It Happened in May – Pt 4 – Walker in a Wembley Wonderland

By Keith Brookman

Having looked back at the month of April 2007, we have returned to the same year and the following month.  We have also taken this lockdown opportunity to give you a bumper month, with a separate release for each of the four stunning wins in May 2007!

We hope that the memories contained in these articles will bring back many memories of an incredible month of May just 13 years ago. We also trust that you are all taking care of yourself, your loved ones, friends and those who may be in the vulnerable category as we wait for this awful virus to pass. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, please stay safe.

A final appearance meant that Rovers created a little bit of history as they became the first Football League Club to play in finals at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley in the same season. Only Chelsea, of the Premiership as it was then, could boast that feat as well.

Almost every squad player was interviewed ahead of the game, and all said something very similar. They couldn’t afford to lose. Byron Anthony summed it up in this way; ‘We’ve had quite a few big games this year and we’ve coped with them pretty well. Our whole season is going to come down to this one game and there is so much more at stake than in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

‘That’s why we have to treat it just like any other game. The most important thing is not to let the occasion get to us, but to enjoy it. We’re certainly looking forward to it.’

Gasheads in full voice. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

The squad and staff members left Bristol the day before the final and headed for London Colney and Arsenal’s training ground. From memory it was Lennie Lawrence who arranged that one – he had so many contacts in the game and always managed to get a decent training venue when we were on the road. When we were in the north east, he invariably arranged training at Middlesbrough, one of his former clubs, while Paul Trollope would always manage to obtain the use of Derby County’s facilities. Other favourites for training on the way to an overnight stop were those at Stoke City, Nottingham Forest, Watford, Sheffield United and QPR.

The Arsenal facilities were, as you would expect, outstanding and everyone seemed fairly relaxed. There were enough staff to arrange an impromptu kick around in the goalmouth of one of the training pitches and we all made sure we were on the scoresheet, just to say we’d scored at Arsenal…childish, I know, but it just had to be done!

From Colney it was on to the team hotel in Hertfordshire and then a few of us went on to Wembley with kitman Roger Harding, who had obtained permission from the stadium authorities to drop the kit in the night before. Naturally, photos just had to be taken. A group of grown men acting like excited schoolchildren, though I guess the staff at the stadium had seen it all before!

Everyone wanted to be a kitman! Rovers’ staff at Wembley the night before the final. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Back at the hotel where everyone gathered for the evening meal and, when the players departed and went to their rooms the staff relaxed, outside in the garden, with a few alcoholic beverages. Given that the club was to be involved in one of the most important games in recent club history less than 24 hours later, everyone was remarkably calm. There was no tension, or nerves, just a quiet confidence that we would get the job done.

Club suits and blue buttonholes were the uniform we all wore the next day before boarding the team coach for the short drive to Wembley. We had to stop in the car park to pick up Lennie Lawrence for the short journey from there into the bowels of the stadium before pulling up outside the entrance to the dressing rooms. Lennie never travelled on the team coach and he wasn’t about to start on the day of the final, apart from hitching a short lift of a couple of hundred yards to the inner sanctum.

Goalkeeping Coach Steve Book and kitman Roger Harding grab their buttonholes [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Remember, this was only the second final to be played at the new Wembley and everything behind the scenes was in pristine condition and the dressing rooms were even bigger than those at the Millennium Stadium.

Once again, there was a calmness about the side prior to kick off and the feeling was that we were going to win. We did it the hard way, though.

Just as in the final at the Millennium Stadium the previous month, Rovers conceded an early goal. Stuart Drummond headed home after only three minutes to give the Shrews the lead.

Rovers, though, hit back and Richard Walker equalised with 21 minutes on the clock, clipping the ball past goalkeeper Chris Mackenzie with his left foot.

Goalscorers Richard Walker… [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

The striker then scored one of his best ever goals in a Rovers shirt with ten minutes of the half remaining. Running into space on the left he latched on to a pass from Chris Carruthers and as Mackenzie advanced off his line, he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper’s head and into the far corner of the net.

Shrewsbury did all they could to get back on level terms after the break but resolute defending and some excellent saves from Steve Phillips kept them at bay. With added time looming the Shrews were reduced to ten men when Marc Tierney picked up his second yellow card of the afternoon following a late challenge on Stuart Campbell.

…and Sammy Igoe. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Goalkeeper Mackenzie went up for a last minute corner but the ball was cleared as far as Sammy Igoe deep inside his own half and we all know what happened next…he set off for the unguarded Shrewsbury goal with Shrewsbury players in hot pursuit. As they closed in, Igoe summoned up enough strength to shoot and the ball rolled agonisingly to the empty net. For one minute it appeared that defender Kelvin Langmead would get back to clear. After what seemed like an eternity, though, the ball crossed the line. Rovers were promoted, and the celebrations began!

A tickertape reception for the winners! [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]
Time to collect the medals. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

After the customary champagne spraying out on the pitch and the short interviews for TV it was back to the chaos in the dressing room and more spraying of fizzy alcohol! There were formal press interviews to be done before we boarded the bus back to Bristol.

