SEVENTH HEAVEN. By Keith Brookman. PROMOTION ONE.
By the time you all read this, I’m sure that it will have sunk in that, after scoring seven goals on the seventh of May, Bristol Rovers have been promoted to League One six years to the day they last achieved that feat!
In addition, it was the club’s seventh promotion and this article takes a brief trip back in time to look at them all and seeing how prominent the number seven has been!
The first ever promotion achieved by the club came at the end of the 1952/53 season when they finished as Champions of the Third Division (South), thus elevating themselves to the Second Division. Back then it was the equivalent of moving from League One to the Championship.
They had led the table for seven months in succession and set off on a 27 match unbeaten record in the league that began with a 3-1 win against Colchester United on September 11th 1952 and ended with a 2-0 defeat at Reading on March 21st 1953. Incidentally, there was a 7-0 win, against Brighton & Hove Albion, in that long unbeaten run.
Promotion, and the title, was clinched with two games to go thanks to Geoff Bradford’s hat trick in a 3-1 win against Newport County on April 25th 1953, a game that was watched by an Eastville crowd of 29,451.
The matchday programme carried a tribute to Director Lewis Champeney who had been killed in a car crash four days before the match, and both teams wore black armbands in memory of his wife, Mrs Kate Champeney, who passed away on the morning of the game from injuries sustained in the same incident.
Bradford, who had only been passed fit thirty minutes before kick off, scored the opening goal in the first minute of the game when he scored from close range following good work by Bill Roost and Josser Watling.
The visitors equalised in the 31st minute when Wharton crossed from the left and goalkeeper Bob Anderson was impeded as he attempted to gather, and the ball fell to Beattie who drove the ball home.
Bradford restored the lead for Rovers five minutes before half time when he reached Jackie Pitt’s free kick and headed past goalkeeper Fearnley.
Newport were reduced to ten men on 62 minutes when Fearnley collided with Bradford and fractured his collar bone. There were no substitutes back then, so right winger Birch took over in goal and he was beaten three minutes later as Bradford completed his hat trick when heading home from a George Petherbridge cross. It was the striker’s 34th league goal of the campaign.
The win left Rovers on 63 points with games against Aldershot and Crystal Palace to follow, while second placed Northampton were two points behind with one game left. However, they would have needed to win that game by 30-0 to leave them with a better goal average than Rovers, so the title would come to Eastville. Rovers gained just one more point, from a goalless draw at Aldershot, but lost their last game 1-0 at Crystal Palace.
Manager Bert Tann said afterwards; ‘I would like to join the Chairman in thanking the players for the skill and determination with which they have played this season. Perhaps we have not always been the most popular side, but at least we have always done our best and we are thankful that we have been able to bring the season to a successful conclusion.’
For the record, Rovers won 26 of their 46 league games, drew 12 and lost eight, scoring 92 goals and conceding 45.
No fewer than six players appeared in every league game and they were; Harry Bamford, Geoff Fox, Jackie Pitt, Ray Warren, Peter Sampson and Vic Lambden. Geoff Bradford missed just one game, while Andrew Micklewright made only one league appearance.
In all, Rovers used 18 players over the course of the season four of whom made their league debuts, namely Paddy Leonard, John McIlvenny, Desmond Jones and Bob Anderson.
The average league attendance at Eastville that season was 23,411.
Following that initial promotion Rovers remained in the second tier of English football until the end of the 1961/62 season. During their stay at that level they came tantalisingly close to being promoted to the First Division, finishing 6th on two occasions, in 1955/56 and again in 1958/59.
Relegation condemned them to the Third Division, which was to be their ‘home’ until the 1973/74 campaign.
Manager and Chairman with the 1952-53 Championship Shield. Keith Brookman.
Geoff Bradford, who was the club’s top goalscorer. Keith Brookman.
Rovers team. Keith Brookman.
Much to the delight of supporters Rovers were once again wearing their familiar blue and white quartered shirts at the beginning of this season, after sporting an all blue shirt for seven years.
