Thirty Years On – Oct 1989

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 4 – Goalkeepers, Genies & Grandmothers

In the week after the draw at Reading Phil Purnell took the first steps on the road to recovery when he had a cast removed from his troublesome right knee following a cartilage operation though it could be up to six weeks before he would be able to resume training.

Phil Purnell pedals his way back to fitness - No credit
Phil Purnell pedals his way back to fitness

Also on the way back was Billy Clark who was hopeful of a return in four weeks following a leg injury. There was bad news for Tony Sealy, though, as he aggravated a hamstring injury when warming up for the club’s game at Reading.

Goalkeeper Nigel Martyn was included in the England U-21 side to face Poland in Katowice while Ian Willmott was standing by to play at left back in Rovers’ next game, against Fulham. Ian Alexander was set to miss this one because of suspension, so Vaughan Jones was set to move across to right back with Willmott slotting in on the left.

Paul Nixon was also included in the squad for the Fulham game and was hoping to make his first start for the club after ten months and three substitute appearances.

A crowd of 5,811 gathered at Twerton Park to see Fulham sent packing as Gary Penrice and David Mehew scored the goals that gave Rovers a 2-0 win, but manager Gerry Francis was far from satisfied, saying; ‘We started well, but I felt one or two things had to be stepped up and said so at half time. The two goals gave us a cushion to play out the second half. Paul Nixon did well to lay on the first goal while the second was a great goal.

‘But we slipped again near the end and then had a bit of good fortune when Fulham hit the woodwork twice.’

After the game Nigel Martyn was withdrawn from the England U-21 squad due to ligament problems with his left knee and his manager was looking for a standby keeper should Martyn not be available. Francis was even considering playing David Mehew in goal if Martyn was ruled out for any reason!


Ahead of the long trip to Bury for their next game, Francis was unsure whether or not to risk Martyn or Sealy in case both made their injuries worse by completing 90 minutes.

Martyn, though, was keen to play as he was bidding to equal a club goalkeeping record; he had not let a goal in for 465 minutes, spanning just over five games, heading into this one.

Another keen to play was David Mehew, regarded as the club’s most improved player, but who struggled to score more than one goal in a game! ‘I still miss more chances than I score,’ he said, ‘I’ve only scored two goals in a match three times in my five years at the club. Once I get one now, though, I’m looking for a second. I am a natural striker and get into the box a lot.’

David Mehew - No Credit
David Mehew

Martyn did play at Bury and Sealy was named on the bench. The goalkeeper kept another clean sheet in a goalless draw, thus equaling the club record.

It was a valuable point as Bury were only two points adrift of Rovers in the league standings after this game which saw them in third place and Rovers in second.

Bury boss Sam Ellis was dismissed from the dugout in the 74th minute after he had been reported to the referee for a comment he had made to a linesman; ‘Some people can’t be criticised,’ said Ellis, ‘I just gave the linesman what I considered good advice. I told him he would do better to concentrate on what were fouls rather than talking to me.’

There was very little time for rest, as Cardiff City were next up, at Ninian Park, on the following Tuesday. That’s where the goalkeeping record ground to a halt as Rovers drew 1-1 in the Welsh capital.

Ian Holloway had missed a 48th minute penalty for Rovers, or rather it had been saved by Cardiff goalkeeper Roger Hansbury. David Mehew gave Rovers a 71st minute lead, but Cardiff’s Mark Kelly equalised nine minutes later.

To say that Martyn wasn’t happy at conceding his first goal in 645 minutes would be an understatement; ‘You can’t blame the bounce, only me,’ he said before adding; ‘I should have saved the shot although it did bounce more sharply than I expected.’

His manager simply said; ‘My grandmother could have saved it. You don’t expect an England U-21 goalkeeper to let in goals like that. But he has kept us in a lot of other games with brilliant saves.’

Nigel Martyn - No Credit
Nigel Martyn

In spite of his unsuccessful spot kick Ian Holloway vowed to keep taking them, saying; ‘It wasn’t a bad penalty or a bad save. If I’d been wide of the target I would have been disappointed.’

