By Keith Brookman
In August we travelled back 35 years to 1984, a time when many current Rovers supporters weren’t even born, and in September went back into the Rovers archives for twenty years ago to see what was happening at The Mem in September 1999.
Today we come a little more up to date and travel back just 15 years, to October 2004.
On the first day of the month, just 24 hours before manager Ian Atkins was due to lead his side into a game against his former club Oxford United the manager was refusing to be drawn into a war of words with the club he had left just six months earlier.
Atkins had left Oxford following a public falling out with Chairman Firoz Kassam and had this to say on the eve of the meeting between his current and past clubs; ‘I don’t give a monkey’s that we are playing Oxford. I just want to get the three points. I always want a result, and this weekend is no different.
‘If there are some sad people down there who try to stir it up, then that’s up to them. I’m not interested if their players are wound up for it. That will only wind ours up more to perform well against them.’
It was Atkins, and Rovers, who came out on top the following day as two Junior Agogo goals gave The Gas a 2-0 victory in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd of 8,049.
‘I’m not going to gloat,’ said Atkins afterwards, ‘I have far too much respect for the vast majority of Oxford fans to make an issue out of winning.’
For those with long memories, this was the game in which Atkins watched the game from the TV gantry and when there was a stop for a drinks break he telephoned his assistant Kevan Broadhurst who was down on the touchline; ‘I asked him when he was going to get Junior going,’ said Atkins. ‘He told me I could speak to him myself and handed Junior the phone.
‘It’s probably against the rules, but the game had stopped so I told Junior to move his arse and to start making some runs and putting their defenders under pressure.’
I have to admit it was one of the funniest scenes I’ve witnessed at a match, but obviously it had the desired effect!
It was thought that striker Lewis Haldane, who hadn’t featured in a first team game since the start of the season, would be heading out on loan given that he was the club’s fifth choice striker behind Agogo, Lee Thorpe, Jamie Forrester and Richard Walker.
‘It may be that we will look to get him some experience in the Conference in another month or so,’ said his manager.
It was reported that Rovers were under a threat of disciplinary action after Oxford’s goalkeeper Chris Tardif claimed missiles had been thrown at him during Rovers win against the U’s.
Having just beaten one Varsity side, in the shape of Oxford United, Rovers were preparing to take on another in Cambridge United and they were due to travel to the Abbey Stadium on 9th October.
Ali Gibb was insisting he was happy with the manager’s preferred option of playing a 3-5-2 formation and said; ‘If he wants to play that way for the rest of the season it will suit me fine, just so long as I’m in the team!’
The Cambridge game kicked off at 1.00pm to enable supporters to watch England take Wales in a World Cup qualifier at Old Trafford, though why the Cambridge game wasn’t played on the Friday evening isn’t clear – at least then everyone would have had the opportunity to watch the international!
One goal settled the Cambridge game and it wasn’t scored by a Rovers player. John Turner scored for the U’s just 49 seconds into the second half to claim all three points for his side. It was enough to make manager Atkins keep his players locked in the dressing room for more than an hour after the match.
When he did emerge to face the press, he said; ‘This performance shows me I need to make some changes and although I can’t bring people in, players like Jamie Forrester and Richard Walker who have been on the bench, will get their chance. It was very, very, disappointing.’
Meanwhile Aaron Lescott spoke of his delight at nailing down a regular place in the starting lineup at Rovers. Having played a handful of games for Rovers while on loan from Stockport County the previous season, he had returned to Edgeley Park as he had another year to run on his Stockport contract.
It wasn’t until August that Atkins had managed to sign him permanently and after a summer of training on his own it took him a while to catch up with the rest of the squad in terms of fitness.
‘I always wanted to come to Rovers,’ said the player who had been given the nickname ‘The Dog’ by his manager, ‘and I had faith that I would eventually sign for them.’
As Rovers prepared for another long trip (their next game was away at Grimsby) it was revealed that Stuart Campbell, a former Grimsby player, was struggling to make the trip as the ankle injury he sustained against Oxford was taking longer to heal than had been anticipated.
Goalkeeper Ryan Clarke joined Southend United in a one month loan deal and 18 year old Filton College student Martin Horsell was signed as cover for him. Ijah Anderson, meanwhile, left the club by mutual consent.
