It Happened in July

By Keith Brookman

Following on from our look back at June 2004, we now look at July and see what was happening in BS7 16 years ago this month.

On the first day of July it was reported that Rovers were likely to be without the services of defender Aaron Lescott for the start of the new season. Having impressed during the final eight games of the previous season, when on loan from Stockport County, it had been hoped that he would sign a permanent deal for the 2003/04 campaign.

Assistant manager Kevan Broadhurst said this about the situation; ‘Aaron has probably missed the boat here now. He had the chance to come here but delayed a decision and meanwhile we had to get people in. He isn’t out of the equation completely, but it now looks unlikely he will be joining us for next season.’

Up at the training facilities at Colerne, Assistant Manager Kevin Broadhurst can’t quite decide who he wants where [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Meanwhile Jamie Forrester, who had won promotion with Hull City the previous season, said he was hoping to be involved in another this time around; ‘I can see similarities with the way things were this time last year at Hull and I think we should be thinking about getting ourselves in the top three, or at least the top seven.

‘There is competition for places here and nothing is guaranteed, but hopefully in August I can get the nod and start putting the goals away. But it’s such a strong squad that, to be honest, I’ll be happy just to get a game. There are a lot of good players here and from talking to the rest of the lads, you can tell that everyone is confident.’

On this day also, it was reported that former Rovers defender Lee Maddison had been admitted to hospital in Newcastle after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Syndrome, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. At the time of the diagnosis Maddison was on the books of Scottish club Gretna.

Meanwhile midfielder Dave Savage, who had played under Ian Atkins at Northampton and Oxford, admitted that it was going to be a battle to make the starting XI once the season began; ‘The manager has brought in proven players who have done it at this level or higher, so there is going to be a lot of competition for places.

‘Some people may see that as a threat, but I think that if you are going to have a chance of winning promotion then you need players on the bench who don’t think they should be there. The chances are that when we start the season there are going to be players on the bench who think they should be starting.’

A studious approach from Paul Trollope on the Golf Day (see later in the article) [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Rovers spent the second week of their pre-season training at the Azimghur Army Barracks at Colerne, and Savage said; ‘This is one of the hardest pre-seasons I’ve been through but people have already been feeling the benefits.’

Defender Christian Edwards, like Savage, was also impressed with the strength in depth of the squad being assembled by the manager; ‘Maybe last season the squad did lack a bit of depth and there were times midway through when players like myself weren’t doing so well, but there wasn’t really a challenge for your place.

‘This time if you are not playing to the level the manager requires, then there will be people there to replace you.’

Rovers announced the appointment of a new director, Midlands based businessman Mike Turl, which took the number of board members at the cub to ten. On his appointment the new man said; ‘I’ve supported Rovers all my life and used to watch games at Eastville from the North Enclosure. I am still a member of the Supporters Club and travel to home and away games from the Midlands.’

Craig Hinton prefers the posed stance on the golf course [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

New defender Steve Elliott, who had been on the bench for Derby County when Rovers were 3-1 winners in an FA Cup tie at Pride Park in January 2002, was looking forward to his first season playing for the Gas; ‘I was at Blackpool last season, but the prospect of dropping down a division doesn’t bother me because I only expect to be playing there for a year, to be honest. I’ve signed a three year deal here and I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think we were going places.’

Ian Atkins was poised to add to his strikeforce and was closing in on a deal for former Aston Villa and Blackpool marksman Richard Walker who had already been training with the squad.

The manager also added another defender to his squad and was delighted at landing Millwall full back Robbie Ryan to his list of new signings. Ryan’s last game for the Lions had been in the FA Cup Final, against Manchester United, when he marked Cristian Ronaldo. Atkins said of him; ‘Robbie will become a cult figure here because of the way he plays. He’s very combative, he’s got a fantastic left foot, nothing gets past him and he’s got tremendous enthusiasm.’

New signing Robbie Ryan [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The manager, who had made ten new signings and released 11 players, also told Lee Hodges, Sonny Parker, Ryan Williams and Ijah Anderson that they were free to leave if they could find new clubs.

Over in China, Tony Ricketts was in charge of a Bristol Rovers Development Squad that finished third in the Guangzhou Sister Cities Tournament. Guangzhou, the third largest City in China, entered into its twelfth Sister City relationship with Bristol in 2001 [It now has over 30 of them!].

Rovers won a penalty shootout 4-3, after a 2-2 draw, against New Zealand side Three Kings United in the third place play off match. Tyrone Topper and Darren Mullings scored for the Gas.

