By Keith Brookman
In August we travelled back 35 years to 1984, a time when many current Rovers supporters weren’t even born, so for September we delve back into the Rovers archives for twenty years ago to see what was happening at The Mem in September 1999.
On the first day of the month it was reported that the Memorial Stadium was to host an England U-15 schoolboy international on March 24th 2000.
Meanwhile transfer listed goalkeeper Ray Johnston joined the Southampton youth team on loan.
In an attempt to prevent any trouble when they played City at Ashton Gate on 17th October, Rovers were urging supporters not to make the short journey across Bristol as they were proposing to show the match live back at the Memorial Stadium.
Ahead of the game against Scunthorpe United, on 4th September it was reported that manager Ian Holloway was looking to add to his squad. As well as having goalkeeper Johnston on the transfer list, the names of Michael Meaker, Rob Trees, Stephane Leoni and Michel Kuipers had also had their details circulated to other clubs.
Vice-Chairman Geoff Dunford said; ‘Ian does not believe that some of the fringe players are good enough, but there are people we need to get off the books if others are going to come in.’
Three points were gained from the visit to Glanford Park, Jason Roberts scoring in each half to make sure that Rovers returned to Bristol with three points under their belts. They could even afford to miss a penalty as Jamie Cureton’s spot kick was saved by home goalkeeper Tom Evans.
With youngster Simon Bryant playing so well as he deputised for the suspended Ronnie Mauge, Ian Holloway admitted he was facing a selection dilemma for his side’s next game.
After six games Rovers were top of the table with 13 points, on goal difference from Burnley, with Wigan Athletic, Notts County and Luton Town all two points further back.
Manager Holloway revealed that he had handed a trial to Newcastle teenager Chris Woodcock. The 19 year old had come through the England youth set up and played alongside Michael Owen.
Rovers vowed to resist any bids for Jason Roberts in the light of renewed interest from Leicester City, while midfielder Jamie Shore revealed that he was beating the boredom of being at home following knee surgery by taking a course in music technology with a view to becoming a DJ.
Rovers reserve side lost 3-1 against their Colchester United counterparts, with Ronnie Mauge getting a much needed 90 minutes under his belt and the aforementioned Chris Woodcock playing at left wing back; ‘He looks more of a forward player than a wing back,’ said coach Garry Thomson.
The club announced the appointment of Ralph Ellis, a local journalist who was senior columnist with the Daily Star, as their new Commercial Manager ahead of their home game against Wigan Athletic on 11th September; ‘It’s a big challenge,’ said Ellis, ‘but I think the potential reward can be huge. As a journalist I have spent over 20 years pontificating on what I think football should be doing and now I have the chance to do it myself.’
Holloway’s side came back down to earth with a bump after a 3-1 loss at Wigan’s JJB Stadium, a victory that saw them leapfrog Rovers and into pole position in the league. Jason Roberts scored Rovers goal; ‘Two of the Wigan goals were gifts,’ said Holloway, before adding ‘and you can’t give a team like this any leeway at this level and get away with it.’
There was no time to feel sorry for themselves, though, as there was a trip to St Andrews to prepare for on the following Tuesday. Rovers had drawn First Division Birmingham City in the first round, first leg, of the Worthington (League) Cup.
A 2-0 defeat left Rovers with an uphill battle in the second leg, though at times they outplayed their higher league opponents who scored through a Martin O’Connor penalty and another goal from David Holdsworth sealed victory for the Blues.
Ian Holloway felt that Rovers should have had a penalty of their own when Jason Roberts was tripped inside the area and claimed that Birmingham’s spot kick was awarded after Stan Lazaridis dived.
Jerry Gill, later to work as a coach with Rovers, and the current Bath City manager, replaced the injured Michael Johnson after 27 minutes of the tie ; ‘I can’t wait to get them back to our place,’ said Holloway afterwards, ‘then we will see what they are made of. They have spent millions of quid, but I don’t feel we are too far behind them.’
Having lost successive games for the first time that season, Rovers began preparations for their next match, against Oldham Athletic at the Memorial Stadium. Ahead of that game Holloway denied that the club had received an offer from Turkish club Besiktas for Jason Roberts.
