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.
London Road, home of Peterborough United hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for Rovers, as it’s a venue where we’ve only ever won two league games!
Darren Ferguson was in his first spell in charge of Peterborough when the sides met at London Road on 6th September 2008 and he’s now in his third spell as their manager. Back in 2008 his side were beginning life at a higher level, having been promoted from Division Two the previous season.
Rovers’ management team of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence were guiding their club in their second season in League One, and neither the Gas nor the Posh had made a memorable start to their respective campaigns.
Peterborough had lost three of their opening four league games and recorded a solitary win, 3-0 against Leyton Orient. Rovers had fared little better, having won one (6-1 against Hereford United), drawn one and lost two of their four games.
In addition, both sides had been knocked out of the Carling Cup, Peterborough losing 2-1 against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, Rovers going down 1-0 against Watford at Vicarage Road.
This was Rovers’ third consecutive match on the road and Trollope named recent signing Jo Kuffour on the bench for the 12.15pm kick off. The game was live on SKY TV because of the England/Andorra game and viewers who weren’t Rovers fans, were in for a London Road treat!
The home side edged in front on 16 minutes when Aaron McLean found his strike partner Craig Mackail-Smith in space and he beat goalkeeper Steve Phillips with a low shot from just inside the area.
The same combination served up a second goal seven minutes later, with Mackail-Smith the provider on this occasion. He found McLean in the area and the striker shrugged off two challenges before slotting the ball home from close range.
Rovers pulled a goal back on the half hour mark thanks to Steve Elliott, whose powerful header from Rickie Lambert’s cross beat goalkeeper Joe Lewis.
Six minutes into the second half Peterborough were awarded a penalty when Aaron Lescott was adjudged to have impeded Mackail-Smith in the area and the striker took the spot kick himself, rifling his effort past Phillips.
Shane Blackman gave Rovers a lifeline three minutes later when, with no one near him, he somehow managed to turn Lescott’s cross past his own keeper.
Mackail-Smith then completed his hat trick when he cut in from the left and beat Phillips with a low shot from just inside the area. Jeff Hughes, who had appeared in seven games for the Posh when on loan at London Road the previous season, scored Rovers’ third goal with 74 minutes on the clock.
Future Rovers loanee Scott Rendell added goal number five for Peterborough before Lambert, making his 99th competitive appearance for the club, scored a fourth for Rovers with five minutes remaining, with a blockbuster of a free kick.
Whilst the game might have been great for the neutral TV audience, neither manager was entirely happy with the performance of their side.
‘It was great for the people watching,’ said Posh boss Ferguson, ‘but not for us managers. To think we scored five goals and were hanging on at the end is absurd.’
Trollope made it clear that his players faced a tough week on the training ground; ‘It was a big effort from us, but the outcome is a huge disappointment. We had high hopes of an away win, but it’s clear today that there are some areas of our team that need serious working on.’
The Peterborough media team must have had a premonition of what might happen, as hat trick hero Mackail-Smith was featured on the cover of the matchday programme and was the subject of a five page interview inside in which he revealed that his passion outside of football was gardening. Pity he wasn’t working on his allotment that afternoon…
The striker would end the season with 26 goals, so it wasn’t just Rovers’ defence he tormented during that campaign.
Hughes was also the subject of a double page programme spread and of his time with the Posh he said he didn’t know why his loan deal hadn’t been made permanent; ‘I still don’t really know what happened. I wanted to sign as I really enjoyed my time. I got on well with the rest of the squad and the management.’
That game was the first in a 16 game unbeaten run for Peterborough, who would end the season gaining a second successive promotion as they finished runners up to champions Leicester City who were seven points better off.
They did the double over Rovers, winning the return game at the Memorial Stadium the following March, though Mackail-Smith didn’t score that day.
Had they not taken six points from Rovers they would have had to have settled for a play off spot rather than an automatic move up to the next level, so you could argue that we played a crucial role in their promotion that season!
This month we go back just five years to see what was happening in BS7 in October 2015.
