FORMATION AND EARLY YEARS
Bristol Rovers were formed, as the Black Arabs, in September 1883, following a meeting of five young men at a restaurant on Stapleton Road, in the Eastville district of the city.
The name of the club was derived from the black shirts worn by the players and a rugby club known as the Arabs, who played on an adjacent pitch, at Purdown, in East Bristol.
The Black Arabs played their first match, a friendly fixture, on December 1883 and played a further nine games during their first season, during which time they assumed the nickname of 'The Purdown Poachers’.
The club became known as Eastville Rovers in 1884/85 and continued to play friendly matches for a number of seasons, though they moved grounds on several occasions. They joined the Bristol and District League, forerunner of the Western League, in 1892 and moved to a ground at Eastville in 1897.
Professionalism and a further name change, to Bristol Eastville Rovers, came at the start of the 1897/88 season, with the name Bristol Rovers being adopted prior to the start of the following campaign.
Having competed in the Western League and the Birmingham and District League, Rovers joined the Southern League at the start of the 1899/1900 season. They acquitted themselves reasonably well at the higher level and clinched the Championship of the Southern League in 1904/05.
Though they remained in the competition until 1920, it proved to be the club's only Championship success before they became members of the Football League in 1920.
INTO THE LEAGUE
The first season of League football saw Rovers finish in 10th position, though during the 1920’s and 1930’s, they were never serious contenders for promotion and in fact had to seek re election to the Third Division (South) at the end of the 1938/39 campaign.
However the 1950’s saw a change in the club's fortunes. The Third Division (South) Championship was won in 1952/53 and the club established themselves in the top half of the Second Division for the remainder of the decade under the guidance of manager Bert Tann.
Relegation came at the end of season 1961/62 and it was 1973/74, by which time Don Megson had taken over as manager, before Rovers again achieved promotion. Failure to make an impression at the higher level resulted in relegation, once again in 1981.
It was Gerry Francis who built Rovers next promotion winning side. Appointed as Manager in July 1987, Francis guided Rovers to the play off final in 1988/89 and one season later, his team clinched the Third Division Championship and made an historic first visit to Wembley in the Leyland Daf Final.
After seeing the club safely through their first season at a higher level, Francis departed, being succeeded first of all by Martin Dobson, and then by Dennis Rofe and Malcolm Allison.
John Ward began a three year tenure in the hot seat in March 1993, too late to save the club from another relegation. He gradually built a promotion challenging side and led Rovers to Wembley in the play off Final against Huddersfield in 1994/95, where the Yorkshire side ran out 2-1 winners. One year later, Rovers finished in 10th position and Ward's contract was not renewed.
Ian Holloway, who returned to the club for a third time, on this occasion as player/manager, replaced him, and in his second season at the helm guided the club to the Second Division play offs, though they were beaten by Northampton at the semi final stage.
A mid table finish was achieved in 1998/99 and promotion was almost achieved the following season, but after his side had occupied a top six place all season defeat at Cardiff on the final day of the campaign edged them out of a play off spot and consigned them to another season of Second Division football.
Several key players departed prior to the start of the 2000/2001 season and Holloway was relieved of his duties at the end of January 2001. Garry Thompson took on the role of caretaker manager until the end of the season. However, he was unable to prevent the side being relegated to the League's basement division, for the first time in the club's history.
In July 2001, Gerry Francis was persuaded to delay his retirement from the game and accepted an offer to become Director of Football and Team Manager, with the intention of guiding the club back to the Second Division as quickly as possible.
Goals, and wins, dried up and Francis resigned in December 2001 for personal reasons. His departure saw the return of Thompson as manager, this time on a permanent basis.
There was a slight improvement in results following his appointment, but a disastrous run of six consecutive defeats pushed the club perilously close to the bottom of the table and they finished the season with only Halifax Town below them.
Thompson was relieved of his duties with three matches remaining and Director of Youth Football, Phil Bater, took over as caretaker manager.
Shortly after the season ended, former player Ray Graydon was appointed as Director of Football and Team Manager and, following the departure of 17 players, eight new signings were made in an attempt to revive the club's fortunes.
However in Graydon's first season in charge there was a very real danger of relegation to the Conference.
Only three wins and a draw from the final four games was enough to preserve Football League status.
Season 2003/04 followed a similar pattern and, once again, Rovers flirted with relegation to The Conference.
The club ended the year 2003 with defeat at Kidderminster and another defeat at Macclesfield, on 13th January 2004, proved to be Graydon's last match in charge.
