First Point, Then Fire – The awful news 40 years ago today

By Keith Brookman

On the eve of the 1980/81 season Rovers discovered that they would be without the services of new defender Aiden McCaffery for their opening game, a home fixture against Orient [yes, that was their name from 1966, before reverting to ‘Leyton Orient’ in 1987]

McCaffery’s registration forms from his former club, Derby County, had certainly arrived at Football League headquarters on time, but a copy of the financial agreement between Rovers and Derby remained on someone’s desk at the Baseball Ground.

Financial forms had to be registered with the League 48 hours ahead of a match and so the defender had to delay his Gas debut, much to the annoyance of Rovers’ manager Terry Cooper.

Eastville’s South Stand before the fire. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

One transfer that was completed the day before the Orient game was that of striker Bob Lee, from Sunderland. However, although Lee had signed a contract, the club doctor wasn’t happy with the medical examination because it was discovered that Lee had a heart murmur. That had ended a possible move to Leeds United a year earlier and Rovers’ club doctor planned to send Lee for examination by a specialist before the deal was finally sealed.

The game against Orient the following day (16th August) ended in a 1-1 draw. David Williams gave Terry Cooper’s side the lead after 15 minutes, but the visitors equalised a minute later through John Chiedozie.

In the aftermath of the match Orient’s Stan Bowles claimed that Rovers defender Donny Gillies, making his league debut for the club, had tried to break his leg with a first half tackle. The fact that Gillies wasn’t spoken to by referee Lester Shapter, or that Orient weren’t even awarded a free kick tends to support the view that it was a hard, but fair, challenge.

For the record, this was how Rovers lined up for what would be their last game at Eastville for several weeks; Thomas, Gillies, Hughes, Mabbutt, Cooper, Barrowclough, Williams, Bates, Penny, Griffiths. Substitute: Jones

It was the last game that Eastville hosted until 4th October because during the afternoon following the game Eastville’s South Stand was destroyed by fire.

The fire taking hold. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Most of the playing kit was destroyed in the blaze, though some football boots did survive! Fire swept through the stand while the dressing rooms were left under almost a foot of water after attempts to bring the inferno under control.

All of the club’s trophies, including the Golden Boot awarded to the club’s youth team during that summer’s tour of Holland, were destroyed.

Still smouldering. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Chairman Graham Holmes described the fire as a disaster; ‘It will cost the club a tremendous loss in revenue. There will need to be an emergency board meeting to discuss the ramifications of the fire.’

The fire was discovered by the general manager of the stadium, Clarke Osbourne, who was working in the club offices. ‘We are in a mess,’ said manager Cooper, but we will pull through.’

In the aftermath of the fire the whole South Stand structure was demolished and use of that side of the ground was restricted to an open terrace, making the once proud sporting arena look like a bomb site.

It will have to be pulled down!

Five home games, including League Cup ties against York City and Portsmouth, were played at Ashton Gate before it was deemed that Eastville could once again host league football.

It was never the same as before, though, with Portakabins for dressing rooms and a distinct lack of atmosphere at a venue that held so many memories for generations of supporters.

Six years after the fire Rovers left the dilapidated old stadium they were once proud to call home and moved to play their home games at Bath City’s Twerton Park for a decade.

An eerie image after the event. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Grounds for Change

By Keith Brookman

For those football supporters out there who are members of the 92 club and enjoy visiting new grounds, then they are going to be busy during 2020/21 as there are at least six new grounds (probably more!) that I know of.

Not being a fan of visiting grounds just for the sake of being able to say I’ve been there, I’ve probably missed a few, but here goes with the ones I know are going ahead.

Brentford’s last game at Griffin Park was against Swansea City in the play off semi final and although they went through to the final by virtue of a 3-2 aggregate win they won’t be playing Premier League football at the new ground they move into for the start of the 2020/21 campaign. West London rivals Fulham put paid to that dream when they won the Wembley play off final.

The Brentford Community Stadium, which has a capacity of 17,250, should be ready for the start of the new campaign. It’s less than a mile from Griffin Park, so Rovers fans should have no trouble locating it, though I’m guessing that there will still be a lack of parking in that area of West London.

