half begun with only a choice of Banks’s or Stella. I managed to walk back into the stand as the ref started the 2nd half. Remembering that I was still sans-programme I approached another steward “there’s normally a guy walking around selling them, if not you can get one from the Programme Shop at Full Time‘. I returned to my seat, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be going home programme-less.
Back to the action … Walsall were playing like a team who had had a good half-time rollicking. They went close on 49 minutes and again on 51 after excellent skill by Jamie Paterson. The goal of the game however came on 55 minutes when Kyle Bennett cut in frm the left and hit a sweet right-footed curling shot just inside the post – on this occasion Gróf stood no chance. ‘We’ll score when we want, we’re Donny Rovers, we’l score when we want‘ reasoned the vocal Yorkshire folk. 0-3.
Walsall tried to grab a consolation with a good efforts on 57′ and a free kick that sailed over on 69’, but the game was lost and the pace started to slow down.
With it being highly unlikely that I would miss any more action, I left on 90 minutes as the players were going through the actions of running down the clock, to acquire my programme. I was met by the locked door of Programme Shop and a handwritten sign ‘Today’s Programme Sold Out’ – WTF! Is there normally such a clamour for matchday programmes at the Banks’s?
Despite being programme-less and witnessing a horror display from Dávid Gróf, this was an entertaining game in a nice-compact stadium.
N.B. For anybody interested, the Walsall Club Shop came to my rescue a few days later when I managed to contact them and get a programme sent to me. They were most helpful.