Chairman Geoff Dunford revealed that plans for a restructuring of the club were likely to be considered at the next Board meeting. It seemed likely that the appointment of a full time Chief Executive was being considered.
A point from a goalless draw at Grimsby pleased manager Ian Atkins who said; ‘We were the best side by a mile and, on the chances and play, we had we were entitled to the three points.’
Next up was a match against Yeovil Town on the Tuesday after the Grimsby match, with it being well known that there was no love lost between Rovers boss Ian Atkins and his Yeovil counterpart Gary Johnson.
The two had worked together at Cambridge United in the past and Atkins had been appointed as manager at The Abbey Stadium following the departure of previous boss John Beck, while Johnson continued in his role as the Cambridge Youth team Manager.
Atkins had lasted just five months in the hotseat and when he left, he said that he hadn’t been allowed to manage and cited Johnson as one of the major causes of unrest behind the scenes.
What followed this revelation was one of the most dramatic games ever witnessed at the Memorial Stadium. Trailing to a Paul Terry goal, Rovers had two players, Dave Savage and Steve Elliott, sent off in first half stoppage time.
The future Rovers midfielder Gavin Williams edged Yeovil further in front on the hour mark and then the nine men, with the backing of the majority of the 9,295 fans, staged a remarkable comeback.
James Hunt pulled a goal back on 64 minutes and with four minutes of the game remaining Junior Agogo hit a shot wide of the despairing dive of goalkeeper Chris Weale to save a point for Rovers.
Agogo was, without a shadow of doubt, the star man that night and the reason his side didn’t lose. The Glovers simply didn’t know how to cope with him, and he ran then ragged all night.
In the aftermath of the game Atkins was charged on three counts by the FA, namely that he used abusive and/or insulting words towards Yeovil players at half time, that he did the same towards Gary Johnson at the final whistle and that he had to be physically restrained from confronting the Yeovil boss.
‘My initial reaction is disbelief,’ said the manager, ‘But I won’t be commenting publicly until I have answered the charges.’
Craig Hinton then faced the press to speak about the next game, against his former club Kidderminster Harriers, who were due at The Mem just four days after the Yeovil match. The popular central defender had relocated to Bristol from his Midlands home and was living in close proximity to many of his team mates; ‘I live in Emersons Green with Craig Disley. We’ve got a flat and Robbie Ryan lives next door. John Anderson’s got the next place along, James Hunt is over the road and Steve Elliott is two minutes away.
‘We spend quite a lot of time together playing on the computer or watching Sky Sports at John Anderson’s place, but ‘Dis’ is quite anti social as he plays on the computer on his own at all hours!’
Having been told that they would face no further action over the incident involving Oxford goalkeeper Chris Tardiff, Rovers were now waiting to learn if they would face any action from the FA following incidents, both on and off the pitch, at the Yeovil game. As well as the red cards handed out to Savage and Elliott, three spectators had been ejected from the ground, one for throwing a missile and two for going on the pitch.
Kidderminster were duly beaten 2-0 and once again Rovers were indebted to Junior Agogo, who scored both goals to take him into double figures for the season.
Richard Walker revealed that his partnership with Junior Agogo had been developed with a few games of Subbuteo! ‘We looked at the video of the Grimsby game to see where we could improve and the gaffer has also shown us a few things on his Subbuteo table.’
Central defender Liam Burns was hoping that the next game, away to Boston United at York Street, might see him make his league debut for Rovers. The game was being played on his 26th birthday, so he reasoned that he could have a good reason to celebrate.
Rovers and Boston were the only teams in League Two that hadn’t lost at home but there was a feeling that Rovers could inflict a first home defeat on their opponents in this match.
They couldn’t quite manage it but came away from York Street with a valuable point gained from a 2-2 draw and once again they recovered a two goal deficit in order to claim that point. Jamie Forrester and that man Junior Agogo scored the goals for Ian Atkins’ side.
Oh, and Liam Burns did make his debut, though he came off 11 minutes from time with his side still trailing by two goals to nil. His Rovers career was a short one, though, as this was the first of only three league games for the club.