By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on 12th June and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries. Very few connections exist between Bristol Rovers and professional football in Mexico.
Better known as an Argentinian international player, Alejandro Sabella was born in Buenos Aires on 5th November 1954. Having featured in both of Sheffield United’s Second Division clashes with Rovers in the 1978-79 season, he was with Irapuato in Mexico in 1988-89, playing 31 times without scoring. He is taking part in the 2014 World Cup Finals as the manager of Argentina.
Not content with being the only French international to play against Rovers, Amara Simba also played for the Mexican side Club León between 1996 and 1998. Senegalese by birth, he was with Orient between 1998 and 2000, playing against Rovers in the FA Cup in January 1999.
The nearest to a second League opponent with Mexican experience was Paul James. Having been with Monterrey from 1985 to 1987, James was in Doncaster Rovers’ squad during the 1987-88 season, when they played alongside Rovers in Division Three, but never appeared against the Pirates.
On Sunday 16th November 1930, just 24 hours after a League match and following an overnight North Sea crossing, Rovers defeated Holland 3-2.
Rovers were reported to be surprised by the ball-playing skills of this emergent nation, 22-year-old outside-right Adje Gerritse of Hilversum catching the eye and centre-forward Gerrit Hulsman scoring twice.
Nonetheless, Ronnie Dix's two goals and one from Arthur Attwood earned Rovers a deserved victory. Eight of the Dutch side that day won full caps for their country: Jan van Diepenbeek, Tap Wim, Henk Breitner, Adje Gerritse, Eef Ruisch, Gerrit Hulsman, Jan van den Broeck and Joop van Nellen.
There was a fortnight of football to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951, whereby various European clubs toured the country. Rovers’ sole fixture in this period was a goalless draw at home to the Dutch side EDO Haarlem on 14th May 1951.
In recent years, five Rovers players have plied their trade in Holland. Sergio Ommel was born in Den Haag in September 1977 and played for both Groningen and Stormvogels Telstar from Ijmuiden, before joining Rovers in November 2001.
His eight goals in 18(+5) League games made him Rovers' second highest scorer in 2001-02. After his release in 2002, Ommel returned to Telstar.
Michel Kuipers, who was born in Amsterdam in June 1974, played in goal in one game for Rovers in March 1999 and then enjoyed a decade on Brighton’s books.
The Northern Irish international striker James Quinn spent a month on loan with Rovers over Easter 2002 and scored once in six League matches. He joined the Dutch Eredivisie side Willem II at the end of that season and, over nearly three years, scored eleven times in 30(+17) matches.
Paul Bannon scored eight League goals for Rovers in 27(+2) League matches between February 1984 and July 1985, when he left Rovers deal to join the Dutch club NAC Breda.
Jamie Forrester, who was with Utrecht in 1999-2000, scored nine goals for Rovers in 23(+9) League games between 2004 and 2006.
Harry Rose, who played centre-half in fifteen League games for Rovers in the early 1920s, was manager of Ajax Amsterdam for the 1925-26 season.
Harry Topping (1913-2001) played for Rovers in the unofficial FA Cup campaign of 1945-46 and was coach at Feyenoord in 1950-51, as well as PSV Eindhoven the following season.
Billy Hunter, a Scotsman who played in seven Southern League fixtures for Millwall against Rovers between 1904 and 1909, was later manager of the Dutch national side.
Jack Reynolds, in Watford's side against Rovers in March 1908, was manager of Ajax in three spells between 1915 and 1947, leading them to eight Dutch championships. He also coached the national side, as did Edgar Chadwick (Southampton, 1900-02), who led Holland to the bronze medal in the 1912 Olympics before coaching Sparta to the Dutch League championship in 1915.
Jack Hall, who played in the Southern League for Brighton against Rovers in April 1909, coached at Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Willem II between 1926 and 1936.
Eighteen Dutch-born opponents have opposed Rovers in League football, amongst them Pim Balkestein (Brentford and AFC Wimbledon), the son of a Netherlands international.
However, the only Dutch international to oppose Rovers in League football was Edgar Davids. At the age of thirty-nine, after a long career encompassing many years with Ajax as well as 74 caps and six goals for Holland, Davids was player-manager of the Barnet side which lost 2-1 to Rovers at The Mem in February 2013.
Many of Rovers' opponents down the years, most frequently in recent years, have enjoyed football in Holland as well as England. Amongst the earlier names is Raymond Lawrance, who played against Rovers in both Newport County’s games of the 1937-38 season, before spending the final inter-war season at Dutch club Haarlem.
Having played in the Swindon Town side that lost 1-0 at Eastville in a Southern League fixture in March 1908, Frank Warburton was manager in 1910 at Amsterdamsche FC, from 1910 to 1913 at Hercules Utrecht and between 1913 and 1935 at Den Haag.
He was also national manager of Holland from 1919 to 1923, a tenure that included winning a bronze medal for football at the 1920 Olympic Games.
Fred Pagnam, who scored twice in eight games for Fulham against Rovers between 1922 and 1926, later coached in Holland.
Len Hill, in goal for QPR in nine League games against Rovers between 1921 and 1925, coached Sports Club Utrecht in 1933.
Another opponent was Wilson Lennox, who scored twice in the three games he played against Rovers whilst with Charlton. In May 1934 he accepted a post as coach at the Dutch club Enschede to help the growth of football in Holland.
The future England manager Bobby Robson played five times for Fulham against Rovers between 1953 and 1956, scoring twice; he was manager at PSV Eindhoven, 1990-93 and 1998-99. Steve McClaren was in the Bristol City side beaten by Rovers on New Year’s Day 1987 and was manager of Twente in two spells.
During the 2013-14 season, Brian Jensen (Bury) and David Connolly (Portsmouth) both played against Rovers; Danish-born Jensen had been with AZ Alkmaar from 1997 to 2000, whilst Connolly played at a similar time for Feyenoord and Excelsior.