It Happened in December

By Keith Brookman

December sees us travel back in time 15 years, to December 2004.  Hopefully much of the following information will remind you of what it was like supporting Rovers back then.

The first day of the month saw the reserves take on Swansea City in a Pontins Holiday Cup victory at the Vetch Field and Rovers returned to Bristol having won 2-1; ‘Swansea took a fourth minute lead when Mark Pritchard beat Rovers keeper Richard Heiniger.

‘They had to wait until 48 seconds into the second half when former Swansea youth player Lewis Powell created an opening for Lewis Haldane to shoot home from six yards out. Sam Duggan fired in the winner in the 76th minute.’

He never made a first team appearance, but how many of you saw Richard Heineger playing for our reserves in 2004- Photo Credit Jeff Davies
He never made a first team appearance, but how many of you saw Richard Heineger playing for our reserves in 2004?  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davies]
Midfielder Dave Savage was concerned that he might be one of the players to be shown the door after it was announced that Rovers were looking to reduce their wage bill. He had put in a transfer request earlier in the season but said that he was in no rush to move and would be happy to see out the remainder of his contract.

The Irish midfielder admitted that the demands of travelling to Bristol from his Northampton home had prompted his transfer request but acknowledged he might have been a little bit hasty in asking to leave; ‘We had been in the Isle of Man, had a tough pre-season and I think I’d only managed to get home once in a fortnight. The kids were off school and they were difficult times from a family point of view.’

Having lost to Carlisle United in the first round of the FA Cup, Rovers had a blank first Saturday in December and so were preparing for their next game, a home match against Chester City.

Midfielder Stuart Campbell said; ‘In a way it’s a shame we don’t have a game but we are all really looking forward to getting out on the pitch again on Tuesday for the game against Chester. If we can beat them and carry our form into the next game, against Macclesfield, who knows how different the league table might look.’

Goalkeeper Kevin Miller said this about his side’s enforced break; ‘The week has been a bit strange with no game to prepare for. We trained as normal, and we did get the chance to have a couple of days off on Wednesday and Thursday.’

The draw for the Southern Area Semi Final of the LDV Vans Trophy handed Rovers an away tie at Leyton Orient, with the game to be played in January 2005. Rovers had already beaten Kidderminster Harriers, Barnet and Wycombe Wanderers to get to that stage of the competition.

Thoughts were already turning towards the game against Chester and manager ian Atkins had injury concerns over Liam Burns and Ali Gibb. Burns was to make the bench for the game, though Gibb missed out altogether.

The manager was saying, to anyone who would listen, that his side could get their promotion challenge back on track with wins against Chester and Macclesfield in their next two games; ‘It’s a big week for us and if we can get two home wins, the league picture will probably change again and we could be back in the top seven.’

As it turned out, Rovers brushed Chester aside by winning 4-1 in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd of 5,514. Craig Disley’s first goal for the club set them on the way to winning for the first time in five matches.

Kevin Ellison equalised for the visitors, but Jamie Forrester’s penalty put Rovers back in front while second half goals from Lee Thorpe and substitute Paul Trollope killed off Chester, managed by former Liverpool legend Ian Rush.

Craig Disney in action against Chester, the game in which he scored his first Gas goal. Photo Credit - Neil Brookman
Craig Disley in action against Chester, the game in which he scored his first Gas goal. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]
Atkins declared himself pleased at a good night’s work; ‘That had been coming. Some of our recent performances hadn’t been that bad, but we hadn’t had any breaks. This time we made things happen and I thought our performance was probably the best at home this season.’

Ahead of the game against Macclesfield Robbie Ryan, who had lost his place in the side that played Chester to Aaron Lescott recalled that ‘Macc’ manager Brian Horton had given him his league debut for Huddersfield; ‘Neil Warnock brought me over from Ireland, but Brian took over from him and he’s gone on to manage over 1,000 games in his career, which is a fantastic achievement.’

A couple of Rovers squad players were, apparently, in demand, with Kidderminster Harriers keeping tabs on striker Richard Walker while Shrewsbury Town were reportedly interested in signing Liam Burns until the end of the season, and Ryan Williams was being linked with a loan move to Forest Green Rovers.

