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The Youth of Yesterday

Rovers Youth team of 1985/86

By Keith Brookman

Two of my recent articles have looked back at Rovers youth teams of almost twenty years ago. Today we go back even further to look at one of the club’s most successful runs in the FA Youth Cup.

Season 1985/86 will be remembered as the last one in which Bristol Rovers called Eastville their home; at the end of that campaign the club began a ten year groundshare in Bath at Twerton Park, home of Bath City.

However, it was also a season in which the Rovers youth team reached the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup for only the second time in the club’s history.

Back (L-R) – Darren Carr, Tim Carter, Richard Dryden, David Mehew.
Middle (L-R) – Lee Howells, Jason Eaton, Nick Hendy, Simon Bean, Martin Boyle, Gary Eyles.
Front (L-R) – Ian Stone, David Williams, Ian Weston, Jamie Wring, Steve Yates.
1985/86 Youth Team Photo [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Their manager was none other than former Rovers defender Lindsay Parsons and he was assisted by Chipping Sodbury schoolteacher Chris Hills, appointed by manager Bobby Gould as the club’s part time youth development officer.

Having been given a bye in the first round of that season’s competition Rovers were drawn away to face Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge on 2nd December 1985, in round two and ran out 4-2 winners.

It was an outstanding result and Gould highlighted that fact in his programme notes the weekend after the match, saying; “I want to offer my most sincere congratulations to the players and everyone else involved in the youth teams win.”

“Producing top quality young footballers is a time consuming business. It takes a special breed of person to put in the many hours and tireless effort required.”

“Lindsay Parsons is such a person. An old favourite of you Rovers’ supporters, he tackles his part time job of coaching our youngsters in the same way he used to tackle opposing right wingers; very, very, hard!”

Lindsay Parsons, received a great deal of praise for his coaching skills. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

“His relationship with our young players is second to none. In addition, the discipline and competitive element that Lindsay instils into the lads will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.”

“Working alongside Lindsay is another part timer, Chris Hills. New to the youth development officer’s job, he is giving it all he can and is rapidly establishing himself as an enthusiastic ands likeable asset to Bristol Rovers.”

“I am sure that with Lindsay and Chris working in close harmony with reserve team manager Harold Jarman, the player production line which has so often in the past proved to be the club’s financial saviour will continue to maintain its high level of output.”

The victory at Chelsea, regarded by many as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, was achieved by two goals from David Mehew and one apiece from Martin Boyle and Gary Eyles and the win prompted enquiries, from England U-17 manager Colin Murphy, about seven members of the squad.

David Mehew continued scoring goals when he was elevated to the first team ranks. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

“It was a measure of how well we played that Colin wanted details of so many of the team”, said Gould, who refused to name the players who had caught the eye of the England boss.

Gordon Bennett, at that time the club’s Managing Director, said that he felt the win at Stamford bridge was the best performance ever by a Rovers youth team.

Asked if he was surprised by the result, Chris Hills said; “Not in the slightest. We’ve some exceptionally talented youngsters here and, what’s more, despite the fact that the FA Youth Cup is an U-18 competition, some of our team were only 15 years of age, which bodes well for the future.”

Hills also spoke highly of former Rovers defender Parsons; “He’s absolutely fantastic. The boys think the world of him, and Lindsay lives and dies for them. He shows the same sort of commitment with the lads as he did when he was playing in that successful promotion side and you can’t ask for more than that.”

A few days after the game one of the players from that Rovers side, Richard Dryden, signed associate schoolboy forms for Rovers. It meant that he was Gould’s first schoolboy signing since his return to the club for a second stint as manager. In addition, it was the first signing made by Hills following his appointment earlier in the season.

Richard Dryden signs on the dotted line, watched by Bobby Gould and Chris Hills

“Richard is a cultured player who can operate anywhere down the left side of the field,” said Gould, who added; “he’s impressed everyone on the staff since he was first brought here for trials and has an excellent attitude.”

The draw for the third round of the FA Youth Cup handed Rovers another away tie, at Ipswich Town, but again they won through beating the Tractor Boys 2-0 at Portman Road on 6th January 1986.

Once again David Mehew and Martin Boyle were on the scoresheet, while 15 year old schoolboy Simon Bean enjoyed a superb game in goal where he stood in for the suspended Tim Carter.

Their journey ended in round four, though, as they were beaten 3-1 by Tottenham Hotspur at Eastville on 4th March 1986 and David Mehew again was on the scoresheet for Rovers. Remarkably, the following evening ‘Boris’ went on as a substitute for the reserves and scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win at Torquay.

