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It Happened in August

By Keith Brookman

As with any new season, the start of the 2011/12 campaign brought with it a sense of optimism following a traumatic season that had seen the club go through a number of managerial changes and had ended with relegation to League Two.

Paul Buckle had taken over the managerial reigns and had brought in so many new players, many from his former club Torquay United, that supporters were losing count.

The first day of August saw Rovers send a squad to play Bitton to mark the opening of their new clubhouse and Buckle performed the opening ceremony before watching his side lose 2-1 in front of a crowd estimated to be 1,200.

Paul Buckle performs the official opening ceremony at Bitton. [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]

Steve Jones and Luke Clarke scored for the home side while Eliot Richards replied for Rovers, who gave a trial to former Swindon Town striker Vince Pericard and fielded many of the younger players on their books.

Buckle, though reckoned that his first team squad were in good shape for the start of the new season, as they had won six of their eight warm up fixtures.

The manager named newly arrived midfielder Matt Gill as his skipper for the season ahead and the former Norwich City player said; ‘It’s an honour and I’m looking forward to leading the team. I was captain when I was at Exeter City, so I have some experience of it, though I’ve always liked to think of myself as a leader on the pitch. Even if I don’t have the armband I try to lead by example anyway.’

Paul Buckle pictured with many of his new signings! [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The first league match of the new season was an away match against league newcomers AFC Wimbledon at their shared Kingsmeadow home. The SKY cameras were going to be in attendance for the match and central defender Adam Virgo, another of the newcomers, said; ‘There is a belief in our squad that we can win every single game of football, and that’s the way we need to approach it if we are going to go out and win promotion at the end of the season.’

Former Lincoln City, Torquay United and MK Dons winger Mustapha Carayol was another of the new recruits also looking ahead to what he hoped would be a successful season; ‘I think we’ve had a good pre-season with some decent results, so hopefully we can keep that going. Anything less than promotion will be a disappointment, and hopefully we can go up automatically.’

Striker Matt Harrold, a summer recruit from Shrewsbury Town told of his goalscoring record against AFC Wimbledon; ‘I scored a hat trick against them, for Wycombe Wanderers, in a 4-1 FA Cup clash in 2008 and scored another in a pre-season friendly, so that’s four goals in two matches against them.’

Paul Buckle and his side celebrate after the opening day win against AFC Wimbledon. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Meanwhile goalkeeper Scott Bevan, signed from Torquay United, said he was expecting some stick from the Wimbledon fans because, in a previous life, he had played for their arch rivals MK Dons.

As it turned out, Buckle’s side were 3-2 winners against the League’s newcomers, though they had surrendered a two goal lead given to them by Scott McGleish and Matt Harrold and had to rely on an Adam Virgo penalty for the winner after Jamie Stuart and Charles Ademeno had put the hosts back on level terms.

The only player in the starting XI from the previous season was central defender Byron Anthony, though Chris Lines and Jo Kuffour did make substitute appearances.

The manager was delighted with the three points and said; ‘We want to try to win every game and even if we are 2-0 up, we want to go on and score a third. It was an exciting game and I think we deserved to win. That will be borne out by the statistics, because we had far more attempts on goal than Wimbledon.’

Next scheduled game for Rovers was a Carling Cup tie against Watford at the Memorial Stadium. Ahead of that game skipper Matt Gill said; ‘Watford will be a physical and competitive side. I’ve played against their manager Sean Dyche before and I know he will get them going.’

Watford manager Sean Dyche is animated on the touchline once the game actually got played [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Meanwhile the manager said; ‘Watford are a Championship team with good players and a good manager, and it is going to be very difficult for us. But we can go out and play with freedom. We are not expected to win the game, but deep down we will feel that we can.’

As it turned out, the game wasn’t played on the date it was meant to be, Wednesday 10th August, as it was called off by police who feared there would be more rioting in the city following trouble two days earlier.

And so it was on to the next match, a home game against Buckle’s former club, Torquay United. Their skipper, Lee Mansell, still a few years away from becoming a Rovers player, said in the build up; ‘It’s a game that all the supporters and the boys who were here last year are looking forward to. It’s going to be good but it’s also going to be weird in a way because there’s a lot of us who were with Buckle for the best part of four years. It’s going to be strange to see him in the opposite dugout.’

