By Stephen Byrne
Last Saturday, both Adebayo Akinfenwa and Matt Bloomfield scored first half goals for Wycombe Wanderers against Rovers at Adams Park.
In both cases, it was the fourteenth time they had played in the Football League against Rovers, both players having first opposed The Gas back in 2004.
That is an astonishingly high number of occasions, although both players are far from holding the record.
In Akinfenwa’s case, he has played against Rovers for five different clubs: Doncaster Rovers, Millwall, Northampton Town, Wimbledon and Wycombe. That too is no record. Jason Price, Ian Hendon and Alex Revell all played in League matches against Rovers with seven different sides.
Nor too is his record of scoring for three different teams against The Gas; Revell scored against Rovers with Cambridge, Wycombe, Orient and Northampton; Ralph Allen, Neil Redfearn and Jason Price have all also scored for four different clubs against Rovers.
However, even in recent years a total of 14 League games against Rovers is nothing spectacular. Jabo Ibehre, currently playing for Cambridge United in League Two has scored five goals in 16 League matches against The Gas, ten of these as a substitute.
Dean Lewington, who on Saturday reached the top ten of all time in terms of matches played for one club only, has merely played in 12 League games for MK Dons against Rovers.
The simple reason these numbers are not higher is because of the fluctuations caused by promotions and relegations. Decades ago, with fewer spots up for grabs, there was greater consistency. 23 different opponents have faced Rovers in 18 or more League encounters, most of these coming through the 1950s or between the wars. Even a regular opponent such as Bristol City’s John Atyeo only appeared in 17 League games against his arch rivals, scoring 12 times.
Between the wars, Rovers spent 19 consecutive seasons in Division Three (South), as did a few other clubs. And so it is that five Brighton players from that era played 16 or more times against Rovers: Reg Wilkinson, Paul Mooney and Walter Little 16 times each, Bob Farrell 20 times and Ernie ‘Tug’ Wilson an astonishing 23 times. The last two named are the only players to make 20 or more appearances in the League for one specific club against Rovers, although five other players have done so at several clubs.
‘Tug’ Wilson was a loyal one club man, playing at outside left for Brighton from 1922 to 1936. Born in Yorkshire in July 1899, he scored 67 goals in 509 League matches and died in 1955. Wilson’s 23 League matches against Rovers included a six season run when Rovers lost every year at the Goldstone Ground with a combined goal difference of 0-23.
His four goals against Rovers came one apiece in both games of the 1930/31 and 1931/32 seasons; ‘He had no rival on the left wing for many years’, purred a contemporary who’s who of professional players and Wilson’s record of 23 League fixtures against The Gas is one unlikely to be broken.