The eighth annual Aldershot Town Tour of Duty sees the red and blue army mobilise towards The Shay on Saturday 9 April as The Shots face FC Halifax Town.
Started in 2009 – when members of the first Tour witnessed a controversial late defeat at Grimsby Town – organiser Tony Roberts explains the ethos behind the event: “The original idea was obviously influenced by the military heritage of the town. We wanted to pick an obscure away game, that we would not usually expect to take that many fans to, and try to surprise the locals with the numbers we took and the noise we made!”
Since then, the colourful and vociferous Tour has taken in Port Vale, Northampton Town, Burton Albion, Rochdale, Braintree Town and, last Easter, the 3-1 victory at Forest Green Rovers.
“That was a great trip, because of the second-half performance. For pure ecstasy and football highs, Forest Green is very difficult to beat” remembers Tony of the visit to The New Lawn, but he still admits: “the numbers were slightly lower than I had hoped for.
“I think if we took 250 to Halifax I would be delighted. It is a big away end at The Shay, so it maybe won’t look that impressive, but 250 to Halifax is not a bad turn-out. We always try to create lots of colour with balloons and banners,” explains Roberts. “I buy 400 red and blue balloons each season and try to organise a designated away fans pub.”
In those seven preceding years, two moments stand out for Tony. “I think the best Tour for numbers so far was Port Vale, in our second year, and we still looked lost in that huge away end! But the Burton performance (4-0 in 2012) was my favourite Tour of Duty game, as there was a lot of emotion still around Steve Chapman’s passing. When Guy Madjo grabbed the t-shirt and brought it over to the fans to dedicate his second goal to Chappie, that was quite an emotional moment for me and a lot of others.”
Now firmly established as a red (and blue) letter day in the Shots’ calendar, Tony himself is already working on his own succession plan to ensure the event continues: “There are still quite a few out there, like me, who have done every single Tour of Duty, and want to keep that run going. My aim is to get to Tour of Duty 10, and hopefully make that one a very special trip. Over 500 fans, anywhere in the country. Then hopefully somebody else will take up the reins and keep the tradition going!”
Whoever takes over such an auspicious mantle can rest assured of the clear benefit such committed support has to the team: “In seven Tours so far we have only lost twice, and one of those was to a very dodgy penalty at Grimsby! I do think the extra noise, colour and passion has a positive impact on what goes on, on the pitch.”
Supporters wishing to take advantage of discounted coach travel to Halifax on Saturday 9 April, costing just £20, can either contact Tony via the event’s Facebook page, here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.