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 11 – This is the End, Beautiful Friend
The eagerly awaited clash between Rovers and City, postponed earlier in the season, was all set for Wednesday 2nd May and never has so much ridden on a local derby.
Third Division leaders City needed only a draw at Twerton Park to confirm their promotion, while a win would see them take the title.
If Rovers were to gain their 15th home win of the season they would leapfrog City into first place and guarantee promotion.
Manager Gerry Francis said; ‘If we make it then we will have done it the hard way for we haven’t stopped playing for a month.’
Defender Geoff Twentyman was hoping that both Bristol clubs would be promoted and said; ‘It would be great if we could show the rest of the country that Bristol is capable of making a national impact as a football city.’
‘Although I obviously want Rovers to win and to take the Championship, I also hope City are promoted. It’s good for the area to have football of the highest standard and I see no reason why there can’t be two Bristol clubs in the First Division one day.’
Skipper Vaughan Jones said; ‘From the interest this game has generated we would need Wembley to accommodate all the fans who want to see the match, But for all those Rovers fans who can’t get tickets I have this message – we aim to win for you.’
Meanwhile Ian Holloway urged supporters not to cause trouble; ‘I have heard rumours that tickets have been bought for the wrong end by the wrong people and they are going to cause trouble, but we don’t want any of that from either side.’
‘Why can’t everyone just be pleased that the two Bristol clubs are doing so well? If one finishes runners-up and the other champions, what I say is well done Bristol.’
‘Why can’t we celebrate together? Whatever happens on the night one set of supporters is going to be slightly disappointed. But we both have another game and if Notts County don’t win at Reading on Thursday we’ll both be up anyway.’
Steve Yates was due to make his 100th Rovers appearance in the game and he said; ‘It’s been a terrific season for me. I’ve worked a lot on my speed, which has improved greatly. My defensive partner, Geoff Twentyman, now takes the big forwards while I concentrate on the faster ones.’
The day before the game, a group of City and Rovers players met up at the Hope Centre in Hotwells at the request of Ian Holloway. His brother John was working for ‘Our Chance’ part of the National Schizophrenic Fellowship which aimed to rehabilitate patients with long term mental illness and helped them find voluntary work and the aim was to promote a charity game that Holloway was organizing the following week.
The Twerton Park crowd of 9,813 were treated to a night of high drama when the game finally kicked off and those of a blue and white persuasion paid homage to their heroes following their 3-0 win in what was a real demolition derby.
Devon White opened the scoring on 25 minutes when he turned in David Mehew’s right wing cross and ‘Bruno’ scored again on 55 minutes when Carl Saunders was the provider. The game was sewn up seven minutes later when Andy Llewellyn handled Phil Purnell’s shot on the line. That left Ian Holloway to take what was, at that point, the most important spot kick in Rovers’ history. The midfielder didn’t disappoint and sent goalkeeper Ronnie Sinclair the wrong way with his penalty.
There was trouble in the City end as they realised they had no chance of winning the game, but attempts to get the game stopped were thwarted. Referee Roger Dilkes was encouraged to let the game continue. He praised the attitude of both teams afterwards and revealed that City’s Rob Newman had said; ‘You keep the game going ref, and we’ll keep going for you.’
Manager Gerry Francis was thrown, fully clothed, into the bath by his jubilant players after the game, and celebrations continued long into the night and long after City’s entourage had departed.
He did manage to have a few words for reporters, though, and said; ‘Just five defeats all season in 45 games is magnificent. Liverpool have lost the same number but have only played 37 matches.’
‘I honestly believe we have been the best team in the Third Division. No other side can match us for consistency. An important factor is that the players have learnt to handle pressure situations. Going so close in the play offs last season taught them a great deal.’
‘I was delighted with our performance. It was tremendous and, but for a couple of brilliant saves at the end, the winning margin would have been even bigger.’
City boss Joe Jordan was magnanimous in defeat, saying; ‘We didn’t really create many scoring opportunities, which was very disappointing and over the 90 minutes Rovers fully deserved to win.’
Midfielder Andy Reece revealed after the game that his father had passed away the previous day but he hadn’t told anyone; ‘Dad had been in hospital for some time and it’s heartbreaking that promotion came 24 hours too late for him for him to know about. But he knew, deep down, that we would make it and I see our achievement as my tribute to his memory.’
Devon White was over the moon at having scored twice in such an important game; ‘The occasion got to City, but we respect them as a very good side. On the night, though, we outplayed them in quite a few departments.’
‘It took ten minutes for it to sink in that I had scored the first goal and getting a second made it an unbelievable night.’
With promotion guaranteed, Chairman Denis Dunford was already looking to the future; ‘It’s the finest moment of my life,’ he said, ‘and all we wish for now is permission to build our own home at Mangotsfield.’
Rovers had to win their last game, at Blackpool, to ensure they would end the season as champions. City were at home to Walsall on the same day and poised to take advantage of any Rovers slip up.
More than 5,000 Rovers fans made the trip to Bloomfield Road on Saturday 5th May and totally outnumbered the few Blackpool supporters who decided to turn up. The already relegated side reported a gate of 6,776.
The Rovers supporters weren’t disappointed and saw their side record a 3-0 win. David Mehew gave the Gas a 28th minute lead with his 21st goal of the season, Phil Purnell made it 2-0 just before half time and Paul Nixon sealed victory with a sensational volley in the 88th minute.
By that time the Rovers fans were already on the touchline waiting to mob their heroes at the final whistle. Before the celebrations began (again) Gerry Francis had this to say; ‘I’m just very pleased that we went out and finished the job professionally and the supporters were brilliant.’
‘But it’s history now, although it’s there in black and white and the players will get their medals. And it doesn’t matter what happens to them in the rest of their careers, they will always have those medals and be able to treasure them.’
The day after the game there was an open top bus tour, from Keynsham to Eastville where some 3,000 supporters were on hand to welcome the team. On the way the bus passed through Kingswood and was brought to a standstill by a huge street party and a ticker tape welcome.
Speaking that day Ian Holloway said; ‘The supporters have been fantastic and this is a very proud moment for me. Rovers have been in Bristol City’s shadow for a long time but now it’s our turn to walk tall. To go into the Second Division as champions is something special.’
V Bristol City 2nd May
Parkin, Alexander, Twentyman, Yates, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Purnell, White, Saunders. Unused Substitutes: Nixon, McClean
V Blackpool 5th May
Parkin, Alexander, Twentyman, Yates, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Purnell (Nixon), White, Saunders. Unused Substitute: McClean