They began the season with a 3-0 win over AFC Bournemouth and didn’t lose a league game until February 2nd 1974, a run of 27 unbeaten. As they had avoided defeat in the final five games of 1972/73, the unbeaten league run was actually 32.
Just five goals were conceded in the opening 16 games and by the time of that first defeat in early February, away at Wrexham, they had established a seven point lead at the top of the table.
As Rovers limped towards the finishing line, they were overtaken by eventual champions Oldham Athletic, whose 2-1 win at Eastville on April 13th 1974 proved crucial.
The promotion that everyone hoped for was finally achieved in the penultimate game of the season, a goalless draw at Roots Hall on Friday April 19th.
Over 1,000 Rovers fans were at the game and saw, according to the local press; ‘A thoroughly workmanlike, professional display by a Rovers side betraying few signs of the nerves which have haunted their recent matches.’
However, it was thanks to goalkeeper Jim Eadie that they gained the point they needed to make sure of promotion; ‘It needed the save of the season from Eadie, in the 74th minute, to keep out the eager Southend side desperately seeking a prestigious win over the Third Division leaders.
‘Winger Billy Coulson sent Terry Johnson through and his ferocious 20 yard rocket looked a goal all the way. But somehow, Eadie flung himself across his line to conjure the ball over the bar for a corner.’
It was, in all honesty, a game of few chances for either side but Rovers and their supporters were ecstatic at the final whistle as the point gained ensured they would be playing at a higher level in 1974/75.
Those who had travelled to Roots Hall rushed on to the pitch at full time and carried the players, shoulder high, to the dressing room before celebrating long into the night.
There were no celebrations for the players, though; with one game left to play they were still hopeful of clinching the Third Division title, even though they had played two more games than Oldham Athletic and York City, their two closest rivals.
The journey back to Bristol took rather longer than expected, as the coach carrying the team broke down at Chiswick. The relief coach didn’t materialise until around 8.00am on Saturday and the players eventually arrived back at Eastville at 10.00am that morning having slept very little during an uncomfortable stay in a service station!
The final game of the campaign was against Brighton & Hove Albion, at Eastville, on April 29th 1974 when a crowd of 19,137 saw Bruce Bannister score his 18th league goal of the season to earn his side a point from a 1-1 draw.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to clinch the title; that accolade went to Oldham Athletic who ended the season as Champions with 62 points.
Rovers’ better goal difference saw them finish as runners up with 61 points, the same number as third placed York City. All three teams were promoted.
Manager Don Megson was, understandably, delighted to have led his side to promotion and, writing in the matchday programme for that final game against Brighton, said; ‘It’s been a wonderful struggle and, particularly since Christmas, a very gruelling one but we have clinched promotion and that’s what we wanted to do.
‘It would not be right for me to single out individual players for praise at this time. Promotion has been achieved by outstanding co-operation within the squad of professionals. You cannot ask more from a player than to give his best and help his team colleagues and that’s what I’ve got from my players throughout the season.’
Of the 46 league games played that season, 22 were won, 17 drawn and seven lost with 65 goals scored and 33 conceded.
Four players, Jim Eadie, Trevor Jacobs, Stuart Taylor and Tom Stanton, were ever present while four more players, Bruce Bannister, Mike Green, Frankie Prince and Lindsay Parsons all appeared in over 40 games.
Rovers used a total of 19 players during the season and three players made their league debuts for the club; Trevor Jacobs, Gerry O’Brien and David Staniforth.
Alan Warboys was leading goalscorer in the league, with 22 goals from his 33 games while 14 different players managed to get on the scoresheet.
Whilst there were no seven goal wins during the season, there was a seven plus one, as Brighton & Hove Albion (who were beaten 7-0 in 1952/53), managed by Brian Clough, were beaten 8-2 at the Goldstone ground on December 1st 1973. (I’m desperately trying to keep the seven theme going!)
Celebrating promotion in style! Alan Marshall.
The celebrations begin. Keith Brookman.
