Fan's view of Doncaster Rovers at Arsenal: Pride, passion and £5 pints!

I feel that as I write this, my bleary eyes struggling to focus on the screen, there will be many more reading it through similarly bleary and tired eyes this morning.

Thursday, 21st September 2017, 11:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:52 am
Free Press reporter Darren Burke and his son at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.
Free Press reporter Darren Burke and his son at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

I was one of the nearly 5,000 fans who made the long midweek trek to see Doncaster Rovers in the third round of the Carabao Cup at the home of Premier League giants Arsenal last night and arrived back home well after midnight and stumbled out of bed at 7am after only a few hours shut-eye.

But hey, wasn't it worth it?

To be among the proud and passionate travelling band of supporters in the glamorous settings of one of the globe's most famous clubs was a memory that will live long for many supporters - some diehards who have travelled the length and breadth of the country, while for others, it may well have been their first encounter with the team.

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A convoy of buses had made the journey down the M1 (or A1, depending on your preference) while hundreds more had piled onto trains to make the relatively short journey down the East Coast Main Line to the capital.

Me? Well, with my eldest lad being at school, we opted to hightail it down the motorway after his lessons had finished for the day. Roadworks and lane closures made it a bit of a race against the clock and by the time we pulled into the car park at Cockfosters tube station to make the last leg of the journey by London Underground, the clock was nearing 7pm.

Jumping aboard for the journey from Cockfosters to Arsenal (surely the smuttiest Tube journey) we made it to the mightily impressive Emirates Stadium with just ten minutes to spare.

Exiting the tube station made famous by the 90s football film Fever Pitch, it suddenly dawned on both of us just how huge a club Arsenal are.

Thousands of red and white clad supporters dwarfing the small pockets of Rovers fans, passing the hawkers and street traders flogging Gunners memorabilia, terraced street front gardens neatly converted into takeaway food stalls and the air rich with Cockney accents.

Crammed into the Clock End, the 5,000 Rovers supporters were in good voice from well before the game to well after the final whistle, never stopping during the ninety minutes to cheer on and applaud their team.

OK, there were a few unsavoury incidents, but for once, we'll put pitch invasions and pyrotechnics down to youthful exuberance and probably a little too much ale - although Rovers' fans made their feelings known about the bar prices at the Emirates by chanting, rather amusingly: "It's £5 a pint, It's £5 a pint, you robbing b******s, It's £5 a pint."

Rovers fans, more used to visiting places like Scunthorpe and Grimsby and all manner of other godforsaken towns across Britain, rarely get the chance to sample the glitz and glamour of the big time and supporters made sure they made the most of their day out at England's third biggest football stadium.

For ninety minutes, fans of all ages cheered on the boys in green and black as they defended doggedly against a side packed with class, multi-millionaire players and international stars.

There were times when Arsene Wenger's side threatened to overhwelm Rovers, but the visitors stood firm and were unlucky not to take something away from the game.

"We're proud of you, we're proud of you, we're proud" was the message that rang out around the Emirates as the final whistle blew, Theo Walcott's goal the only difference between the two sides in an entertaining and well contested encounter.

As I raced back up the M1 in the wee small hours, my teenage lad dozing at the side of me and missing me swearing uncontrollably at a totally tortuous diversion near Daventry, I knew that I'd be able to hold my head high with pride this morning, knowing I'd seen Rovers give it their all and give Arsenal a bit of a rough ride in their own home.

And I'm sure there are many other Rovers fans all over Doncaster today, some who will no doubt be waking up with cracking hangovers, thinking exactly the same.

Rovers Till I Die? More like Rovers until I doze off this morning...