It Happened in April

By Keith Brookman

This month we have gone back 13 years, to April 2007 for no other reason than it was a great month for Rovers and their supporters and because, in this very difficult time, we thought it might cheer everyone up!

We hope you enjoy the memories that looking back to this time brings and trust that you are all taking care of yourself, your loved ones, friends, and those who may be in the vulnerable category.  Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, please stay safe.

The first day of the month was a Sunday, and not just any Sunday as Rovers were involved in a Cup Final.  The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final to be exact and their opponents were Doncaster Rovers in the last English Final to be played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Paul Trollope and his squad made the short trip across the Severn Bridge on the Saturday and, after a light training session at the University of South Wales and a trip to view the Millennium Stadium pitch, headed for the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel where they stayed the night before the final.

A team photo before travelling to the Millennium Stadium. Photo Credit Jeff Davis
A team photo before travelling to the Millennium Stadium.   [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

On the morning of the final breakfast was followed by a brisk walk and once everyone had changed into their cup final suits there was time for a team photo before heading off to the stadium. Gasheads on their way to the match seemed to be everywhere and almost every car was decked out in blue and white as the team coach sped towards the Welsh capital.

The streets surrounding the stadium were a sea of blue and white and red and white (Doncaster colours) and there really did seem to be a carnival atmosphere around the whole area.

The streets of Cardiff were turning blue & white. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
The streets of Cardiff were turning blue & white.  [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

The dressing rooms were, at that time, the most luxurious I had ever seen though I wasn’t to know that they would be bettered the following month (that’s another story!).

Once the preliminaries were over the game got underway and the Rovers of Bristol made a disastrous start. Having reached the final without conceding a goal, Paul Trollope’s side conceded twice in the opening five minutes.

Jonathan Forte opened the scoring for the Rovers of Doncaster after only 50 seconds and Paul Heffernan, who would later in his career join Paul Trollope’s side on loan, added a second with just five minutes on the clock.

There were no further goals in the first half but Trollope’s side pulled a goal back five minutes into the second half, through a Richard Walker penalty and drew level just after the hour mark when Sammy Igoe rifled home from close range.

Celebrating Sammy Igoe’s equaliser at the Millennium Stadium. Photo Credit Jeff Davis
Celebrating Sammy Igoe’s equaliser at the Millennium Stadium. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

No further goals meant extra time and that’s when blue and white hearts were broken as Doncaster skipper Graham Lee headed the winning goal just ten minutes before the final whistle.

It really was a match that was a credit to the lower divisions and was witnessed by a crowd of 59,024, of which almost 40,000 were supporting the Gas.

It was also blue & white inside the stadium. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
It was also blue & white inside the stadium.  [Photo Credit –  Neil Brookman]

‘I am very proud of the way we played,’ said Trollope, adding ‘we played some good football in the first half but we really got a hold on the game after the interval. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be for us on the day, but we will treasure the memories from it.’

It wasn’t the end of the season for Rovers, though, as they still had a play off place to aim for, a fact not lost on skipper Stuart Campbell as he and his team mates prepared for trip to face Mansfield at Field Mill; ‘The final gave us a taste of the big occasion. Hopefully it will whet our appetites for getting to the play offs.’

Events off the field saw Chairman Geoff Dunford step down after the Millennium Stadium Final and Ron Craig moved into the hotseat and he said; ‘My tenure as Chairman will be different to that of Geoff because we are different people and have different personalities. Many people will wonder if a younger man would have been more appropriate in the post, but my answer is that age is not a concern for me.

‘Bristol Rovers are facing a stern challenge over the next couple of years and I’m up for that.’

Goalkeeper Steve Phillips, who admitted that the first Doncaster goal was down to him, looked ahead to the remainder of the league programme and said; ‘We’ve got seven cup finals and although they may not be in a fantastic stadium, if people want their careers to go forwards rather than backwards then we need to win the next five. It’s not going to be easy.’

Ahead of the trip to Mansfield, Rovers were five points adrift of a top seven place with a game in hand and Paul Trollope felt that his side could put themselves in the mix for a play off place if they enjoyed a good set of results over the Easter period; ‘Other results have gone for us recently but that will be insignificant if we don’t do our jobs tomorrow.’