The first day of the month fell on a Thursday and, following a 3-0 win at Hartlepool two days earlier, Rovers were preparing for another long trip, to the Globe Arena, home of Morecambe.
The win in the north east had ended a five match winless run and manager Darrell Clarke was looking for another three points at Morecambe and said this before leaving for the Fylde coast; ‘We won a game at Hartlepool on Tuesday night playing in a certain way with certain players, but that game is gone now and we might need to do something different to win at Morecambe.
‘I’m not trying to be clever of over analysing things, but that is the way I manage. That’s the way I have always done it and it has been successful for me.’
One player not making the trip was Jamie Lucas, as he rejoined Boreham Wood on loan having scored twice in four games in an earlier loan spell there before picking up a hamstring injury.
Of the young striker Clarke said; ‘There is no doubt in my mind that he will get his chance here in the future but, for now, it is a good time for him to go back to Boreham Wood for a month because there are probably three strikers ahead of him in the pecking order.’
Another loan deal concluded before the trip up north was that of goalkeeper Kieran Preston, who joined Southern League Mangotsfield United for a month.
Skipper Mark McChrystal, who had made his first start of the season at Hartlepool said; ‘That was a good win for us, but we haven’t spent the last few days patting each other on the back.
‘We’ve moved on and we are already looking towards Saturday because our aim is to get another three points and try to get on a little run.’
The side did collect three more points, just edging out the home side in a seven goal thriller to make it a good week all round for the Gas.
Lee Mansell’s goal, his first of the season, gave Rovers the lead on 28 minutes when he got on the end of a Jake Gosling cross and rifled a shot past goalkeeper Barry Roche.
Rovers’ custodian Lee Nicholls gifted Morecambe an equaliser a minute before half time when he dashed off his line in a vain attempt to reach Shaun Miller who had broken free on the right. The Morecambe man calmly lifted the ball over the keeper and into an empty net.
Billy Bodin made it 2-1 to the Gas two minutes into the second half. Roche beat away a Jermaine Easter shot but Bodin snapped up the rebound and fired a shot past the shot stopper.
On 59 minutes Matty Taylor steered home a low cross from Lee Brown to give Rovers a two goal cushion but, almost immediately, Tom Barkhuizen ran on to a long ball over the top and comfortably beat Nicholls.
Ellis Harrison converted an 80th minute penalty, awarded after Shaun Beeley handled in the area and Morecambe scored their third goal from the penalty spot with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Ollie Clarke was ruled to have fouled Miller and Paul Mullin sent Nicholls the wrong way with his spot kick.
Afterwards manager Clarke said; ‘We deserved to win a thoroughly entertaining game, though I have to say it wasn’t great for the heart!
‘Two long away trips this week have yielded six points, which means I’m a happy man.’
Lee Mansell thought that the win proved the side’s top seven credentials, saying; ‘We are a good side. We weren’t getting too concerned when we lost a couple of games because it’s early in the season and there is still a long way to go.
‘Our main goal is to be in the top seven at the end of the season and we feel as though we are good enough to do that.’
Just a few days later defender Tom Lockyer was called into the Welsh U-21 squad for the first time and he and Ellis Harrison were preparing to travel to Denmark for a U-21 European Championship qualifier.
His club manager said; ‘He got the call on the bus when we were on our way home from Morecambe and the rest of the lads were delighted for him. I have been thinking for some time that there must be some really good defenders in that Wales U-21 side if Tom couldn’t get a look in.’
With Jake Gosling also going away on international duty, with Gibraltar, that took the number of absentees to three and so the Saturday home league game against Wycombe Wanderers was called off.
However, Wycombe did provide the opposition for Rovers’ next game, as they visited the Memorial Stadium on Tuesday 6th October for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match.
Without their three internationals, Rovers still won the tie 2-0. A crowd of 3,243 saw Matty Taylor open the scoring after only four minutes when he curled a shot high into the net after taking a pass from Chris Lines.
Jermaine Easter added a second goal on 12 minutes when he met a pass from Billy Bodin and fired a shot past goalkeeper Matt Ingram.
