By Gerry PrewettIt seems very fitting that Bristol Rovers should be meeting Grimsby Town in the Play-Off Final of the 2014-15 Vanarama Conference as they opened their season with a home game against their Lincolnshire rivals.
The teams have a long history of competition with the first meeting going back as far as 15 January 1910 when Southern League Rovers travelled to Cleethorpes to meet their second Division rivals. The teams on the day lined up;
Grimsby Town; Wally Scott, Sid Whelhouse, Crosby Henderson, Abe Lee, Andy Davidson, Bill Hargreaves, Charlie Rowston, Tom Coulbeck, George Gates, Amos Kilbourne and Tom Coxon
Bristol Rovers; Peter Roney, John McKenzie, Bill Westwood, Lou Williams, Bill Shaw, Fred Handley, Billy Peplow, Arthur Rodgers, James Mason, Adam McColl and John Lawrie.
Goals by Peplow and Rodgers ensured that the Pirates overcame the Mariners. It was more than 10 years later before the teams crossed paths again. This time it was in the newly formed Third Division and games were played in pairs. The first match took place at Eastville on 14 September 1920 and once again Rovers were 2-0 victors with two goals by Joe Walter. The return fixture was played just 4 days later on 18 September and this time the Mariners ran out 3-1 winners, Sid Leigh scored for Rovers and John Clarke (2) and George Morrall for Town.
It was to be another 36 years before the teams competed again, this time in a Second Division game at Eastville on 18 August 1956, a Dai Ward goal was all that separated the teams. Town won the pre-Christmas return fixture on 15 December, 3-2. Barrie Meyer notched Rovers goals and Gerry Priestley, Bill Evans and Bob Crosbie scored for Town.
The following season 1957-58 was one in which Rovers both scored and conceded lots of goals. No one would have predicted the score when they entertained the Mariners on 14th December a 14,577 crowd was low by Rovers standards at the time. The Pirates had beaten, Derby 5-2 at home, Stoke 5-3 away and Middlesbrough 5-0 at home.
Within the first five minutes Rovers had created clear-cut scoring opportunities for Peter Hooper and Alfie Biggs. On six minutes Ron Stockin put the away team ahead and Gerry Priestley doubled the lead just two minutes later. Then a minute before half-time Johnny Scott scrambled the ball home for a 3-0 lead.
It wasn’t until the 70th minute when Ron Rafferty converted a penalty to increase the Mariners lead. With 13 minutes left Jimmy Fell made it 5-0. The Mariners even managed to miss a further penalty before Scott and Stockin notched their second goals to complete a 7-0 rout and Rovers heaviest ever home defeat. Rovers improved dramatically in the return fixture going down 3-2 on the last day of the season.
Rovers gained some kind of revenge on 15 November 1958. Dai Ward gave Rovers the lead on 28 minutes and Peter Hooper doubled it 11 minutes later. Tommy Briggs pulled one back for the Mariners before half time. Ward notched a second and Mike Cullen pulled the game back for the away team again. Hooper scored twice more in four minutes to give Rovers a 5-2 lead. Not to be daunted Ron Rafferty fired in another goal for the team in black and white stripes with less than 15 minutes left. But Geoff Bradford stepped up to notch a double (the third Rovers player to do so) to complete a 7-3 home win.
The teams did not meet again until the 1964-65 season when the Mariners joined Rovers in the Third Division. The first meeting was on 25 August 1964 at Bundell Park. Rovers were dealt a body blow when Doug Hillard suffered a knee injury on 16 minutes and flying winger Bobby Jones was forced in the pre-substitute days to drop into the right back position.
Rovers took the lead on 27 minutes when in form Alfie Biggs took on four defenders before cracking a low shot just inside the post. Grimsby piled on the pressure and six minutes later Ron Foster evaded two tackles before firing high into the net. Rovers continued to threaten but the game finished 1-1.
Just one week later on 1 September Eastville experience a real crackerjack of a game. 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 Brian Hill, Matt Tees and Jim Pennington to give a final score of 5-3. The result saw Rovers head the Division.
The following season having faded from the promotion spots Rovers once again paid an early season visit to Grimsby. Once again the game ended 1-1. Matt Tees headed the home team ahead on 24 minutes when he rose above Bernard Hall in Rovers goal. Rovers’ equaliser came five minutes before half time when Bobby Jones scored a fine solo goal.
When the teams met on 29th January 1966 Rovers had gone 14 games without a win. Things looked to be heading the same way as Bobby Ross gave the Humbersiders a 7th minute lead. Centre forward Rod Green drifted out to the right and picked up a Doug Collins pass. Green pulled it back for the onrushing Ross to hit a ferocious first time shot into the roof of the net.
Then with just four minutes left Roger Frude hit a savage shot from the edge of the area, connecting with a Dick Plumb header from a Dave Stone free-kick to equalise. Two minutes later, months of suffering ended for Rovers fans, as Frude broke through on the left to slip a shot past the advancing Charlie Wright in the Grimsby goal.
The result inspired the team to go on a run of six wins in the next ten games, including the 5-0 away thrashing of Brentford in the very next game.
On 13 April 1998 Rovers visited Blundell Park and two goals by Barry Hayles negated a Kevin Donovan penalty to send all three points back to the West Country. It was some consolation for a 4-0 home thrashing earlier in the season, when Substitute Stephen Livingstone (2), Tony Gallimore and Kevin Donovan were all on the scoresheet.
On 4th February 2005, Rovers tore the Mariners apart in the space of 18 first half minutes, James Hunt, Ryan Williams and Richard Walker all put their names on the scoresheet to put the game beyond Grimsby’s reach and leave Rovers 3-0 winners.
On Firework Day 2005 Rovers and Grimsby met for the second time in an FA Cup tie at Blundell Park. The teams were:
Grimsby; Steve Mildenhall, John McDermott, Tom Newey, Justin Whittle, Jon-Paul Kamudimba Kalala, Paul Bolland, Michael Reddy, Andy Parkinson, Rob Jones, Gary Cohen, Gary Jones, Simon Ramsdon and Martin Gritton
Rovers; Scott Shearer, Craig Hinton, Rob Ryan, Steve Elliott, James Hunt, Junior Agogo, Richard Walker, Chris Carruthers, Ali Gibb, Craig Disley, Aaron Lescott and Stuart Campbell
Gary Jones scored for Town but a Junior Agogo double ensured a 2-1 away win for the Gas.
The last two League fixtures between the teams came during the 2006-07 season; Rovers won the home game on 12 August with an Andy Sandell goal. The Mariners won the return fixture on 10 February 2007, 4-3. Dan North, Justin Whittle, Dan Boshell and Ciaran Toner all scored for Grimsby. The Rovers goal scorers were Craig Disley (2) and Lewis Haldane.
There has been a total of 40 games between the teams with 18 Rovers wins, 9 draws and 13 Grimsby victories.