Midfielder Sammy Igoe said he felt that Rovers could reach the Wembley play off final; ‘I think, realistically, if we can win five games out of our remaining seven it could be enough. But we are capable of winning all seven and that’s what we will be setting out to do.’

Craig Disley pictured in action against Mansfield, his former club. Photo Credit Jeff Davis
Craig Disley pictured in action against Mansfield, his former club.  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

A 35th minute Steve Elliott goal at Field Mill ensured that Trollope’s side collected three points on Easter Saturday and left them three points away from a top seven finish, still with a game in hand.

‘It was a vital victory,’ said Trollope afterwards ‘the three points were the be all and end all, no matter how they came.’

Of his goal, his fifth of the season, defender Elliott said; ‘It was my aim to improve my goal tally this season and maybe I can get a couple more before it ends. That would be very nice. ‘As for this one, it’s hard to say whether it’s the best I’ve ever scored or not (it came from an overhead kick). I need to see it again, and sometimes things look different on the telly!’

Two days later Bury were the visitors to the Memorial Stadium and, in front of a crowd of 6,266 they were beaten 2-0 thanks to two goals from Rickie Lambert who said afterwards; ‘It was important that I started scoring and I was pleased to get two. For the first Andy Sandell won a header, Richard Walker got a great touch to take it away from their player and I hit it early.

Rickie Lambert in action against Bury. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
Rickie Lambert in action against Bury.  [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

‘The second one came from a free kick we work on every week in training, although it never seemed to come off in games until now. I think it hit me just below the knee before it went in, but I was pleased it bounced up and into the net.’

Defender Ryan Green, injured at Grimsby in February, played 70 minutes of a reserve team game against Weymouth at the Memorial Stadium a day later and came through with no ill effects; ‘Missing out on playing at the Millennium Stadium was a big disappointment, but hopefully we can get into the play offs now. We’ve got a massive chance and I would like to be fit and available.’

Rovers were 2-0 winners against Weymouth in that game, both goals being scored by Chris Lines.

Man of the Match in the Millennium Final, Lewis Haldane, said he felt he was now too old for the tag of promising youngster, especially as he found himself the longest serving player on the books!; ‘I was 22 a few weeks ago and when you look in the Premiership now and see 17 and 18 year olds it’s time I need to fulfil my potential and show people what I’m made of.’

Ahead of the next match, against Barnet at Underhill, Paul Trollope said; ‘We are very much focused on the game. They are on a good run and have had some positive results against top clubs, so it’s going to be tough.’

The manager also revealed that the club would be taking another look at striker Josh Klein-Davies, recently released by Bristol City.

A point gained at Underhill, thanks to a 12th minute Richard Walker goal, saw Rovers remain in ninth place, just a point away from a play off spot. However, they had to play out almost all of the second half with ten men following Aaron Lescott’s 48th minute red card.

Aaron Lescott is sent off at Barnet. Photo Credit Jeff Davis
Aaron Lescott is sent off at Barnet.  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The referee said that Lescott was dismissed for a two footed challenge and trying to find video evidence to prove otherwise was proving to be problematic as the company that normally filmed Barnet’s home games didn’t turn up!

There was more bad news as defender Craig Hinton limped off with a groin injury 15 minutes from time and there were fears that his season might be over.

Richard walker has just scored at Barnet and Craig Disney and Rickie Lambert are ready to celebrate. Photo Credit Jeff Davis
Richard Walker has just scored at Barnet and Craig Disley and Rickie Lambert are ready to celebrate.  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Stuart Nicholson had to be substituted before half time in a midweek reserve team game against Cheltenham Town with a stomach injury and he was also rated doubtful for the next match, against Lincoln City at the Mem.

Ahead of that match Paul Trollope said; ‘We are seven points behind Lincoln with a game in hand and they are in fifth place. A win might be enough to get us into the top seven this weekend.

He went on to tell Rovers fans that they had a major part to play in the club’s late push for a play off place; ‘Our fans can be a huge factor for us. We had a great following at Barnet last weekend, and they were very vocal and really got behind the lads. After we went down to ten men you could see what the result meant to them and I think after the final whistle they realised that it was probably a good point for us.