Goalkeeper Scott Bevan was again expecting some stick from the opposition supporters as he had been Buckle’s first signing, following his manager from Plainmoor to the Mem.

He said; ‘I had two and a half very good seasons at Torquay and have some good memories, though it’s going to be strange playing against lads that I know so well.’

Buckle himself said, about the prospect of facing his former club so early in the season, that it was all about three points for his new club; ‘I’m proud to be Bristol Rovers manager and I’m setting a team up ready to go and win on Saturday. It’s all about getting three points and staying at the right end of the table. It’s other people’s prerogative what they shout or sing, I’m just trying to make sure we win the game.’

One player left the Mem prior to the game against Torquay. Chris Lines joined Sheffield Wednesday, on a three year deal, in a £50,000 move.

Torquay made it uncomfortable for their former boss as they left the Mem with a 2-1 win under their belts in front of a crowd of 8,427.

Torquay’s Rene Howe, a former Rovers player, scores from the penalty spot. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Taiwo Atieno, after ten minutes, and former Rovers player Rene Howe, from the penalty spot, saw the visitors 2-0 ahead after only 13 minutes. Byron Anthony reduced the arrears in the second half but Torquay held out for all three points.

‘We have a lot to work on, but we only lost by the odd goal and the players have shown great spirit to nearly come back to get a point. We had a flow to our game in the second half and put Torquay under severe pressure,’ was the response from the Rovers boss.

Northampton Town, managed by former Bristol City boss Lee Johnson were next up at the Mem, just three days after that defeat. Paul Buckle said of this encounter; ‘They will be dangerous but if we play to our best, which we only did in patches on Saturday, then I think we can do well.’

Goals from Jo Kuffour, in the first half and Matt Harrold after Adebayo Akinfenwa’s goal for the visitors, gave Rovers a 2-1 win which delighted their manager who said; ‘I thought we were outstanding. I was disappointed that we weren’t three goals up at half time, because we were dominant. We had good tempo and fight and were physically strong all over the pitch.’

Matt Harold retains the ball under pressure from two Northampton Town defenders. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Matt Gill said that workrate was the key to the win; ‘We knew we would have to work hard after what happened to us in the first 15 minutes against Torquay, when we found ourselves two goals down.

‘We came out of the blocks brilliantly against Northampton. The lads were really at it and we should have gone in at least a couple of goals up at half time.’

Buckle challenged his side to keep their first clean sheet of the season in their next game, away at Macclesfield Town, saying; ‘Six points is a good return so far and now it’s time for a clean sheet. That has to be the next target for us, and we have to steer clear of conceding silly goals and the challenge is to become really solid as a unit.’

Matt Gill in a race for the ball at Macclesfield. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Midfielder Craig Stanley said, ahead of the game; ‘So far, so good. The lads are getting to know how the gaffer wants to play as the season goes on, and I think you will see us getting more and more used to it. I think you could see, against Northampton, that the lads were taking on board the things he wants from us. If we can carry on improving and cut out some of the silly little mistakes we’ve been making, then we will do well.’

Buckle and his side got the clean sheet they craved at the Moss Rose where, in front of a crowd of just 1,855 Rovers played out a goalless draw with their hosts.

The manager declared himself satisfied with a point, saying; ‘It was a hard fought game and we spent the majority of the second half defending long throws. We probably played better in the first half. After that we got the ball down, moved it quickly and created a couple of really good openings.’

Next up was the Carling Cup tie against Watford at the Memorial Stadium and, on a Tuesday night in late August Rovers went through to the second round by virtue of a 4-2 penalty shootout victory against their Championship opponents.

The visitors took a second minute lead, through Marvin Sordell, but Matt Harrold equalised for Rovers three minutes later and that’s how it stayed even after a half hour’s extra time.

Mustapha Carayol gets between two Watford players, one of whom is Troy Deeney [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Scott Bevan saved spot kicks from John Eustace and Carl Dickinson while Rovers scored through Jo Kuffour, Adam Virgo, Wayne Brown and Mustapha Carayol, though Scott McGleish rolled his penalty wide of the upright.