We didn’t get far, though. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but just down the road from the stadium was a Tesco and the coach driver was politely asked if he would pull into the car park as everyone had contributed to a kitty for some liquid refreshment on the journey home (Actually, it wasn’t exactly a polite request!)

Craig Hinton, who had missed the game through injury, was first off and into the supermarket and he and one or two others returned with trolleys full of liquid gold!

Celebrations on the team bus on the way back to Bristol [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Needless to say, it was quite a happy journey back the Mem where a reception had been laid on by Directors for players, staff and partners which meant forcing down another beer or three! Rovers fans everywhere were celebrating that win for days to come and two days later the club celebrations climaxed with an open top bus tour and a civic reception at the Council House on College Green.

Drinks at the Memorial on their return. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Goalscorers Igoe and Walker had created a little piece of history for themselves, having scored in finals at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley in the same season. Only Chelsea’s Didier Drogba had managed that up until that point.

Walker and Igoe again, this time with the Trophy. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Igoe said; ‘With the great cup runs we had this year we fell by the wayside a little bit in the league, so to put in a run like we did after appearing at the Millennium Stadium has been absolutely unbelievable. Hopefully this is the start of things to come, not the end and with Lennie and ‘Trolls’ in charge I think we can go further.’

Walker added; ‘It’s been a fantastic all round day and I’m absolutely delighted. To be honest, it’s been that good I’m almost speechless. To go 1-0 down so early was a setback, but we still believed in ourselves. To come back as we did, and for me to get two goals, means it’s been the best day of my career.’

The men who made it all possible. Lennie Lawrence and Paul Trollope. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Director of Football Lennie Lawrence was also interviewed on this momentous occasion and he said; ‘I’ve had lots of times where things have come down to the last game. I’ve lost in semi finals and I’ve been promoted and relegated before the end of the season, but when it’s come down to one final game I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never lost, whether it’s league or play offs. It was nice to maintain that record today, especially in a play off final.

‘In football you are either going forwards or backwards, there is no such thing as standing still. At the moment we are going forwards, and we need to keep that momentum going.’

Paul Trollope with the Trophy and a few thousand Gasheads behind him! [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Paul Trollope had this to say; ‘All the players that played here today, we want here next season. They know that, we’ve said it publicly now; we want to keep this group together.’

‘I’m happy at Bristol Rovers. There’s a new stadium around the corner, and I want to be here for the foreseeable future because I owe the club a great deal. It made me a proud man to take charge of the club and I want it to continue.’

The open top bus tour passed through Warmley and Kingswood on its way to the city centre and College Green which was a sea of blue and white.

Crowds in Kingswood High Street on the way to College Green. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]
Open Top Bus Tour [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Inside the civic centre there were the customary photos with the local dignitaries before players departed for a well deserved short break.

It was a truly fitting end to what had been such an amazing season.

Team photo in the Council house [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]
There was even a Civic cake! [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The Birth of a One Club Legend

By Keith Brookman

Better known to Rovers supporters as Jackie, John Harry Pitt, one of the stalwarts of the team of the 1950’s, was born 100 years ago today in Willenhall, Staffordshire.

Though not a Bristolian by birth, he devoted his career to just one club and wore the blue and white quartered shirts of Bristol Rovers in 467 league matches, a figure bettered by only two players; his contemporary Harry Bamford, also born in 1920, and Stuart Taylor.

The Second World War robbed him of six years of his career, so his overall total of games might have been far greater. On the books of West Bromwich Albion, as an amateur, in 1937/38 he also appeared for Bath City and, briefly, Aberavon.

With good friend Harry Bamford

On the recommendation of Rovers’ Chief Scout Fred Hyde, he signed for Rovers in July 1946, before manager Brough Fletcher had even seen him play. At the age of 26 he made his debut for the club in the first game of the 1946/47 season, a 2-2 draw against Reading at Eastville.

Jackie was to become a consistent and lively performer, tenacious in the tackle, thoughtful and determined with an eye to setting up chances for those around him. Although only 5’ 8” tall and weighing just 10st 10lbs, he more than made up for his short stature by turning in wholehearted performances whenever he pulled on a Rovers shirt.

The one sending off in his distinguished career came against local rivals Bristol City when he and City’s Ernie Peacock received their marching orders for fighting in a Second Division derby.

The two accepted their punishment and left the pitch arm in arm, thus capturing the mood of the time. Football hadn’t quite moved on into an era that would see the abolition of the maximum wage for players and the popularity of the game enhanced by saturated television coverage.

He appeared in every game of Rovers magnificent FA Cup run of 1950/51 which ended, after 11 ties, in a quarter final defeat by First Division Newcastle United and played in every game of the Third Division Championship winning side of 1952/53. He was also ever present in three other seasons; 1947/48, 1951/52 and 1954/55.

Jackie is on the left of the back row in the 1953 Championship winning side

Captain of the side for three seasons, from 1955 to 1958, his manager Bert Tann felt that he felt Pitt was good enough to have played for England.

His final game in a Rovers shirt came in February 1958 in a 3-1 win against Ipswich Town and at the age of 37 years and 257 days. Only eight players have played for Rovers at an older age.