Those two early goals sealed a passage through to the quarter finals of the competition and Easter said this after the game; ‘We have scored nine goals in our last three games and that has really lifted the confidence around the place.
‘It will stand us in good stead for the games we have coming up and we can go into them knowing that we have nothing to fear from any other team in this league.’
Danny Leadbitter, who made only his second start of the season against Wycombe after returning from injury, said; ‘I have only had three games in six weeks so it’s disappointing that there’s no game this weekend because I’d like to get going again sooner, rather than later.’
Striker Matty Taylor said he felt that Rovers were in some of their best form since he signed for the club; ‘We have been able to get the ball down and dominate long periods of the games and we’ve probably played some of the best football since I’ve been here.
‘We had to show a bit of character to go on and win after getting pegged back at Morecambe, so it has been good to show that we also have that side to our game. Our most recent aim was to beat one of the top sides and I think you can say we did that by seeing off Wycombe last Tuesday night.
‘I don’t think we fear anyone now and are going into every game confident in our ability to outscore teams.’
Manager Clarke wasn’t getting carried away, though, and said; ‘I haven’t got the biggest squad to work with, so what is important is that everyone here knows they will have a contribution to make at some point.
‘Some players are not at the levels they would like to be, or playing as well as I know they are capable of, but that happens, and form will return for them as it will dip for others as we go through the season.’
Meanwhile Tom Lockyer and Ellis Harrison featured for Wales U-21’s in their game against Denmark which ended in a goalless draw. The defender said; ‘It was a proud moment to pull the Wales shirt on before the game and when we were singing the national anthem, I had goosebumps.’
Back home, it was a big week for another central defender, Alfie Kilgour, who put pen to paper on his first pro contract with his manager saying; ‘Alfie deserves it for all the hard work he has put in on the training ground and in the games he has played at all levels. He has impressed me and the rest of my staff since he has been training with us and is someone we think has a bright future in the game.’
Next game up, on 17th October, was a trip to face Mansfield, Clarke’s home town and his former club and the club that unceremoniously dumped Rovers out of the Football league on the final day of the 2013/14 season.
His side went some way towards avenging that defeat with a 2-1 win which made it four consecutive league wins.
It was a bad tempered game, though, because in addition to the three goals there were also three red cards.
Jermaine Easter gave Rovers a 15th minute lead when Dan Leadbitter chested the ball down to him and he blasted the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out.
On the stroke of half time, though, the goalscorer was red carded. He appeared to be brought down in the area by Krystian Pearce though referee Mark Haywood felt that he had dived and was about to show him a yellow card.
Then Jamie Maguire intervened and grabbed Easter’s shirt, prompting a reaction from the striker that Mr Heywood viewed as a statement of intent of a head butt and sent him off even though he made no contact with the Mansfield player.
Just after the hour Mark Pearce received his marching orders after fouling Tom Lockyer as they jostled for position whilst waiting for a corner to be taken.
The home side were then reduced to nine men as Nicky Hunt picked up a second yellow card on 77 minutes. Amazingly, though, Mansfield drew level on 81 minutes when Ryan Tafazolli beat goalkeeper Lee Nicholls from 20 yards.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as eight minutes into stoppage time Matty Taylor headed home from a James Clarke cross to give Rovers all three points.
‘We were sloppy at times, but I have to give my players credit. I don’t want to appear too harsh, but it was the scruffy three points that I’m really pleased with!’ said Darrell Clarke, before adding; ‘It’s not always possible to come away from home and play free flowing football and today we simply kept going. When Mansfield did equalise there was a response from my players, which was key.’
Rovers appealed the red card shown to Easter, hoping that he would be available to face Notts County at the Memorial Stadium on the Tuesday following the game at Field Mill. The referee’s report had said that the striker head butted the Mansfield player, though manager Clarke disputed that after viewing video evidence.
Thankfully, the appeal was successful, and Easter took his place on the Rovers bench for the visit of Notts County and was sent on at the start of the second half.
