By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on Thursday and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries.
The picturesque landlocked central European country of Switzerland has offered two former Rovers players a chance of furthering their professional careers: Jimmy Gardner, an inter-war outside-right, and Geoff Taylor, an itinerant outside-left from the immediate post-war period.
London-born Jimmy Gardner had played in 32 League matches for Rovers in 1925-26, scoring four goals; after a long career culminated in several seasons in the north-east, he left Billingham in 1936 and joined the Swiss club Basel.
Geoff Taylor, who played three times for Rovers in Division Three (South) in the 1951-52 season, joined the Swiss club SC Brühl as player-coach in May 1952 and spent eighteen months there; moving to QPR in November 1953, he was later coach at seven different German clubs between 1955 and 1984.
In addition, Mick Channon, later a Rovers player in the 1982-83 season, won his final England cap in a goalless draw against Switzerland in September 1977; he won 46 caps for his country, scoring 21 goals.
Bruno Berner, a Swiss national born in November 1977, played for Grasshoppers (66 games and one goal) and Basel (32 matches) before playing for both Leicester City and Leeds United against Rovers; he has won sixteen full caps for Switzerland.
Similarly, Alexander Prijovic, born in Switzerland in April 1990, played for both Northampton Town and Yeovil Town against Rovers during the 2008-09 season.
When Rovers lost to Watford in the League Cup in August 20123, the visitors included Alman Abdi, formerly of Zürich, who has six full caps for Switzerland, whilst Swiss-born Frédéric Veseli played for Bury against Rovers in April 2014.
Watford sides that played Rovers in the Southern League between 1906 and 1908 contained Jack Reynolds and Fred Spiksley, later manager at St Gallen and Lausanne Sports respectively.
Sam Jennings, a natural goal-scorer at several clubs in the 1920s, had scored six goals in only five games for Reading against Rovers and a further two goals in four games for Brighton against Rovers.
His goals included a hat-trick past goalkeeper Jack Thomson in Reading's 4-0 win in April 1922 and two in Brighton's 7-0 victory in January 1927; he later coached at Olympiques Marseilles and, when released by Scarborough, was a coach in Switzerland for the 1935-36 season.
The veteran inside-left Charlie Handley was earlier in the Thames side defeated 2-0 by Rovers on Christmas Day 1931 and played for Berne in 1933.
When Rovers played Orient twice in the League in 1929-30, James Chadwick Townley was in their side for both games; he had played for St Gallen in the 1923-24 season and returned to Swiss football when he left Orient in the summer of 1931.
Hugh Baird Vallance, who was in the Brighton side in December 1929 that beat Rovers 1-0 at the Goldstone Ground, played for a couple of French clubs and was also on the books of Basel in 1933.
Bert Smith, in the Spurs side which won the 1921 FA Cup Final, also played in FA Cup-ties against Rovers in both January 1920 and January 1921, before taking up a coaching position with Young Boys Berne in November 1931.
Daniele Tiatto, who played for Manchester City against Rovers in December 1998, had spent the previous season with Baden FC.
Etienne Verveer, who played for Chur 97 between 1988 and 1991 and spent a loan spell with Basel in 1990, was in Millwall’s side for their fixtures against Rovers in both February 1992 and May 1993.
Paul Agostino, previously with Young Boys Brene, for whom he scored three goals in 26 matches between 1992 and 1994, and Yverdon, where he added six goals in fifteen matches during the 1994-95 campaign, played in both Bristol City’s matches against Rovers during the 1996-97 campaign.
John Hulme, who played for Bolton Wanderers against Rovers in October 1971 and for Notts County against Rovers in April 1972, was coach at the Swiss side La-Chaux-en-Fonds from 1976 to 1978.
Gordon Smith, who played for Brighton against Rovers in the League Cup in 1983, played for Basel from 1986. Alex Nyarko played for Everton against Rovers in the same competition in 2000 and had played 55 times, scoring eight goals, for Basel between 1995 and 1997.
Alessane N’Diaye, a Frenchman formerly with the Swiss side FC Alle, played in Barnet’s side against Rovers in November 2011, whilst his compatriot William Edjenguélé was with Neuchâtel Xamax and in Bury’s side against Rovers in November 2013.
Alan Brazil, who played in two late-1970s FA Cup-ties for Ipswich Town against Rovers, was with the Swiss club FC Baden in during the 1988-89 campaign.
Roy Hodgson, assistant manager at Bristol City when Rovers played the Robins in April 1982, was manager of the Swiss national side from January 1992 to November 1995 and later won the league and cup double with Grasshoppers in 1999-2000; he had earlier been manager of Neuchâtel Xamax from July 1990 to June 1992.