By Keith Brookman & Stephen Byrne
Welcome to 2019, everyone, and to a big day in the football calendar.
But playing on 1st January appears to be a recent tradition with today’s game being only our 29th game on this date.
True, Rovers played their first game on this date way back in 1898 when they won 3-1 at Eastleigh in a Western League fixture.
On that occasion Rovers recorded a comfortable victory thanks to goals from George Green, Jack Jones and Jim Cottrell, in what amazingly remains, over a century later, the only time the club has won a fixture on this date by more than one goal.
There were just three more games played on this date before the club was elected to the Football League in 1920 and none of them were won. There was a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace in 1910 and a 1-0 defeat by the same club in 1915 and sandwiched between those two matches was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Cardiff City in 1914.
The first New Year’s Day fixture as a Football League club was an away game against Luton Town, in 1921, and ended with a 2-1 win in our favour. A crowd of 6,000 saw a little bit of history made that day as Luton defender Alf Tirrell became the first player to score for both sides in a League match featuring Rovers. Sid Leigh scored Rovers other goal that day.
There was only one more New Year’s Day match before the outbreak of the Second World War, and that was in 1938 when we lost 2-0 in a home game against Watford.
In 1966 we were beaten 4-3 at Brighton, the highest number of goals scored in a New Year’s Day game involving The Gas, while the only goalless draw on this date came against Barnsley, at Oakwell, in 1972.
In total we have played 28 New Year’s Day games, winning 11, drawing five and losing 12. Of those 28 games, 13 have been played at home and 15 on our travels.
A few milestones have been reached by Rovers players on this day. For example, Ray Warren scored twice in a match for the only time in his career and his brace helped The Gas record a 3-2 home win against Notts County on this day in 1949.
Peter Aitken scored his first Gas goal in the 1-0 win against Luton Town, at Eastville, on New Year’s Day 1977, while in 1983 Les Bradd scored his one and only Gas goal in his only appearance for the club, a 3-1 defeat against Cardiff City at Ninian Park.
And who can forget that famous 1-0 win at Ashton Gate, against our nearest and dearest back in 1987, recalled here by Stephen. I’m sure that many Gasheads who were there have their own stories to tell of that game, but they won’t be too dissimilar from his account.
‘There are many of us who will still list this match amongst the top three Rovers games we have ever witnessed.
‘Whilst City were going strongly in Division Three, Rovers dawdled agonisingly close to the relegation zone. Taking three friends to the 11.30 am kick off at Ashton Gate, I found myself apologising for the fact that The Gas were about to be trounced, fearing a four or five goal margin.
‘Oh ye of little faith! My memory tells me that, from the outset, the Robins pounded Rovers’ goal, hitting the woodwork and having at least one goal disallowed. After half an hour, incredibly, it remained goalless, although it was difficult to see how.
‘At this point, Rovers lost goalkeeper Tim Carter through injury and, in the days of just one substitute, midfielder David ‘Boris’ Mehew went in goal. Although Carter later returned, Rovers were on the end of a pummelling, but the elusive first goal would not come.
‘With three minutes remaining, just as even the most ardent Rovers supporter was beginning to believe an unlikely point could be won, young Rovers midfielder Gary Smart picked up the ball some thirty yards out and let fly with a speculative strike which looped just under the bar. Incredibly, before a crowd of 17,122, Rovers had snatched a hugely unbelievable victory from the jaws of a heavy defeat.’
I don’t think I can top that one, but I can recall two New Year’s Day games in recent history for very different reasons.
In 2013 we beat Plymouth Argyle 2-1 at The Mem, with Joe Anyinsah and Matt Lund scoring for Rovers and Conor Hourihane netting for Argyle.
A crowd of 7,332 saw Rovers, who were in the bottom four of League Two at the time, pick up three valuable points in the fight to preserve their Football league status and what was John Ward’s first game in charge in his second spell as manager saw the last game in charge for Argyle boss Carl Fletcher.
Fletcher had been summoned to the Rovers boardroom after the match and was late arriving for his press conference. When he did, he broke down when asked the first question and revealed that he had just been sacked. Not sure that Argyle’s timing can be described as impeccable in that instance and it shows how cruel a game football can be.
Former AFC Bournemouth player Fletcher has since resurfaced at the club and, after spells as the club’s U-18 manager and, more recently as U-23 manager, he accepted a new position in November 2018, becoming the club’s Loan Player Manager.
One year ago, there was a crowd of 10,014 here at The Mem for another 2-1 win, this time against Portsmouth.
Pompey took a 64th minute lead when Oliver Hawkins gave the visitors the lead, but Rovers kept searching for an equaliser and that duly arrived on 85 minutes when Stuart Sinclair was on hand to pounce after goalkeeper Luke McGee could only parry a Billy Bodin shot straight to him.
That set up a grandstand finish and, with 90 minutes on the clock, Rovers were awarded a free kick some 25 yards from goal. Lee Brown touched the ball to Liam Sercombe, whose shot found the bottom corner of the net to secure a dramatic Gas win.
The only Rovers player born on this date, is Micky Evans who scored four goals in 21 league games for us in 2000/01. He came into the world on this day in 1973.
In addition to Les Bradd, Adam McCall, Roy Carter, Steve Mildenhall, Tom Hitchcock and John-Joe O’Toole also made their Gas debuts on New Year’s Day.
Former Rovers players have also recorded personal milestones on this day. Alan Gow, then at Falkirk, scored a 26 minute hat trick against Dundee United in 2007, Dennis Bailey grabbed a hat trick in QPR’s 4-1 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1992, while Paul Randall scored five for Yeovil Town against Heavitree United in 1987.
Let’s hope that we record another New Year’s Day win in our 29th game on this date when we take on Burton Albion at The Mem at the beginning of 2019.