By Keith Brookman
Summer must be over, then, given the fact that the EFL fixtures came out early on Thursday morning and the draw for the League (Carabao) Cup was also made that evening.
By the time you have read this you will all, no doubt, have digested the league fixtures in full and planned which away games you are going to and how watching Rovers can get you out of entertaining relatives/friends over the Christmas/New Year and Easter periods!
However, the subject of this article is the League Cup, in all its guises, and Rovers’ involvement in a competition that has been much maligned down the years.
It’s almost 60 years since the competition was launched and in that time Rovers have failed to progress beyond the last eight which they reached in consecutive seasons, 1970/71 and 1971/72.
The club has created two pieces of League Cup history. By virtue of an early kick off against Fulham on 26th September 1960, Rovers were the first club to win a League Cup tie as goals from Harold Jarman and Geoff Bradford enabled them to beat the London side 2-1 at Eastville in front of a crowd of 20,022.
The other historical note? Well, because of their poor league placing in 2001/02 and the fact that Ipswich Town were given a bye because of their success in the UEFA Cup, Rovers were required to take part in the first ever preliminary round of the competition in 2002/03.
They suffered a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Boston United on 20th August 2002, watched by a Memorial Stadium crowd of 4,555.
In the history of the competition, Rovers have played 147 games against 56 different sides and their next win will be their 50th. They have lost 68 ties and drawn 30, so let’s hope that the August meeting against Cheltenham Town brings up the half century of wins and that a decent run in the competition will see us reach 150 games.
Of the 56 sides we have met five, namely Aldershot Town, Boston United, Hereford United, Torquay United and York City are no longer in the league.
On the other side of the coin, 15 sides, will be plying their trade in the Premier League next season; Aston Villa, AFC Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Southampton, Watford, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The game against Cheltenham Town will be our first against them in this competition, but we have become very familiar with some teams down the years. For example, we have played Cardiff City on no fewer than 10 occasions, the last time being at the Memorial Stadium just three years ago when one of the newest members of the Bristol Rovers Former Players Association (BRFPA), Chris Lines, scored a stunning winner against a side then managed by another member of the BRFPA, Paul Trollope.
Rovers have played Birmingham City and Luton Town on seven occasions while there have been six meetings against AFC Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove Albion and Torquay United.
Along the way there have been replays and first and second round ties played over two legs, neither of which now happen, as ties are settled in one meeting and decided on a penalty shootout should scores remain level after ninety minutes.
Those aforementioned runs to the quarter finals of the competition are but a distant memory and happened some 50 years ago. Probably the most famous victory achieved was against Manchester United in an Old Trafford replay but even that was in 1972 so it’s fair to say that the current generation of Rovers supporters have never seen the club progress beyond the second round.
Indeed, that’s only happened twice in the last 20 years. There was a second round win against Everton, over two legs, in 200/01 which led to a third round tie against Sunderland, while in 2017/18 victories against Wycombe Wanderers and Fulham saw a third round visit to Molineux to face Wolverhampton Wanderers who were on their way to promotion to the Premier League.
The memorable tie in recent years was the visit to Stamford Bridge in 2016 as the reward for beating Cardiff City saw us take on Chelsea on their own turf and where, in front of a near capacity crowd saw the Premier League side win 3-2 with another BRFPA member, Ellis Harrison, scoring one of our goals.
The year 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the Football League Cup and I have been researching our involvement in the competition over the years, with a view to publishing a book next year to mark that milestone.
I had hoped to include a photo from each game we have played in the competition but trying to locate photos from games played during the 1960’s is proving to be more difficult than I thought. The local newspaper, The Post, tell me that they have no archive of Rovers photos from that era and I know that the club doesn’t.
For instance, the only photo I have from that historic first tie against Fulham back in 1960 is this rather grainy one scanned in from the following home programme. And yet, there must be photos out there, as I have seen so many from the match reports I have read.
So, if anyone out there can help me track down any photos from any of our League Cup ties, especially from games played in the 1960’s/early 1970’s please get in touch!
In the meantime, let’s hope the forthcoming game against Cheltenham Town brings us our half century of League Cup victories.