‘Hopefully the supporters will realise how big the Lincoln game is and come out and back us in numbers and volume.’

Off the pitch supporters were being asked their opinions on two possible ground share options when the redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium began!  Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road and Swindon Town’s County Ground were the grounds in question. Geoff Dunford, the club’s former chairman, said; ‘We are not asking fans to pick the venue, we are looking to find out how they would travel to either ground.’

Craig Hinton’s season ending injury meant a return to the side for Byron Anthony. Injured in the final game of 2006, at Walsall, the defender had started the previous nine games on the bench having recovered from the knee injury sustained in that game.

‘I feel I’m back to full fitness. It took a bit longer than I would have liked but with Craig and Steve Elliott doing well I couldn’t come straight back in the side. But now my chance has come along again, and I aim to take it.’

A Memorial Stadium crowd of 6,828 saw Rovers and Lincoln play out a goalless draw. Three times the Gas were saved by the goal frame and by a Lincoln side that also missed two golden opportunities to seal victory and extinguish Rovers’ hopes of a play off place.

Lewis Haldane pictured during the match against Lincoln City.
[Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Goalkeeper Steve Phillips was quite brutal in his assessment of the game; ‘We are shooting from 50 yards and my gran would save the ball from there. We were on top for 60 minutes or so, yet Lincoln hit the woodwork several times and their goalkeeper hardly made a save.’

Paul Trollope, though, felt that three wins from the remaining three games, beginning with an away match at Macclesfield Town the following Tuesday, would seal a play off place; ‘We needed three points against Lincoln and the draw just makes the job a bit more difficult. We probably need to win the last three games now and we have to bounce back quickly at Macclesfield.’

Ahead of the trip to the Moss Rose it was announced that the club were close to agreeing new deals with skipper Stuart Campbell and goalkeeper Steve Phillips, though Director of Football Lennie Lawrence felt that the club could face a battle to hold on to defender Steve Elliott who had been the subject of enquiries from other clubs. Lawrence also revealed that the club was keen to secure the future of Lewis Haldane and to keep Richard Walker at the Mem.

Rickie Lambert and Byron Anthony both passed fitness tests at the Moss Rose ahead of the game against Macclesfield and took their places in the starting lineup. However, it was left to second half substitute Sean Rigg to seal the points for Rovers as his 59th minute goal was the difference between the sides as Rovers continued their quest for a play off place. It was the first senior goal scored by Rigg and his manager said; ‘Sean has made an impact from the bench in the last two games, but this time he got his first goal and it was a crucial one for us.

picture jeffdavis.co.uk: Macclesfield v Bristol Rovers: Sean Rigg in action
Sean Rigg in action at Macclesfield where he scored his first senior Rovers goal.  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

‘It’s a huge win because it keeps us in the hunt ahead of a derby game at the weekend against a Swindon Town side that needs a point to go up.’

Rovers were expecting their biggest crowd of the season for the game against Swindon at the Mem and Trollope said; ‘The prospect of a midweek trip to Macclesfield wasn’t very enticing but our travelling fans followed us again and gave us great vocal support. Now we have to give them something else to shout about on Saturday.’

Ahead of the game against Trollope’s hometown side, it was confirmed that Stuart Nicholson’s season was over as he was undergoing a hernia operation to cure the problem that had hindered him for a while.

Midfielder Sammy Igoe, a former Swindon player, said he hoped that his former side would gain promotion, but a week later as this was game that Rovers needed to win; ‘It’s the most important game of our season, more important than the Millennium Stadium game. After that defeat we could easily have fallen to pieces, but the team has kicked on and we haven’t lost.’

Skipper Stuart Campbell pictured in action against Swindon Town. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
Skipper Stuart Campbell pictured in action against Swindon Town.  [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

There were 9,902 fans inside the Mem to see Rovers register another single goal victory, achieved thanks to Rickie Lambert’s 26th minute goal. The three points lifted Rovers into the final play off place with just an away game at Hartlepool United to come the following weekend.

Lambert said afterwards; ‘That might just be the most important goal I’ve ever scored. It’s definitely the best.’