Rovers were relegated again in 1980/81 and didn’t gain promotion again until 1989/90. In the years following their 1973/74 triumph the club had seen a number of different managers come and go; Don Megson, Bobby Campbell, Harold Jarman, Terry Cooper, Bobby Gould (twice), David Williams and Gerry Francis. Oh, and they had also moved to play their home games in another City and entered into an agreement with Bath City whereby home matches would be played at Twerton Park. It was Francis who built the next promotion squad and he guided them to the play off final in 1988/89, where his side were beaten, on aggregate, over two legs by Port Vale; It was the last time that the play offs were decided in this way. There was, though, no hangover and the club earned promotion, as Third Division Champions, the following season with promotion being clinched in the penultimate league game of the season against arch rivals Bristol City. The side remained unbeaten in the league at Twerton Park all season and kept 27 clean sheets in all spite of the sale of goalkeeper Nigel Martyn and striker Gary Penrice, in the autumn of 1989, to Crystal Palace and Watford respectively. The match that saw Rovers ensure they would be promoted was an eagerly awaited clash between them and City, postponed earlier in the season, and took place on Wednesday 2nd May. 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 organising 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; ‘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.’
The following Saturday Rovers, backed by an estimated 5,000 travelling supporters, were 2-1 winners at Blackpool which meant that they finished the campaign as Champions. City finished two points behind Rovers and were promoted as runners up while third placed Notts County also went up.
Rovers lost just five league games all season, won 26 and drew 15 of their 46 league games, scoring 71 goals and conceding 35 in the process. They never scored seven in any one game, but a 6-1 win against Wigan Athletic on March 3rd 1990 will do me!
Four players, Geoff Twentyman, David Mehew, Vaughan Jones and Ian Holloway were ever present while four more, Ian Alexander, Steve Yates, Andy Reece and Devon White all appeared in 40 or more games.
Mehew didn’t score more than one goal in any league match, yet top scored with 18. White, with 12, was the only other player to reach double figures.
Of the 21 players used, Marcus Browning made one substitute appearance and David Byrne two. Those two were among the six players to make their league debuts that season, along with Ian Wilmott, Tony Sealy, Brian Parkin and Carl Saunders.
Ian Holloway scores from the spot against Bristol City in the game that ensured promotion. Alan Marshall.
Celebrations at Twerton Park after beating Bristol City. Keith Brookman.
Rovers players celebrate at Blackpool after clinching the Third Division title. CAlan Marshall.
Gerry Francis remained in charge for 1990/91 but was then succeeded by Martin Dobson, Denis Rofe, Malcolm Allison, Ian Holloway, Francis again, Garry Thompson, Ray Graydon, and Ian Atkins while there were caretaker stints from Steve Cross, Phil Bater and Russell Osman and Kevan Broadhurst thrown in for good measure.
None of the above, though, managed a promotion and Rovers remained in the league’s basement division. That was until the arrival of Paul Trollope. Signed as a player by Atkins, he took over from him as caretaker boss and after nine games stepped up to become First Team Coach under a newly appointed Director of Football, Lennie Lawrence.
The two gradually built a side good enough to gain promotion in 2006/07, though they did it the hard way, through the play offs.
A season that began with 4-1 defeat against Peterborough at London Road, ended in a Wembley Final against Shrewsbury Town and a 3-1 win that guaranteed promotion.
By that time Rovers had already played the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, losing to Doncaster Rovers in the last English domestic final played at the Millennium Stadium.
Trollope had only seen his side cement a place in the play offs with a dramatic 2-1 win at already promoted Hartlepool United on the final day of the season, and then saw them beat Lincoln City in the first leg of the play off semi final at the Memorial Stadium.
The score on that occasion was 2-1 but his side really turned it on in the second leg with an amazing display of attacking football that saw them win 5-3 at Sincil Bank, giving them a 7-4 aggregate win.
And so it was off to Wembley on May 26th 2007 to face Shrewsbury Town, a side they had taken four points from during the regular season.
They made the worst possible start, conceding in the 4th minute when Stuart Drummond glanced a header past Steve Phillips following Neil Ashton’s free kick.
