Throughout the season we have been introducing the BRFPA team of volunteers to you, and today we feature our enthusiastic committee member, Simon Hedges.
Simon has followed Rovers around the country for 35 years and has only five grounds of the current 92 still to go, four of which are newer grounds of clubs Simon has already been to. 73 of the 87 visited so far have been whilst watching Rovers, with the rest mainly following Liverpool, and if you include all first class grounds paid a visit (Conference and above), Simon has racked up 159 so far, of which 135 have been to watch the Gas.
Simon ranks Anfield as the best league ground (well, he would wouldn’t he!), and two now defunct grounds as the worst: Wigan Athletic’s Springfield Park, and Northampton Town’s spartan County Ground, part of which was used in the summer for Northants Cricket Ground.
Before the recent away game at Doncaster Rovers, Simon found time to visit what little is left of their old Belle Vue ground (see photo below). The away terrace is now incongruously in the middle of a Bovis Homes building site but doesn’t look much different to when Simon stood there to watch goals from Mark O’Connor and Tim Parkin earn Rovers a point on a Friday night in March 1985.
Tenacity seems to run in the Hedges family. Simon’s wife, Sarah, has sold match day programmes for the last 29 years, oldest son Jamie has not missed a League game this season and has already visited 49 of the current 92 grounds (42 with Rovers) and youngest son Robbie is a BRFC ball boy in front of the South Stand.
Simon recently spoke to one of the BRFPA’s guests at the Mem, Paul Randall, and they came up with some mutual memories of the mid-1980s.
Simon’s first away win watching Rovers was a trip to Exeter City with his late Uncle Philip on the RATS train service. Football specials were notoriously slow and this one was no different, even with the advantage of having a train station right next to the ground (handily entitled ‘St James Park’ and far simpler than its rather bizarre original name of ‘Lion’s Holt Halt’).
After arriving late Simon clambered up a bank and recalled hearing a loud cheer. After traipsing around to the away entrance, assuming the Grecians had scored, the train lot got into the ground to find that it was Paul Randall who’d scored what later proved to be the only goal of the match. Paul recalled that he hadn’t been able to get his late father a ticket in the stand, so he stood behind the goal and when Paul scored he picked him out and celebrated with him.
Simon’s next away game was the infamous match at Walsall in April 1983. The Rovers Directors innocently provided free coach transport, ending up with around 40 coaches going. Paul recalls coach after coach after coach going up the M5 with fans continually waving at the players from their coach windows. The enormous following clearly didn’t have the desired effect though: Rovers were hammered 5-0 and the waving at the players on the way back wasn’t quite so appreciative of the Directors’ generous gesture, with Paul thinking ‘oh, here comes another one…’.