Carayol’s spot kick proved to be the decisive one and he said afterwards; ‘When we practiced penalties, I was walking up to the ball when I took mine. The manager told me not to do it, but I wasn’t going to change. I’m just glad it went in!

‘I’m naturally a confident player and I don’t really let things get to me. I’ve always tried to stick to the things that I know I’m good at and it’s always worked for me.’

It was back to league action on the following Saturday when Hereford United were the visitors to the Memorial Stadium and striker Matt Harrold was urging his team mates not to take a result against the Bulls, who had just one point from four league games, for granted.

‘It’s games like this that are dangerous,’ said Harrold, adding ‘everyone will expect us to win. I’m sure it was like that when we played Torquay a couple of weeks ago, even though they had done well last season. People turned up thinking we would win and, as we found out, it doesn’t happen just like that.’

Watched by Scott McGleish, Craig Stanley is first to the ball against Hereford United. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

On the day of the game against Hereford it was reported that Rovers had signed defender Danny Woodards on a one year deal after he had turned down a new contract with MK Dons.

The game ended in another goalless draw in what was described as a largely forgettable contest. Manager Paul Buckle blamed the pitch for that!

He said; ‘It sounds like an excuse, but I couldn’t believe how dry parts of the pitch were. That was the reason we failed to get good crosses in from the right in the first half. The ball kept bobbling up and hitting players on the shins.

‘When I was at Torquay I always demanded a slick surface. There is nothing visiting teams like to see more than a dry pitch, which slows up the game. It is a lesson learned for the future. We want our own pitch to help our players and the passing football we like to play. That wasn’t the case today.’

There was no rest for Buckle and his players as, just a week after dumping Watford out of the Carling Cup they travelled to face Leyton Orient in the second round of the competition just three days after the draw against Hereford United.

However, hopes of an extended run in the competition were dashed as Orient ran out 3-2 winners. Trailing 2-0 at half time Rovers hit back to level after the break thanks to strikes from Chris Zebroski and Eliot Richards only for Orient’s Stephen Dawson to net the winner with virtually the last kick of the game.

Eliot Richards celebrates his goal against Leyton Orient. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

After the match Buckle, who saw Danny Woodards make his Rovers senior debut when replacing Adam Virgo in the first half, said; ‘Football can be a cruel game sometimes, and we will have to take this on the chin and move on, but there are plenty of plus points we can take from it.

‘Every single player worked their socks off and, despite the result, I’m delighted with the performance because we played some good controlled football to open a League One side up.’

I think it’s fair to say that the month of August 2011 was as good as it got for Paul Buckle. He certainly didn’t endear himself to Rovers’ supporters and lasted only until 2nd January 2012 when he was dismissed after a 2-0 defeat at Barnet, just days before a home FA Cup tie against Aston Villa.

Renewing Rivalries: Pick any Three from Four

By Keith Brookman

Last week we looked forward to renewing rivalries with the four clubs coming up to join us from League Two; Swindon Town, Crewe Alexandra, Plymouth Argyle and Northampton Town.

In this article we take a look at the three sides coming down from the Championship and whilst we are certain to be facing Hull City and Charlton Athletic, the third side could be Wigan Athletic or it could be Barnsley.

By virtue of a 12 point deduction Wigan found themselves in the bottom three come the season’s end, though their appeal against that penalty will be heard on 31st July and if that appeal is successful then Barnsley will be the team to accompany Hull and Charlton into League One.

Hull City and Rovers are certainly no strangers to one another, having met 42 times in the league, with both sides winning on 16 occasions whilst there have been 10 draws.

The first league meetings were in 1953/54, Rovers winning 4-2 at Eastville in October 1953 and Hull winning the return encounter 4-1 in April 1954.

The only other meetings between the sides have come in the FA Cup, with Rovers winning twice, Hull once and there has also been one draw. Two of those FA Cup ties came as far back as 1910/11 when, following a goalless draw at Eastville, Hull were 1-0 winners in the replay.

Rovers were 3-0 winners in the next meeting in the competition, in 1950/51 at Eastville, and they came out on top again in 1956/57 when they were 4-3 winners at Boothferry Park.