Rovers drew level on 21 minutes when Richard Walker got on the end of Ryan Green’s cross and beat Chris Mackenzie with a left foot shot.
The Rovers striker then scored a fantastic goal, after 35 minutes, to give Rovers the lead. Running into space on the left, he received the ball from Chris Carruthers and as goalkeeper Mackenzie advanced off his line he chipped the ball over his head and into the far corner of the net.
The second half saw Shrewsbury try desperately to get back on level terms. They were reduced to ten men with one minute left on the clock. Marc Tierney collected his second yellow card of the afternoon for a foul on Stuart Campbell, but there was still drama to come.
Mackenzie went up for a late Shrewsbury corner, but the ball was cleared as far as Sammy Igoe, deep in his own half. The diminutive midfielder set off for goal with several Shrewsbury players in hot pursuit. As they closed on him, Igoe summoned up enough strength to shoot, but as the ball rolled agonisingly towards the empty net it seemed as though Kelvin Langmead would get back to clear.
Time seemed to stand still, and everyone watched and waited, until a resounding roar went up from the estimated 40,000 Gasheads in the official attendance of 61,589, which told everyone that the ball had crossed the line and Bristol Rovers were promoted.
In the regular season Rovers finished in 6th place, winning 20 of their 46 league games, drawing 12 and losing 14, scoring 49 goals and conceding 42.
A total of 24 players were used in league fixtures and whilst no one claimed an ever present record, Steve Phillips missed just two games, and Craig Disley four.
Eleven players made their Rovers league debut, namely; Ryan Green, Steve Phillips, Andy Sandell, Byron Anthony, Sean Rigg, Rickie Lambert, James Walker, Jamal Easter, Stuart Nicholson, Sam Oji and Joe Jacobson.
The only seven relevant to Rovers and this season appears to be 7-4 aggregate win against Lincoln City in the play off semi final!
Final words on the Wembley triumph from Paul Trollope; ‘I’m happy at Bristol Rovers. There’s a new stadium around the corner, and I want to be here for the foreseeable future because I owe the club a great deal. It made me a proud man to take charge of the club and I want it to continue.’
Promotion at Wembley. Neil Brookman. (2)
Wembley goalscorer Richard Walker and Sammy Igoe. Neil Brookman.
Paul Trollope with the Play Off Trophy. Jeff Davis.
By the time promotion number five came around, Rovers had already been relegated; not once, but twice! Paul Trollope had been sacked in November 2010 and his successors Darren Patterson (caretaker), Dave Penney and Stuart Campbell & Craig Hinton (interim) couldn’t save them from relegation to the league’s basement division. Paul Buckle, Mark McGhee and John Ward (back for a second spell as boss) failed to gain promotion and, with eight games of the 2013/14 campaign to go, Ward handed over the managerial reins to his assistant Darrell Clarke, allegedly to move upstairs as Director of Football. Clarke’s hands were tied; the transfer window had closed and so he had to attempt to ensure League Two survival with the players he had inherited. On the final day of the season, his side were beaten 1-0 by Mansfield Town at the Memorial Stadium and, for the first time since entering the Football League in 1920, were relegated to the fifth tier of English football. One point would have been enough to continue their unbroken 94 year sequence of league football. All at the club were devastated by relegation, no more so than Clarke who saw it as his fault. It wasn’t, of course, but he vowed to lead Rovers back into the league at the first attempt, saying; ‘The disappointment of relegation from the Football League at the end of the season is an experience I never want to repeat and I know how devastated our supporters are as they face the prospect of watching non league football.’ With only one automatic promotion place up for grabs competition was fierce but in the end it became a two horse race, between Clarke’s side and Barnet who were ultimately crowned champions by virtue of gaining one more point than Rovers. Grimsby Town, Forest Green Rovers and Eastleigh also occupied play off places and they would probably dispute the two horse race claim, especially as none of them were beaten by Rovers at the Mem in the regular season Indeed, both Forest Green and Eastleigh had beaten Rovers on their own patch. Whatever they felt, it meant promotion needed to be achieved via the play offs. Forest Green Rovers were duly despatched, 3-0 on aggregate, in the semi final to set up a Wembley date with Grimsby Town, who had played out a goalless draw at the Memorial Stadium in the first league game of the Conference campaign. And so, on May 17th 2015 in front of a Wembley crowd of 47,029 (30,000 of them Gasheads!) these two former league clubs did battle to determine which one of them would make a return. Rovers emerged as winners after a tense afternoon, winning a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw and extra time, and became the first side to bounce back into the league at the first attempt for ten years. Chris Lines, on the bench for the 2007 Wembley play off final, started in this one and came up against one of the stars of that 2007 side, Craig Disley. Rovers made a poor start and found themselves a goal down after only two minutes when Lennell John-Lewis took advantage of some nervous Rovers defending to ease his side ahead. Goalkeeper Will Puddy was fortunate to only receive a yellow card after appearing to handle outside the area as a nervous looking Rovers were fortunate to be only a goal down. However, they conjured up a 29th minute equaliser thanks to Ellis Harrison who lashed the ball high into the net following Jake Gosling’s corner from the right. And that was the end of the scoring! The second half was a somewhat tense affair and extra time was almost a non event as both sides were determined not to lose. With a penalty shootout looming Clarke took Puddy off and replaced him with Steve Mildenhall, presumably because he felt that ‘Mildy’ had a better chance of saving a Grimsby spot kick when the penalty shootout came around. Come around it did, though Mildenhall didn’t need to make a save as Jon-Paul Pittman ballooned his spot kick over the bar. He was the only one to miss as Rovers scored all five of their penalties, taken by Chris Lines, Matty Taylor, Lee Brown, Angelo Balanta and Lee Mansell. Football League status had been achieved with the last kick in the final game of the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference season and Lee Mansell has dined out on his winning spot kick on many an occasion since! Clarke, who had been in tears on the Memorial Stadium pitch 12 months before, showed his delight at winning promotion by making a 100 yard dash to embrace his players and salute the club’s supporters as the final penalty went in. It was truly a sprint worthy of an Olympic Gold medal! ‘Our success,’ he said, ‘was built on teamwork, both on and off the pitch, and that needs to continue as we strive for another successful season in League Two.’ In all 28 players appeared in league games for the club and 19 of those players made their Rovers debut. Not all, though, would go on to appear in a game for the club in the Football League, namely; Dave Martin, Andy Monkhouse, Neal Trotman, Jamie White, Adam Cunnington, Lyle Della-Verde, Bradley Goldberg, Angelo Balanta, Alex Wall, Fabian Speiss and Adam Dawson. Rovers took 91 points from their 46 league games, winning 25 of those games, drawing 16 and losing just five, scoring 73 goals and conceding 34 in the process. No need to search for a lucky seven in this season, as Clarke’s side were 7-0 winners against Alfreton Town in their final Conference League fixture!
Lee Mansell and goalscorer Ellis Harrison in the thick of the action against Grimsby Town at Wembley. Credit JMP Neil Brookman.
Lee Mansell starts the celebrations after his winning spot kick. JMP Neil Brookman.
Dressing Room celebrations about to begin at Wembley. JMP Neil Brookman.
Play Off Winners 2015. JMP Neil Brookman.
