THE 92 TOUR
The 11th Full Season of my tour, was as enjoyable as ever. Having waited to visit some of the Sleeping Giants, in the hope of seeing them in the Top Flight, I found myself with a series of trips to the once mighty, all of them still in waiting as I speak.
At Leeds the reminiscence was all about the Revie Era, but the atmsophere was still electric as the home fans urged their side on to victory over Rovers. Their taunts of "Your going to cry in a minute" were to become more poignant for our long suffering fans as the season wore on.
Hope returned at Pride Park, where there was a rare away win for Blackburnians to cheer. Derby County celebrate the achievements of one Brian Clough, with just a little too much emphasis, thereby telling the tale of how little the club has had to shout about in the 45 years or more since the great man walked out the door.
The game at White Hart Lane was a typically entertaining and exciting Premier League encounter, with 2016 Champions Leicester snatching a draw and their fans reminding Spurs of their failure to catch them last year, with the chant, "Tottenham Hotspur, We're waiting for you". As well as enjoying the football I had a great day in London, taking in some museums and the diversity of our capital.
Both my trips to Nottingham included the hostelry claiming to be England's oldest Inn, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. The oldest club, Notts County celebrated not only their first victory for some time, but also the financial rescue of the club by local businessman, Alan Hardy. The Wheelbarrow Song rang out loud in clear in the newly opened Broken Wheelbarrow Club, the jubilation helped along by New Era Ale.
The County Ground at Swindon saw a battling point for the Latics, as John Sheridan weaved his survival magic once more. The home side, in contrast, were on their way to relegation and their wayward shooting here showed why. Oldham fans once again distinguished themselves with great vocal support.
Another of the Sleeping Giants was Sheffield Wednesday, who though headed for the play-offs were to fall short, losing to Huddersfield in the semi. Hilsborough is an iconic ground, mixing the traditional and the modern. It was an eventful night with Rovers having two 'goals' disallowed harshly and Hope Akpan sent off for pushing the ref.
A look at the seafront and the world's longest pier preceded my rendezvous with Oldham fans at Southend. Phil Brown's team looked mighty impressive but later failed to make the play-offs.Nile Ranger was a beast at this level and bossed the game. Oldham fans again came out with great credit, staying to the bitter end to clap their players off despite the 3-0 defeat - best away fans by far in my experience
My return to Nottingham had the feeling of a last big day out to enjoy for Rovers fans, who were singing about how 'bad' we are and going to Shrewsbury as we arrived at The City Ground. There was a big following with people no doubt feeling they may as well enjoy the day, as we wouldn't be visiting any European Champions again. for some time. As it turned out there was a surprise reprieve for Rovers with a 1- 0 victory, but alas it was a false dawn.
Soon I had to suffer the humiliating relegation to League One for my club, whilst sharing office facilities with smug Burnley fans and promotion-celebrating Boltonians.
THE ALTERNATIVE TOUR
Four fantastic trips reflected the contrasting attractions of our land and its unique Football Pyramid.
My pre-,match at Maidstone took in the castle and history by the riverside. The football club was battling hard to stay in the Conference after climbing back there in recent years. Their modern new stadium included a 3G Pitch which enabled a half-time penalty competition for fans including a spot kick memorably lashed home by Santa in hob nail boots. On the day Maidstone were surprisingly beaten by the villagers from Yorkshire, North Ferriby, but ultimately their battle against relegation was successful.
I visited another revival club in Darlington who were now up to Conference North and more importantly back in their own town. I first took in the old Feethams Site, where cricket is still played, whilst houses now occupy the site of one of football's quaintest former grounds. It was victory for the home side in a somewhat grim game but well worth the trip to Blackwell Meadows just to see the pride and joy on the faces of the home fans under The Tin Shed, lovingly named after the home terrace at Feethams.
My annual meet up with Steve in Wales took in the Industrial and Boxing History of Merthyr. The old Hoover Factory and statues of 3 famous Glove Men were sad inclusions of our pre-match tour of the town. Down at the football club we learned about the numerous revivals of football in this town. The latest of these had taken up the name of the former League team, Merthyr Town and were challenging for promotion from the Southern Premier League at Pennydarren Park.
Last and by no means least, was a trip with Brendan, to one of the most attractive towns I have visited. Lincoln has much to offer with its Castle and City Walls, not to mention a memorable Real Ale venue, The Strugglers. The football team had just made history becoming the first ever non-league club to reach the F.A.Cup QF, and were on their way back to the Football League with an exciting win over Forest Green, in front of over 8,000 fans.