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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 14:29 GMT
Football fan's 1,000 game milestone
By Chris Kelly
BBC News, Bristol

Rob Hartley
Rob's 1,000 game run watching Swindon started way back in 1986
Football, for some people, goes beyond just the 11 people playing in your team.

Some will go to extremes, claiming the game is nothing short of a "religion".

"It's in your blood, it gets under your skin," says lifelong Swindon Town fan Rob Hartley.

"There's nothing like live football."

And Rob should know - he's now seen 1,000 consecutive Swindon games.

His run started way back in the 1985/1986 season with a 1-0 home win over Crewe.

Peter Coyne's goal sent Swindon up from the old Division Four as champions and marked the start of the club's recent rollercoaster history.

Financial irregularities

Rob, now 35, was just 17 on that day at the County Ground.

His 1,000th game was at Exeter's St James' Park for an LDV Vans cup match on Tuesday night.

"Someone pointed out to me in 1993 that I had done 500 in a row, and I started to think how far can I go?

What Rob has seen...
Swindon's current captain Matt Hewlett (r)
1985: Swindon go up as Division Four champions.
1990: Swindon beat Sunderland and are promoted to the old Division One, but are relegated because of financial irregularities.
1993: Swindon beat Leicester 4-3 in the play-off final and are promoted to the Premier League. They are relegated after one season.
2001: Swindon narrowly avoid going down to Division Three with a last minute goal in their penultimate game.
2002: Swindon go within 30 minutes of going out of business.

In those first 500 games Rob saw Swindon go from the bottom echelons of league football all the way into the top flight.

The club did take a rather circuitous route, having gone up to the old Division One in 1990 only to be relegated because of "financial irregularities".

They finally arrived in the promised land of the newly formed Premier League in 1993 after a thrilling 4-3 win over Leicester in the play-off final.

As a pensions administrator Rob admits his bosses have been somewhat understanding over the years, allowing him to continue his amazing run of matches.

But what some may find more surprising is that Rob is married with two children.

"I put it down to commitment. Sometimes, though, you do have to make up for the shortfalls when you're not there."

Missed invites

Rob and his wife even went to the lengths of organising their wedding outside of the football season to avoid a clash.

Since 1985 he has only missed "a few" weddings, but admits most people avoid inviting him if they know there is a clash with a match.

"I remember one time coming back from a wedding on the train. We stopped near Gloucester because of a tree on the line.

"I ended up asking a taxi to take me all the way back to Swindon for the evening kick off to make sure I didn't miss the game!"

His commitment to the cause even ran to camping out in the wind and rain.

Paul Bodin scoring a penalty against Leicester
Rob's 1,000 game run saw Swindon play at Wembley twice
"I thought the run would end once up at Newcastle. They were redeveloping the ground at the time and had 32,000 season ticket holders and 32,500 seats.

"I heard that they sold the last 500 seats first thing on a Monday, so I drove up and camped overnight on the Sunday in the wind and rain.

"I got the ticket, drove back to Swindon, worked for four days, then drove back to Newcastle on the Friday for the game the next day."

But why does Rob spend so much time, effort and money following Swindon? The answer is simple.

"Some seasons you just don't know what is going to come next. We seem to always give away goals left, right and centre."

One such example is Rob's favourite game of his 1,000-long run.

"Got to be Birmingham away when we were 4-1 down with 30 minutes to go and won 6-4. Nobody there could quite believe what happened."

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