Tony Ricketts with seven of the squad that came third in a tournament in China Back (L-R) Darren Mullings, Mark Preece, Chris Kite, Richard Henigan, Tony Ricketts. Front (L-R) Rob Sheriton, Tyrone Topper, Ben Willshire [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

On 14th July Rovers held their Annual Golf Day at the Kendleshire Golf Club and, as you can see, one or two of the new signings were keen to make their mark on the golf course!

Craig Disley’s golf masterclass [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Back to Ian Atkins, and the Rovers manager said that he was aiming for an automatic promotion spot when the new season began; ‘We have a three year plan in place and it’s up to us to get it right on the pitch. We’ll need a gelling period but, with the players and ability we have, we should be able to compete with anyone.

‘I set targets for myself, and targets for the players, but realistic ones. If we meet them then we should be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. I’d like to be in the top three.’

Rovers played their first pre-season match on Friday 16th July when they took on Bath City at Twerton Park. Two days later they were due to head off to the Isle of Man to take part in the week long tournament that involved Port Vale, Wrexham, Rushden & Diamonds, Carlisle United and a team from the Island.

Atkins made it quite clear, though, that he wasn’t in favour of the trip; ‘If it was up to me, we wouldn’t be going, but it’s something I’ve inherited and supporters have already made bookings. It won’t be on the agenda next year, but we will make the most of it.’

Ian Atkins tells reporters his thoughts on the pre-season tour [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The game against Bath City was goalless and will be featured in another article looking pre-season games played in 2004 which will be posted shortly, as will the games played in the Isle of Man, which saw Rovers beat Port Vale and Wrexham and lose to Rushden & Diamonds.

Two days after their return from the tournament, Rovers were in action again, against Queens Park Rangers at the Memorial Stadium. The game was a testimonial for Jamie Shore and almost 6,000 fans saw QPRs win 2-0.

The day after that game Atkins revealed that Richard Walker had signed a one year deal with an extension for a further year possible, depending on appearances. The manager also confirmed he would be offering a short term contract to defender Jon Beswetherick and would continue to monitor the progress of triallists Liam Burns (ex Port Vale) and Simon Ford (ex Grimsby).

Two days later Rovers were in action again and played out a 1-1 draw against Moor Green, a game in which the club fielded five triallists.

The final pre-season game of the month, against Swindon Town at the Mem, also ended in a draw (2-2) and the final day of the month saw the club host their annual open day and Supporters Club Director Jane Brown said, beforehand, that she hoped the day would be well supported; ‘You only have to look at the thousands that turned out for the QPR match on Tuesday to see the fans are in the mood to go again.

‘I sense more optimism this time than in previous years and there’s a really positive feel about the place again.’

Rovers were due to launch their new sky blue and navy away kit at the open day, while Ian Atkins and his players would be on hand to chat to supporters and sign autographs.

In our next article we will take a look at all of the pre-season games played by the club in the summer of 2004.

Another Racing Certainty – Seven for Stanners

By Keith Brookman

Following Tuesday’s mention of Bristol Rovers on ITV, when stable lad Bob Grace led in Battaash, the winner of the 3.35pm race at Royal Ascot, there was news of another Rovers / racing connection this week.

Former Rovers midfielder Craig Stanley won £25,000 on the ITV7 competition!

The free to enter competition sees punters predict the winners of all seven races on any particular day and last Saturday ‘Stanners’ went through the card at Newbury.

Going into the final race of the afternoon 300 people had selected six out of six, so there was a lot riding on the outcome of race number seven. The prize money on offer was £50,000 and shared between 300 people it wouldn’t have been a lot.

However, 298 people fell at the last, leaving ‘Stanners’ and one other punter to share the jackpot.

Craig in action for Rovers [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

One day later Craig took to Twitter and said this; “Thank you for all the msgs. Crazy day yesterday but what a day picking 7/7 on @itvracing@itv7. This will make a massive difference to me and my family. Thank you.”

This Saturday saw him interviewed on ITV as part of the Royal Ascot coverage and he said that it had been a very hectic week and that the money would go to pay off some debts and also go towards a house purchase.

Sadly, he forgot to mention Rovers; mind you, he didn’t mention any of his other clubs, either – they didn’t have enough air time for him to mention the other 13 he’s turned out for – and I may well have even missed a few!

