By Keith Brookman
I think I’m right in saying that this week’s pre-season visit to Ireland will be the fourth time that Rovers have visited the Emerald Isle as they prepare for a new campaign.
The first time appears to have been back in 1954 with a game in Cork against a Munster XI and a second match against a Waterford Select XI. Try as I might, I have been unable to track down the result of the first game, though the second match resulted in a 4-1 Gas win.
Rovers didn’t return to Ireland until 1965 and this time they were to play three games. A 3-0 win against Limerick was followed by a 1-0 victory against Bohemians and a 4-3 win against Dundalk.
Irish tour number three came 19 years ago in 2000 when Ian Holloway took a side over for games against Cherry Orchard, Shamrock Rovers and Galway United.
However, it was a depleted squad that made the journey.
Want away strikers Jason Roberts and Jamie Cureton were left back in Bristol to train with the youth team and to attempt to sort out their futures. Roberts had handed in a written transfer request, while Cureton was contemplating doing the same.
Also missing from the tour party were Trevor Challis following an operation on a groin problem. David Hillier was another absentee, as he also needed an operation on a knee injury. In addition, long term injury victims Ronnie Mauge, David Pritchard and Jamie Shore also missed out.
New signings Nick Culkin, Martin Cameron and Che Wilson were, though, included in the travelling party.
First up was a game against Cherry Orchard on Wednesday 19th July and the game had a 5.00pm kick off on the insistence of the FAI because of a timings clash with Dublin side Shelbourne, who were playing a Champions League qualifying match the same evening.
Holloway’s side managed a goalless draw from the game and used no fewer than 19 players, including triallists Darren Way (the future Yeovil player and manager) and former Manchester United youngster Eric Molloy, along with another player named Whitmarsh about whom details are sketchy.
The players who started were; Parkin, Pethick, Thompson, Tillson, Trought, Molloy, Way, Bryant, Astafjevs, Whitmarsh, Zamora.
The following players made substitute appearances; Hogg, Zabek, Shore (D), Cameron, Ellis, Walters, Wilson, Powell.
Cherry Orchard issued a programme for the match, which is interesting for two reasons, both of which relate to current Gas boss Graham Coughlan.
Under the heading ‘Where are they now?’ Coughlan is listed as aged 25, a Defender, now playing for Livingston (his Plymouth years were yet to come!)
The feature article inside the programme was penned by Sean Ryan, then a journalist for the Sunday Independent and he explained why he, unlike the majority of his generation of Irish youngsters chose to support Bristol Rovers and not one of the top English clubs.
I’m pleased to say that since then I have met Sean on a number of occasions as his love of all things Rovers continues to this day and he always manages to come over to Bristol to take in one or two games each season and on his last trip, for the game against Peterborough United last season, he took time out to interview Graham Coughlan.
Sean is still writing for the Sunday Independent and his article about Graham, published in February, can be found by following THIS link
The day after their opening game, Mark Walters, Lee Zabek, Mike Trought and Simon Bryant, held a coaching session for the nine and ten year old players of Portmarnock FC after which they presented a club pennant to the youngsters.
Two days after their draw against Cherry Orchard Rovers played Shamrock Rovers, at Bray Wanderers’ Carlisle Ground, where they were beaten 2-0 and had Vitalijs Astafjevs sent off in the 77th minute for a foul on Derek Tracey. By that time the goals had already been conceded, Marc Kenny scoring a 56th minute penalty and Terry Palmer scoring on 67 minutes.
Rovers starting lineup was; Parkin, Pethick, Thompson, Tillson, Wilson, Astafjevs, Bryant, Zabek, Walters, Ellington, Zamora
The following players made substitute appearances: Way, Powell, Ellis, Cameron, Hogg.
There was to be no let up for the players, though, as they were back in action, against Galway United, the following afternoon when Martin Cameron’s goal after 21 minutes was enough to give Holloway’s side their first tour victory.
The starting lineup for this one was; Parkin, Wilson, Pethick, Trought, Powell, Astafjevs, Way, Hogg, Molloy, Cameron, Ellis
The following players made substitute appearances: Zamora, Bryant, Zabek, Walters, Shore (D)
As you can gather from the lineups, there was no game for goalkeeper Nick Culkin, who was nursing a thigh strain. Another player who travelled but didn’t feature was central defender Marcus Andreasson, hampered by a back problem.
There was quite a good representation of members of the Bristol Rovers Former Players Association (BRFPA) on this tour, namely Brian Parkin, Che Wilson, Mike Trought, Lewis Hogg, Simon Bryant, Andy Thomson and Andy Tillson. I know that ‘what goes on tour stays on tour,’ but surely there are a few stories that can now be told, almost 20 years later – over to you, guys!
Of course, another member of the BRFPA stayed in Bristol and it wasn’t too long before Jamie Cureton was on his way, leaving behind the delights of the Memorial Stadium for those of the Madejski Stadium, Reading, but not before he had scored one more goal in a Rovers shirt; a penalty in the opening game of the season, a 1-1 draw against AFC Bournemouth.
By that time Andy Tillson had also left the Mem as he had joined Walsall, managed by former Rovers player Ray Graydon. Nineteen years on and Walsall, of course, now have a former Rovers boss in charge and also have two former members of our backroom staff and two former players on board.
Hopefully this fourth tour of the Emerald Isle goes well, and the players return ready and prepared for the rigours of a demanding season in the EFL League One.