Once again, Bater was asked to step in as caretaker manager and he began his second spell in charge with a 2-2 draw at Rochdale and a 1-0 win against Carlisle.
It proved to be the only win of his 12 games at the helm and following defeats at Yeovil and Boston, which left Rovers just three points above a relegation spot, the Directors took drastic action.
Bater was replaced by joint caretaker managers Russell Osman and Kevan Broadhurst, who proceeded to bring in five new players on transfer deadline day, ahead of an all important clash against fellow strugglers York City. Rovers eased their way to a 3-0 win and never really looked back, achieving a final placing of 15th, with a total of 55 points.
At the end of that season Ian Atkins, who had been appointed to the managerial vacancy with two games to go, assumed full control and signed eight new players in the summer of 2004.
Having matched supporters’ expectations at the beginning of the 2004/05 campaign, when they were top of the league by the end of August, it was hoped that would be a position that could be maintained until May. It wasn't to be, though, and the club finished in 12th position with a total of 60 points.
A total of twelve games were lost, only one of which was at home, and the side set a new club record for the number of draws in a season, sharing the points on no fewer than 21 occasions.
A 4-2 defeat at Chester City on 17th September 2005 proved to be the last game in charge for Atkins and Paul Trollope was handed the role of caretaker manager and central defender John Anderson relinquished a playing role to assist him. The two of them remained in charge for a total of nine games and quickly stabilised the club’s position.
In early November, the experienced Lennie Lawrence took on the role of Director of Football, with Trollope being appointed to the post of First Team Coach, and Anderson reverting back to being a player.
As the season progressed, the team constantly flirted with the play offs though never actually gained a place in the top seven.
Most Rovers fans expected Messrs Lawrence and Trollope to make a concerted bid for promotion in 2006/07, and they were not disappointed, though the route to League One was something of a roller coaster ride.
The campaign got off to an inauspicious start, with a 4-1 defeat at Peterborough on the opening day of the campaign and Rovers entered 2007 in 13th place in the league.
Involvement in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy meant that the club fell behind with league fixtures and by the time Notts County visited the Memorial Stadium, in March, they had slipped to 17th place.
That game proved to be a turning point and a 2-0 win was followed by further victories against Stockport County and Wycombe Wanderers, though sandwiched in between those latter two wins was a home defeat at the hands of Wrexham, which severely dented play off hopes.
April, though, turned out to be a very special month as Rovers won five and drew one of the six league games played, which meant that they travelled to Hartlepool on the final day of the season knowing that victory would cement a play off place.
With four minutes of that game remaining, the score was 1-1 and results elsewhere meant that Rovers were out of the play off places. However, Rickie Lambert powered in a header to seal a famous victory and sixth place.
In the play off semi final Lincoln Cit were beaten 2-1 at the Memorial Stadium in the first leg and 5-3 in the second leg at Sincil Bank. That 7-4 aggregate victory saw them through to the play off final at the new Wembley Stadium, where they faced Shrewsbury Town.
Roared on by almost 40,000 Gasheads, Rovers hit back after conceding an early goal to lead 2-1 at the break thanks to two goals from Richard Walker. Sammy Igoe added a third in the final minute of the game to clinch promotion.
The win capped a remarkable season for the club in which they had appeared at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley in major finals.
Rovers acquitted themselves well in their first season back in League One and finished in a respectable 16th position.
Their second season at the higher level resulted in an 11th place finish, with a points tally of 63. Unfortunately a poor start to the campaign proved costly and whilst the goals for tally was impressive, the goals against column was cause for concern right up until Christmas.
The highlight of the season was the goalscoring form shown by Rickie Lambert, who scored an amazing 29 league goals, a total that included four against Southend and a hat trick against Hereford United.
Lambert moved on to Southampton after the first game of the following season, but his departure didn’t, initially, appear to cause too many problems and Rovers went into October lying in third place in the league table.
Unfortunately they didn’t win a game away from home until the following March, although home results ensured that the club continued to occupy a top ten place.
Eventually, though, they had to be content with 11th place for the second season running, after amassing 62 points in a highly competitive league.
The 2010/11 season proved to be a disaster for the club and relegation was all but confirmed on the penultimate day of the season.
The only bright spot was the form of striker Will Hoskins, signed in the summer on a free transfer from Watford, who scored 20 goals, a total that earned him a move to Brighton & Hove Albion in the close season.
No fewer than four managers were employed in an attempt to arrest the slump in form. Paul Trollope was sacked as manager in December 2010 and Darren Patterson was handed the job in a caretaker capacity.