The former England ‘C’ international joined the Gas in June 2011, arriving from Torquay United along with several others from Plainmoor, including manager Paul Buckle. It was just a one year spell at the Mem, though, and after one goal in 34 league games he departed for Aldershot Town.

Craig playing for Clitheroe

Last season saw him begin the campaign with Clitheroe before moving to Nuneaton Borough last September. However, the travelling proved to be too much for him, and it was reported that he had left them in November. He eventually found himself back at Clitheroe who play in the Northern Premier League Division One North West.

When the season was declared null and void, because of the coronavirus pandemic, during lockdown Clitheroe were in sixth place in the league.

Craig pictured during his short stay with Nuneaton Borough

Now 37 years of age, his playing days are probably coming to an end and it remains to be seen whether he will stay in the non league game as a coach or a manager. He did have a run of six games as joint caretaker manager of Lancaster City in 2018, so don’t bet against it!

Mind you, if coaching or management doesn’t appeal, there’s always a role as a tipster; that £25,000 might well have whetted his appetite for an alternative career!

On The Nose: The Unlikely Gas TV Star

By Keith Brookman

Apart from my annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham each year I don’t really follow horse racing, but with a wet afternoon in prospect I sat down to watch coverage of Royal Ascot on TV yesterday.

I have to admit it looked a little bit strange watching with no crowd present, but I guess that’s something we will all get used to in the months ahead, whatever sport we are watching.

Anyway, the 3.35 race came on, the King’s Stand Stakes, and was won by a horse that was fast… very fast… by the name of Battaash. After the race he was led back in by his stable ‘lad’ who went on to be interviewed about the race.

‘Stable lad’ didn’t seem quite right a label for Bob Grace and he would probably admit to not being a typical stable lad in any case; more a polite and affable middle-aged man (at least that’s how he came across). I think he said he had been in racing for 38 years and that this was the first time he’d led in a winner at Royal Ascot.

Bob Grace

Everyone seemed well pleased for him and, in his interview, it was said that he supported a football team.  When he was asked, ‘How does leading in the horse compare to your team?’, Bob replied, without drawing breath, ‘Nearly as good as getting promotion through the play offs’.  Then he was asked the name of the team he supported to which he replied, ‘Bristol Rovers.’

I almost spilt my glass of red!  Fair play to Bob for giving the Gas a mention – hopefully he will get an invite to a game when next season gets underway.

The jockey, by the way did wear blue and white, though not quarters.

However, there was a horse called Ikdam whose jockey wore blue and white quarters and won at Cheltenham back in 1989, coming in at 66/1 in the Daily Express Triumph Hurdle, beating the other 26 runners in a race run in atrocious conditions.

Gary Penrice on board Ikdam – I reckon it was a toss up between him and Phil Purnell (to the right of the photo) as to who got the ride! [Photo by kind permission of Ann Craig]

I watched it back on YouTube after my Royal Ascot ‘experience’ and Ikdam wasn’t even mentioned all the way round until the winning post came into view and he came up on the rails for a remarkable victory.

The reason his jockey, Nigel Coleman, wore racing silks in blue and white quarters was, I believe, down to the fact that the horse was part owned by the late Ron Craig, a former Director and Chairman of The Gas.

The other owners were Bob Marshall and John White, and all three co-owners were directors of LBI Law (873) property developing company.

The owners, from L-R Bob Marshal, Ron Craig and John White with Ikdam’s Trophy…and a glass of something sparkling [Photo by kind permission of Ann Craig]

Ikdam was trained by Portbury trainer Richard Holder and earned his owners £28,000 that day.  Ron said after the race; ‘We would have been delighted with a place. To win was quite incredible. The heavy rain obviously helped Ikdam and Nigel gave him a fantastic ride.’

Ron had advised the Rovers squad to have a bet on the horse whose win paid out 142 – on the Tote.  There is however no record of any of the players at that time retiring on the proceeds!

Ikdam’s win might have been due to the extra training he put in that winter with Gary Penrice in the saddle. As you can see from these photos, kindly lent by Ron’s widow Ann, ‘Penny’ looks the part and he was the right build for a jockey!

While Ikdam’s racing career, not to mention Gary Penrice’s (!) are long gone, Bob’s continues and I suspect he might be in the winner’s enclosure quite a few more times with Battaash.

Bob, a Bristolian, used to work for Jim Old who trained horses at Dundry, and we hope to see him in the winner’s enclosure again in the near future.

‘Penny’ and Ikdam [Photo by kind permission of Ann Craig]