Our last trip to the KCOM Stadium ended in defeat. Here we see John Anderson, Danny Williams and Christian Edwards in action during that match.

The club moved from their former Boothferry Park home to what is now known as the KCOM Stadium in 2002 and Rovers have played there on two occasions, the last time being the final game of the 2003/04 season. Hull were celebrating promotion on a day they were 3-0 winners against a Rovers side led by Ian Atkins for the first time.

Players to have turned out for both clubs include Danny Allsopp, Bruce Bannister, John Anderson, Jamie Forrester and Ryan Williams while former Rovers loan striker Tom Eaves scored five goals in 40 league games in the season just ended. Eaves also scored an FA Cup hat trick against Rotherham United in January of this year.

Tom Eaves pictured playing for Hull City last season. [Photo courtesy of Hull City FC]

Charlton Athletic made a bright start to their season, but troubles behind the scenes appear to have contributed to their downfall and a 4-0 defeat against Champions Leeds United on the final day of the season sealed their fate.

There have been 60 league meetings between the clubs, with Rovers having won on 19 occasions, Charlton have won 22 and there have been 19 draws.

Rovers have not won an away game against Charlton since 29th March 1958 and, after 62 years, it’s a record that needs to disappear!

The first ever league meetings came about in 1921/22 in Division Three (South), Rovers winning 4-2 on 10th September 1921 and Charlton winning the return game 2-0 just seven days later.

Our last game at the Valley was on 24th November 2018 when Charlton ran out 3-1 winners while the return fixture at the Mem the following March ended goalless.

Joe Martin pictured in action against Charlton Athletic on our last visit to the Valley. [Photo Credit – JMP]

Remarkably, the clubs played out a 5-5 draw at Eastville on 18th November 1978, a day when Paul Randall scored a hat trick.

Rovers hold the upper hand in both the FA Cup and League Cup. They have won two of the three FA Cup meetings, Charlton one; the last time the clubs met in this competition was on 30th January 1979 when Rovers were 1-0 winners.

The only League Cup meeting between the sides saw Rovers win 2-1 at Eastville on 3rd October 1971.

I have to admit that the Valley is one of my favourite grounds but getting there can be a bit of a pain and parking is a nightmare…but at least it’s not as far as Hull!

Players to have turned out for both Rovers and Charlton are Joe Anyinsah, Dennis Bailey, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Dick Plumb and Scott Sinclair.

Former Rovers skipper Tom Lockyer scored once in 43 league appearances for Charlton in the season just ended, but it remains to be seen if he will still be with them when the new season comes around.

Tom Lockyer pictured in action for Charlton Athletic last season. [Photo Credit – Charlton Athletic FC]

Rovers and Wigan Athletic are fairly evenly matched, as both have recorded ten wins in their 26 league meetings, with six games having been drawn.

It’s the only competition in which the clubs have played each other as they have not been paired in either the FA Cup or League Cup.

Ollie Clarke pictured in action against Wigan Athletic the last time we met. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Rovers completed a notable double over Wigan in the first season the teams met (1982/83) winning 4-0 at Eastville in October 1983 and 5-0 at Springfield Park in February 1983.

Springfield Park was the venue when Wigan ran out 3-0 winners against Rovers who finished the match with only seven men after red cards were issued to Andy Tillson, Jason Perry, Dave Pritchard and Josh Low while Wigan were only a man down at the final whistle as Graeme Jones was also sent off.

Our last league fixture against Wigan was on 22nd April 2018 when the clubs shared the points in a 1-1 draw at the Memorial Stadium.

Players to have turned out for both clubs are Nathan Ellington, Jason Roberts, Les Bradd, Larry Lloyd and Lee Nicholls.

Jason Roberts, who later played for Wigan, pictured in action for Rovers. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

There you have it, the three relegated sides I think we will be playing. All are familiar foes, as are their stadia though I’m guessing that some of our younger supporters may not have visited Hull’s KCOM Stadium.

As for Barnsley, I’m assuming they will stay up. That would be a relief; I didn’t enjoy my one and only visit to Oakwell and it seemed to take forever to get there, so I’m happy to settle for Hull, Charlton and Wigan!