Rovers have been regular visitors to Griffin Park down the years; there has been 74 league meetings between the sides since 1920/21 though our last meeting there is as along ago as February 2011.

The away stand at Griffin Park was a two tiered affair – seats above, terrace below. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Griffin Park, opened in 1904, had a capacity of 12,300 so the club has the potential for generating additional revenue at their new home.

Those Rovers members of the 92 club wanting to tick the new stadium off their list will, no doubt, be waiting for the fixtures to come out so that they can make sure any planned visit doesn’t clash with a home game at the Mem!

It seems quite likely that Rovers will be visiting a new ground during the 2020/21 campaign in any case, as AFC Wimbledon’s new stadium is due to be opened in late October.

The new stadium, at Plough Lane just 250 yards from their original ground, will have a capacity of 9,300 and should afford a decent view for all, unlike the cramped conditions at their temporary Kingsmeadow home.

Rovers were AFC Wimbledon’s first opponents at their Kingsmeadow Ground back in 2011 and the sides have now met in 16 league games, including that historic first match.

The shallow terrace to the left of the photo wasn’t the best vantage point for visiting supporters to AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow Stadium. [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new member of the English Football League this season; step forward Harrogate Town who beat Notts County in the National League play off final.

A visit to the CNG Stadium will no doubt be a must for several members of the 92 club, though they will have to wait a while as Harrogate have been given permission to play their home games at the Keepmoat Stadium, home of Doncaster Rovers, until October.

That’s because they were playing on an artificial 3G pitch, a surface not allowed under EFL rules. The club began work on laying a grass pitch the day after winning promotion but, naturally, it has to be given time before a game can be played on it.

The current stadium capacity is only 3,800, so if you’re intending to make your way up to North Yorkshire to take in a game, make sure of your ticket in advance!

The Keepmoat Stadium, home of Doncaster Rovers, is where Harrogate Town will play their first home fixtures as a Football League Club. [Photo Credit – Keith Brookman]

Harrogate are a team that Rovers have never played before, at least according to my records.

Moving out of the English Football League, but remaining close to home, National League North side Gloucester City are preparing to move back to a new ground at Meadow Park, home of their former ground.

The reason they left the city 13 years ago was because the ground was prone to flooding and they have since ground shared with Forest Green Rovers, Cirencester Town, Cheltenham Town and Evesham…in that order!

Formed in 1883, the same year that Rovers came into being, Gloucester are hopeful that the new ground will be completed in time for the start of the National League North campaign on 3rd October.

Rovers have played at Meadow Park in the past, and I have programmes from games played there in 1990,1991 and 1999 as well as a programme for a Gloucester County Senior Cup tie there on 28th February 2006 when Rovers won 2-1. The teamsheet for that game shows that Steve Book, Paul Trollope, Chris Lines and Ali Gibb were all in the Rovers starting XI on that occasion.

Gloucester City are returning to Meadow Park after an absence of 13 years.

There were also pre-season games against Gloucester City when they ground shared at Cheltenham’s Whaddon Road.

I’m sure there are a few Rovers supporters who can recall playing against Boston United in League Two and visiting their York Street ground. In fact, we visited that venue no fewer that five times in consecutive seasons from 2002/03.

It wasn’t the best of venues from which to watch a game and I recall the first time I went there and found that the press box was situated in an old wooden stand behind one of the goals.

Rovers fans at Boston’s York Street ground back in 2004

Well, they too are moving to a new home; like Brentford, they will not be hosting higher level football at their new home, having lost their National League North play off final against Altrincham on 1st August. They will be relocating to the Jakemans Community Stadium in time for the start of the 2020/21 season.

Rovers supporters will also be familiar with Bootham Crescent, the home another National League North of York City. If my maths are correct, then we have played league games there on 22 occasions, the last time being on 30th April 2016 when we were 4-1 winners.

They, too, are planning to leave the ground that has been their home since 1932 and move to the LNER Community Stadium, with Persimmon Homes moving in to build on the Bootham Crescent site.