As it turned out Kidderminster were unable to come up with the cash to sign Walker, but Burns did join Shrewsbury as a non contract player; ‘When Liam first came down here he wasn’t being paid and it’s a tribute to his professionalism that he stuck with it to try and get regular football,’ said Atkins, ‘In an ideal world we would like to have kept him, but we have to get one or two people off the wage bill.’

Rovers drew a crowd of 6,504 to The Mem for the visit of Macclesfield Town, and also drew the game 0-0. Reports suggest that they outplayed their visitors but simply couldn’t make the vital breakthrough.

James Hunt in action against Macclesfield Town, December 2004. Photo Credit Neil Brookman
James Hunt in action against Macclesfield Town, December 2004. [Photo Credit Neil Brookman]
Central defender John Anderson missed this game through injury, the eighth consecutive match he had sat out, but declared himself ready to return to action by the time of the next game, at Rochdale, the following week.

The big man said of the injury, inflammation of the pubic bone,; ‘Now I’ve stepped up my training and started running again and if all goes well I hope to be involved in a reserve game on Monday.’

Unfortunately, he didn’t make that reserve game, against Yeovil Town at the Memorial Stadium. Rovers started with seven Academy youngsters and the experience was provided by Robbie Ryan, Richard Walker, Ali Gibb and Lewis Haldane.

Chris Lines was one of the Academy youngsters involved and he set up the opening goal, scored by Rovers. He played in Gibb whose cross to the back post was turned in by Walker from close range. Yeovil, though, went on to score four times to win 4-1. Richard Heiniger was again in goal for Rovers.

Of Kidderminster’s bid to sign him, Richard Walker said; ‘They offered me a deal to the end of the season on a lot less money and to be honest, with two kids, I just couldn’t afford to take it. I still think that Rovers are a club that’s going places and I’d still like to be part of that, so ideally I would like to stay here.’

Speaking of Kidderminster, they already had one Rovers player, Ryan Clarke, on loan with them and they were hoping to keep him for another month; ‘Playing there has been brilliant for me,’ said Clarke, adding ‘a lot of the time we have been under pressure so I’ve had a lot more to do than I would in reserve games at Rovers.’

Two young players who were hoping to break into the first team, Chris Lines and goalkeeper Martin Horsell, were nursing injuries that would keep them out for a few weeks. Lines had a toe injury and Horsell a broken finger.

Martin Horsell and Chris Lines, both had a spell on the injury list in December 2004. Both are still playing, though Photo Credit Jeff Davies
Martin Horsell and Chris Lines, both had a spell on the injury list in December 2004. Both are still playing, though – Horsell for Swindon Supermarine, Lines for Northampton Town.   [Photo Credit Jeff Davies]
Meanwhile the Supporters Club were urging fans to write to Bristol City Council and local Councillors backing moves to redevelop the Blackthorn End of the Memorial Stadium which involved the development of a 5,500 seat stand which would include bars, restaurants, a fitness centre and a creche.  Think we might still be waiting for that!

Although he had been told to make cuts, manager Ian Atkins added to his staff by recruiting former Irish U-21 winger Brian Cash on a non contract basis. The midfielder had been released by Nottingham Forest and so the terms of the deal meant that there was no significant outlay and he was only to be paid when he played.

With the Rochdale game looming, 15 year old Scott Sinclair was added to the squad for the trip to Spotland. He had scored 26 goals in 15 youth team games that season and several top clubs were watching him; ‘He’s got fantastic pace and sometimes being an unknown quantity is an asset’, said Ian Atkins, adding, ‘It will be a wonderful opportunity if he makes the bench or the team. He’s a really exciting talent.’

As it turned out, Sinclair never started or made the bench at Spotland and watched on as Rovers and Rochdale played out a goalless draw in front of a crowd of 2,623.

Rovers had the better of the game’s chances and twice hit the woodwork but they had to thank a late penalty miss by Rochdale for their point, Gary Jones blazing the ball over from the spot after Steve Elliott was adjudged to have fouled Grant Holt. Former Rovers striker Paul Tait partnered Holt up front for Dale.

