Presenting the trophy

Aug 27, 2022 | News

Presenting the Trophy

Dr Roger Bannister

By Keith Brookman

Just in case you didn’t know, 5th August 1972 was the day on which Bristol Rovers recorded their first post war cup final victory when they beat Sheffield United 7-6 on penalties in the Watney Cup Final, so this year marks the 50th anniversary of that match.

The Watney Mann Cup or, to give it the correct name of the Watney Mann Invitation Cup, was first competed for in 1970 and was a tournament sponsored by the aforementioned brewery designed to reward the top two highest scoring teams from each division who had either failed to gain promotion of qualify for a place in Europe.

The competition ran for just four seasons. Derby County were the 1970 winners, Colchester United in 1971, Rovers in 1972 and Stoke City in 1973. Rovers actually qualified again for the competition in 1973 but were beaten at the semi final stage, 1-0 by Hull City, after a 6-5 penalty shootout win against West Ham United in the first round.

Returning to the 1972 win, the trophy wasn’t presented to Rovers’ skipper Brian Godfrey by a leading sports personality of the day but by a learned Doctor of Medicine, namely Roger Bannister (no relation to Bruce!).

He may not have had a background in football, but he was a respected former amateur athlete who had also been the first ever Chairman of the Sports Council.

In finishing fourth in the 1952 Olympics, in Helsinki, Bannister had set a British record for the 1500 metres.

It was a result that made him determined to become the first athlete to run a mile in under four minutes and he was to achieve that in 1954 when he was 25 years old.

The fact that he held the record for just 46 days is immaterial; it’s his name that will be forever in the record books as being the first athlete to run a sub four minute mile.

Athletics back then was a strictly amateur sport and there were no prizes on offer for those who were successful in their sport, apart from medals in the major games of course!

Bannister achieved what he had set out to do, but paid tribute to his fellow athletes Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway who had acted as his pacemakers during his historic race.

Bannister went on to compete in the 1954 Empire Games, where he won a gold medal in the mile and, later that year, he won the 1500m race at the European Championships in Switzerland.

He retired later that same year to concentrate on the medical career he had been studying for whilst enjoying his athletic career and he was awarded a CBE in 1955 for services to amateur athletics.

He went on to earn a Doctorate in Medicine and became a distinguished neurologist. During his time as the first Chairman of the Sports Council he introduced the first ever tests for anabolic steroids.

He was knighted in 1975, carried the Olympic flame at Iffley Road in 2012 (the venue for his historic mile) and was made a Companion of Honour in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List.

He always said that his 40 years of practising medicine was far more significant that his brief flirtation with fame in his short athletics career.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2011, he died in Oxford in 2018, just 20 days before his 89th birthday.

Legendary athlete and eminent neurologist he might have been, but he had a brief part to play in the Bristol Rovers story for it was he who presented the magnificent Watney Cup Trophy to Brian Godfrey.

As you can see from the photo reproduced here, he looked genuinely pleased to hand it over!