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. There are very few connections, though, between Bristol Rovers and football in Honduras.
The only connection between Rovers and Honduras would appear to lie in the tale of Walter Otta. Though born in Argentina in December 1973, he enjoyed a peripatetic footballing career around the world, appearing for fourteen different clubs in eleven countries.
This included a spell with Walsall and he was in the Saddlers’ side for a Football League Trophy game in 1998, when Rovers dew 2-2 only to lose 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out.
In fact Otta scored after 78 minutes in that game, Rovers having shot into a two-goal lead through Jamie Cureton and Jamie Shore, only to be pegged back by a penalty by Icelandic player Bjarnolfur Larusson before Otta’s equaliser.
Moving to Spain, Otta was to play for the Honduran side Marathón in 2000 prior to spells in Bolivia, Portugal, Peru, Ecuador, Canada and Germany.
At some point in 1933 and probably in Iran, though the truth is lost in history, Youra Eshaya was born to Iranian parents, Eshaya Pera and Batishwa Benyamin. The link with Iran perhaps ends abruptly in 1935, when the family moved across the border to Iraq, settling at first in Hinaidi.
Young Youra was a supremely talented attacking player and, as early as January 1952, was dubbed by an adoring national press “Iraq’s greatest footballer” (Andrious Mam Jotya, The Iran Times).
He played for Levy Civilian and also for RAF Habbaniya and was spotted by a Rovers scout when scoring a hat-trick for an Iraqi Command XI against an RAF Suez Canal XI in April 1953.
Bert Tann brought him to Bristol in August 1954 and he remained in the city for almost eighteen months, despite being ordered by the Home Office to leave the country on at least one occasion.
Eshaya played in 28 games for Rovers’ Colts, scoring four goals, and added one goal in three matches for the Rovers reserve side, though he never broke into Rovers’ Second Division side.
Eshaya eventually returned to Iraq in December 1955 to play for the Iraqi Air Force XI and became a naturalised Iraqi the following month.
Consequently, he first played for Iraq in January 1956, scoring once in a 6-0 victory against a Teheran XI, and was to win 75 caps, an impressive tally which included some Olympic qualifying fixtures.
In 1971, he married a Swedish national, Elizabeth and, ostracised as she was a non-Muslim, the couple was obliged to emigrate to Sweden in 1972. They had three children and he continued to play football.
Indeed, this Iranian-born former Rovers trialist died, aged fifty-nine, on a football pitch, suffering a heart attack whilst coaching Gothenburg schoolchildren on 21st July 1992.
One further connection exists in the unlikely figure of George Edward Henry Skinner. This inside-forward and football coach was born in Kent in June 1917 and died in Eastbourne in September 2001, aged eighty-five, leaving two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
With just one League appearance with Spurs to his name, Skinner played in two unofficial matches for Rovers during the wartime 1945-46 campaign.
From 1948, though, his career took a twist as he and his wife Evelyn moved from Finland to Nigeria, Libya and Jordan in search of football coaching posts.
He took the Saudi Arabia national side to victory in the Arabian Games and this cemented his reputation in the Middle East as a great football coach. In 1972, George Skinner was appointed national coach of Iran, a position he held for four years.
There was pressure on Iran to perform, as they had recently won the Asian Cup of 1972, but Skinner instilled a sense of discipline and brought in Frank O’Farrell to work alongside him.
O’Farrell, who effectively ran the side for 1974 to 1976, had played in five League matches for West Ham United against Rovers during the 1950s, and he took Iran to the final of the next Asian Cup in June 1976 where, in front of 100,000 fans in the Aryamehr Stadium in Teheran, Ali Parvin’s goal nineteen minutes from time defeated Kuwait, such that the Iranians retained the trophy.
After leaving Iran, Skinner was coach of the Westmann Island-based IBV, who became in 1978, under his tutelage, the first Icelandic side to progress to the UEFA Cup proper.
There is some evidence that a team of British residents in Esfahan played a match against a team of Armenians in Iran in 1898.
However, along the coast football was certainly introduced into Iran by British sailors and workers and the date of 1907 is sometimes given in this regard.
Certainly, around the major oil refineries at Abadan and Masjed Soleiman in Khuzestan province there was a local league in operation around this time, where young Iranians were subjected to local hostility for joining in with the “infidel” game and were pelted with stones.
All-British clubs were set up, with Cecil Spring-Rice (1859-1918), who wrote the text for the hymn “I vow to thee, my country”, initiating a football tournament in 1907 and the Teheran Club organising football matches in the same year.
As sides looked for more players, the first Iranian to participate was a certain Karim Zandi; with his involvement, young Iranians began to flock to tournaments in Mashq Square in Teheran, longing to join in with the Westerners’ games.
The first football team known to be established in the country was the appropriately-named Iran Club, which was set up in 1920.
One recent connection between Rovers and Iran is that of Alan Gow. The experienced midfielder was in the Notts County side which faced Rovers in March 2011 and then, having tried out football in India, spent February 2012 on a one-month trial at Iranian side Rah Ahan FC.
Returning to England, he was in the Exeter City side Rovers defeated in September 2012. He then arrived at The Mem towards the close of the last campaign, injury restricting his Rovers career to four Football League encounters.
Damien Mozika, a French-born player who hit the post for Torquay United against Rovers on Boxing Day 2013, scored twice in 24 matches with Iranian side Tarbiat Yazd in 2009-10.