Watney Cup winners 50 years ago

Aug 27, 2022 | News

Fifty years ago this month, on 5th August 1972, Bristol Rovers won a competition known as the Watney Cup by beating Sheffield United in the final, played at Eastville, in front of a crowd of 19,768.

Sponsored by the Watney Mann Brewery, the competition ran for just four seasons, from 1970 and was open to eight teams, two from each of the four divisions who had scored the most goals in the previous season and who had not been promoted or qualified for European football.

Rovers qualified for the 1972 tournament by scoring 75 goals and finishing in sixth place in the Third Division at the end of the previous season.

Bristol Rovers History Group, together with Bristol Rovers Football Club, will be hosting a Watney Cup exhibition at the Mem today when the following players, who were in the Rovers squad for the competition all those years ago, will be present.

We are sure that supporters will give a big welcome to Frankie Prince, Bruce Bannister, Mike Green Harold Jarman and Tom Stanton, players with a vast amount of experience who are all remembered fondly for their time with Rovers. They will all receive their cap, the first group of players to do so, under the Supporters Club cap initiative.

Back in 1972 the First Division representatives in the Watney Cup were Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Blackpool and Burnley represented the Second Division, Rovers and Notts County the Third Division and Lincoln City and Peterborough United the Fourth Division.

Rovers were drawn in a group of four along with Wolves, Burnley and Lincoln City and the straightforward knockout format saw them face Wolves in the first round, at Eastville, on 29th July 1972.

It was Don Megson’s first game as manager and he saw his side win 2-0 thanks to goals from Bannister and Kenny Stephens.

On the same day Burnley beat Lincoln City in the other group match which meant Rovers travelling to Turf Moor for the semi final the following Wednesday, where they again ran out 2-0 winners courtesy of goals by Prince and Bannister.

On the same evening Sheffield United, who had beaten Notts County 3-0 in their opening game, were 4-0 winners against Peterborough United and won through to face Rovers in the final of the competition.

And so, The Pirates met The Blades at Eastville. Both sides had reached the final of the competition without conceding a goal and those records remained intact as the game ended goalless.

United goalkeeper Tom McCalister, who later in his career spent a short time on loan at Rovers, made three superb saves during the game, from Godfrey and Bannister (twice) while United’s best chance came from Alan Woodward, who saw his second half strike turned over the bar by Dick Sheppard.

No extra time was played and so the winner was decided by a penalty shootout. Phil Roberts, Brian Godfrey, Bannister, Green and Sandy Allan all converted their penalties but they were matched by five successful spot kicks by United players Keith Eddy, Tony Currie, Bill Dearden, Eddy Colquhoun and Woodward.

Lindsay Parsons made it 6-5 to Rovers but Stewart Scullion drew United level again before substitute Bryn Jones edged Rovers back in front. Next up for The Blades was Ted Hemsley but Sheppard pulled off a dramatic save to deny him and Rovers had won the cup!

Megson and his side were unable to complete a lap of honour of the Eastville pitch, as fans rushed on to lift the players shoulder high. Eventually they were able to collect the magnificent Trophy, and their own individual mementos, from Sir Roger Bannister before retiring to the dressing room to partake of some liquid refreshment!

Rovers’ starting lineup in all three matches was as follows; Sheppard, Roberts, Parsons, Green, Taylor, Prince, Stephens, Jones (W), Allan, Bannister, Godfrey.

The only other player to make an appearance was Bryn Jones, who replaced Prince five minutes from time in the final and scored what turned out to be the decisive penalty.

The other players in the squad for the tournament were John Rudge, Peter Higgins, Jarman, Stanton and Malcolm Dalrymple.

You can meet our guests and view the exhibition in the Bristol Room before today’s match.

Keith Brookman