By Keith Brookman

If you are interested in the history of Bristol Rovers Football Club then you should be aware of the tremendous amount of research being undertaken by Gashead Eric Whitlock, in conjunction with the Bristol Rovers History Group.

During lockdown Eric has been working on a project concerning the early days of the forerunners of our club, the Black Arabs. He has been tracking down match reports dating back to 1883/84 the first season of the club’s existence. The project has snowballed and, at the time of writing, he has compiled 111 pages taking us up to the 1892/93 season.

In the preface to those pages Eric writes; ‘The purpose of this project is to complement the excellent books on the history of Bristol Rovers already published by Mike Jay and Stephen Byrne.

‘As archivist for the Bristol Rovers History Group I have been able to access many hundreds of early match reports and photographs which I am happy to share with Bristol Rovers fans and others worldwide.’ Please see http://bristolroversmemorabilia.weebly.com/the-black-arabs-and-all-that-gas.html

Eric followed this up with news of a unique find, a Black Arabs team photo from 1884 with quite a history!

It turns out that the photo was initially given to Eric’s great, great, great (possibly one great too many!) grandfather, Frederick Bennett. He, in turn, passed it on to his nephew, Alex Bennett. The family emigrated to Australia and then to Vancouver Island, Canada, and it was from there that the photo and several more family photos from the 1880’s were sent to Eric by his second cousin.

With his time taken up by his paramedic studies, Eric stored the photos in a shoe box and didn’t look at them for two years. Only then did he realise the box included an 1884 photo of the Black Arabs and on the back is written the following inscription; ‘To Fred, best wishes Harry, Feb ’84.’

The Harry in question is one Harry Evans, the Fred is Fred Bennett and the February 1884 date is significant in that the Black Arabs played a return match against Wotton under Edge that month, having played their first game against the same opponents on 1st December 1883.

Harry Evans played football for the Black Arabs as a young man and he and Fred Bennett were known to have played cricket for Wotton under Edge in 1897. Harry went on to become Vice President of the Gloucestershire Football Association and when Fred died, in 1952, it was Harry who wrote an obituary in which he recalled his friend playing football for Wotton AFC and cricket for Wotton under Edge.

Eric’s most exciting find, though, is a medal presented to a Rovers player following their 1-0 win against Warmley in the 1888/89 Gloucestershire Cup Final. By this time the Black Arabs had become Eastville Rovers.

The medal was for sale on eBay and Eric negotiated a purchase price of £1,000 (down from £1,750) and paid the cash up front to ensure it came to the club via the History group. To make sure that Eric is not out of pocket, Ash Belsten has set up a fundraiser to enable fans to donate online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/gloucestershire-cup-trophy?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf%20share-flow-1&fbclid=IwAR0Ihl_ZjwhdOOPxx1okipbMaKDQzO7VKGb0uFb_C_KebK10_e_hmWyX2tk

Eric has also received a number of donations from many supporters and if more than £1,000 is raised then it will be put towards further purchases by the History Group.

For the record, the Rovers team that played in that Cup Final on 6th April 1889, was as follows; Edward Tucker, Claude Hodgson, Bill Somerton, Albert Attwell, Bill Howe, Charlie Taylor, Charlie Lawrence, Frank Laurie, Bill Higgins, Fred Channing, Bill Perrin.

The all important goal was scored by Perrin; ‘who, with a neat shot, defeated Godfrey amidst cheers.’

It begs the question; how many other medals have survived? If you or anyone you know has a medal similar to this one, or any memorabilia relating to the early days of the Black Arabs/Eastville Rovers please do get in touch.

One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, all items collected can be displayed in a Rovers museum for all to see.

illustrated here, which is a runners-up medal from 1969/70 which I purchased some years ago for £150. Maybe not solid silver, though there are marks resembling a hallmark on the reverse, but an interesting piece of memorabilia all the same. Rovers were beaten 2-1 by Bristol City in that game.

Illustrated here is a runners-up medal from 1969/70 which I purchased some years ago for £150. Maybe not solid silver, though there are marks resembling a hallmark on the reverse, but an interesting piece of memorabilia all the same. Rovers were beaten 2-1 by Bristol City in that game.

And then there is a more recent runners up medal, from the 2004/05 final when Rovers reserves lost 2-0 against Yate Town. This one is most definitely not silver, though it did come in a smart presentation box!