The going was a little bit heavy on our last visit to Bootham Crescent, in 2016! [Photo Credit – JMP]

At the time of writing York were seeking updates from the City of York Council as to when the new stadium will be complete and when they can move in, so if you want to add that stadium to your list then best keep an eye on the York City website.

So there you are, 92ers, at least six new grounds to visit in 2020/21 and, unless we are drawn against any of the other clubs in a cup competition, the only one you are likely to see Rovers at is AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane ground.

Play-Off Pirates: Former Gas in all bar one…

By Keith Brookman

With the 2019/20 season now complete and preparations finally in place for the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign, did you spot that former Gas players featured in all but one play off final and that there was even a Gas appearance in the FA Cup Final?!

The final match in the 2019/20 season was the Championship play off final between Fulham and Brentford, a West London derby in which Fulham came out on top as they won 2-1.

The former Gas player involved in this game was goalkeeper Luke Daniels who was on the Brentford bench where, apart from the odd cup game or three, he spent much of the season.

Daniels appeared in nine league games for Rovers between January and May 2011 when on loan from West Bromwich Albion. He had previously been on loan at five other clubs before arriving in BS7 and spent the first half of the 2011/12 season on loan at Southend before a permanent move to Scunthorpe United in January 2015.

He signed for Brentford in May 2017 after appearing in 101 league games for Scunthorpe and has, to date appeared in 13 league games for them. At least he will probably have a more luxurious bench to sit on next season when the club move from Griffin Park to their new home just down the road.

The League One play off final, between Wycombe Wanderers and Oxford United, saw former Gas players line up in direct opposition.

Wycombe skipper Joe Jacobson was the hero of the hour, scoring the penalty that gave his side a 2-1 victory and their first ever foray into the Championship.

Joe Jacobson, whose penalty sent Wycombe Wanderers up to the Championship. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

At least he got to play in this final; when Rovers reached the JPT Final in 2007 he was unable to play because he had played in an earlier round for Accrington Stanley and by the time the Wembley play off final came around a few weeks later his loan spell had expired and he wasn’t able to play in that one either.

Cardiff born Joe made one league appearance for his hometown club and was then loaned to Accrington Stanley and Rovers in the 2006/07 season. He signed a permanent deal with the Gas in the summer of 2007 and remained in BS7 for two years. By the time he joined Oldham Athletic, in July 2009 he had scored once in 73 league games for Rovers.

From Oldham it was back to Accrington, initially on loan and then on to Shrewsbury Town in June 2011. He joined Wycombe in July 2014 and to date has appeared in 227 league games for them.

Matty Taylor, who left Rovers for our near neighbours City in January 2017, scored 61 goals in 118 league games for the Gas and it’s fair to say that his move across town wasn’t terribly well received by Gasheads.

44 of his 67 league games at Ashton Gate were from the bench and in August last year he was loaned to his hometown club Oxford United who moved quickly to sign him up following their play off final defeat against the Chairboys.

There were also former Rovers players in direct opposition in the League Two play off final between Northampton Town and Exeter City, which the Cobblers won 4-0, though all of them began the game on their side’s respective benches.

Northampton’s Chris Lines and Joe Martin stayed on the touchline, though Andy Williams did make it off the bench in the 88th minute and scored his side’s fourth goal with his first touch a minute later.

‘Willo’ joined Rovers from Hereford United in July 2007 and made a goalscoring debut in the first game of the 2007/08 season, against Port Vale at Vale Park. During his three years at the Memorial Stadium he was loaned back to Hereford and then made a permanent move to Yeovil Town in August 2010.

From Huish Park he moved to Swindon Town, in June 2012, and was loaned back to Yeovil for a short spell in August 2013. That preceded a permanent move to Doncaster Rovers in June 2015, and he signed for Northampton in May 2018.

He was released by the Cobblers following the play off final and not long afterwards he signed a deal with Cheltenham Town.

Joe Martin, son of West Ham legend Alvin, and brother of Hammers goalkeeper David, joined Rovers on loan from Stevenage in August 2018, having previously appeared for Blackpool, Gillingham and Millwall.

