Going back to 1974
By Keith Brookman
On the pitch Don Megson was in charge of the Bristol Rovers side that won promotion to the Second Division in 1973/74, while off the pitch newly appointed Commercial Manager Keith Hunt raised the club’s profile.
It was Keith who coined the phrase ‘Smash & Grab’ to describe strikers Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister and who introduced advertising hoardings to Eastville Stadium for the first time. In addition, he arranged for Rovers to sponsor a Glen Campbell concert at the Bristol Hippodrome and introduced the squad to Larry Grayson along with Rod Hull and Emu!
He obviously did a lot more than that but these facts, and a few more, were mentioned when I caught up with former Rovers midfielder Tom Stanton earlier this week.
I had come across some old photos from 1974, in which Tom was featured, a few with the aforementioned Grayson and Hull (and Emu!) and a couple of him driving his new, sponsored car.
‘Keith was a smart guy,’ said Tom, ‘he had a marketing background and a wide range of contacts which he used to improve the club’s image.’
‘It was Keith who organised the initial meeting with Larry Grayson and Rod Hull. They were appearing in pantomime at the Bristol Hippodrome and he invited them along to the players’ Christmas party at Eastville.’
‘You will see that we are all dressed very smartly and, apart from Rod Hull, we all wore suits and collar and tie. That was no coincidence. Keith had also made sure there was a photographer in attendance and insisted we had to look our best in the photos. It doesn’t look as though he conveyed that information to Rod, though!’
‘We had a great time meeting those two showbiz personalities. Both were comedians and well known TV personalities but you couldn’t have wished to meet two nicer people. There was no ‘side’ to them, and everyone got on really well.’
‘One of the photos shows Larry Grayson in conversation with Mike Green and myself and while I don’t recall what was being said, it could have been something about the suits those two were wearing!’
‘I don’t recall Rod having Emu with him on that occasion but, though we didn’t know it at the time, we would meet up with him later in the season when one or two squad members would find out how vicious Emu could be!’
That second meeting arrived just before the end of the season and saw the squad travel up to London to record a song with Rod Hull. In case you’re wondering, it wasn’t ‘Goodnight Irene’, it was ‘Bristol Rovers – All the Way’ and although he didn’t sing, Emu certainly made his presence felt in the recording studio after making a grand entrance.’
‘We were all waiting for the recording session to start and for Rod to arrive,’ said Tom, ‘when Emu popped his head round the door, closely followed by Rod. I have to say that, close up, Emu was quite a fearsome looking bird and a lot bigger close up than he appeared on our TV screens! Yes, he was only a puppet, but he had a reputation for attacking and grabbing people and to be honest we were all very quiet, and a little bit apprehensive, wondering who his victim(s) were going to be that day!’
‘As you can see from the photos Mike Green and David John were the chosen ones! I think there might have been a few more but, fortunately, I don’t think there is any photographic evidence. In spite of our initial trepidation, we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon and Rod Hull was the perfect host. I’m not sure that the record was a huge success, but we certainly had some fun recording it.’
The photos show manager Megson and almost all of the squad enjoying themselves and Tom says that the team spirit was excellent all season and only got better as the campaign progressed.
‘Don, with Bob Campbell by his side, tried a few things out in our pre-season games, changing systems and personnel a few times. We won two and drew two of our opening four league matches and by then our confidence was growing, both as individuals and as a team.’
‘We were winning in style game by game – home or away.’
‘It also became obvious to us that the number of supporters following us was increasing game by game, and that gave us a big lift as we ran out onto the pitch.’
‘Once we were on the pitch the nerves disappeared and we were ready to do battle! From the kick off we wanted the ball and instinctively we knew where our team mates were making their runs and looking for a pass, or where we had to make a tackle to win the ball back.’
Twenty seven league games unbeaten from the start of the season tells its own story and though there was a slight wobble on the run in, promotion was achieved on a Friday night in Southend, prior to the final game of the season, at home to Brian Clough’s Brighton & Hove Albion, who they had beaten 8-2 at the Goldstone ground earlier in the season.
That run, and the battle for promotion, ensured that the club were regularly featured on the Saturday lunchtime football show ‘On the Ball’, presented by Brian Moore, thus enhancing an already high public profile.
Footballers have always been known for their little superstitions, or rituals as Tom calls them, and the 1974 squad were no different; ‘We had to report to the dressing room for 2.00pm on a matchday and everyone went through their own little ritual in preparing for the game.’
‘Some of us would just chat away and make sure we had sorted tickets out for friends and family, while some preferred to get changed straight away.’
‘Stuart Taylor was always the first to put on his playing kit and he was closely followed by Mike Green who always looked immaculate. I think he even ironed his shorts to complete his appearance!’
‘As for myself, I didn’t want to be hanging around so once I went into the dressing room I wanted to get changed immediately and get straight out onto the pitch without delay. I didn’t start to get ready in the dressing room until 2.27 exactly! This allowed me plenty of time to undress, put my kit on, get my boots on and still have time to do a few stretches and exercises.’
‘Goalkeeper Jim Eadie would start bouncing the ball on the floor of the dressing room as the time for kick off approached, and then there was Alan Warboys, who would never put his shorts on in the dressing room. He would carry them with him and put them on in the tunnel just before running out on to the pitch.’
‘Whatever the ritual was, it worked for us and it was just a brilliant feeling going out on to the pitch and feeling that we could win. They were great times, without a doubt.’
‘Don Megson deserves credit for putting the team together, but we were a solid and close-knit unit and I think because we were confident in doing what he had asked us to do, we made his job comparatively easy. I think he could see that we were enjoying our football and so he had very little reason to change things.’
‘That’s not meant to sound arrogant, but our confidence and togetherness carried us through the season, and we enjoyed some great times, though a few injuries disrupted us towards the end of the campaign and we finished runners up to Oldham Athletic when, at one time, it seemed that we would win the league.’
By the end of the season Tom, along with Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys all had new cars; ‘Again, that was down to Keith Hunt who arranged a deal for Alan and Bruce with Welch, a Vauxhall / Opel dealer in Bristol. I knew a few people down at Temple Meads Motors and when I mentioned that to Keith he got on to them straight away and, as a result, I was given a brand new Ford Capri 2.’
‘Part of the deal meant me spending two or three afternoons a week down at the car showroom, meeting and greeting people interested in purchasing a new car, which I found quite enjoyable.’
‘Keith was also instrumental in organising a pre-season tour for us in 1974 after that successful campaign. The previous summer a proposed tour to America had fallen through so when Keith said he would make sure we had a tour that year I think we were all a bit sceptical and feared we might end up spending a few days away in this country.’
‘It was only when he asked us to bring in our passports that we realised he was serious, and we ended up going to Australia, New Zealand and Bangkok.’
‘That’s another story, but let’s just say that it was quite an adventure!’