Home Archive FOUR GAMES FROM MEMORY LANE: Bristol Rovers



The second installment in the series sees Swindon Town fan ROB FRANCIS pop in the TrustSTFC.tv time machine to revisit games past.

Ahead of the clash with of Bristol Rovers this weekend, it’s the Gasheads who fall under Rob’s microscope…

Swindon Town 5-0 Bristol Rovers, Southern League, December 26, 1913

The years before the outbreak of World War I were arguably Swindon’s most successful ever. The club reached FA Cup semi-finals in 1910 and 1912, won the Southern League twice, and inside forward Harold Fleming was becoming the first (and, to date, the only) player to have ever represented England at senior level whilst at the Town.

Throughout all of this, fellow Southern League side Bristol Rovers proved difficult opponents. Despite finishing no higher than 13th in the six years before the war, they were often a thorn in Swindon’s side. During Town’s title-winning season of 1910/11, Rovers were the only team Swindon failed to score against, with a 0-0 draw at the County Ground following a 1-0 defeat in Bristol.

In 1912, three days after Swindon were quite literally kicked out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage by Barnsley, a 3-0 loss at Eastville rubbed salt into the wounds. And Rovers would cause more trouble for Town a year later.

Swindon travelled to Bristol on Christmas Day 1913 four points clear of Crystal Palace at the top of the Southern League, while the home side were one point and three places off the bottom of the table.


Yet any observer unaware of this would surely have imagined it was Bristol Rovers who were the title hopefuls, as they handed Swindon a 5-2 thrashing.

According to the Swindon Advertiser’s end of season report, “the margin of five goals might easily have been doubled on that lamentable occasion”, and Swindon were outplayed to an extent that the reporter “had not thought possible”.

Revenge was due, and fortunately Swindon didn’t have long to wait – the return fixture was just 24 hours later. In front of a Boxing Day crowd of nearly 10,000, Rovers were thumped 5-0, with goals from Jefferson, Fleming, Wheatcroft, Bown and Bolland; a win that remains Town’s biggest against this opposition. Swindon would go on to be Southern League champions, beating Crystal Palace into second place on goal average.

Bristol Rovers 3-4 Swindon Town, Division Three, April 11, 1987

Two clubs heading in very different directions met in this fixture in April 1987. Swindon had put an end to their time in the basement division in some style, winning the previous season’s Division Four title with a record 102 points. Town’s good form continued in the third tier, and they went into the game second in the table.

Rovers, by contrast, were struggling. They had been forced to leave Eastville, their ground for nearly a century, due to financial difficulties, and were playing their home fixtures at Bath City’s Twerton Park.

This match against Swindon, however, was shifted to Ashton Gate in the hope that a large crowd could boost the club’s coffers. On the pitch, things were bleak too; the Pirates found themselves in a relegation battle.

Not that a casual observer would have known that from the first half hour. With the wind behind them, Rovers found themselves two goals to the good after 27 minutes.

First, Fraser Digby in the Swindon goal could only push out a shot to the feet of Gary Penrice, and then a badly defended corner was converted by Robbie Turner. Ex-Rovers striker Steve White pulled a goal back before half-time, meaning Town were 2-1 behind at the break.

Four minutes into the second half, Peter Coyne chipped in a cross for Jimmy Quinn to head home the equaliser, but parity was short-lived as Dave Hockaday gave away a penalty from which Phil Purnell restored Rovers’ lead. However, Swindon’s greater quality told. Dave Bamber brought Town level with a terrific turn and shot, and Quinn volleyed home to earn a 4-3 win.

The season ended on a high note for both clubs. Swindon would go on to win promotion through the play-offs, while Bristol Rovers would avoid a first-ever relegation to Division Four, finishing 19th.

Bristol Rovers 1-4 Swindon Town, Division Two, September 16, 1995

Mention Steve McMahon’s name to a Swindon fan and the chances are they will involuntarily shudder. Certainly the final two years of his reign were turgid; Town lurching from one humiliating defeat to another, including at home to non-league opposition in the FA Cup. And yet, he is also one of only three managers to have won a league title with the club.

It could certainly be argued that the 1995/96 championship was the least Swindon should have expected following two relegations in as many years. Credit to McMahon though, as Town won the league in style, smashing many club records along the way, including for the most away wins and points achieved in a single season.

After winning their first three away games of the campaign at Hull, Carlisle and Brentford, Town made the short trip to Twerton Park for a real test of their championship credentials.

Bristol Rovers had made their temporary home something of a fortress, suffering only one defeat in front of their own fans throughout the whole of the previous season; a campaign which ended with them missing out on promotion in a 2-1 play-off final loss at Wembley to Huddersfield Town.

Despite this, and despite Swindon missing centre-forward Wayne Allison, Town won at a canter. Kevin Horlock fired in from outside the box to give Swindon an early lead, before Paul Miller equalised for Rovers shortly before half-time, but in the second half, Town stepped up a gear. Shaun Taylor headed in a Steve McMahon free-kick, and then Horlock completed a “proper” hat-trick by adding a headed goal and a right-foot finish to his earlier left-foot strike.

The 4-1 win would keep Swindon top, and they would remain there for the rest of the campaign, finishing nine points clear of second placed Oxford United. Despite having the division’s top scorer in Marcus Stewart, Bristol Rovers would end the season three points short of the play-off places.

Bristol Rovers 1-0 Swindon Town, League Two, April 28, 2007

The 2006/07 season was an eventful one for both Swindon and Bristol Rovers. Town had been relegated in their previous campaign, and had responded by bringing in a new managerial team of Dennis Wise and Gustavo Poyet. Swindon began the season at blistering pace, winning the first six games, before a run of indifferent form left the Town in third place by mid-October, at which point Wise and Poyet left to take over at Leeds United.

Paul Sturrock took over and despite a blip in March, where Swindon lost three out of five and slipped to fifth, with two games left to play Town found themselves six points clear in the final promotion place.

Bristol Rovers also had a notable campaign. A run to the final of the Football League Trophy saw them knock out local rivals Bristol City over two legs, but by March, promotion appeared beyond them. After a defeat at Boston United, Rovers were in 16th place, eleven points short of the play-off places with as many games remaining. However, a haul of twenty points from their next nine matches left them one point and one place outside the play-offs, with two games to go.

So much was at stake when the two sides met at the Memorial Ground. Town needed a point to confirm promotion, while Rovers needed to win and hope sides above them dropped points; particularly as their final game of the season was away at already-promoted Hartlepool United.

In front of a bumper crowd of nearly ten thousand, a brilliant strike from Rickie Lambert was enough to win the game against a below-par Swindon side missing Barry Corr in attack, ending Town’s faint hopes of winning the league.

Rumours spread through the away end that MK Dons – Swindon’s only challengers for automatic promotion – were losing, meaning the result would be immaterial as Town would go up despite the defeat. However, this was not the case, and so everything would be decided on the final day.

And what an extraordinary final day it was. Swindon and Walsall drew 1-1 at the County Ground, which secured Town promotion but also won the championship for the Saddlers. A point was enough for Walsall because their title rivals Hartlepool conceded a late Rickie Lambert goal to lose 2-1 at home to Bristol Rovers, who in turn booked a play-off place with their victory. Swindon and Walsall fans celebrated together on the County Ground pitch. Rovers went on to beat Shrewsbury in the play-off final and win promotion along with Swindon.

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