He scored once in 10 league games for Rovers before returning to his parent club. He joined Northampton prior to the start of last season and appeared in 17 league games during the course of the campaign.

Chris Lines, the third former Rovers player on Northampton’s books, should need no introduction to Rovers supporters.

Chris Lines, who will be back at the Mem next season with Northampton Town. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

This was the fifth promotion of his career, three of them with Rovers and one each with Sheffield Wednesday and, now, the Cobblers..

His first spell with Rovers came to an end in August 2011 when he joined Sheffield Wednesday. Following a loan move to MK Dons in January 2013 he joined Port Vale in July 2013.

There was a loan move back to Rovers in March 2015 and he helped the club back into the Football League, scoring one of the penalties in the Conference Final shootout against Grimsby Town.

Signed a permanent deal with Rovers in June 2015 and helped the club to a second successive promotion a year later. Remained at the Memorial Stadium until last summer, when he moved to Sixfields.

His career has taken him to well over 500 games in all competitions and he looks set to add a few more before he hangs up his boots.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget the Northampton manager, for Keith Curle is also a former Rovers player.

Keith Curle, when manager of Chester City – pictured at the Memorial Ground in January 2006. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Keith began his career at Rovers and went on to play for Torquay United, Bristol City, Reading, Wimbledon, Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Mansfield Town. He also won four England ‘B’ caps and three full caps.

His managerial career has taken in Mansfield Town, Chester City, Torquay United, Notts County, Carlisle United and Northampton Town.

Now Chris Lines’ manager, he was also the manager of the opposition (Chester) when Lines made his Rovers league debut, against Chester, back in January 2006.

On the Exeter City bench at Wembley was former Rovers central defender, and skipper, Tom Parkes and he was sent on as a 51st minute substitute.

Parkes began his career with Leicester City and was loaned out to Burton Albion and Yeovil Town before his arrival at the Memorial Stadium, also on loan, in January 2012.

Tom Parkes, who will stay playing League Two football with Exeter City next season. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Signed a permanent deal with the club in August that same year and contributed to the successive promotions achieved by the club in 2015 and 2016.

Joined Leyton Orient in June 2016 and moved to Carlisle United a year later before signing for Exeter in July 2019.

Sam Slocombe’s Wembley visit ended in disappointment as his Notts County side were beaten 3-1 by Harrogate Town who become the newest club in the English Football League.

Sam joined the already relegated County in the summer of last year and went on to appear in 29 National League games for them during the regular season.

Started out at Scunthorpe United and made over 100 league appearances for them before a move to Oxford United in June 2015. One year later he signed for Blackpool and arrived at Rovers in July 2017.

Appeared in 25 league games during his two years with the club and also made five cup appearances for Lincoln City during a loan spell at Sincil Bank before departing for Meadow Lane.

Weymouth have been promoted back to the National League after winning their National League South play off final against Dartford, 3-0 in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw.

In midfield for Weymouth was Josh Wakefield who, although he never made a league appearance for Rovers, was once on the club’s books.

Josh Wakefield – promoted to the National League with Weymouth. [Photo Credit – Neil Brookman]

Began his career with Bournemouth, for whom he made three appearances, all from the bench. Spent time on loan with Dagenham & Redbridge, Welling United and Torquay United before arriving at Rovers in a one month loan deal in February 2015.

Followed that up with a loan spell at Yeovil Town. Joined Aldershot in August 2016 and Poole Town in January 2017 before signing for Weymouth in July 2017.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t track down any former Rovers players involved in the National League North play off final in which Altrincham beat Boston United 1-0.

However, there was one more showpiece game in which another former Rovers player spent an afternoon bench warming.

Goalkeeper Matt Macey was an unused Arsenal substitute in the FA Cup final and watched his side beat Chelsea 2-1, so he now has an FA Cup winners medal to go with the youth medals he won with Rovers!

Matt Macey – won an FA Cup winners medal with Arsenal. [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

He joined Arsenal, from Rovers youth ranks, in October 2013 and although he has made two cup appearances for the Gunners he has still to make his Premier League debut.

Has enjoyed loan spells with three EFL clubs, namely Accrington Stanley, Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle and has appeared in 49 league games to date.