By Keith Brookman
Earlier in the season when we were drawn in the League Cup against Brighton & Hove Albion, I had hoped to pen a programme article about the time we played them at the Withdean Stadium in the same competition back in 2004.
I was asked though to write about Bobby Zamora. To be honest I’m not keen on being asked to write about someone/something specific and prefer to choose my own topic. On this occasion though, and because time was short, I went ahead with a piece on Zamora.
The article is reproduced below, but I wasn’t really happy about it because during my research for the article I had gone back to some youth team photos from the time young Bobby was at the club and it got me to thinking about what had happened to the others in those team photos, especially the two other lads from London who were with us at the time.
Luke Williams, in particular, has an interesting career history while Luke Basford, after a brief Rovers career, is back supporting his beloved Millwall.
First up, though, here’s the Zamora piece:
There aren’t too many players who have turned out for Rovers and Brighton but Bobby Zamora, the subject of this article, is one of them.
A graduate of the London side Senrab FC (its name taken from Senrab Street in Stepney), Zamora somehow found his way to Bristol and signed, as a scholar, for Rovers.
He lodged at the club’s training HQ in Brislington, The Beeches, and was awarded a pro contract after two years as a trainee. The route through to the first team though was a tough one as Rovers were blessed with strikers at that time (think Cureton, Roberts and Ellington).
Appearing in three senior games before Christmas 1999, he was sent out on loan in early 2000, to Bath City and then to Brighton and scored goals for both clubs (eight for the Twerton Park outfit and six for the Seagulls).
On his return he played three more games for The Gas but instead of tying him down to a new deal, the club allowed him to leave.
In his Autobiography ‘Ollie’, manager Ian Holloway wrote; “The board were trying to set up a structure whereby we paid a fixed wage to any youth or reserve player under a certain age who was up for a new deal. Bob wouldn’t sign for the amount they’d decided on, which you could probably guess wasn’t a great deal and I couldn’t really blame him…”
Brighton, impressed with his loan spell, forked out a fee in the region of £100,000 to sign him permanently and the rest, as they say, is history.
Subsequent moves took him to Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United (the team he supported), Fulham and Queens Park Rangers before a move back to Brighton, where he finished his career.
Along the way he won six England U-21 caps and two full caps for his country, won two promotions with Brighton and scored winning goals in Championship Ffnals for West Ham and QPR, and played in a Europa League Final for Fulham.
Given the way his career panned out, it’s doubtful he has any regrets about not signing a new deal with Rovers back in 2000. It could have turned out differently for Rovers though, as he was a natural successor to Cureton and Roberts who both left the club the same summer that he did. How good a strike partnership of Zamora and Ellington might have been!
We were on a downward spiral though and the striker who might have made the difference became the striker who got away.
Bobby had arrived in Bristol in the summer of 1997 when Rovers trained at the Beeches and he lodged there with the aforementioned Basford, who had arrived a year earlier, and Williams, who landed in Bristol at the same time.
Basford hailed from Lambeth. He was, as already mentioned, a staunch Millwall supporter and still is. He went on to join the pro ranks and appeared in 19 first team games for Rovers before his departure.
There were a few non league games for Basford following his release, but he moved back to London where he is now a taxi driver in the capital and is, I believe, a Millwall season ticket holder.
In the team photo below the only other one who went on to appear in the first team was Mark Smith who played in 33 league games for the Gas. Smith also played non league football when he left Rovers but is no longer involved in the game.
From memory James French and Rob Claridge of the others came closest to making a league appearance for Rovers and it would be interesting to know what happened to all of them after they moved on from BS7.
The second team photo (below) shows the 1997 intake of trainees/scholars with then Rovers manager Ian Holloway. Apart from Zamora, Ray Johnston and Mike Trought were the only other two in this photo who went on to appear in the league for the Gas.
Goalkeeper Johnston, now manager of Hallen, appeared in just one game, against Macclesfield Town at Moss Rose in the final game of the 1998/99 season (Rovers won 4-3) though he was an unused substitute on a number of occasions.
Trought’s Rovers debut was against Manchester City at Maine Road when he marked former Rovers striker Gareth Taylor, for just over 25 minutes at least. He had to come off injured at that point and was replaced by the aforementioned Mark Smith. Trought would go on to appear in another 32 league games for the Gas.
Of the rest of those players, Dean Pendry was assistant at Mangotsfield United last season though he’s not listed on their website for the current campaign.
I’m not sure what happened to Messrs Jones, Adams, Hines and Watts, but Luke Williams has returned to Bristol.
He once classed Bobby Zamora as his best mate and, as already mentioned, they joined Rovers at the same time and were in digs together at the Beeches.
However, as Zamora’s career was progressing Williams was released by Rovers and whilst playing for non league side Ashford Town he sustained a horrific knee injury which was followed by three years of operations/rehab/physio.
He remained in touch with the game that had cost him his playing career and headed up an organisation that was a partnership between West Ham and the Metropolitan Police, using football to try to keep youngsters off the streets.
From there he took a position as an FA Skills Coach and combined that with coaching at Leyton Orient.
His old mate Bobby put his name forward to the then Brighton boss Gus Poyet for the position as the club’s Development Coach and later in 2013 he moved to Swindon Town as assistant to manager Mark Cooper.
There was a spell as manager at the County Ground following Cooper’s dismissal but in June 2017 he was on the move again, back to Bristol, as U-23 coach in Bristol City’s Academy.
Regarded as an outstanding coach, this is what former Rovers striker Andy Williams, who worked with Luke at Swindon had to say about him; “He was as bubbly as they come and made every day enjoyable. He made you want to learn. I genuinely think a lot of my success was down to Luke.”
After two years at Ashton Gate it remains to be seen how much longer City can hold on to their talented young coach. Having already had a taste of management just up the M4, he will almost certainly be on the radar of other EFL clubs should any suitable Managerial/Head Coach vacancies arise.