If anyone had thought that the Wembley penalty shootout in 2014/15 had been dramatic, it was nothing compared to events at the end of the following season when Rovers clinched promotion on the final day of the 2015/16 season, which just happened to be May 7th! They went into their final home game of the campaign in fourth place. Northampton Town had already been crowned champions, so the remaining two automatic promotion places were up for grabs and the three contenders were Accrington Stanley (84 points), Oxford United (83) and Rovers (82). Rovers were at home to Dagenham & Redbridge, Accrington entertained Stevenage and Oxford were playing Wycombe Wanderers. The game against Dagenham & Redbridge saw a crowd of 11,130 turn up hoping to see Rovers promoted for a second year running as Darrell Clarke took charge of his 100th league game for the club. Former Rovers assistant manager John Still was in charge of the Daggers, who had already been relegated. Still selected former Rovers striker Jamie Cureton as one of his substitutes and saw his side score first. A quick 12th minute counter attack saw Matty Cash given time and space to pick his spot and he rifled a low shot past Steve Mildenhall. It was a goal that was greeted in silence by all but the small number of Daggers fans inside the ground. The decibels rose again three minutes later, though, as Billy Bodin got Rovers back on level terms. The midfielder slalomed around three challenges inside the area before slotting a shot past goalkeeper Mark Cousins. However, the anticipated goal avalanche failed to materialise and at half time Rovers, and their two rivals, were all square in their respective games. Nine minutes after the break Oxford took the lead against Wycombe and added another in the 72nd minute and so Rovers were well aware that they needed to score again and hope that Accrington didn’t find the back of the net. As the board went up showing how many additional minutes were to be played, news filtered through of a third Oxford goal. They were up; who would join them, Accrington or Rovers? Two minutes into the four added on, Matty Taylor’s shot came back into play off the post but Lee Brown, up in support of the attack from his left back position, pounced and slotted home the rebound with his right foot. Cue pandemonium and manager Clarke again showed his prowess as a sprinter, dashing from his technical area to join in the celebrations with his players near the corner flag. The noise inside the Mem was deafening, but there were still two minutes to play and Accrington’s game hadn’t yet finished. At the final whistle supporters poured on to the pitch thinking promotion had been achieved. At that very moment it hadn’t, as they were still playing at Accrington’s Wham Stadium. And then came the news that they had been held to a goalless draw by Stevenage which meant that Rovers claimed third place and automatic promotion. Everyone went mental, the decibels rose and, two years after dropping out of the league altogether Rovers were heading to League One and Darrell Clarke had led them to back to back promotions. Rovers finished the season on 85 points, lost just one of their last 14 games, ended the season with nine consecutive home wins and recorded 11 victories on the road. In all there were 26 wins, seven draws and 13 defeats, while 75 goals were scored and 45 conceded. Over the course of the season 30 players appeared in league games for the club, while Lee Brown was the only ever present. A total of 21 players made their league debut, including eight in the first game of the season, a home match against Northampton Town. Of the four goalkeepers used, Will Puddy made just one appearance while of the two loanee custodians Lee Nicholls appeared in the 2021/22 Championship play off final for Huddersfield Town, while Tom Lockyer was in the opposing Luton Town squad and was sent on in the second half of the first leg at Kenilworth Road. On the Rovers bench for that dramatic last day game was a future Scottish international in Oli McBurnie. He didn’t get on, neither did Tom Parkes, Ollie Clarke or Puddy though all were prominent in the on the pitch celebrations after the game! As well as the game being played on the seventh of the month, Rovers beat Morecambe by the odd goal in seven in October 2015. Still lucky! Clarke said this once he had got his breath back after that dramatic finish to the campaign; ‘I realise now that I haven’t lost my pace because when Lee’s shot hit the net, I was off down the touchline like a sprinter. ‘I can’t begin to describe the catalogue of emotions I went through. I was almost in tears at times when some of our chances went begging. ‘What a way to do it. I feel for Accrington and it says a lot about their manager John Coleman that I have already received a text of congratulations from him.’
Billy Bodin celebrates scoring against Dagenham & Redbridge. JMP Neil Brookman.
Lee Brown has only gone and scored the winner! JMP Neil Brookman.
Darrell Clarke celebrates on the pitch... JMP Neil Brookman.
…and in the dressing room! JMP Neil Brookman.
The Gas are going up! JMP Neil Brookman.