The cup run was remarkable when you consider the fact that there only two members of the squad, Lee Howells and Ian Weston, had been taken on as apprentices.

Tim Carter and David Mehew, both young professionals, had appeared in the first team that season, while the remaining squad members were either schoolboys, college students or non contract signings.

Steve Yates, Jimmy Wring and Simon Bean were young enough to be eligible to play in the competition for the next two years!

Two years after appearing for the youth team Steve Yates was playing first team football on a regular basis. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Darren Carr was a motor mechanic, David Williams was studying commerce at college, Jason Eaton worked for a building company and Richard Dryden, who signed schoolboy forms following the first round win at Chelsea, was still a pupil at Thornbury School.

Martin Boyle was on an engineering course at a Bristol College, Nick Hendy, a former Chelsea schoolboy, worked in insurance and Ian Stone had not long left school while Gary Eyles was still a sixth former.

Harold Jarman, Rovers’ reserve team manager, explained why he thought the group were so successful; “They work hard for each other and what makes them particularly effective is that we have two strikers in Mehew and Boyle who can always be relied on to get goals.”

“Hendy and Carr are also key figures in the centre of defence because both are quick and good in the air. Four members of the squad train with me on Monday night and all of them are taken for an evening session on Thursdays, under the guidance of Lindsay Parsons, who has worked very hard with them and deserves a lot of credit for his season’s success.”

Of that squad, seven actually played in the league for Rovers, namely Carter, Mehew, Carr, Dryden, Eaton, Weston and Yates.

Yates and Mehew would go on to become first team regulars, of course, and both played a major part in the successful 1989/90 campaign when Rovers clinched the Third Division title and reached Wembley for the first time.

Boyle played in the first team in an FA Cup tie against Brentford and also played against Bristol City in a Glos. Cup Final before going on to enjoy a long career in local non league football.

Three of the squad, Carter, Dryden and Eaton would go on to play for Bristol City later in their careers while Carr would play in an FA Cup semi final, for Chesterfield against Middlesbrough, in 1996/97.

Richard Dryden after he’d graduated to the first team. [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]

Howells is another who played in a Glos. Cup Final, though never appeared in a league match for Rovers. He went on to make 367 league appearances for Cheltenham Town where he and Eaton played alongside each other. Both appeared in the 1997/98 FA Trophy Final when Cheltenham beat Southport 1-0 and Eaton scored the goal that clinched the trophy and both were in the squad the following season when the Gloucestershire Robins won promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history.

I’m not sure how the careers of Hendy, Bean, Eyles, Stone, Williams and Wring progressed, though I believe Wring played non league football locally. As for the others, I’d be interested to know if they remained in the game in some capacity after their release by Rovers.

The fourth round of the FA Youth Cup remains the furthest Rovers have ever been in the competition; does this years’ crop of youngsters have the ability to better that?

Rovers in Red and White! …and Black

By Keith Brookman

There was a time, in the 1960’s and early 70’s, that Rovers played in red and white shirts, black shorts and red socks with a white trim; although it was only when there was a colour clash, of course!

Up until recently I had only seen black & white photos of the red & white stripes (does that make sense?) but often wondered if any colour photos existed,

Thanks, then, to Richard Jarman who posted these of his Dad, Harold, on Facebook recently.

Oxford City vs BRFC [All photos courtesy of Harold and Richard Jarman]

They were taken during the first round FA Cup tie on 26th November 1966 between Rovers and Oxford City at the non league side’s White House Ground, which they leased from Brasenose College Oxford.

I also have a black & white photograph, also from Harold’s collection, from that game and that is also shown here; note the floodlight pylons emerging through the roof of the stand!

Oxford City vs BRFC [All photos courtesy of Harold and Richard Jarman]

The ground was later sold off for housing development and Oxford City now play at Marsh Lane, Marston, Oxford.

When this cup tie took place, Rovers were in second place in the Third Division while their hosts were seventh in the Isthmian League and had won their previous five games going into this one.

Rovers were two goals ahead inside half an hour. The first, an own goal by John Lambert, arrived when the defender intercepted a through ball from Kenny Ronaldson and sliced his clearance over the head of his goalkeeper John Shippey.

The second goal came from the penalty spot after Robert Jackson brought down Alex Munro just inside the area and Joe Davis drove his spot kick beyond the reach of Shippey.

The Isthmian league side hit back after the break and pulled a goal back on 65 minutes when John Woodley rounded Stuart Taylor and beat goalkeeper Bernard Hall with a powerful drive.