Christian Edwards in action against Rochdale. Pretty sure the Rochdale player is former Rovers striker Paul Tait. Photo Credit Jeff Davies
Christian Edwards in action against Rochdale. Pretty sure the Rochdale player is former Rovers striker Paul Tait.   [Photo Credit Jeff Davies]
Manager Atkins wasn’t entirely happy with the point; ‘That was the sixth 0-0 draw of the season and we should have taken three points in all of them because we’ve had decent chances and the opposition have created very few. We are drawing games we should be winning and it’s costing us.’

As Christmas approached the Rovers boss was concerned that he might not have a fully fit squad ahead of the Boxing Day match against Leyton Orient. Craig Disley was being treated for a groin problem, Aaron Lescott had a badly bruised leg while Stuart Campbell was also recovering from a groin injury and Richard Walker had an ankle injury. John Anderson and Ali Gibb had recovered from their respective injuries although they were short of match fitness.

Just a few days before the festivities it was announced that 82 year old Denis Dunford had stepped down from the Board after 18 years as a Director. Many tributes were paid to him and the man himself said; ‘I have enjoyed being Chairman and a Director of this wonderful football club, but it is time for me to step down and give an opportunity for younger people to become involved.

‘I leave knowing the club is in safe hands with the present Directors. I would also like to thank our fans for their loyalty and support during my time in office.’

Having conceded just once in the four games prior to the clash with Leyton Orient, Ian Atkins paid tribute to one of his star defenders, Craig Hinton; ‘Craig can play in central defence as well as right back and that versatility could prove useful to us. He might have struggled a bit at first, but his game is now coming together and people are seeing just what he’s capable of.’

The game against Orient, played in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd of 8,414, ended all square at 1-1 though Rovers had to graft hard for a point when Robbie Ryan was sent off after only four minutes for handling the ball on the goal line. Former Rovers player Matt Lockwood converted the subsequent penalty and it took another spot kick, in the 51st minute, for Rovers to get back on level terms. Jamie Forrester converted that one after a Junior Agogo cross into the box struck defender Andrew Scott on the arm.

Scott Sinclair, then aged just 15, made his Rovers debut in the match when he went on in the final minute, making him the second youngest Rovers player to make his debut.

Scott Sinclair pictured on his debut against Orient. Now with Glasgow Celtic, of course. Photo Credit Jeff Davies
Scott Sinclair pictured on his debut against Orient. Now with Glasgow Celtic, of course.  [Photo Credit Jeff Davies]
Next up for Rovers was a trip to Whaddon Road to face Cheltenham Town and 19 year old Elliott Ward who had arrived on loan from West Ham was included in the matchday squad. The result was another draw, the fourth game in a row in which Rovers had shared the spoils.

Jamie Forrester scored for Rovers after only four minutes, while Gavin Caines equalised for the hosts on 37 minutes. Former Rovers shot stopper Shane Higgs was in goal for Cheltenham and Jerry Gill, a future Rovers coach and the current Bath City manager, also played for the Gloucestershire Robins.

And Ward? He was sent on in the 90th minute for his Rovers debut. Probably one he will want to forget, as Atkins stuck the central defender on as a left sided midfielder, prompting Ward to say this afterwards; ‘I was told before the game that I would probably play in a back three, but Steve Elliott recovered from illness and the gaffer decided to go with a flat back four instead, leaving me on the bench.

‘Rovers fans were probably wondering what on earth was going on when I came on to play a midfield holding role for the last few minutes. In case there’s any confusion, I’m definitely a central defender.’

Elliott Ward, pictured on his very brief Rovers debut, at Cheltenham. Photo Credit Jeff Davies
Elliott Ward, pictured on his very brief Rovers debut, at Cheltenham.  [Photo Credit – Jeff Davies]
One concern for the manager was the fitness of Kevin Miller. The goalkeeper picked up an ankle injury in the Cheltenham game and was rated doubtful for the New Year’s Day clash with Shrewsbury Town at Gay Meadow.

Going into 2005 central defender John Anderson insisted that Rovers could mount a promotion challenge, but only if they could overcome their dependence on Junior Agogo and Jamie Forrester for goals; ‘We don’t score enough goals from other areas. We need to get more from midfield and the defenders have to start chipping in as well. We can’t rely on the front players all the time.’

Gas on the Plastic

By Keith Brookman

During the 1980’s four Football League clubs, namely Queens Park Rangers, Preston North End, Luton Town and Oldham Athletic, laid plastic pitches at their grounds.

