By Stephen Byrne
What is it exactly that stirs football enthusiasts to follow the game in so many different ways? How can it be that supporters see the same match but experience such a varying range of responses? Why do some watch the game for fun, others become engrossed in tactics, and others hide away in trivia?
In an exciting and enthralling match on Saturday week, Rovers gave a very good impression in running Premier League side Sheffield United close, losing an FA Cup tie 3-2 behind closed doors.
Our club has a reasonable track record in recent years against The Blades. Indeed, the only time I have seen a Rovers player score a League hat trick was against the very same United in the 1970s; I was right behind the goal at the Muller Road End at Eastville as, with two minutes remaining, Wayne Powell rose to head home from close range a curling right wing cross and seal a 3-1 victory.
Other stattos gleaned further details via this Cup clash. Two former RB Leipzig players were in the opposition side, in Ethan Ampadu and Oli Burke, and the former is one of only 41 players who made their Football League bow before their 16th birthday, the most recent being Exeter City’s Ben Chisene against Cambridge United in January 2020. This exclusive list, maybe against the odds, includes two players in blue and white quarters (Ronnie Dix and Scott Sinclair).
But the nugget of glistening trivia I gleaned from this FA Cup encounter was to do with twins. You see, Ben Osborn, who featured for Sheffield United, has twin sisters, Bethan and Holly; but why on earth would that be of any interest to anyone?
Well, because there is a long tradition amongst all clubs of celebrating those from all walks of life and those from so many backgrounds, and believe it or not, twins do play a role in Rovers’ long and complex history.
Not one but three separate pairs of twins have played alongside each other against Rovers in Football League matches. George (died 2015) and John Fisher (died 2013) were born on 19th June 1925 and both played in the two Millwall games against Rovers in 1948/49. 25th September 1956 marks the birthday of Paul (died 2016) and Ron Futcher, who played together for Luton Town against Rovers on six occasions between 1975 and 1978. And finally, identical twins Ian and Roger Morgan were born on 14th November 1946 and played three times together for QPR against Rovers between 1964 and 1967.
In addition, the recent League Cup tie at Craven Cottage, in which Ellis Harrison’s goal saw Rovers defeat Fulham 1-0, featured Fulham’s 17 year old twins Ryan, who came on as substitute, and Steven, who played from the start.
Twins Alan Reeves (Chester) and David Reeves (Carlisle United and Bolton Wanderers) never played alongside each other but both scored Football League goals against Rovers, and Phil Turnbull, who played for Gateshead against Rovers in December 2014, is a twin of Stephen Turnbull, formerly of Hartlepool United.
But are any Rovers players twins?
Well, yes, they are. Twins Gary and Craig Clarke, born in Boston, Lincolnshire in November 1960, were both on Rovers’ books, although only Gary played for the first team. Ray White, who played three times in goal for Rovers in 1968/69, has a twin brother Peter. Frankie Prince, virtually an ever present through the 1970s with Rovers, has a twin sister Ellen, and in the final season before World War One, Joe Caddick (1884-1956) scored seven goals in 27 games with Rovers; whilst his twin sister Mary did not feature…
Billy Wilson (1910-98), whose twin sister was Winifred Irene Wilson (1910-2002) played in six League games for Rovers between 1934 and 1936. Stan Green (1928-2006) played in just one game, against Torquay United in April 1952, and had a twin sister Elizabeth.
There are more. Phil Lythgoe, who played in six games on loan at Rovers in the autumn of 1978, and his twin brother Stuart were the sons of former Bristol City player Derrick Lythgoe and his wife Brenda Green. Meanwhile Keith Williams, who scored freely for Rovers before his career was ended by the infamous life ban from football in 1963, and his twin sister Margaret were born on the Wirral in 1937 to John Williams and his wife Mary Owens.
Last season Rovers fielded Rollin Menayese who was born in Cwmbran in December 1997 with his twin brother Elvis; whilst on Rovers’ books this season is James Daly, who was born with his twin brother Joel in January 2000.
Several other Rovers players had siblings who were twins. Goalkeeper Bert Densley (1903-82|) was the fifth of six children, with twins as older siblings; Errington Kelly’s younger twin brothers, Tony and Nyerere, were both on Bristol City’s books; Bill Roost had twins amongst his older brothers and sisters, being the tenth of eleven children to Oliver Roost (1881-1955) and his wife Emily Lewis (1889-1956); goalkeeper Jack Weare (1912-94), who died in Zimbabwe, was the eldest of six children including a set of twins
Back in 1892/93, Philip Lucas played 11 times for Rovers – his sisters Lilian and Violet were twins; John Cook, who played for Rovers shortly after World War Two, had twin sisters, one of whom, Hazel, married in 1944 Cliff Baker (1924-2010), who played as an inside forward in five games for Rovers in 1947/48.
Corporal Henry Preedy and his Japanese born wife Helen Lyne (1867-1941) had nine children, including a set of twins, and their sixth child Charlie Preedy (1900-78), who was born in India, played for Arsenal in the FA Cup Final and played in goal for Rovers in the Football League.
Several Rovers players have fathered twins. Ian Holloway has daughters Chloë and Eva; Tony Ford has Darren and Louise; Harry Bidwell (1879-1924), who only played in one game for Rovers, married Mary Taylor in 1902 and their twin daughters Florence and Dorothy were born in 1907; Jack Rumney (1898-1969) and his wife Laura Hall had twins Florence and John in 1926; Bob Scorer (1898-1971) married Elizabeth Attwood in 1920 and they had twins, Evelyn and Robert; and in recent years, popular players Jeff Hughes, Giuliano Grazioli and goalkeeper Mike Green have all fathered twins. Devon White, who in 1990 scored the first goal Rovers ever scored at Wembley, has six children, including twin boys.
Last Saturday week, Rovers gave a first game to goalkeeper Joe Day, whose excellent performance masked a sixth minute own goal (he’s not the only one – Johnny Hills, Sonny Parker and Bob Harris all conceded own goals on their Rovers début).
In February 2019, Joe’s wife Lizzie went into labour as he was due to play for Newport County against Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough side in the FA Cup. Whilst Joe helped County reach the fifth round for the first time in over 70 years, Lizzie was giving birth to twin girls, Sophia and Emelia, and as his team mates celebrated Joe was seen sprinting off the pitch, heading for the Royal Gwent Hospital.
Twins? That’s nothing. When Rovers met York City in the FA Cup in November 2013 the visitors fielded Sander Puri, an Estonian who furthered his career in Greece, Poland, Hungary and Finland. Puri, one of only two Estonians to appear against Rovers in any football match, was to win 78 caps for his country. He is also one of triplets; his brother Eino Puri won five caps for Estonia at football and their sister Kadri Puri is an accomplished volleyball player.