A home game against Northampton Town followed those two draws, though there was a doubt about the game beforehand as safety officials were concerned about the condition of the roof on the Popular side of the ground. The game was played, though, and by virtue of a 4-2 win against the Cobblers Rovers moved two points clear at the top of the table.

Northampton took the lead on four minutes, through Steve Brown and after Devon White had equalised for Rovers on 55 minutes they regained their lead through Bobby Barnes, who converted a 58th minute penalty.

Rovers then scored three goals in the final 11 minutes to register three points. Paul Nixon scored his first goal for the club, Ian Holloway converted a penalty and Trevor Quow scored an own goal.

Whilst happy with the win, Gerry Francis was critical of his side’s defensive duties; ‘It’s the poorest we have been for some time. We have been so effective in organising ourselves, we could have thrown three points away. Our whole defending, including the forwards and midfield, was sloppy and lethargic. There will be a bit of work done on that this week.’

Gerry Francis - No Credit
Gerry Francis


Having missed three games due to suspension, Steve Yates was available again and hoping to be included in the squad for the next match, an away trip to face Chester. The young central defender was at least £100 out of pocket following the club fine received for his red card at Leyton Orient.

‘I don’t care who the player is,’ said manager Gerry Francis, ‘we have a code of conduct and they all know the rules. Not only do they lose bonus and appearance money, they are fined as well.’

Three Rovers players, Ian Holloway, Devon White and Andy Reece were auditioned for the parts of Abanazar and the Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin, the Christmas Show being staged at the Fry Club, Keynsham, Rovers training base.

Much to the relief of their manager, whose playing staff wasn’t exactly the largest, all three failed their audition!

Pantomime audition for Ian Holloway, Devon White and Andy Reece - scan from newspaper photo credited to Chris Selby
Pantomime audition for Ian Holloway, Devon White and Andy Reece – scan from newspaper photo credited to Chris Selby

The game at Chester saw Rovers gain a point from another goalless draw, their fourth of the season, but once again they ended a game with ten men. Devon White was the player to receive his marching orders on this occasion, his two yellow cards resulting in a 73rd minute dismissal.

He was sent off by a substitute referee, as linesman Mike Penn had taken over from named match referee Trelford Mills at half time because Mills had pulled a calf muscle.

Manager Gerry Francis had this to say afterwards; ‘Considering the conditions (the game was played in a strong wind) the first half was a good contest. It would have been nice for everyone had that been allowed to continue but after the change of referee the match rapidly went downhill.’

Tony Sealy in action at Chester. Press photo from Keith Brookman’s collection
Tony Sealy in action at Chester [Press photo from Keith Brookman’s collection]
Two days later Francis admitted his frustration over the club’s disciplinary record. White’s dismissal meant that Rovers had collected 17 cautions in 14 games and the manager said; ‘We are not a dirty team. Players are getting into trouble for the sort of challenges I expect them to make.’

The draw for the First Round of the FA Cup gave Rovers a home tie against Reading who had sacked their manager Ian Branfoot a week earlier.

October Teams

V Fulham, 7th October
Martyn, Jones, Twentyman, Yates, Willmott, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon (Cawley, 87), White, Penrice
Substitute: Hazel

V Bury, 14th October
Martyn, Alexander, Twentyman, Jones, Willmott, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon (Sealy, 68), Penrice, White
Substitute: Cawley

V Cardiff City, 17th October
Martyn, Alexander, Twentyman, Jones, Willmott, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon (Sealy, 64), Penrice, White
Substitute: Cawley

V Northampton Town, 21st October
Martyn, Alexander, Twentyman, Jones, Willmott, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon, Penrice (Sealy, 46), White
Substitute: Cawley

V Chester City, 28th October
Martyn, Alexander, Twentyman, Yates, Jones, Mehew, Holloway, Reece, Nixon, Sealy, White
Substitutes: Cawley, Willmott