Written by Stephen Byrne
As the season drew to an ultimately satisfying close, Rovers’ supporters could sense that the future held a degree of promise.
Winning 3-1 at Carlisle to secure the League and Cup double, the Under-18 side offered hope of positive things to come. From this side, Alefe Santos and Tom Lockyer both featured in the League squad.
Richards, a product of the system, enjoyed good runs in Rovers’ side, was called up to the Welsh Under-21 squad and finished the season with six goals, the joint second highest scorer in Rovers’ League campaign.
With 41 League appearances to his name, he also played in more fixtures than any other player, narrowly ahead of Young Player of the Year Parkes, a captain at twenty-one, Lee Brown and Michael Smith.
Ollie Clarke, who had also worked his way up the ranks, enjoyed a first start when Rovers lost to Accrington’s Lee Molyneux’s 69-second stunning thirty-yard free-kick in the final home fixture of the season.
Goalkeeper Conor Gough has now appeared in two League fixtures for Rovers, both times playing away to Dagenham and Redbridge. Exciting full-back Smith was deservedly voted the club’s Player of the Year, whilst Brunt gave clear indication that goals would follow in 2013-14.
During the autumn, nine players were dismissed in League fixtures involving Rovers, just one being sent off after Christmas. Rovers had accumulated six red cards under McGhee’s management; there were no Rovers players sent off at all under Ward’s tutelage. This greater sense of discipline served to help the side surge up the divisional table.
In addition to Davids, opponents included Barnet’s Anthony Edgar, a cousin of England striker Jermain Defoe, Fleetwood’s Youl Mawéné, who had been in the Derby side defeated by Nathan Ellington’s hat-trick in 2002, and two sons of West Ham’s 1980 FA Cup winning side.
Ryan Jarvis, in the thrilling 3-3 draw at Plainmoor on the final day, against a Torquay side requiring a point to guarantee retaining their League status, became the fifth opponent since 1920 to score for both sides in a League encounter.
Rovers used thirty-five players in the League, exactly the same figure as in the relegation campaigns of 2000-01 and 2010-11, whilst sixteen former Rovers players re-appeared against the side, amongst them Chris Zebroski, who struck Cheltenham’s winning goal at The Mem, and Justin Richards, who played against his former club with both Burton Albion and Oxford United.
Phil Taylor, the last surviving player from Rovers’ campaigns before World War Two, died in December 2012 at the age of ninety-five, and two club favourites from the halcyon days of the 1950s, Bill Roost and the mercurial George Petherbridge, both passed away in the spring.
As all too often in the Rovers story, cup campaigns were perhaps better forgotten. A 3-1 defeat at Ipswich Town in the League Cup, after Smith had given the Pirates a first-half lead, was followed by a 2-1 home defeat against Sheffield United before an FA Cup crowd of just 4,712.
Possibly more worryingly, the side crumbled to a 3-0 defeat in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, even though visitors Yeovil Town had their captain Jamie McAllister sent off.
Alongside John Ward’s on-field success, Rovers enjoyed spring cheer in the hunt for a new ground. On 19th July 2012 South Gloucestershire Council had approved plans for a proposed 21,700-seater stadium next to the University of the West of England at Stoke Gifford with building work commencing in the summer of 2013.
On 16th January 2013, Bristol City councillors approved the plan to build a Sainsbury’s supermarket on the site of the Memorial Stadium, the suggestion being accepted 6-3; this would fund Rovers’ move but result in the demolition of the old stadium.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles approved the plans on 12th March and Rovers appeared on course for their latest new home.