His reign lasted just over a month and took in only two games, before Dave Penney was appointed on a permanent basis. However despite bringing in eight new players, either on loan or on short term deals, he was only able to record two wins and left after just 13 games in charge.
Popular skipper Stuart Campbell took over as caretaker manager and went very close to keeping the side in League One. No one could have tried harder to keep the club up but the damage had been done prior to his appointment and no blame could be attached to Campbell for the club’s ultimate relegation.
Shortly after the end of the season Rovers appointed former Torquay United manager Paul Buckle as their new boss and he was charged with the task of leading the club back to League One at the earliest opportunity.
However, results weren't all that were expected and in spite of signing no fewer than 21 players, Buckle was relieved of his duties on 3rd January 2012 and his assistant, Shaun North, was placed in temporary charge of team affairs.
Shaun took charge for three games before reverting back to the role of assistant manager following the appointment of new boss Mark McGhee on 18th January 2012.
The experienced former Scottish international striker was able to steady the ship and Rovers finished the season in 13th place.
Whilst that was a long way short of pre season expectations, there were signs that McGhee was building a squad capable of mounting a sustained challenge for promotion this time around.
There was a drastic improvement in home form, and the side remained unbeaten at the Memorial Stadium from the time of his appointment until the end of the season.
Away form, though, could best be described as ‘patchy’ and the manager will undoubtedly be looking for improvement in his first full season in charge.
UP FOR THE CUP
Rovers record in both major cup competitions can best be described as unspectacular, though there have been some very special moments to savour down the years.
In the FA Cup, the club reached the quarter final stage in 1950/51 and drew 0-0 at St. James' Park Newcastle, before losing the replay by three goals to one.
The replayed match was the eleventh game Rovers had played in the competition that season, having taken three games to dispose of Llanelli and Gillingham respectively in the First and Second Rounds.
The same stage of the competition was reached in 1957/58, when Rovers came in at the Third Round stage. Curiously enough, they lost by the same score as in 1951, their opponents on this occasion being Fulham, at Craven Cottage.
In 2001/2002, Rovers became the first Third Division club to win an FA Cup Tie against Premiership opposition away from home when a Nathan Ellington hat trick clinched a thrilling 3-1 win over Derby County at Pride Park.
In 2007/08, Rovers again reached the quarter final of the competition. Eventual Championship title winners West Bromwich Albion proved to be the best side Rovers came up against in the competition and ran out 5-1 winners in the quarter final, which attracted a record crowd to the Memorial Stadium.
Last season saw Rovers reach the Third Round of the competition, beating non league sides Corby Town and AFC Totton in Rounds One and Two, before suffering a 3-1, home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in the Third Round.
In the Carling Cup, there was a First Round victory over Watford, in a penalty shootout at the Memorial Stadium, but the club exited the competition at the next stage, suffering a 3-2 defeat at5 Leyton Orient.
For the second season running, Rovers lost to Wycombe Wanderers in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, going down to a 3-1 defeat at Adams Park in a First Round tie.
BACK TO BRISTOL
The club played at five different venues before purchasing Eastville Stadium in 1897. In 1932, the Directors granted a 21-year lease to the Bristol Greyhound Racing Association to operate race meetings twice a week at the Stadium.
By March 1940, the club found themselves in a precarious financial position and Eastville was sold to the Greyhound Company for £12,000, even though its valuation was nearer £20,000. It was a decision that, with the benefit of hindsight, cost the club dearly.
In 1980, the South Stand at the ground was destroyed by fire and six years later, faced with mounting debts and an increase in the rental for Eastville, Rovers moved to Bath to share Twerton Park with Bath City.
During 10 years in exile, the club worked desperately hard to find a new site for a ground back in Bristol, without success.
A move back to their home city was achieved in August 1996, as the Club entered into another ground sharing agreement, with Bristol Rugby Club, at The Memorial Ground.
In May 1998 The Memorial Stadium Company purchased the ground and Rovers, with a 50% stake in the company, effectively became joint owners. Just two months later, the Rugby Club found themselves in financial difficulty and was forced to call in the receivers.
Under the terms of the original sale, if either club were unable to meet their share of the running costs, then the other party could buy them out for £10,000. This clause was included to ensure the stadium was secure for the remaining club to continue its business.
For the first time since 1940, therefore, Rovers have a home they can call their own. Initially, this didn't preclude the club looking at alternative sites for a suitable venue in the area and as recently as September 2003, there were plans to build a 30,000 all seater sports arena some six miles to the north of the Memorial Stadium.
By January 2004, though, those plans were scrapped after it was reported that 85% of the residents in the area of the proposed development were opposed to the construction of the arena.