On this day 25 years ago Bristol Rovers played Stockport County at the Memorial Ground; it was their first game back in Bristol following a ten year exile playing home games at Bath City’s Twerton Park.
Stockport pitched up at a ground that could only accommodate supporters on two sides. The West Stand was still being constructed, it was not possible to watch from the South end of the ground, so supporters were accommodated in the Centenary Stand, on the Centenary Terrace below and on the open Clubhouse Terrace (now the Thatcher’s End).
It was, therefore, quite an achievement to get 6,380 fans through the turnstiles and instead of seeing the teams emerge from a tunnel they saw them come out of a ‘double decker’ portakabin situated in a corner at the south end of the ground.
Balloons, fireworks and a rousing rendition of ‘Goodnight Irene’ were the order of the day as the teams entered the pitch and if the goals were too high (see below), the grass too long (it was a rugby venue after all) and there was no roof on the Clubhouse Terrace, it somehow didn’t matter. Rovers were back in Bristol!
Rovers’ skipper that day was Andy Tillson and he lined up with his Stockport counterpart Michael Flynn, the match officials and four mascots for the obligatory pre match photo.
The mascots included the sons of manager Ian Holloway and assistant manager Geoff Twentyman and William Holloway is on the left of the quartet, while Mark Twentyman is on the right.
There was quite a convivial atmosphere inside the ground and on a glorious sunny day in BS7 Rovers took a point from a 1-1 draw.
Lee Archer opening the scoring, heading Rovers into a 12th minute lead and thus becoming the first player to score a League goal at the Mem. The goal was the 14th of his Rovers career and the first he had scored with his head.
However John Jeffers was the party pooper as he equalised on 73 minutes when he drove a shot high into the net beyond the reach of goalkeeper Andy Collett.
Both goals were scored at the south end of the ground and both goalkeepers felt that the crossbar in that goal was too high.
Stockport keeper Paul Jones said; ‘I’m a good 6’3” and normally the bar is about wrist level when I stretch my arms up. I could only just touch this one, though I’m not complaining because it was the same for both sides.
Neither Tillson or Twentyman mentioned the height of the goals in their post match press conferences, though. Tillson said; ‘It’s a super surface if there’s a bit of moisture on top, because the ball zips along, but it was holding up a bit in the grass.
‘I thought we did pretty well in the first half, although they put us under pressure in the second and we found it difficult. In the end we had a lot of youngsters out there and deserve credit for the way we stuck at it.’
Assistant manager Twentyman said; ‘We spoke to the players before the game about all the razzamatazz and to try and be detached from it, but really that was impossible.
‘The fans were tremendous and to see the blue and white exploding from the terraces and the seats was wonderful.
‘Overall we should have done better for those people, but we haven’t lost and we will take a lot of confidence from the fact that we are unbeaten in the league.
‘We have trained here twice, but playing a match is different. The pitch is big and at times the ball does not roll because the grass is so lush.’
Among the crowd were members of the 92 Club who were ticking the Memorial Ground off of their list. It’s interesting to note that the Mem was the 125th permanent home ground used in the Football League since the War.
Rovers: Collett, Martin, Clark, Tillson, Lockwood, Gurney, French, Holloway, Archer, Miller (Parmenter), Beadle (Low).
Steve Parmenter was the only player making his Rovers league debut in that game, becoming the 602nd Rovers player to make a league appearance for the club.
That first season back in Bristol wasn’t a particularly successful one as Rovers finished in 17th position in the old Second Division with 56 points.
The two sides occupying first and second places at the end of the season were Bury, who were champions and Stockport who were runners up. How their fortunes have changed in the intervening 25 years!