By Stephen Byrne
Ahead of this autumn’s Nations League, England have discovered their opponents in this tournament.
The Three Lions will be meeting Belgium, Denmark and Iceland in League A and so we take a brief look here at Rovers’ connections with these three opponents.
No Belgian international or Belgian born player has ever appeared for Rovers in any fixture. That said, several Rovers players have furthered their careers in Belgium. Amongst this number are Gary Waddock, who played for Charleroi, Bobby ‘Shadow’ Williams, who was with Oostende and Tony Obi, who also played for Oostende after leaving Eastville.
Charlie Colkett also played for Vitesse Arnhem and winger Richard Evans is currently fitness coach to the Belgian national side.
The former Rovers full back Johnny Hills, who featured in seven League matches during the 1961/62 season, taught for many years at the British International School in Brussels and still lives in that city.
Goalkeeper Tommy Ware (1885-1915), formerly with Bristol City, played for Rovers during unofficial World War One matches but was killed during the war at Poperinghe, where he is buried in the Old Military Cemetery.
Two Belgian international players have played against Rovers and both were in the same fixture. Michy Batshuayi, born in Brussels in 1993, and Eden Hazard, born two years earlier in La Louvière, were both in the Chelsea side which defeated Rovers 3-2 in a League Cup tie at Stamford Bridge in August 2016. Nacer Chadli, who played for West Brom in a friendly against Rovers in 2017, has full international caps with both Morocco and Belgium.
Down the years, only 14 players born in Belgium have featured in League and Cup matches against the Gas, a surprisingly low figure for a decent footballing country close to our shores. This figure includes two players who were born in Belgium of British parentage, one of whom, Swindon’s Billy Bryant (1899-1986) even won five full caps for England despite being born in Gent.
Chronologically, the first Belgian to oppose Rovers was Marcel Gaillard (1927-76), born in Charleroi, who was in the Crystal Palace side which defeated Rovers 1-0 in September 1949. This season, Blackpool fielded Rocky Bushiri, born in 1999 in Belgium, when Rovers were beaten 1-0 at Bloomfield Road last August.
Some 70 players who have opposed Rovers in League, Cup and friendly fixtures as a player or manager have also played professionally in Belgium. This tally includes a Namibian, a Hungarian, players from Iceland and Algeria, plus Nigel Pearson, currently Watford manager.
Bo Henriksen and Mikkel Andersen are the two Danish born players who have played professionally for Rovers.
Born in Roskilde in 1975, pony tailed midfielder Henriksen played four times with Rovers before furthering his career in the Maldives and his native Denmark, where he is currently manager of Horsens.
Goalkeeper Andersen, born in Herlev in 1988, appeared in 39 League matches for Rovers and currently plays for FC Midtjlland.
In addition, Junior Agogo (1979-2019) had a trial with Odense in 2011, after leaving Rovers, whilst David Steele (1894-1964), who scored twice in 62 League games with Rovers between 1920 and 1922, was a coach at Aalborg and Bold Klubben in the 1930s.
The only Dane to score a League goal for Rovers was Preben Arentoft. He played for Blackburn Rovers and inadvertently achieved this claim to fame by deflecting the ball into his own net when the sides met in August 1972.
Several quite celebrated Danish footballers have opposed Rovers down the years: Kasper Schmeichel (Bury) in 2006, Thomas Gravesen (Everton) in 2000 and Martin Albrechtsen (West Brom) in 2008 all won multiple caps. Jan Mølby was Kidderminster’s manager against Rovers in 2001/02 and 2003/04.
It appears that 11 Danish born players, including Danish internationals Henrik Risom (Stoke) and Viggo Jensen (Hull) (1921-2005), have opposed Rovers in League football down the years and that 29 opponents have furthered their careers by playing professionally in Denmark.
Charlie Williams (1886-1952) played for Norwich, Brentford and Spurs in the Southern League, and was manager of the Denmark side which won silver at the 1908 Olympics. Harry Erentz (1874-1947), born in Dundee to a Danish father, played for Swindon against Rovers in the Southern League in February 1905.
Those with long memories may recall that the Icelandic U-21 goalkeeper Ólafur Gunnarson played for Rovers’ reserve side in a 7-3 win at Clevedon against Exeter City reserves in September 1998, whilst on a one-week trial from IR Reykjavik.
Three Rovers players have also played professionally in Iceland. Two Rovers strikers, Moussa Dagnogo and Sergio Ommel, both enjoyed spells at KR Reykjavik. Danish midfielder Bo Henriksen joined Valur, before moving to Fram and later on to IBV. He was in the Fram side which lost 1-0 to his former club Valur in the 2005 Icelandic Cup Final.
Having played twice for Rovers during the unofficial 1945/46 season, as football began to regain its feet following the war, inside forward George Skinner (1917-2002) coached six national sides as well as one Olympic squad before leading Westmann Islands based IBV to become, in 1978, the first Icelandic side to progress to the UEFA Cup proper.
A total of 18 full Icelandic internationals have opposed Rovers in the Football League down the years. The first of these was Hermann Hreiðarsson, who was sent off during Brentford’s goalless draw at The Mem in August 1999. The most recent was Eggert Jónsson, who was in the Fleetwood side which played Rovers in November 2016. Amongst the 18 is the celebrated figure of Gylfi Sigurðsson, who played for Crewe against Rovers in March 2009.
No fewer than ten of the Icelandic internationals to oppose Rovers were Stoke City players between 1999 and 2001, the Potteries side being under ownership at that stage by an Icelandic consortium.
A further 28 players, who have opposed Rovers in League and Cup, have also enjoyed professional careers as footballers or managers in Iceland. This figure includes the Nigerian Lateef Elford-Alliyu (Tranmere), the Croatian Ivan Golac (Bournemouth), the former England keeper David James (Watford) and, this season, Callum Brittain of MK Dons.
Eddie May (1943-2012) played for both Southend and Wrexham against Rovers and was manager of the Icelandic side KS in 1988. Even further back in history, Joe Devine (1905-80) played in both QPR’s League fixtures against Rovers in the 1933/34 season, managed Valur in the 1940s and, from 1948, was manager of the Icelandic national side.