His goal saw Rovers leapfrog one of his former clubs, Stockport County, into the top seven and now both sides would fight it out for the final play off place, ironically in the north east, as Stockport’s last game was just down the road from Hartlepool, at Darlington.

Celebrations on the bench at the end of the Swindon game. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
Celebrations on the bench at the end of the Swindon game.  [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Final word of what was an outstanding April for his side, goes to Paul Trollope;  ‘We are the team in from and we’ve worked very hard to get where we are. We know what the target is, and we know what we have to do. All our focus now is on winning at Hartlepool.

‘It’s a big achievement because after we played Notts County last month we were only 17th. We’ve done well in our games in hand and picked up some good points since then. Now we need to stay there, and any complacency next weekend will mean our season ends there and then.’

The Nations League Connection

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.

BELGIUM

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.

Gary Waddock, who played in Belgium for Charleroi. Photo Credit Alan Marshall
Gary Waddock, who played in Belgium for Charleroi.  [Photo Credit Alan Marshall]
Charlie Colkett also played for Vitesse Arnhem and winger Richard Evans is currently fitness coach to the Belgian national side.

Charlie Colkett, who played in Belgium for Vitesse Arnhem. Photos Credit Neil Brookman
Charlie Colkett, who played in Belgium for Vitesse Arnhem. [Photo Credit Neil Brookman]
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.

Richard Evans. Photo Credit Alan Marshall
Richard Evans  [Photo Credit Alan Marshall]
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.

DENMARK

Bo Henriksen and Mikkel Andersen are the two Danish born players who have played professionally for Rovers.

Bo Henriksen, who is the current manager of Danish side Horsens. Photo Alan Marshall
Bo Henriksen, who is the current manager of Danish side Horsens. [Photo by Alan Marshall]
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.

Mikkel Andersen, now back in his native Denmark with FC Midtjylland. Photo Neil Brookman
Mikkel Andersen, now back in his native Denmark with FC Midtjylland.  [Photo by Neil Brookman]
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.

ICELAND

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.

Moussa Dagnogo, who played in Iceland for KR Reykjavik. Photo Alan Marshall
Moussa Dagnogo, who played in Iceland for KR Reykjavik. [Photo by Alan Marshall]
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.

Sergio Ommel, who also played in Iceland for KR Reykjavik. Photo Alan Marshall
Sergio Ommel, who also played in Iceland for KR Reykjavik. [Photo by Alan Marshall]
 

It Happened in March

By Keith Brookman

This month we are going back 15 years to see what was happening in BS7 in March 2005 when we were coming to an end of Ian Atkins’ first full season in charge of the Gas.

The month began with the news that Atkins might well hand defender Jon Bass the opportunity of relaunching his career at the Memorial Stadium. The 28 year old former Birmingham City and Hartlepool United player had been training with the club after time in Malaysia playing for Pahang.

In addition, the club were speaking to Aaron Lescott about the possibility of extending his contract to cover another season.  Atkins said this about the former Stockport County defender; ‘I think he has played his best at full back although he prefers to be in midfield, and sometimes it needs someone else to tell players where their best position is!’

Rovers manager Ian Atkins. Photo credit Neil Brookman
Rovers manager Ian Atkins.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
Meanwhile midfielder Dave Savage was hoping to play in the club’s first game of March, against Rochdale at the Memorial Stadium, following a spell on the sidelines after a hamstring injury.

Another former Stockport player, Ali Gibb, was also hoping he was on the road to recovery after suffering a strained posterior cruciate ligament in a game against Lincoln City; ‘I’d like to think that maybe next week or the week after I could be back in training with the rest of the lads to some extent,’ said Gibb.

The bad news continued when manager Atkins said it was possible that Stuart Campbell might miss the final ten games of the season as he needed surgery to cure a double hernia problem. Atkins said; ‘At least we know what the problem is, and he will have to have it done to be ready for next season. But in the meantime, he can’t really make it any worse so we’ve said to him he might as well join us for training.’ Full of sympathy that man!