It was a frustrating night all round, though, as the visitors defended stubbornly and took a point from a goalless draw.
Darrell said this afterwards; ‘County did what I think they wanted to achieve. They defended well and played the diamond well. They sat in and worked hard, and I think their manager will be quite chuffed with the response he got from his players.
‘For me that shows they gave our team a hell of a lot of respect and it shows how far we’ve come as a team in the last year or so.’
With his side sitting in 12th place in the league standings, the manager wasn’t ruling out making additions to his squad; ‘We are always looking to strengthen, but we have to strengthen in the right areas and that’s the key.
‘Although we might dip into the loan market, I don’t think that’s the answer. It’s more about experience and a bit of know how that we are after.’
The league’s bottom side, Newport County, were next up for Clarke’s side and one player was expecting a few jeers from County fans when the side took to the Memorial Stadium pitch for this one. Billy Bodin didn’t play for County, but his father Paul enjoyed two spells with the Welsh side.
Bodin junior said; ‘I got a few boos when I played at Newport, for Torquay, a few years ago. I don’t mind it, though, as it’s part of football.’
It was a day to forget, though, as Newport ran out 4-1 winners in front of a crowd of 7,442.
A Tom Parkes own goal after 13 minutes gave the visitors the lead, but Billy Bodin fired in an equaliser just two minutes later.
With 52 minutes on the clock goalkeeper Lee Nicholls inexplicably dropped the ball at the feet of Zak Ansah who was left with a simple tap in to give his side the lead.
Five minutes later the same player took the ball past Parkes and beat Nicholls with a shot into the roof of the net and with 15 minutes remaining Tommy O’Sullivan beat the keeper with a right foot drive from the edge of the area.
‘There are some ears burning in the dressing room because that was not good enough. I apologise to our fans on behalf of myself and the players.’ Those were the words of an angry Rovers manager after the match.
Lee Mansell said; ‘Embarrassed is just one of the words that come to mind. I captained the team and I know we let down the manager and the fans. Things were very raw in the dressing room after the game. The gaffer was clearly not pleased, and neither were the players.
‘He reminded us that we have not won a league game at home since August and it is probably becoming a mental thing. Today we capitulated in the second half and conceded three bad goals.’
There was a quick chance to make amends for the defeat as Rovers were scheduled to head off to Cambridge United on the following Friday night and were determined to put the Newport defeat behind them.
Before that game the draw for the First Round of the FA Cup had given Rovers a home game against Southern League side Chesham United, whose striker was none other than former Rovers player Barry Hayles.
Ahead of the trip to Cambridge, midfielder Jake Gosling had this to say; ‘The goals we gave away against Newport were sloppy and the performance as a whole was not good enough on our part. The changing room wasn’t a nice place to be afterwards and there were a few harsh words exchanged.
‘Our away form has been good this season, so we can travel to Cambridge with nothing to fear.’
Meanwhile Rovers were being linked with 24 year old Dundalk striker Richie Towell and were planning to send Steve Yates over to run the rule over him.
At Cambridge Rovers came from behind to win 2-1 and in doing so equalled a 25 year old club record of winning four consecutive league away wins in the league.
Barry Corr opened the scoring after 33 minutes when he planted a firm header, from Harrison Dunk’s cross, beyond the reach of goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.
Home goalkeeper Chris Dunne parried a Matty Taylor shot into the path of Ellis Harrison on 66 minutes and the Rovers’ striker blasted the ball high into the roof of the net.
Taylor won the game for Rovers seven minutes from time when he intercepted Greg Taylor’s underhit back pass and ran on before rounding Dunne and rolling the ball into an empty net.
Final words of the month go to manager Darrell Clarke, whose post match press conference was far more upbeat than his previous one!
‘I can’t tell you how proud I am of my players. They responded in exactly the right manner after last week’s home defeat. I think victory was testament to the work rate, effort and mental strength of my players who came in a goal down at half time.
‘They turned the game around and thoroughly deserved to win. The goal we conceded came from the one cross into our box we didn’t deal with, but that one aside, the players were magnificent.’