Five minutes later they were level when Tony Bradbury beat Hall to give Oxford City hopes of a cup upset in front of a home crowd of 5,100.

Oxford City vs BRFC [All photos courtesy of Harold and Richard Jarman]

It wasn’t to be though, and a replay was needed at Eastville three days later to determine who would go through to round two. Rovers comfortably won that game 4-0 thanks to an Alfie Biggs hat trick and another goal from Ronaldson.

Rovers beat Luton Town, at home, 3-2 in round two, but lost 3-0 to Arsenal in round three, in a game played at Eastville.

The side for that game at Oxford was as follows: Hall, Davis, Parsons, Stone, Taylor, Mabbutt, Jarman, Brown (J), Biggs, Ronaldson, Munro.

Rovers in red and white, though, wouldn’t happen these days, would it!

Oxford City vs BRFC [All photos courtesy of Harold and Richard Jarman]

It Happened in June

By Keith Brookman

If you thought that not too much happens at a football club in the month of June, quite a lot of wheeling and dealing goes on behind the scenes while most players are away on holiday at the end of a long season.

In this article we head back some sixteen years, to June 2004 when Ian Atkins was preparing for his first season in charge and there was news of an incoming transfer on the first day of the month.

Craig Hinton, the 26 year old Kidderminster Harriers defender was the player and he signed a two year deal with Rovers and it seemed likely that he would team up with his former Birmingham City youth coach Kevan Broadhurst, who was on the verge of being appointed assistant manager to Atkins.

‘Craig is a very solid defender,’ said Broadhurst, before adding ‘he is quick, and he has a very good footballing brain. We are delighted to have him. He can play in a number of positions in the back line, from centre back to full back and also wing back.’

Hinton, the club’s third summer signing after Ali Gibb and James Hunt had agreed to move to BS7 in permanent deals, spoke of being excited about joining Rovers; ‘The manager has already made it clear he wants us to go for it next season. I know that Rovers are a club with a big fan base and that supporters will be expecting at least a play off place next season.

‘The chance to come to a club who are expected to be up there is exciting. Ian Atkins told me that he wants to take the club forward and that we will be going for it and now it’s going to be up to the players.’

Five new signings; Gibb, Elliott, Campbell, Disley and Hinton [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Atkins, meanwhile, revealed that he had been thwarted in his attempts to sign some players because their families didn’t want to uproot and move to the area; ‘There have been three or four players already who have liked the club and have been offered more money than they might be getting elsewhere but they won’t come because their families want to stay put. But I don’t feel we have lost out because I only want players who really want to be here.’

It was reported that Atkins was hoping to persuade defender Adam Barrett to sign a new deal and that progress was also being made on a new deal for defender Kevin Austin. There was a question mark, though, over the future of striker Paul Tait, who was being linked with a move to Rochdale.

Speaking about Barrett and Austin, manager Atkins said; ‘I think I can help Adam to become a better player. I don’t think he’s ever been coached properly and he’s still young enough to improve. He already has a winning mentality, and that’s crucial.

‘In Kevin’s case, I think he’s been unlucky with injuries and Rovers have not seen the best of him.’

There was also talk of Rovers signing Kilmarnock midfielder Martin Hardie and the manager admitted that talks had been held with the player; ‘Martin is one of a number of players who came down to talk to us because we are trying to line up options in just about every position.

‘He’s a big, strong lad but he had quite a bad thigh injury towards the end of last season and would need to have a thorough medical first if he was going to join us, and that would be before we got anywhere near talking terms.’

In addition to signings on the pitch, there were likely to be additions to the Boardroom as Chairman Geoff Dunford revealed that the club were hoping to recruit two new directors. Dunford said; ‘It’s time for more local businessmen to come forward and share in what I believe will be an exciting next three years for the club.

‘These are very exciting times for the club, and we want more local people to become involved and to help us bring success to our supporters.’

Craig Disley in his Rovers gear, after he’d been a late signing [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

The club released details of their pre-season schedule, which would take in a trip to the Isle of Man for the annual Steam Packet Tournament, and a home game against Queens Park Rangers which was to be Jamie Shore’s testimonial game.

In a surprise move Adam Barrett didn’t sign a new contract with Rovers but opted to join Southend United. Ian Atkins didn’t seem too bothered by the defender’s switch, though; ‘Adam had agreed a basic wage with us and there was just the small part of agreeing the bonus part of it.

‘As far as I’m concerned it’s not the be all and end all because you only want players who want to play for your club.’