Just to confirm that seven is, indeed a lucky number, Rovers’ latest promotion was also achieved on the seventh day of the month when they were 7-0 winners against Scunthorpe United. There had been many changes since Darrell Clarke’s 2015/16 side had gone from league Two to League One. On the managerial front Clarke had departed, to be replaced by Graham Coughlan who walked out to join Mansfield following an excellent win at Ipswich Town in December 2019. Joe Dunne had taken charge of one game after Coughlan had left, before leaving to link up with his former boss at Field Mill. Ben Garner came in for his first managerial role, apparently with a brief to develop younger players and sell them on at a profit to make the club more sustainable, I think! The experiment, for that is what it was, didn’t work out and Garner was eventually replaced by Paul Tisdale whose job was to steady the ship. It didn’t work out, though, and when he left in came Joe Barton. Head of Recruitment Tommy Widdrington took charge of one match as caretaker prior to the appointment of Tisdale and two more following Tisdale’s departure and Barton’s appointment. With no transfer window to improve his squad, Barton looked on as the players struggled on the pitch, criticised many of them publicly and saw them relegated without so much as a whimper. Barton was ruthless in the summer of 2021, though, as he attempted to rebuild a squad capable of returning to League One at the first attempt. No fewer than 19 players who had appeared in the league for the club were released, two more were shipped out on loan and a raft of new faces arrived in BS7 charged with mounting a promotion challenge. The season didn’t get off to the best of starts, though, with a 2-1 defeat against Mansfield Town at Field Mill made worse by the red card picked up by skipper Paul Coutts on his debut for the club. A few weeks later, following a 4-1 mauling by Exeter City at St James’ Park, the manager stated that he thought his side were capable of gaining promotion. Not too many people believed that possible having witnessed just one win from the opening five games and a mauling by the side that was also promoted at the end of the season, by virtue of finishing runners up to champions Forest Green Rovers. Rovers didn’t play a game between December 11th 2021 and January 8th 2022 due to Covid outbreaks either in their camp or that of their opponents. The break appeared to do them some good, though, as there were only three league defeats between then and the final day of the season, against Oldham Athletic, Newport County and Carlisle United. We reached the final day of the campaign following a dramatic 4-3 win against Rochdale (seven goals again!) in the penultimate game, which left Rovers on level on points (77 would you believe!) with third placed Northampton Town but with an inferior goal difference. Should Rovers and Northampton fail to win, then Mansfield Town, Port Vale or Swindon Town could snatch the final automatic promotion place, whilst Sutton United had a chance of sneaking into a play off place with a win and other results going their way. Rovers began their final game of the season, at home to already relegated Scunthorpe United, knowing they would need to score five to overtake Northampton and clinch the final automatic place. The Cobblers, away at Barrow, raced into a 3-0 lead while Rovers scored twice without reply against Scunthorpe. Just before half time, though, news of a Barrow goal lifted spirits all around the ground and, probably, in the dressing room as well. Assuming the score at Barrow stayed at 3-1, then Rovers needed five second half goals and, unbelievably, they arrived much to the delight of a capacity Memorial Stadium crowd. The 7-0 win not only equalled Rovers’ highest ever league victory but, with an identical goal difference to Northampton, they pipped the Cobblers to that final automatic promotion place on goals scored. The seventh goal arrived five minutes before the end of the game and moved Rovers into the top three for the first time all season. Has there ever been a more dramatic end to a season?! Of their 46 league games, Rovers won 23, drew 11 and lost 12, scoring 71 goals and conceding 49. A total of 33 players appeared in league games, 22 of whom made their Rovers league debut. Of those 33, Jon Nolan, Brandon Hanlan and Pablo Martinez each made just one substitute appearance. No player appeared in every game, though Aaron Collins, who top scored in the league with 16 goals, appeared in 45 league fixtures and James Belshaw, Paul Coutts, Connor Taylor and Harry Anderson all played in 40 games or more. In an emotional post match interview Barton said; ‘There have been some tough moments, but one thing that can’t ever be questioned is the character of our team and our players. ‘As a direct consequence of that the fans have turned up and supported them because they know they give everything for the quarters. You get special days at football if you get that kind of recipe.’ He didn’t say if seven was his lucky number, but if not his, then it certainly is that of the football club!