NINETY-nine loyal Dons supporters made the journey to the Memorial Stadium on Wednesday night to see their side win 2-1, writes Toby Lock.
As a fan it would have been one I’d miss out on. But now it’s my job - so I was there with bells on.
Evening away days are hard work, and a pretty long slog. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to claim I work more than anyone else, or that I’ve got it tough in any way. This is just a bit of an insight into what I do (I do have to wait AGES for my expenses to clear, though!).
I’m split between news duties and sports writing with the paper, and on print deadline days, things can get pretty hectic around Citizen Towers - and this Wednesday was no different.
So my day kicked-off - no pun intended - at 9am when I arrived in the office, and phoned and typed myself into a frenzy to get everything done as early as I could so I could leave for the match on time.
Fortunately my calls came in, my stories were written, and I was good to go. I knew the paper was in safe hands. And so my journey began.
3:30pm: I duck out of work early, drive a car that isn’t mine, play music loud, ignore the sat nav because I know better, then let the sat nav to re-direct me back where I should have been going.
5.30pm: Twenty miles outside Bristol, I’m making good time and I even took the opportunity to let a popular fast food chain fleece me for an unsatisfying burger. I arrived at the services outside Bristol at the same time as the supporters’ coaches, and even got recognised as “the guy who reports on Dons” before hitting the road once again for the final hour.
6.30pm: I see the floodlights over the ground. I always worry when I get near a ground though, despite none of these things ever happening... only one of these has happened. First, I think ‘where am I going to park?’ If I’ve organised a pass at the ground, I worry they won’t have written it down and I’ll get turned away. Never happened.
Second, I fear that I’ll get to the ticket office and they’ll not have received my accreditation, even though I’ve had confirmation through that I’m on the list. There have been times they’ve spelt my name wrong, but that’s the least of my worries. And again, never happened.
Third, I fear that I’ll be late. It has happened, and I missed a goal, but that was down to two traffic jams on the way to Tranmere. But once I’m in the ground, I’m alright. I know what I’m supposed to be doing.
6.45pm: The ticket office at Rovers is at the other end of the ground, but is much less confusing than at Birmingham City, where I was sent around the ground twice, only to discover that the media door was next to the first person I’d asked.
I collected my pass and programme (filed under the name Tony Lock, naturally), and made my way along the row to set up for the evening.
You’d think that in so many years of going to football, I’d never miss the opportunity to wrap up warm. Wrong. No scarf, no extra thick pair of socks, no long Johns - a big mistake when it was as windy up in the Gods as it was.
The Memorial Stadium is a cracking little ground. I’d never been before Wednesday night, and it’s one I’d love to go to as a fan. Being as high up as we were in the press box, you could see Bristol lit up over the stand opposite.
7.45pm: Kick-off. There is a great camaraderie among the press pack, and despite it being our job to watch the football in front of us, not a game goes by without one of us asking another “did you see who kicked it to him?”
7.46pm: Sean O’Hanlon glances one in to give Dons the lead. I still get a kick out of Dons scoring away from home - I’m still a fan at heart - but I try and keep a more professional head on when they do... except when Deano scored against Posh. That was more in retaliation.
8.30pm: Poor half of football. Makes me wonder whether the freezing toes are all worth it.
9pm: Dan Powell scores for Dons and they lead 2-0, reminding me that the frozen toes were definitely worth it. I hurriedly type as much as I can to keep the circulation going in my fingers. I was wise enough to take gloves with me.
9.20pm: Rowan Vine’s miss had me hanging over the desk in disbelief much to the delight of the Rovers fans sat directly behind me - but fortunately it didn’t matter. O’Hanlon had been sent off, Rovers score a penalty.
9.30pm: FIVE MINUTES added on?!
9.35pm: All over. Relief. Write the intro and opening paragraphs of the match report. And relax. After the game I’m back into reporter mode again, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly 5,000 people can leave a ground. The players come back out to warm down, laughing among themselves as we stand, freezing, around the tunnel waiting for the manager to arrive.
10.10pm: Karl Robinson is an approachable guy, and can give nice long answers - every reporter’s ideal interviewee - and the players are pretty clued up when it comes to talking to the media so there is always a talking point when we head back to the press box to collect our bags and leave.
10.40pm: The drive home is pretty lonely. Even if I take a couple of mates with me, they usually sleep on the way back, leaving me to count down the miles until the next service station. But this time, it’s just me and the road.
1.30am: After a detour around Bicester due to a closed road (I ignored many signs telling me, too) I arrive back in Wavendon Gate ready to start again the next day.
Like I said, there are worse jobs out there.