However, artificial surfaces were banned from English Professional Football in 1995 over issues with ball roll and bounce and fears over long term injuries.

Whilst still not allowed in the English Football League or the Premier League, many non league clubs have now installed artificial / 3G pitches which are a vast improvement on those early plastic surfaces and Rovers will find just how good they are on Tuesday when they travel to play on Bromley’s two year old FIFA Quality Pro 3G pitch in their FA Cup first round replay.

More of that later but just how did Rovers fare on the old plastic surfaces? Well, they never played at QPR’s Loftus Road ground which had a plastic pitch from 1981-1988. The last league games between the clubs were in 1980/81 and we haven’t met in the league since then, though we did play at Loftus Road in last season’s Carabao Cup.

Oldham Athletic’s plastic surface was installed in 1986 and that lasted until 1991, the last game on the surface being a 3-2 win against Sheffield Wednesday that saw The Latics promoted to the top flight of English Football.  Rovers played on that Boundary Park surface just the once, losing 2-0 on 9th March 1991.

Luton Town installed a plastic pitch in 1985, and a second one replaced it in 1989 before the club reverted to playing on grass. Our one appearance on that surface ended in a 4-0 defeat in a fourth round FA cup tie on 25th January 1986.

Gerry Francis in Gas action on Luton’s plastic pitch in 1986  [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]
The plastic surface at Deepdale, home of Preston North End, lasted from 1986 until 1994 and, as far as I can tell, Rovers played on it on three occasions. They were beaten 3-1 on 8th April 1988, drew 1-1 on 11th February 1989 and won 1-0 on 10th February 1990.


The fact that Bromley, Tuesday night’s opponents, play on a 3G pitch at their Hayes Lane ground has prompted many to wonder about the last time Rovers played on a surface other than grass and, to be honest, it wasn’t that long ago.

On Sunday 14th July 2015 Rovers paid a visit to the wonderfully entitled Gander Green Lane, home of Sutton United, and became the first side to play on their brand new 3G surface.

Cover of Sutton United programme from four years ago – and before anyone asks, I also have no idea who Ian McLoughlin apparently was!

The day before the match Rovers boss Darrell Clarke had taken a side to his previous club, Salisbury, and watched them get their pre-season campaign off to a winning start with a 4-1 win.

The side that travelled to face Sutton was made up of Clarke’s remaining first teamers, with a few younger members of his squad.

The game was a scrappy affair, though Rovers did win 2-1 thanks to goals from Chris Lines and Ryan Broom, with Jamie Collins scoring for the home side from the penalty spot.

James Clarke on Sutton’s 3G surface four years ago - Photo Credit Paul Loughlin
James Clarke on Sutton’s 3G surface four years ago  [Photo Credit – Paul Loughlin]
Lines opened the scoring in the first half with a well placed free kick from the edge of the area and Broom, who was brought on at the start of the second half, added the second ten minutes from time when he beat goalkeeper Ross Worner after dispossessing central defender Simon Downer.

The home side’s consolation goal was scored on 84 minutes when the referee decided that a Dan Wishart cross had been handles in the area. Collins saw his first attempt from the spot saved by goalkeeper Kieran Preston, but he converted at the second attempt.

As well as Preston in goal, former City player Jennison Myrie-Williams was in the Rovers starting lineup and another former City (and Torquay) player Toby Ajala also started, as did two members of the current squad, Ollie Clarke and Alfie Kilgour.

The side was as follows; Kieran Preston, Daniel Leadbitter, James Clarke (Alfie Kilgour, 66), Tom Parkes, Lee Brown, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Chris Lines (Dominic Thomas, 73), Ollie Clarke, Toby Ajala, Ellis Harrison (Jay Malpas, 52), Matty Taylor (Ryan Broom, 46).

Alfie Kilgour in action against Sutton United in 2015 - Photo Credit Paul Loughlin
Alfie Kilgour in action against Sutton United in 2015  [Photo Credit – Paul Loughlin]
That wasn’t the first time that Rovers had played at Gander Green Lane as Gerry Francis was in charge when Rovers visited the venue for a pre-season friendly on Saturday 28th July 2001, though this game was played on grass.