The day before the match against Rochdale defender Christian Edwards was warning his teammates that everyone was playing for their futures with the club and he wasn’t sure that he would keep his place in the side following a run of poor performances; ‘My performance last Saturday wasn’t good enough and neither was the one the week before. I’m probably my own worst critic, but if you come off the pitch pretending you’ve played well when you haven’t, you are only fooling yourself.

‘I’ve got another year left on my contract, but everybody’s contract is up in the air because no one has been a world beater this season.’

Well, Dave Savage and Stuart Campbell were both missing from the side that faced Rochdale and Christian Edwards was named on the bench. They all missed out on being part of a club record as Rovers drew their 17th game of the season. What’s more, it was a goalless one so there was very little for the Memorial Stadium crowd of 5,464 to get excited about! Interestingly, former Rovers striker Paul Tait and future Rovers front man Rickie Lambert were both in the Rochdale side and even they couldn’t find the back of the net!

James Hunt pictured in action against Rochdale. The Rochdale player is none other than Rickie Lambert. Photo credit Neil Brookman
James Hunt pictured in action against Rochdale. The Rochdale player is none other than Rickie Lambert.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
This is what the manager had to say after the game; ‘We had enough opportunities, especially in the second half, but sometimes our final ball lets us down and we fail to get strikes on goal when we are in good positions.’

Atkins also hit back at terrace criticism of the club’s reputation as draw specialists following this game, citing a crippling injury list as the reason for a lack of wins rather than his defensive tactics; ‘Saying we are defensive is an easy option for people who don’t really understand the game. If I think we need to put players behind the ball in order to get a result between now and the end of the season, then we’ll do it.’

A goal down from the first leg of the LDV Vans Trophy Area Semi Final (Southend United won 2-1 at the Mem in the first leg), Rovers travelled to Roots Hall for the second leg on the Tuesday after the draw against Rochdale.

The Essex side shattered Rovers dream of progressing any further in the competition thanks to a 2-2 draw on the night. Southend opened the scoring through Wayne Gray, though Richard Walker equalised for Rovers before half time. Freddy Eastwood edged Southend back in front and although Junior Agogo got Rovers back on level terms it was the home side that went through to the Millennium Stadium Final as they won 4-3 on aggregate.

Adam Barrett and Che Wilson, both former Rovers players, were in the Southend side, as was current Rovers coach Kevin Maher. Atkins’ take on this game went like this; ‘It’s a case of so near yet so far. I believe that over the two legs we more than matched them and were probably the better side. But the goals we conceded in the first game, and the penalty miss, cost us. The two goals we gave away in this game were sloppy as well.’

With media reports suggesting that the manager’s position was under threat because of the Southend defeat, Atkins moved swiftly to deny that he was on the verge of getting the elbow; ‘If people want to speculate, then that’s up to them. I didn’t come here to sort out everybody’s mess from the past and then have people knocking me down. I came to push the club forward and there will be a plan in place to do that over the summer.’

He went on to say that he might use the remainder of the season to have a look at some of the club’s younger players in league action; ‘Lewis Haldane hasn’t had many starts and we have spent a lot of time trying to toughen him up physically and mentally. Maybe now we will give him the opportunity to play.

‘It might also be time to bring Ryan Clarke back in for the rest of the season to give him experience and Scott Sinclair will come into our thoughts as well.’

Ryan Clarke, who was brought into the side for the run in. Photo credit Jeff Davis
Ryan Clarke, who was brought into the side for the run in.  [Photo credit – Jeff Davis]
The day before their next game, against Bury at Gigg Lane, the manager revealed that both Dave Savage and Craig Disley might return after injury and there were also rumours that the club were preparing a bid for Carlisle United goalkeeper Matt Glennon in the summer. He had already played one game for the Gas when on loan from Bolton, though letting this news slip out after he had said he wanted Ryan Clarke to have a run in the side did seem a little bit strange and couldn’t have done a lot for Clarke’s confidence or that of first team keeper Kevin Miller. And Glennon never did return!

Savage and Disley did come back into to the side for the trip to Gigg Lane, though a bout of tonsilitis put paid to any hopes Ryan Clarke might have had of being involved. It was Disley who scored Rovers goal in a 1-1 draw, their eighteenth of the season.

