By Keith Brookman
During this season we are going on a journey back in time, thirty years back in time to be precise, to a season that ended in a historic Championship and Rovers’ first ever trip to Wembley!
Part 6 – Brass in Pocket, and the Return of Stan
Having played seven games in November 1989, December was less demanding, with only four league fixtures scheduled to be played, beginning with an away tie at Fellows Park, Walsall, on the second of the month.
Prior to that match it was revealed that manager Gerry Francis had earned a bonus of £75,000 from the sales of Gary Penrice and Nigel Martyn. The boss had a clause in his contract which gave him 5% of any transfer fees the club received.
Central defender Steve Yates was ruled out of the squad to face Walsall because of a twisted knee, but his team mates didn’t appear to miss him as they returned home with all three points following a 2-1 win.
The home side took a 14th minute lead through Keith Bertschin but that was cancelled out by Devon White’s equaliser after 42 minutes and David Mehew scored what turned out to be the winner just 20 seconds into the second half.
Walsall goalkeeper Ron Green, who had previously played for Rovers, was impressed with his former club; ‘I couldn’t fail to be impressed, even though we played exceptionally well in the first half and could have taken a winning lead. Rovers proved by their team work and the way they graft for each other that their position at the top of the league is not false. I’m backing them to go up.’
Describing his side’s first half performance as very poor, manager Gerry Francis said; There was only one side in it, and it wasn’t us! Half time couldn’t come soon enough so I could attempt to put things right.
‘For some reason we seem to take games against clubs at the bottom lightly. But we showed our character once more by coming from behind to win. Brian Parkin made a couple of outstanding saves and I was happy with the way Peter Cawley fitted in after waiting so long for his chance.’
In the week following that win Rovers Development Officer/Physiotherapist Roy Dolling was urging young footballers in the area to consider joining Rovers rather than accepting offers from other clubs and said; ‘Boys who turn us down at 14 write sad letters asking for another chance a few years later when they are discarded by other clubs.’
It was also revealed that 69 year old Stan Montgomery, the man responsible for bringing a host of Welsh players to the club, including Neil Slatter, Geraint Williams, David Williams, Phil Bater, Martin Thomas, Tony Pulis and Vaughan Jones just to name a few, was returning to the club to scout young Welsh talent for The Gas.
Speaking after his return, he said; ‘I was disappointed when Bobby Gould came to Rovers and didn’t want me. Now I am pleased to be back and am grateful to Roy Dolling for giving me the chance.’
The Bookies, meanwhile, were backing Rovers and City for a Bristol promotion double with Rovers at 4-1 for the Third Division title and City 11-2.
Striker Devon White became a barber for a few hours when he shaved off the beard belonging to Bill Turnbull, landlord of the Spotted Cow in Fishponds! It was all for charity, though, as Bill’s 23 year old beard was being sacrificed to raise money for Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Rovers announced a profit of £45,519 on season 1988/89 and that followed a surplus of £10,000 on the previous year.
With no involvement in the second round of the FA Cup, it was to be two weeks after the game at Walsall that Rovers faced their next test, Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road where Steve Yates returned to the side in place of the injured Ian Alexander.
In their second game of the month they were beaten 1-0, only their second defeat of the season and their first following a run of 14 league games without losing.
The all important goal arrived in the 65th minute courtesy of former Chelsea, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth striker Kenny Swain who, at 37, was the oldest player on the pitch.
‘I was very disappointed with our performance,’ said manager Gerry Francis, ‘We showed no urgency until after Crewe scored. The goal cost us a point rather than three because the most we were ever going to get was a draw.
‘I should have made some allowances as we have been badly hit by injuries despite not playing for two weeks. And half a dozen of the players have had flu and are not fully over the after effects.’
Following that game Francis revealed that he was hoping to sign two new players after realising his small squad was being stretched to the limits; ‘At Crewe I was forced to play Steve Yates out of position when he needed more time to get over a knee injury and others were picked while still suffering flu symptoms.
