Rovers Youth team of 1985/86
By Keith Brookman
Two of my recent articles have looked back at Rovers youth teams of almost twenty years ago. Today we go back even further to look at one of the club’s most successful runs in the FA Youth Cup.
Season 1985/86 will be remembered as the last one in which Bristol Rovers called Eastville their home; at the end of that campaign the club began a ten year groundshare in Bath at Twerton Park, home of Bath City.
However, it was also a season in which the Rovers youth team reached the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup for only the second time in the club’s history.
Their manager was none other than former Rovers defender Lindsay Parsons and he was assisted by Chipping Sodbury schoolteacher Chris Hills, appointed by manager Bobby Gould as the club’s part time youth development officer.
Having been given a bye in the first round of that season’s competition Rovers were drawn away to face Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge on 2nd December 1985, in round two and ran out 4-2 winners.
It was an outstanding result and Gould highlighted that fact in his programme notes the weekend after the match, saying; “I want to offer my most sincere congratulations to the players and everyone else involved in the youth teams win.”
“Producing top quality young footballers is a time consuming business. It takes a special breed of person to put in the many hours and tireless effort required.”
“Lindsay Parsons is such a person. An old favourite of you Rovers’ supporters, he tackles his part time job of coaching our youngsters in the same way he used to tackle opposing right wingers; very, very, hard!”
“His relationship with our young players is second to none. In addition, the discipline and competitive element that Lindsay instils into the lads will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.”
“Working alongside Lindsay is another part timer, Chris Hills. New to the youth development officer’s job, he is giving it all he can and is rapidly establishing himself as an enthusiastic ands likeable asset to Bristol Rovers.”
“I am sure that with Lindsay and Chris working in close harmony with reserve team manager Harold Jarman, the player production line which has so often in the past proved to be the club’s financial saviour will continue to maintain its high level of output.”
The victory at Chelsea, regarded by many as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, was achieved by two goals from David Mehew and one apiece from Martin Boyle and Gary Eyles and the win prompted enquiries, from England U-17 manager Colin Murphy, about seven members of the squad.
“It was a measure of how well we played that Colin wanted details of so many of the team”, said Gould, who refused to name the players who had caught the eye of the England boss.
Gordon Bennett, at that time the club’s Managing Director, said that he felt the win at Stamford bridge was the best performance ever by a Rovers youth team.
Asked if he was surprised by the result, Chris Hills said; “Not in the slightest. We’ve some exceptionally talented youngsters here and, what’s more, despite the fact that the FA Youth Cup is an U-18 competition, some of our team were only 15 years of age, which bodes well for the future.”
Hills also spoke highly of former Rovers defender Parsons; “He’s absolutely fantastic. The boys think the world of him, and Lindsay lives and dies for them. He shows the same sort of commitment with the lads as he did when he was playing in that successful promotion side and you can’t ask for more than that.”
A few days after the game one of the players from that Rovers side, Richard Dryden, signed associate schoolboy forms for Rovers. It meant that he was Gould’s first schoolboy signing since his return to the club for a second stint as manager. In addition, it was the first signing made by Hills following his appointment earlier in the season.
“Richard is a cultured player who can operate anywhere down the left side of the field,” said Gould, who added; “he’s impressed everyone on the staff since he was first brought here for trials and has an excellent attitude.”
The draw for the third round of the FA Youth Cup handed Rovers another away tie, at Ipswich Town, but again they won through beating the Tractor Boys 2-0 at Portman Road on 6th January 1986.
Once again David Mehew and Martin Boyle were on the scoresheet, while 15 year old schoolboy Simon Bean enjoyed a superb game in goal where he stood in for the suspended Tim Carter.
Their journey ended in round four, though, as they were beaten 3-1 by Tottenham Hotspur at Eastville on 4th March 1986 and David Mehew again was on the scoresheet for Rovers. Remarkably, the following evening ‘Boris’ went on as a substitute for the reserves and scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win at Torquay.
The cup run was remarkable when you consider the fact that there only two members of the squad, Lee Howells and Ian Weston, had been taken on as apprentices.
Tim Carter and David Mehew, both young professionals, had appeared in the first team that season, while the remaining squad members were either schoolboys, college students or non contract signings.
Steve Yates, Jimmy Wring and Simon Bean were young enough to be eligible to play in the competition for the next two years!
Darren Carr was a motor mechanic, David Williams was studying commerce at college, Jason Eaton worked for a building company and Richard Dryden, who signed schoolboy forms following the first round win at Chelsea, was still a pupil at Thornbury School.
Martin Boyle was on an engineering course at a Bristol College, Nick Hendy, a former Chelsea schoolboy, worked in insurance and Ian Stone had not long left school while Gary Eyles was still a sixth former.
Harold Jarman, Rovers’ reserve team manager, explained why he thought the group were so successful; “They work hard for each other and what makes them particularly effective is that we have two strikers in Mehew and Boyle who can always be relied on to get goals.”
“Hendy and Carr are also key figures in the centre of defence because both are quick and good in the air. Four members of the squad train with me on Monday night and all of them are taken for an evening session on Thursdays, under the guidance of Lindsay Parsons, who has worked very hard with them and deserves a lot of credit for his season’s success.”
Of that squad, seven actually played in the league for Rovers, namely Carter, Mehew, Carr, Dryden, Eaton, Weston and Yates.
Yates and Mehew would go on to become first team regulars, of course, and both played a major part in the successful 1989/90 campaign when Rovers clinched the Third Division title and reached Wembley for the first time.
Boyle played in the first team in an FA Cup tie against Brentford and also played against Bristol City in a Glos. Cup Final before going on to enjoy a long career in local non league football.
Three of the squad, Carter, Dryden and Eaton would go on to play for Bristol City later in their careers while Carr would play in an FA Cup semi final, for Chesterfield against Middlesbrough, in 1996/97.
Howells is another who played in a Glos. Cup Final, though never appeared in a league match for Rovers. He went on to make 367 league appearances for Cheltenham Town where he and Eaton played alongside each other. Both appeared in the 1997/98 FA Trophy Final when Cheltenham beat Southport 1-0 and Eaton scored the goal that clinched the trophy and both were in the squad the following season when the Gloucestershire Robins won promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history.
I’m not sure how the careers of Hendy, Bean, Eyles, Stone, Williams and Wring progressed, though I believe Wring played non league football locally. As for the others, I’d be interested to know if they remained in the game in some capacity after their release by Rovers.
The fourth round of the FA Youth Cup remains the furthest Rovers have ever been in the competition; does this years’ crop of youngsters have the ability to better that?