There was an interesting quote from Atkins after this one; ‘I’m not Paul Daniels and I can’t just wave a wand and make things happen. I’ve tried to sort the club out from the bottom upwards and am still only halfway through the process.’

Goalscorer Disley revealed he was preparing to add a bit of bulk during the summer and said; ‘The gaffer gave me some vitamin tablets and I’ve also been out and got some of my own now. I’m going to have to get to the gym and build myself up and then come back next season as the bionic man!’

Craig Disney celebrates his goal at Bury. Photo credit Jeff Davis
Craig Disley celebrates his goal at Bury.  [Photo credit – Jeff Davis]
Off the pitch it was reported that the club’s matchday magazine, The Pirate, had won Programme of the Year for the fifth time in seven years.

Loan signing Ricky Shakes, who had featured at Southend but not Bury, returned to his parent club Bolton Wanderers with Atkins saying; ‘Ricky is going back to Bolton today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the end of him at Bristol Rovers.’ I think that was manager speak for ‘we won’t be seeing him again’!

There were a few words about Kevin Miller, as well, as it was revealed that he would step down for the final nine games of the season in favour of Ryan Clarke; ‘Kevin’s contract is up and he’s been a fantastic keeper and a great servant to this club’ said the manager, adding ‘He’s 36 now and I don’t know whether he wants to carry on playing or goalkeeping coaching.’

Goalkeeper Kevin Miller, pictured at Gigg Lane. He made way for Ryan Clarke after this game and was soon on his way to Derby County. Photo credit Jeff Davis
Goalkeeper Kevin Miller, pictured at Gigg Lane. He made way for Ryan Clarke after this game and was soon on his way to Derby County.  [Photo credit – Jeff Davis]
Goalkeeper Kevin Miller, pictured at Gigg Lane. He made way for Ryan Clarke after this game and was soon on his way to Derby County. Photo credit Jeff Davis

Jon Bass was given an outing in the reserve side a few days after the first team game at Bury and he helped the second XI win 2-0 against Team Bath. Lewis Haldane and Jamie Forrester were on target for the Gas.

There were rumours that Accrington Stanley winger Rory Prendergast might be arriving at the Memorial Stadium on loan, ahead of a permanent move in the summer. Stanley were, at that time, in the Conference and had paid a sum of £5,000 to secure his signature in December 2002. He never did show up in BS7!

The club announced their renewal of their shirt sponsorship deal with Cowlin Construction and Chairman Geoff Dunford said; ‘The relationship between Cowlin Construction and Bristol Rovers is about more than simple shirt sponsorship.

‘We are working with them on both the Phase One North Stand Development and the Filton College project. We believe this association has been mutually beneficial to both the club and Cowlin Construction.’

North Stand redevelopment?  The club were waiting for planning permission for the North Stand which would replace the existing Blackthorn End with a 5,500 seat facility while their £18m training centre and Centre of Excellence at Filton College was due to open later that year. I didn’t realise that planning permission took so long – here we are some 15 years later and we still have a covered terrace behind the goal only now it’s the Thatcher’s Terrace as opposed to the Blackthorn End!

Ryan Clarke was looking forward to his promised run in the first team. At 23 years old he was the longest serving player at the club and was in line to play in the next match, a home fixture against Mansfield Town. He said; ‘There has been speculation about people coming in, so now it’s down to me to prove to the gaffer as well as myself that I’m ready for next year.’

Meanwhile Geoff Dunford announced that the club had made a loss of £450,000 in the previous season and said; ‘The 2003/04 season was yet another one of underachievement for Bristol Rovers, despite our investments in the playing side, and your directors were very disappointed with team performances.’

Richard walker shields the ball from a Mansfield player during the 4-4 draw at the Memorial. Photo credit Neil Brookman
Richard Walker shields the ball from a Mansfield player during the 4-4 draw at the Memorial.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
The Mansfield game did see Ryan Clarke take his place between the posts and he and his teammates were involved in yet another draw as the sides shared eight goals. Ryan Williams and Jamie Forrester scored from open play, while both Junior Agogo and Richard Walker converted penalties. Rovers had been 2-1 ahead at the half time break but Mansfield raced into a 4-2 lead in the second half only for Rovers to hit back to claim a point.