‘The problem we face when trying to sign a player is that clubs know that we have recently pocketed £1.5m for Gary Penrice and Nigel Martyn and are asking ridiculous fees for players I enquire about.’
After just four reserve games on the comeback trail it was announced that Billy Clark’s season was over after he had a piece of scar tissue removed from his troublesome right knee. He was due to spend the next three months wearing a splint and walking with the aid of crutches.
The Leyland DAF Cup Tie against Exeter City, postponed once because of the Devon club’s involvement in the FA Cup, was called off again on the Tuesday following the game at Crewe due to a waterlogged Twerton Park pitch and Gerry Francis was resisting pressure from the Football League to play the game on the following Saturday when both clubs were without a game.
Players at the club were in line to receive a New Year pay rise provided the Football League agreed. ‘We want to give a flat rate increase across the board,’ said Gerry Francis. The present contracts were negotiated with the club’s very tight budget in mind.
‘Now there is more money in the kitty from the sales of Gary Penrice and Nigel Martyn, we want to pass some on to the players.’
With no game scheduled until the Boxing Day home clash with Birmingham City, Rovers were making headlines off the pitch and one newspaper headline screamed; ‘Miller slams Penrice ‘gift’ which referred to the good will gesture gift of £500 donated to Gary Penrice’s former club Mangotsfield United following his transfer to Watford for £500,000.
The Mangos Chairman, Ralph Miller, said; We are not at all happy. This cheque is a tiny fraction of one per cent of the money Rovers have received for Penrice. It’s a joke, especially when we learn that the manager takes 5% of recent Rovers sales.’
Director Geoff Dunford responded by saying; ‘If they are unhappy, we’ll gladly take the money back.’ (Mangotsfield actually donated the money to charity!)
St. Blazey, meanwhile, were delighted with the sum of £2,000 they had received from Rovers who had benefitted to the tune of £1m from the sale of Nigel Martyn to Crystal Palace. Martyn’s former club described the monetary gift as ‘an excellent gesture.’
The Boxing Day clash against Birmingham City drew a crowd of 6,573 to Twerton Park, where Rovers faced their former loan player Dennis Bailey, former goalkeeper Martin Thomas and a future Rovers manager in the shape of Ian Atkins. Steve Yates kept Bailey at bay and Atkins probably didn’t stop chatting throughout the 90 minutes as he always talked a good game!
There were no goals for the table topping Rovers side, who kept their 11th clean sheet of the season, or for their opponents and the result saw Rovers drop down to second in the league.
It was rumoured that Gerry Francis was poised to make a bid to bring striker Steve White back to the club for a third time, though he was baulking at the fee of £700,000 allegedly being asked for by Swindon Town.
Going into another home game, against Tranmere Rovers four days later, the manager was also considering whether or not he had the money to sign goalkeeper Brian Parkin on a permanent deal.
Palace had agreed to let Rovers have Parkin for three months and said he could remain with the Gas without a fee being involved; ‘There’s no such thing as a free transfer, though,’ said Francis, ‘It’s all about the signing on fee and wages and I also have to negotiate with Brian’s agent when I know other teams are interested in signing him.’
The keeper added to his value to Rovers, though, as he kept another clean sheet in a 2-0 win against Tranmere, the side that hails from his Birkenhead birthplace.
‘Tranmere are a fair side who wanted to attack despite having five men at the back but we dominated them,’ said Francis after the game.
V Walsall, 2nd December
Parkin, Alexander, Twentyman, Jones, Willmott (Cawley, 30), Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon, Sealy, White
V Crewe Alexandra, 15th December
Parkin, Yates, Twentyman, Cawley, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon (Hazel, 68), White, Sealy
V Birmingham City, 26th December
Parkin, Alexander (Cawley, 85), Twentyman, Yates, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon, White, Sealy
V Tranmere Rovers, 30th December
Parkin, Alexander, Twentyman, Yates, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon (McClean, 87), Sealy, White