By Gerry PrewettFor the first time since the end of the First World War, Bristol Rovers opened a season of football played outside the Football League, when the entertained Grimsby Town on 9th August.
The 0-0 result was an indication of the early problems Rovers were going to experience getting to grips in the Vanarama Conference.
This weekend’s game could be a key to the way the remainder of the season pans out for both clubs. With Rovers dropping down to third place after Macclesfield’s mid-week victory, the Mariners are just one place and 5 points behind the Gas.
Founded in 1878 Grimsby for many years was one of the only teams who never played a home game. The reason? Their Blundell Park ground is actually situated in Cleethorpes. The two teams met for the very first time on 14 September 1920 when two goals by Joe Walter secured maximum points for Rovers. Just four days later John Clarke (2) and George Morrall scored for the Mariners with Sid Leigh replying for Rovers.
Prior to this season the last time the Mariners and the Gas had crossed swords was back in 2006/07, when both home teams won by a single goal. However there was a great contrast between the two games. The game at the Mem on 12th August was settled by an Andy Sandall goal that secured Rovers their first points of the season. The return fixture at Blundell Park saw a rare double by Craig Disley and a Lewis Haldane strike give Rovers three away goals. However Dan North, Justin Whittle, Ciaran Toner and Dan Boshell all scored for the home team to secure a 4-3 home win.
On 14 December 1957; Town inflicted Rovers with their heaviest-ever home defeat, 7-0. But the following season Rovers ran out 7-3 winners and won in Cleethorpes too. Town were relegated that season and by the time they finished Third Division Runners-up in 1961/62 Rovers passed them in the opposite direction!
However it was just two seasons in the higher Division before the Mariners dropped back down again and once more the goal sprees started. In a game at Eastville on 1st September 1964, Rovers were 3-0 up after 32 minutes, scoring them in an 8-minute spell. It began when Johnny Brown latched on to a soft goal kick from keeper Charlie Wright. Harold Jarman increased the lead with a rare headed goal from a Bobby Jones corner and Jarman laid on the third for Alfie Biggs.
Jarman and Jones scored further goals for Rovers in the Second-Half, but Grimsby (who included future England manager Graham Taylor amongst their number) staged a late rally with goals by Hill, Tees and Pennington to give a final score of 5-3.
When the teams met on 29th January 1966, the following season, Rovers had gone 14 games without a win. The unwanted record looked like continuing with Grimsby leading 1-0, but two Roger Frude goals in the last few minutes secured an unlikely looking victory. It inspired the team to go on a run of six wins in the next ten games, including a 5-0 away thrashing of Brentford in the very next game.
In the season opener back in August Rovers had extended spells of possession in the first half but struggled to break down a resolute Grimsby defence. Grimsby came out will all guns blazing in the second half and it took a fantastic reaction save from Steve Mildenhall to block Paddy McLaughlin’s close range effort.
Stuart Sinclair, Ollie Clarke, Matty Taylor and skipper Mark McChrystal all had efforts within the last 20 minutes but none of them were able to get the ball past McKeown.
Team news from the Mariner’s camp reveals that Jon-Paul Pittman and Scott Brown, are still injured and will not feature for the home team. The Mariners suffered a 2-1 loss to Forest Green last Saturday, and Mariner’s captain and former Gas hero Craig Disley believes this game is hugely important to his side.
“Getting beaten at Forest Green on Saturday was disappointing for us, so the Bristol game takes on more importance for our promotion aspirations. It’s a massive game for us, and it’s really one that we need to win, firstly to put a little bit of daylight between the teams below us as well.”
“But if we still want to win the title, we need to win a lot of games between now and the end of the season. It’s an old cliché, but we need to take one game at a time – and that starts on Saturday.”
After spending five years at the Mem, the fixtures against The Gas were the first that Disley looked for when they were released. After receiving a warm welcome in the season-opener the 32-year-old can’t wait for Saturday’s second meeting.
“Obviously, to play there on the first day of the season was a great occasion for myself, and I enjoyed the game. I’m massively looking forward to the game on Saturday, and seeing a few old faces again, hopefully we can stick one over on them because it’s a massive game.”
“We’ve got a good squad and hopefully it will be good enough to get us over the line this time around. If we don’t manage to win the league, we will certainly be doing everything we can to cement that play-off spot and go from there.”