Renewing Rivalries: The four coming up

By Keith Brookman

With the League Two season now concluded, we know the names of the four promoted clubs we will be playing against next season, namely Swindon Town, Crewe Alexandra, Plymouth Argyle and Northampton Town.

So, no new grounds to visit out of that quartet, though it will be interesting to see the new stand at Home Park, Plymouth, in use for the first time.

Swindon Town are old rivals from way back, our first league meetings happening in January 1921 in the inaugural Third Division season. Swindon were 2-1 winners on 15th January, while Rovers won 3-1 the following week.

Tom Broadbent… [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

The clubs had previously met each other as Western and Southern League clubs and both had been crowned champions of the latter competition, Rovers in 1904/05 and Swindon in 1910/11 & 1913/14.

The total number of league meetings now stands at 90, with Rovers having won 35, Swindon 39 while there have been 16 draws.

Although there were two FA Cup meetings between the clubs, in 1900/01 and again the following season, there has only been three FA Cup ties involving both clubs since then. In 1945/46 Rovers were 4-2 aggregate winners, losing at the County Ground 1-0 and winning 4-1 at Eastville.

In 1948/49 Swindon were 1-0 home winners when the clubs met again in the competition and their paths haven’t crossed in FA Cup action since.

There have been two meetings in the League Cup, in 1984/85, Rovers winning the First Round, first leg tie 5-1 at the County Ground and Swindon winning 1-0 at Eastville in the second Leg a week later.

In addition, the last two seasons has seen the clubs meet in the Football League Trophy. Swindon were 4-2 winners at the Mem in 2017/18, while Rovers were 1-0 winners in last season’s tie, which was also played at the Mem.

In total we have met each other 97 times since becoming league clubs, with Swindon coming out on top on 43 occasions. Rovers have won 38 games and 16 games have ended all square.

Only one man, Fred Ford, has managed both clubs, but there have been a host of players who have turned out for both clubs, among them Gary Emmanuel, Andy Gurney, Sammy Igoe, Tim Parkin, Mark Walters, Steve White and Brian Williams and Andy Williams.

The latest in what is quite a lengthy list is central defender Tom Broadbent, a member of last season’s successful title winning squad while goalkeeping coach Steve Mildenhall is also, of course, a former Rovers player.

…and Steve Mildenhall, coming up to League One with Swindon Town. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Runners up to Swindon were Crewe Alexandra and it’s been a while since we last played at Gresty Road; memories of that huge stand running down one side of the ground dwarfing the other three and of one of the best fish and chip shops in the land behind one end of the ground (if it’s still there!).

The first league meetings between the sides didn’t come about until 1963/64 and Crewe did the double over Rovers that season, winning 2-1 at Eastville and 4-1 at Gresty Road. They also did the double the last time we met, in 2011/12, winning 5-2 at the Mem on the last day of 2011 and 3-0 at Gresty Road in April 2012.

Rovers have won only three of the 20 league meetings between the clubs, with Crewe winning nine and the remaining eight being drawn.

Crewe hold the upper hand in the FA Cup as well, winning the only tie between the clubs 2-0 at Twerton Park in January 1991.

Steve Phillips…

The only time we have met in the League Cup was in 1981/82 when Rovers drew 1-1 at Gresty Road and were 1-0 winners in the second leg to go through 2-1 on aggregate.

We were also aggregate winners in1994/95 play off semi final when, after a goalless draw at Twerton Park, we drew 1-1 at Gresty Road to go through to the final on the away goals rule.

Overall, we have met each other on 23 occasions in all competitions, with Crewe winning 10 of those games, Rovers four while nine games have ended all square.

Among the players to have turned out for both clubs are Byron Moore, Steve Phillips, Kevin Street, Brian Parkin and Danny Woodards.

…and Byron Moore who both played for Crewe Alexandra.

Occupying third place, and the final automatic promotion place come the end of the season were Plymouth Argyle, another side we have met on numerous occasions.

Our paths had crossed in the Southern League, of which Argyle were champions in 1912/13 and both clubs became members of the Football League in 1920/21, with Rovers winning the first league meeting between the sides 2-0 at Eastville on 23rd April and Plymouth winning 2-1 in the return fixture at Home Park just one week later.

