Next season promises to be one of new grounds to visit for many Gasheads and Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane is one of them.
We have played there twice before, though, the first occasion being back on 28th July 2001 when Gerry Francis took a side there for a pre-season friendly.
Rovers trailed 2-0 until 12 minutes from time after home striker Matt Fowler netted in the 55th and 63rd minutes. Nathan Ellington pulled a goal back for Rovers on 78 minutes and Kevin Gall equalised five minutes later.
There were some in the side that Rovers fielded that afternoon who were never heard of again, at least not in a Rovers shirt. Ville Viljanen, for example, was in on trial. He had won a solitary cap for Finland in 1999 and had made 34 appearances for Port Vale.
James Morrow was another in, on trial from Crewe Alexandra I think. Neither he nor Viljanen appear to have gone on to play league football in this country though Viljanen went on to spend three years playing in Sweden for GAIS.
This is how Rovers lined up that afternoon, for a game played on grass.
Scott Howie, Che Wilson (David Pritchard, 46), Andy Thomson, Steve Foster, Mark Foran (Trevor Challis, 65), Rik Lopez (Scott Jones, 46), Kevin Gall, Ronnie Mauge (Vitalijs Astafjevs, 65), Lewis Hogg, Alvin Bubb (James Morrow, 46), Ville Viljanen (Nathan Ellington, 46).
By the time of our next visit to the same stadium, in July 2015, there was no grass as Sutton had laid a brand new 3G surface and Rovers were the first side to play on it.
The day before the match Rovers boss Darrell Clarke had taken a side to his former club, Salisbury, and watched them get their pre-season campaign off to a winning start with a 4-1 win.
(Ville Viljanin, playing for Rovers against Sutton in 2001. Photo courtesy of Alan Marshall)
The side that travelled to face Sutton was made up of Clarke’s remaining first teamers, with a few younger members of his squad.
The game was a scrappy affair, though Rovers did win 2-1 thanks to goals from Chris Lines and Ryan Broom, with Jamie Collins scoring for the home side from the penalty spot.
Lines opened the scoring in the first half with a well placed free kick from the edge of the area and Broom, who was brought on at the start of the second half, added the second ten minutes from time when he beat goalkeeper Ross Worner after dispossessing central defender Simon Downer.
The home side’s consolation goal was scored on 84 minutes when the referee decided that a Dan Wishart cross had been handled in the area. Collins saw his first effort from the spot saved by goalkeeper Kieran Preston, but he converted at the second attempt.
As well as Preston in goal, former City player Jennison Myrie-Williams was in the Rovers starting lineup and another former City (and Torquay) player Toby Ajala also started.
The side was as follows; Kieran Preston, Daniel Leadbitter, James Clarke (Alfie Kilgour, 66), Tom Parkes, Lee Brown, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Chris Lines (Dominic Thomas, 73), Ollie Clarke, Toby Ajala, Ellis Harrison (Jay Malpas, 52), Matty Taylor (Ryan Broom, 46)
Sutton United were crowned National League champions following a penultimate game win against Hartlepool United and will take their place in the English Football League for the first time in their history. However, EFL rules don’t permit artificial playing surfaces so they face a race against time to prepare a brand new grass pitch for the start of the campaign.
Current Rovers striker Jonah Ayunga is a former Sutton player, as are the following; Michael Boateng, Wayne Brown, Elvis Hammond, Jo Kuffour, Jeffrey Monakana, Stefan Payne, Will Puddy and Anwar Uddin.
Donovan Wilson, who scored six goals in 14 appearances for Sutton last season, while on loan from Bath City, began his career at Rovers though didn’t make a first team appearance before joining Wolves. Former Rovers Director of Football Lennie Lawrence and former Chairman Steve Hamer both played for Sutton.
Founded in 1898, Sutton play in amber and yellow and their ground has a capacity of 7,032.
Distance to Gander Green Lane from The Mem is 121 miles.