His Rovers career wasn’t over, though, as he worked on the groundstaff at Eastville for a number of years, coaching some of the club’s younger players. He then made the transition to groundsman and remained in that role at Eastville for 28 years until the club moved to groundshare with Bath City, at Twerton Park, in 1986.

Jackie on the equipment at Eastville

Jackie moved to Bath as well and, for a while, tended the Twerton Park turf. He was awarded a testimonial match against FA Cup holders Wimbledon in 1988 and celebrated his 70th birthday at Wembley, watching Rovers in the Leyland Daf Trophy Final against Tranmere Rovers.

Jackie with the FA Cup at his testimonial match

One of the most popular players to play for Bristol Rovers, Jackie Pitt passed away in Blackberry Hospital, Bristol, on 17th August 2004 at the age of 84.

With the assistance of Stephen Byrne, I wrote much of this article back in 2004 when a special tribute was paid to Jackie in the programme for the game against Southend United. His great friend, Derek Rees and his family kindly allowed access to these photos and more, and it’s a pleasure to be able to pay tribute to a great player once again, on the occasion of his birth 100 years ago.

Nice One Harry!

by Keith Brookman

Last week saw England skipper Harry Kane make a remarkable gesture to Leyton Orient and to three key charities.

Kane purchased the sponsorship of Orient’s 2020/21 kits and their home strip will carry a message of thanks to frontline workers tackling the coronavirus pandemic, while mental health charity Mind and Haven House Children’s Hospice will see their logos on the club’s two change strips.

Why Orient, you may ask; well, the Spurs and England front man is a local lad and was a 17 year old on loan with the Brisbane Road outfit in 2011 when he scored five goals in 18 appearances for the O’s.

Going back to 2011 – Harry moves in to challenge JP Kalala [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

‘I was born and brought up only a couple of miles from Orient’s stadium and I’m really happy to give back to the club that gave me my first professional start,’ said Kane, who went on to say; ‘It also gives me a platform to say a big thank you to the many frontline heroes and charities out there who provide care and support during these challenging times.’

The club have said that 10% of the proceeds from every replica shirt sold will go to the cause featured on the front.

Orient Chief Executive Danny Macklin said; ‘We wanted to say thank you for the exceptional hard work and dedication of the frontline heroes during this pandemic and also bring attention to the other charities out there. Who are all suffering financial loss due to the pandemic.

‘We are in uncertain and worrying times across the world but, thanks to their efforts, we will get through this together. Thank you for your amazing support and generosity; you are a true role model for the modern game.’

Mention of Kane’s record at Brisbane Road reminded me of the time he played against the Gas when he scored twice and was only on the pitch for 20 minutes!

Rovers were enduring a torrid time in League One and went into this game, on 12th February 2011, having lost their last four games.

Back helping his defence out [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

They made a poor start to this match, conceding after only five minutes when Jimmy Smith held off the challenge of Danny Coles before finding the bottom corner of the net.

Goal number two arrived with 16 minutes on the clock when defender Andrew Whing lashed a thundering effort past goalkeeper Luke Daniels.

A 52nd minute own goal by Orient’s Jason Crowe gave Rovers supporters false hope that they might go on to take something from the game.

Kane was sent on with 20 minutes of the contest remaining, replacing Scott McGleish who was to join Rovers that summer and it didn’t take him long to get on the scoresheet.

He beat our Daniels from a their Daniels (Charlie) cross 13 minutes from time and five minutes later slotted home his second, again after a Daniels cross, from close range.

Scoring against the Gas [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

It was a poor performance from a Rovers side low on confidence under manager Dave Penney and this latest defeat saw them slip to the bottom of the League One table.

Afterwards Penney said; ‘I sound like a record because I keep saying the same things after every game. We can’t defend, it’s as simple as that, and we are letting goals in for fun.

‘No matter what work we do, we keep letting goals in and the ones we conceded today weren’t particularly good, but every time the ball comes into our box it looks like the opposition are going to score.

‘It’s not the same personnel because different people keep letting us down at different times. But some of the mistakes are Sunday League standard and if we carry on like this we will be relegated.’

Manager Dave Penney can’t bear to watch any more! [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Prophetic words from a manager who was in charge for only 13 games, because Rovers were relegated at the end of the campaign though joint caretaker managers Stuart Campbell almost performed a miracle in keeping them up. I wonder what would have happened had they be placed in charge earlier?

For the record, this is the side that lost to Orient and Harry that February day in 2011.

Luke Daniels, James Tunnicliffe, Byron Anthony, Danny Coles, Gary Sawyer, Scott Davies (Ben Swallow, 59), Gavin Williams (Jo Kuffour, 81), JP Kalala, Jeff Hughes, Will Hoskins, Rene Howe

Substitutes: Mike Green, Carl Regan, Wayne Brown, Eliot Richards, Charlie Reece

I wonder if Kane recalls the day that he scored twice against the Gas; the answer is probably yes, as strikers have an uncanny knack of recalling every goal they score in their career, but conveniently forget the many they miss!

His gesture is one of many made by footballers all across the country, from the Premier League and clubs and players across the leagues, all doing what they can to help out at this time of national crisis.