Argyle have won 28 of the 82 league meetings between the clubs, Rovers 26 and there have been 28 draws.

Two of the seven FA Cup meetings between the sides took place last season, with Rovers winning a second round replay 1-0 at Home Park after a 1-1 draw at the Memorial Stadium. There have been three draws between the sides in the FA Cup, Rovers have won three ties and Argyle one.

Of the four League Cup meetings, there have been two draws and two wins for Rovers. The last time the clubs were paired in this competition was in 2000/01.

Gary Sawyer … [Photo Credit – Dave Rowntree]

We were also at Home Park last season in the EFL Trophy, which ended all square at 1-1, though Argyle did win the resulting penalty shootout. The only other meeting in the Trophy was in 2000/01 when Rovers were 3-0 winners.

Since entering the league back in 1920, there have been 103 meetings between the sides in all competitions, with Rovers winning 32 games, Plymouth 37 and 34 games have been drawn.

Malcolm Allison and Ian Holloway have managed both clubs, while many players have turned out in blue and white and green and white. In fact, there were three former Rovers players on Argyle’s books last season, in Gary Sawyer, Byron Moore, who has also played for Crewe, of course, and Dominic Telford.

Others to have played for both include Johnny Williams, Barry Hayles, Mickey Evans, Bruce Bannister and Jermaine Easter.

…and Dominic Telford, who will both be returning to the Memorial Stadium with Plymouth Argyle. [Photo Credit – Dave Rowntree]

The final team of the quartet coming up from League Two are Northampton Town, play off winners who beat Cheltenham Town and Exeter City in the play off semi final and final respectively.

Like Rovers and Swindon, Northampton can also claim to have won the Southern League title; they were winners in 1908/09.

They, too, were founder members of the Third Division of the Football League in 1920/21 and Rovers won both games in that first campaign, with a 2-1 away win on 12th March 1921 and a 4-2 home win a week later.

Of the 92 league meetings so far, Rovers have won 30, there have been 27 draws and Northampton have won 35. The most recent league meetings took place in 2017/18 with Rovers recording an emphatic 6-0 win at Sixfields in October 2017 and the sides playing out a 1-1 draw at the Memorial Stadium in March 2018.

The sides met in the FA Cup in their Southern League days, in 1907/08 and 1919/20 and since that inaugural Football League season there have been three further meetings in that competition, the last being in 1973/74 when Rovers were 2-1 away winners at Northampton’s former home, the County Ground.

One of our own… [Photo Credit – Pete Norton]

As far as the League Cup is concerned, the clubs have been drawn together just once, co incidentally 1981/82, the same year we played Crewe in the competition for the only time. The Cobblers won both legs of the second round tie, 2-1 at Eastville and 3-1 at the County Ground.

Northampton won promotion this time around with a former Rovers player, Keith Curle, in charge and three former Rovers players in their squad, namely Chris Lines, Andy Williams and Joe Martin.

Of the 102 meetings between the clubs in all competitions since we both entered the league, Rovers have won 35, Northampton 38 and 29 matches have been drawn.

Ian Atkins is the only man to have managed both clubs, while a number of players have turned out for both clubs, most notably Bobby Jones, Richard Walker, James Hunt, Dave Savage and Craig Hinton, as well as Andy Williams who scored in the play off final – the same Andy Williams who also played for Swindon!

…and Andy Williams, members of the Cobblers squad promoted via the play offs [Photo Credit – Pete Norton]

The two meetings in the Trophy has seen one Rovers wins and one draw. Don’t mention the play offs, though! In 1997/98 Rovers beat The Cobblers 3-1 in the first leg of the Division Two play off semi final at the Mem, only to lose 3-0 in the second leg and 4-3 on aggregate.

For those who may think that the game against Plymouth constitutes something of a west country derby, Northampton is about three miles closer to Bristol and Crewe only about ten miles further so thank goodness Swindon came up as it’s only about 40 miles from Bristol.

Unfortunately, there’s still a great deal of travelling to do and looking at the teams that might drop down from the Championship it could get worse… Hull, Barnsley, Middlesbrough and even Wigan maybe!