By Stephen Byrne
What links a thumping win away to Ajax, an electrical engineer from Staffordshire, an Oxford graduate and a window cleaner who died after falling off his ladder?
It may well only come around once every four years, but that doesn’t prevent 29th February from featuring in the Bristol Rovers story.
One Rovers player was born on this day, another baptised on this day, one made his first appearance for the club and another died.
This is the story of how an unusual day makes its mark on an unusual football club.
Down the years, Rovers have featured in two Football League matches on 29th February. First, the Pirates defeated Millwall 2-0 at Eastville in 1936, before a crowd of 5,000. Centre-forward Jack Woodman opened the scoring in the first half and left winger Stan Prout scored the second after the interval.
Twenty eight years later in 1964, a 1-0 victory away to Shrewsbury Town before a crowd of 6,061 at Gay Meadow was achieved through a solitary strike from the prolific Bobby Jones.
Few spectators at today’s game will recall the name of Charles Heinemann, but this inside forward, who played three times in the League for Rovers during the 1925/26 campaign, was born in Stafford on 29th February 1904. The grandson of German immigrants, he followed his father into the electrical trade and enjoyed a brief spell at Eastville between two long stints with Stafford Rangers; an older brother, George, experienced a much more protracted career with Crystal Palace, Orient and Coventry City.
Charles may well have only played three times for Rovers, but he scored a hat trick when the reserves defeated Weymouth in December 1925 and he later won the Birmingham League title with Stafford. He married Hilda Arnold and was the father of three sons. Retiring to Essex, Charles Heinemann died in Hornchurch in May 1974.
An inter war outside left with both Bristol clubs, Billy Compton was born in April 1896 into a vast local footballing dynasty; at one time the family could claim to be able to put out an entire eleven of decent footballers.
Billy was the elder son of Tom Compton and Rosina Jacobs and, after 14 games with Bristol City between 1921 and 1924, he enjoyed four seasons of regular League action with Exeter, for whom he played in their famous 5-1 victory away to Ajax Amsterdam in March 1925. His four goals in 21 League matches for Rovers in 1928/29 included one against Coventry City in his final appearance. Married to Emily Backwell and with a son, Jack, Billy Compton died in Bournemouth on 29th February 1976.
This unusual date also marks the Southern League début of Rovers’ full-back Albert Scothern (1882-1970). The son of a Nottinghamshire framework knitter John Scothern and his wife Elizabeth Henshaw, Albert joined Oxford City after studying at Oxford University and represented that club in the March 1906 Amateur Cup Final, as they defeated Bishop Auckland 3-0.
They had ‘succeeded in securing the blue ribbon of amateur football’ (Jackson’s Oxford Journal) and their next home game drew a 2,000 crowd as they were played onto the pitch by a Hungarian brass band.
A teacher at Bristol Grammar School, he was to play in four Southern League matches for Rovers in all, the first coming on 29th February 1908 against Plymouth Argyle and he represented the England amateur side against Sweden in Gothenburg in September 1908. Albert Scothern married Sarah Ellen Slaney (1878-1926) and was widowed for over 40 years.
A tragic end befell Frank Handley. A wing half in 93 Southern League games with Rovers between 1907 and 1910, he became a window cleaner and, whilst working on the windows of Midland Bank in Burslem in December 1938, he fell off his ladder and died, at the age of 59.
Born in December 1879, he had been baptised in Wolstanton on 29th February 1880, the youngest of five children to a porter, Theophilus Lessey Handley (1844-1898), and his wife Martha Jones (1846-1885). Initially a potter by profession, Frank Handley married Lily Leader (1870-1953). He kept a clean sheet when an injury to Arthur Cartlidge forced him to spend the second half of a game against New Brompton in goal and he was in the Rovers side which defeated Second Division Grimsby Town 2-0 away from home in a major FA Cup shock in January 1910.