Rather diplomatically Barrett, who had been a hugely popular player during his two years at the Mem, said; ‘I watched Southend as a kid and I’m delighted to have signed. I have strong links with them and the opportunity to play for my local club was too good to turn down.’

Two more players, Jamie Forrester and Liam Burns were being linked with a move to the Memorial Stadium, while it was looking increasingly likely that Kevin Austin would be signing for Swansea City whose manager, Kenny Jackett, was hoping to speak with him on his return from holiday.

When they got their man, Director Kevin Spencer and Chairman Geoff Dunford welcomed Jamie Forrester to the club [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Burns, a 25 year old Belfast born central defender had been on Port Vale’s books for nine years and said he would be interested in a move to Rovers; ‘I am ready for a new challenge and Bristol Rovers strikes me as being an ambitious club with an ambitious manager. It certainly appeals to me to go there.’

As Kevin Austin departed for Swansea, Burns wasn’t the only one being lined up to join the ‘Atkins revolution’. Forrester we’ve already mentioned, but there was, allegedly, Rovers interest in Mansfield’s Craig Disley, Grimsby’s Stuart Campbell and defender Steve Elliott from Blackpool.

Paul Tait eventually left the Gas and, as expected, signed for Rochdale, while Rovers eventually succeeded in signing Campbell and Elliott and were close to securing the signature of Disley.

Of Campbell, his new manager said; ‘Stuart has so much ability it’s frightening. He has played Premiership football with Leicester and, like a lot of youngsters at that level, had his path blocked by all the players coming in.

‘He was good enough to go to Grimsby for £250,000 three years ago and he turned down Burnley to come and join us. Not only is he a good player, he’s a terrific lad and will be excellent around the training ground.’

Campbell said; ‘I spoke to a few clubs but as soon as I spoke to the manager here and saw how enthusiastic and positive, he was, my mind was made up.’

Atkins and his players began pre-season training on 28th of the month.

One of the first training runs of the season [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

On that day assistant manager Kevan Broadhurst, who had jointly managed the side with Russell Osman at the end of the previous season, said; ‘I am really looking forward to it and It will be fascinating to see how good the players are and how well they settle in and blend with each other.

‘Even though we had to make sure we got the points last time out, I sensed as soon as I arrived that we weren’t going to go down, provided we got a couple of decent players in to help bail us out, which we did. Now we have brought in several more over the close season and the beauty is with each of them is that we know their strengths and qualities inside out.’

While the aforementioned Campbell and Elliott had arrived in time for the start of pre-season training, Disley, Forrester and Paul Trollope signed on the day pre-season began.

Of Disley, Kevan Broadhurst said; ‘Craig is a fine box to box player who can break well from deep.’ Forrester, he said; ‘is a great acquisition and got a lot of goals for us when we were together at Northampton.’

Trollope was another who had played under Broadhurst at Northampton and the assistant manager said of him; ‘he is a good passer of the ball; he can score goals from midfield and he is a model professional with good experience.’

Paul Trollope signs on the dotted line …quite an astute signing, Kevin Spencer! [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

At the end of the month Chairman Geoff Dunford was quoted as saying this; ‘As directors we have to follow the recommendations that managers put to us and I think now, with Ian Atkins, we have a man who is spending the money wisely and putting a lot of hard work and analysis into building the team that he wants to put together.

‘In fact, I think Ian has probably spent more of other people’s wage budgets than he has his own, as a lot of players have been given better deals by their clubs once we have shown an interest in them!

‘I am very pleased with what has been happening at the football club since Ian and Kevan Broadhurst arrived. Having had a very difficult journey in recent times, I think we can now see light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m certainly hoping to see the club go forward at a very progressive rate.’

Atkins and Broadhurst hadn’t quite finished reshaping the squad as the month ended, but for the record, the departures and arrivals were as follows.

Leaving the club were; Neil Arndale, Kevin Austin, Adam Barrett, Danny Boxall, Simon Bryant, Wayne Carlisle, Danny Greaves, Shane Hobbs, Graham Hyde, Rob Quinn, Paul Tait and Anwar Uddin.

Steve Elliott enjoys his first training session! [Photo Credit – Jeff Davis]

Newcomers up to that point were; James Hunt, Craig Hinton, Steve Elliott, Stuart Campbell, Craig Disley, Jamie Forrester and Paul Trollope. Ali Gibb and John Anderson, who had played for Rovers at the end of the previous season, had also signed deals to keep them in BS7.

There was also an addition to the backroom staff with the appointment of Paul Molesworth as chief scout. He had previously worked with Atkins at Oxford and Northampton and had brokered some of the deals completed by Atkins that summer.