Jamie Cureton (2) and Steve Foster scored for Rovers and they also hit the woodwork four times. John Sheridan and Mark Allot were on target for the visitors.
‘Some of our passing and movement after falling behind delighted me,’ said Holloway whose side were second in the league table, ‘That is the true test of players when things are going against them. While we gave away goals from a free kick and a corner, something I’m not happy about, I can’t really fault the lads. David Hillier was outstanding in midfield and we showed great spirit to play some terrific football after an early setback.’
Next up was the second leg of the Worthington Cup which saw Birmingham City travel to the Mem protecting a 2-0 first leg lead. A Lee Jones error saw Gary Rowett score the only goal of the match to see the Blues through 3-0 on aggregate.
The keeper was caught out of position by Rowett’s free kick just after half time which was curled into the gap Jones had left to his right when preparing to face Rowett’s effort. Bobby Zamora made his senior debut in this match when he was sent on for David Hillier after 62 minutes.
‘We may be out of the cup,’ said Holloway, ‘but we’ve won some pride. We had them on the rack, tore them to shreds, but didn’t get the goal we deserved.’
David Pritchard, who limped off at half time with a hamstring injury, was rated doubtful for Rovers next game, against Notts County at Meadow Lane.
Rovers let it be known that an attempt to sign Manchester United goalkeeper Nick Culkin, on loan, had been turned down by Alex Ferguson. Admitting he was looking for another keeper to add competition to Lee Jones, Holloway selected former Gas goalie Brian Parkin for a reserve team match at Southend and ‘Mr Glum’ kept a clean sheet in a 5-0 win. Bobby Zamora (2), Frankie Bennett (2) and Nathan Ellington scored for Rovers.
Everton’s Wayne McDermott played the left wing back role as he attempted to earn himself a contract.
Arsenal goalkeeper Stuart Taylor duly arrived on a month’s loan and went straight into the squad for the game at Notts County; ‘We haven’t had any competition for the goalkeeping position so far this season and Stuart will give us that,’ said Holloway, adding ‘He’s a good goalkeeper but has been frustrated by the lack of opportunities at Arsenal and we are pleased to have him.’
Goals from Jamie Cureton and Andy Tillson secured a 2-0 win for Rovers at Meadow Lane so goalkeeper Taylor kept a clean sheet on his debut. Cureton’s goal came from the penalty spot after the striker had been fouled by Ian Richardson, who received a red card for his efforts, while Tillson headed home a Robbie Pethick free kick.
The result saw Rovers return to the top of the table and of the top seven sides that day five are now playing at a higher level while Notts County have just kicked off their first non league campaign. In case you are interested, the five clubs referred to are Burnley, Luton Town, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City and AFC Bournemouth.
The effervescent Holloway was, needless to say, delighted; ‘It’s onwards and upwards. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of things still to put right but I’m very pleased with the way the lads are responding at the moment.’
Stephane Leoni and Frankie Bennett turned out for Oxford United’s reserve team against Luton in the following week as Rovers looked to offload the duo.
Lee Jones, meanwhile, vowed to win back his place in the side in place of on loan shot stopper Stuart Taylor who said; ‘Lee has been brilliant with me and I didn’t expect him to be as nice about things as he has been. I’ve come in and taken his place and it’s not a nice position for him to be in, but he’s been really friendly and helped me out in the warm up for the game on Saturday.’
Taylor learned that he had been selected for the England U-21 squad for the match against Denmark, at Bradford, on 8th October.
Bobby Zamora, Nathan Ellington and Drew Shore were on target for the reserves as they were 3-1 winners at Bournemouth, while Oxford asked for more time to take a look at Stephane Leoni and Frankie Bennett. Holloway had told them to either sign Leoni or to send him back as he had been with them for a fortnight.
Oxford were told they could keep Bennett for another week, though, with Holloway saying; ‘I don’t know why Oxford haven’t made a decision on Stephane. It’s unsettling for the lad to be on trial for that length of time.