By Keith Brookman
This month we go back 35 years to take a look at what was happening at Rovers in August 1984.
On the first of the month Rovers continued their build up to the new season with a 3-0 win against Sharpness. Player Manager David Williams scored all three goals, while Brian Williams missed a last minute penalty.
Mark O’Connor arrived at Eastville on 2nd August, on a two month loan deal from Queens Park Rangers, though he had spent most of the previous season on loan with Exeter City. Seventeen year old Dai Withers was named in a 16 man squad for a pre-season tour of the north west when Rovers would take on Rochdale, Bury, Barrow and Chester.
Micky Barrett underwent an exploratory operation at Frenchay Hospital. Barrett had been sent home from Rovers’ first pre-season training session and admitted to hospital where he underwent a series of tests for hepatitis, Tuberculosis, jaundice and anaemia.
Youngster Wayne Noble missed out on the tour of the north west due to the fact that he broke two toes on his right foot in a friendly match against Stapleton on 30th July.
The first match of the tour saw Rovers win 2-1 against Rochdale, at Spotland, on 4th August. Ian Holloway and Archie Stephens scored for Rovers in the closing stages of the match after they had fallen behind to a first half goal scored by Barry Diamond.
Striker Steve White sustained a knee injury in training before the club departed for the north west and although he travelled, he returned home early, without kicking a ball, in order to seek medical advice on his injury.
The second game of the tour, against Barrow on 7th August saw Rovers win 4-0 with Paul Randall, Mark O’Connor, Archie Stephens and Geraint Williams all on the scoresheet. That same evening a Rovers reserve side lost 2-1 at Merthyr Tydfil, where Craig Harding scoring our goal from the penalty spot.
Meanwhile Mickey Barrett was transferred from Frenchay Hospital to the Bristol Royal Infirmary and it was revealed that he was suffering from cancer. Player boss Williams broke the news to his squad ahead of the third game of their tour, which ended 4-2 in Rovers favour. David Williams (2), Archie Stephens and Paul Bannon were on target for the Gas.
Rovers gave Mangotsfield striker Gary Penrice a two week trial before deciding whether or not to offer him a pro contract while it was reported that Rovers were prepared to listen to offers for goalkeeper Phil Kite.
The final match of the north west tour ended all square, with Rovers drawing 1-1 against Chester, thanks to a Paul Randall goal.
One day later, Steve White shrugged off his injury fears and played for a Rovers XI against Port of Bristol at Shirehampton. Rovers ran out 4-3 winners and several of the players who had only just returned home following the pre-season tour, were included in the side. Geraint Williams, Ian Holloway, Archie Stephens and Tim Parkin scored for Rovers.
Player/Manager David Williams, having made up his mind that Ray Cashley would start the season as first choice goalkeeper, announced that Phil Kite would be made available for loan or for transfer.
Rovers announced a profit for the year ending 30th June 1983, thanks in no small part to the transfer fee received for Gary Mabbutt from Tottenham Hotspur, along with record lottery receipts.
It was announced, on 14th August, that Micky Barrett had lost his battle against lung cancer and that he had passed away, at the age of 24, in the early hours of that morning.
Immediately a shocked Rovers squad pledged that they would do their best to win promotion as a final tribute to their former team mate. Meanwhile the planned pre-season friendly between Rovers and Bath City was cancelled as a mark of respect.
Goalkeeper Phil Kite signed for Southampton, in a deal allegedly worth £50,000 where he was to understudy England shot stopper Peter Shilton, while Darlington were rumoured to be interested in signing Paul Bannon to replace Alan Walsh, the player they had recently sold to Bristol City.
Neil Slatter seemed set to win his fourth Welsh international cap against Iceland in September following the news that he had been called up for a three day training session by manager Mike England.
With a week to go until the new season, which kicked off on 25th August with an away trip to face Bolton Wanderers, loan signing Mark O’Connor said he was convinced that Rovers would be among the Third Division pace setters over the coming months.
Roy Dolling spoke highly of two promising goalkeepers on Rovers books, namely Robert Jackson and Simon Bean, though in spite of that early promise, neither appears to have gone on to become professional footballers.
David Williams revealed that he had set up a deal with Aston Villa to bring in one of their keepers on loan should anything happen to first choice shot stopper Ray Cashley. Villa had three to choose from; Nigel Spink, Mervyn Day and Kevin Poole.
Micky Barrett’s funeral took place on 20th August, just six days after his death and hundreds of people turned out to pay their last respects to the popular young footballer at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, St George.
The next day Rovers travelled to Wales to play Barry Town in their final pre-season friendly and Paul Bannon was included in the squad, having turned down a move to Darlington.
No matter how well he played Bannon was aware that he wouldn’t be in the side for the opening game at Bolton and that he wouldn’t be allowed to move until Steve White had recovered from a knee injury.
Rovers recorded a 5-1 win in the game against Barry, with Archie Stephens and Paul Randall scoring two apiece and David Williams scored the other.
Another player who knew he wouldn’t be in the side for the first game of the season was Phil Bater, whose ability to play in more than one position appears to have worked against him.
Back at Eastville, 40 homes were evacuated after Army Bomb Disposal men began defusing a 500lb bomb that had been uncovered by workmen excavating the site next to the stadium for the Tesco supermarket.
One of the young stars tipped for footballing stardom at Rovers, Adi Morris, decided to give up his dream of becoming a professional footballer and to make the switch to rugby instead.
It was revealed that Plymouth Argyle were poised to make a bid for Paul Bannon who had a £10,000 fee on his head.
Rovers got off to a wining start to their season by beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0 at Burnden Park courtesy of an Archie Stephens goal to register their first away win on the opening day of the season for 11 years.
The reserves, though, were beaten 2-0 by their West Ham United counterparts at Eastville.
Two days later, on Bank Holiday Monday, Rovers travelled to take on Swindon Town in the first round, first leg Milk Cup tie and beat Lou Macari’s side 5-1 thanks to two goals apiece from Paul Randall and David Williams and a penalty by former Swindon player Brian Williams.
It was reported that former Bristol City skipper Geoff Merrick was joining Rovers on, a non contract basis, to add experience to Rovers young reserve side.
Cardiff City were the latest club reported to be interested in signing Paul Bannon, while Portsmouth manager Alan Ball was allegedly preparing a bid for full back Neil Slatter.
Steve White returned to action in a reserve team match against Swindon Town two days after the Milk Cup tie between the clubs. Paul Bannon and Geoff Merrick were also in the Rovers lineup, but they were beaten 3-1. Bannon scored Rovers consolation goal.
One day later Bannon joined Second Division Cardiff City in a one month loan deal, while it was reported that Rovers would be offering Geoff Merrick a part time contract.
On the final day of the month Aston Villa agreed to travel to Eastville to play against Rovers in a Testimonial Match for the widow of Micky Barrett. It was revealed that players at almost 40 League clubs had made collections for the Micky Barrett Memorial Fund.
Rovers were scheduled to play their first home match since Barrett’s death on 1st September, planned to ring the pitch with 5,000 flowers as a tribute to Barrett and whilst they had underwritten the cost of £600 they were hoping that each of the 80 bowls of blooms would be sponsored. The Bristol Branch of the Liverpool Supporters Club had already agreed a £25 sponsorship for one of the floral tributes.