Manager Atkins described the game as a comedy of errors; ‘The game was riddled with mistakes and after getting our noses in front we made two horrendous errors at the start of the second half. The goals we gave away were very poor, although the pitch isn’t the best at the moment and had a lot to do with a couple of them. But if we give the ball away in stupid areas then it is going to cost us goals. We can’t keep giving people leads.’

Junior Agogo also pictured in the 4-4 draw against Mansfield. Photo credit Neil Brookman
Junior Agogo also pictured in the 4-4 draw against Mansfield.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
Midfielder Dave Savage, who had asked for a transfer earlier in the season, but had since returned to the side after a hamstring injury, was playing well enough to be considered for a new contract and his manager said this about him; ‘Dave is one of the players that makes us tick. I think he’s played some of the best football of his career for us this season.’

Atkins also denied that Rovers had turned down a bid from Mansfield for Junior Agogo and said that the rumours were ‘laughable’. The manager also said that the club were hoping to keep 15 year old striker Scott Sinclair at the club by guaranteeing a professional contract in the future.

A few days after this news, Atkins revealed that both Christian Edwards and Paul Trollope were being placed on the transfer list. This news came just 24 hours before the transfer deadline and with both players still having a year left on their contract it seemed unlikely they would be moved on quickly.

One player who did leave the club on deadline day was goalkeeper Kevin Miller, who signed for Derby County on loan for the remainder of the season. Derby were, at that time, a Championship side.

One player was signed by Atkins, namely left sided midfielder Chris Carruthers, signed on loan from Northampton Town and he was in line to make his debut for the club in their next fixture, against Notts County at Meadow Lane.

Chris Carruthers pictured on his debut at Notts County. Photo credit Jeff Davis
Chris Carruthers pictured on his debut at Notts County.  [Photo credit – Jeff Davis]
Surprise, surprise, Rovers didn’t draw this one but came away with a 2-1 win, after being a goal down, courtesy of goals from Junior Agogo and Richard Walker. There was a debut for Carruthers, who replaced Craig Disley in the 78th minute.

‘Again we gave away a silly goal and went behind,’ said Atkins, adding ‘but we showed character to come back and overall I thought our performance was excellent and the overall balance of the side looked good.’

Atkins also revealed who he thought should win the club’s Player of the Year Award; ‘As a manager you don’t like to single out individuals, but you have to look at ‘Hunty’ (James Hunt) because of what he gives you week in, week out. He has played through a lot of injuries and also went right through all the games when we were struggling, with a virus.’

James Hunt, the Manager’s choice of Player of the Year. Photo credit Neil Brookman
James Hunt, the Manager’s choice of Player of the Year.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
Scott Sinclair was hoping for his first start for the club just a few days after his 16th birthday in the Easter Monday clash against Darlington at the Memorial Stadium.

No prizes for guessing that Rovers drew against Darlington and it was another high scoring one (it finished 3-3) and so they ended March having played five league games, winning one and drawing four.

Richard Walker (2) and Steve Elliott were on target for Rovers in this one, while Sinclair didn’t even make the bench. Once again Rovers recovered a two goal deficit to claim a point, the fourth time that season they had done that.

Midfielder Dave Savage pictured in action during the game against Darlington. Photo credit Neil Brookman
Midfielder Dave Savage pictured in action during the game against Darlington.  [Photo credit – Neil Brookman]
Final word of March goes to the manager; ‘We looked at the state of the pitch and the report we’d had on Darlington from Saturday when they played with three big centre halves who marked man to man and we didn’t think it would suit Scott.

‘We didn’t want his confidence destroyed by playing on a pitch where the ball was bobbling all over the place, but he will get his chance.’

There might not have been any more games that month, but there was still time for Lewis Haldane to go out on a one month loan, to Forest Green Rovers, and for the club to reveal it’s new kit for the 2005/06 campaign and announce a new kit supplier.

Strikeforce were binned, with Errea replacing them and the new home kit featured a yellow trim on the traditional blue and white quartered shirts while the away shirts were yellow with a black trim.