Rovers trailed 2-0 until 12 minutes from time as home striker Matt Fowler netted in the 55th and 63rd minutes. Nathan Ellington pulled a goal back for Rovers on 78 minutes and Kevin Gall equalised five minutes later.

There were some in the side that Rovers fielded that afternoon who were never heard of again, at least not in a Rovers shirt. Ville Viljanen, for example, was in on trial. He had won a solitary cap for Finland in 1999 and had made 34 appearances for Port Vale.

Ville Viljanen, the Finnish international who played for Rovers against Sutton United - Photo Credit Alan Marshall
Ville Viljanen, the Finnish international who played for Rovers against Sutton United  [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]
James Morrow was another in, on trial from Crewe Alexandra I think.  Neither he nor Viljanen appear to have gone on to play pro football in this country though Viljanen went on to spend three years playing in Sweden for GAIS.

The side that afternoon was; Scott Howie, Che Wilson (David Prichard, 46), Andy Thomson, Steve Foster, Mark Foran (Trevor Challis, 65), Rik Lopez (Scott Jones, 46), Kevin Gall, Ronnie Mauge (Vitalijs Astafjevs, 65), Lewis Hogg, Alvin Bubb (James Morrow, 46), Ville Viljanen (Nathan Ellington, 46).

No doubt Rovers will have trained on a 3G surface prior to their first round replay to familiarize themselves with the type of surface they are likely to play on in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay. Fingers crossed for a victory to send us through to a second round tie against Plymouth Argyle at The Mem!

Memories of Brian Mawhinney

By Keith Brookman

The death of former Cabinet Minister and Football League Chairman Brian Mawhinney was announced earlier this week.

The 79 year old passed away on Sunday evening after a long illness.

Lord Mawhinney addresses the assembled guests
Brian Mawhinney addresses the assembled guests [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]
Knighted in 1997 and created a life peer in 2005, he spent seven years as the Football League supremo and oversaw a reorganisation of the league structure, giving us a Championship, League One and League Two as opposed to Divisions One, Two and Three.

He was a patron of Peterborough United and was awarded life membership of the Football League in 2012.

Harold Jarman, Stuart Taylor, Don Megson and Peter Aitken. reminisce!
Harold Jarman, Stuart Taylor, Don Megson and Peter Aitken reminisce. [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]
His former employers, now the EFL, posted this tribute; ‘Everyone associated with the EFL is saddened to hear of the loss of Lord Mawhinney, a hugely respected and influential figure in our recent past and had a significant impact on the wider game.

‘He was the driving force behind the league’s first solidarity arrangement with the Premier League, the formation of the Football league trust and a significant rebranding to support subsequent commercial development.

‘Club owners, their respective teams and staff at the EFL remember Lord Mawhinney’s time at the league very fondly and our collective thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad and difficult time.’

Brian Mawhinney had a link, albeit a tenuous one, with Bristol Rovers in that he was the club’s guest of honour at a dinner held at the Marriott Bristol Royal Hotel on 24th April 2009 to mark the end of the 125th anniversary celebrations.

The important guests; Paul Trollope, John Ward, Denis Dunford, Ed Ware, Lord mawhinney, Barry Bradshaw, Nick Higgs, Geoff Dunford, Lennie Lawrence, Don megson and Harold Jarman
Paul Trollope, John Ward, Denis Dunford, Ed Ware, Brian Mawhinney, Barry Bradshaw, Nick Higgs, Geoff Dunford, Lennie Lawrence, Don Megson and Harold Jarman [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]
The Football League Chairman proposed a toast to the Football Club and made a short speech to an audience that included a number of former managers, namely; Don Megson, Ian Holloway, John Ward, Bobby Gould and Harold Jarman.   Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence, the current Manager and Director of Football respectively, were also in attendance.

He also presented representatives of our Community Department with a plaque to commemorate them reaching Bronze status for their work in the community.

Community Manager Peter Aitken receives his department’s Bronze Award from Lord Mawhinney
BRFC Community Manager Peter Aitken receives his department’s Bronze Award from Brian Mawhinney [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]
Bristol Rovers Former Players Association send their condolences to Lord Mawhinney’s family and friends on their sad loss.