I attended my first Bristol Rovers (and football match) on the 6th of April 1991 at Twerton Park against Plymouth Argyle. In the previous season Rovers had won the old Third Division Title at their rented home of Twerton Park in Bath. With the now legendary Gerry Francis at the helm Rovers were 12th in a league that featured the likes of West Ham, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Wolves and West Brom. I’ll be honest I didn’t know alot of what was going on in this game to the extent I though Paul Gascoigne was playing for Rovers (hey I was four!). The game ended according to my Dad a “rather boring” 0-0.
It wasn’t until 1993 when I truly started following Rovers making the fortnightly trip to Bath to Stand in the Bristol End or as it was known then “The Family Enclosure”. The strange thing about the family enclosure is it was the same end as the away supporters, that said I never saw any away supporters kicking up a fuss. I grew up watching the likes of Marcus Stewart, Andy Tillson, Lee Archer and Brian Parkin. Growing up I couldn’t ask for a better hero than Stewart, the local boy done good. A pretty solid team went to the Playoff Final at Wembley in 1995 after beating Crewe Alexandra on away goals over two legs. The away leg at Gresty Road is one of my favourite Rovers memories. The final didn’t go to plan and Huddersfield beat Rovers 2-1 with Marcus Stewart scoring Rovers goal just before half time.
The next season saw Rovers not live up to expectations and Marcus Stewart along with manager John Ward left the club. Ian Holloway returned to Rovers as Player-Manager and Rovers returned to Bristol after 10 years away. Twerton will always be a special place to me, it’s where I fell in love with football and I still enjoy going there now to watch Bath City.
After a first season back in Bristol where Holloways Rovers flattered to deceive Ollies second season saw Rovers again in the Playoffs. With Barry Hayles up front and Tillson still commanding the back line Rovers won the first Playoff Semi-Final against Northampton 3-1 only to head to the Sixfields and lose 3-0. Another playoff heartbreak, when you lose Playoffs they really are the worst things in football.
Another year passed and more players came and went with Hayles heading to Fulham for £2 million, a club record. Rovers rebuilt with a new strike partnership of Jamie Cureton and Jason Robers, the pair spent a season getting their eye in with memorable wins away at Reading (6-0), Stoke (4-1) and a brave draw at Manchester City (0-0). The next season saw Rovers at the top for most of the season before capitulating in the last third and missing out on a Playoff place all together.
In the summer that followed the departures of Roberts (West Brom), Cureton (Reading), Zamora (Brighton) and in my opinion most importantly Tillson (Walsall) saw Rovers struggling near the bottom of the league and were relegated to the fourth tier for the first time in their history. Ian Holloway was sacked in the January and made way for Garry Thompson. If I thought the Playoff defeats were bad, this was just awful.
Rovers spent six years in the bottom flight with Francis, Thompson, Bater and Atkins all failing to take Rovers back up to the third tier. The majority of the time in the fourth tier was awful, poor players, poor management, just poor. With the odd chink of sunlight including Osman and Broadhursts survival job with the thanks of Andy Rammell. Ian Atkins had built a squad that on paper was tidy but seemed not to do it on the pitch until he was sacked and replaced by the management duo of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence.
Lennie and Trolls helped me to enjoy Rovers again, in their first full season they guided Rovers to the JPT Final and then went unbeaten in the last ten games of the season to secure a Playoff place on the last day. Wins over Lincoln in the Semi in fantastic fashion saw Rovers at Wembley for the third time in their history and the first time at the new stadium. Rovers fell behind early only to come back to lead 2-1 with seconds left when Shrewsbury had a corner, headed out it landed at Sammy Igoes feet he went on a 70 yard dash towards goal. Cramping up he shot from 40 yards rolling the ball into the back of the net. 40,000 Rovers fans went ballistic and I had finally seen my club promoted after watching them for 16 years. The next season would see the club find a place in midtable and a FA Cup Quarter Final. Trollope had turned Rovers from a midtable fourth tier side to a midtable third tier side with the next season seeing him end up in a similar position. Trollopes demise came about in December 2010 when after a run of poor results Rovers found themselves in the relegation zone. Rovers as of January 10th 2011 have appointed Dave Penney and find themselves battling to stay in League One. What happens next is anyones guess.