We do battle again with another old adversary next season, in Exeter City a team we have met on 78 occasions in the league. Honours are fairly even, given that 27 of those games have ended all square, Rovers have won 26 and Exeter 25.
Our first meetings took place in the inaugural Third Division campaign of 1920/21 when Rovers were 5-0 winners on May 2nd 1921 (even back then it was a date to remember!) though Exeter gained their revenge with a 1-0 win at their ground just five days later.
The last league meetings between the sides were in 2015/16 when they drew 1-1 at St James’ Park in November 2015 with Rovers winning the return encounter 3-1 at The Mem in April 2016.
In the FA Cup it’s a win apiece and one draw, while in the League Cup Rovers have won one of the three meetings and the other two have been drawn.
The four meetings in the Trophy have seen one Rovers win, one draw and two Exeter wins and they were 2-0 winners the last time we met in that competition, at St James’ Park in November 2018. That was the night Zain Walker made his senior Rovers debut.
The win against The Grecians at The Mem in 2016, referred to above, is the one that stands out for me. Needing a win to maintain a push for an automatic promotion spot, Darrell Clarke’s side eventually eased to a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Billy Bodin, Lee Brown and Matty Taylor in front of a crowd of 10,254.
As for disappointments, look no further than the opening day of the 2013/14 season when John Ward’s side lost 2-1 at St James’ Park. Former Rovers defender Danny Coles gave Exeter the lead, future Exeter player Eliot Richards equalised and Sam Parkin scored a winner for the Grecians in front of a crowd of 5,196.
On a bright, sunny day down in Devon, it seemed obvious, even on that first day, that Rovers would struggle to do anything other than finish mid table. Relegation at the end of that campaign, and with 50 points, came as quite a shock at the season’s end.
Players to have played for both clubs are many and, when you study the following names, you could easily choose a couple of decent sides, so here goes; Pat Baldwin, Frankie Bennett, Hiram Boateng, Ryan Brunt, Ian Davies, Jamie Cureton, Danny Coles, Peter Cawley, Wayne Carlisle, Brian Doyle, Richard Dryden, Rhys Evans, Richard Evans, Gerry Francis, Joe Gadston, Brian Gayle, Matt Gill, Jake Gosling, Bert Hoyle, Lee Hodges, Ian Hamilton, Alan Gow, David lee, Aidan McCaffery, David Mehew, Kevin Miller, Trevor Morgan, Tom Nichols, Eliot Richards, Frankie Prince, Graeme Power, Dick Plumb, Martin Phillips, Tom Parkes, Mark O’Connor, Phil Roberts, Gary Sawyer, Liam Sercombe, Marcus Stewart, Robbie Turner, Lee Zabek, Danny Woodards, Graham Withey and Adam Virgo.
Gerry Francis, as well as playing for both clubs, has also managed both. Paul Tisdale played for, and managed Exeter and Rovers, while Paul Buckle played for Exeter and managed Rovers.
Former Rovers’ goalkeeping coaches Len Bond and Stuart Naylor both played for Exeter, while Wayne Carlisle, who played for both clubs, is now part of the management team at St James’ Park.
Post war Rovers players who have made their debut against Exeter include; Edward Parsons, Michael Tippett (both 1949/50), Ken Ronaldson (1965/66), Steve bailey, Errington Kelly (both 1981/82), Ian McLean, Dave Pritchard (both 1993/94), Neil Ross, James Quinn, James Thomas (all 2001/02), Tom Eaves, Derek Riordan (both 2012/13), Shaquille Hunter (2013/14) and Rory Gaffney (2015/16).
Distance from the Memorial Stadium to St James’ Park, which has a capacity of 8,541, is just 82 miles.
(all photos courtesy of Neil Brookman)