Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1968/69 Part Eight
Over the past few weeks, Rovers fan Ray Jest has been taking us back in time to relive the classic 1968/69 season. Today we reach the end of that journey as Ray relives the final few games and reveals how Lawrie McMenemy got the team over the line in the Fourth Division.
Check out Part Seven of the series, published last week, then read on to see how it all shook out.
Rovers’ final home game of the season on Tuesday 22nd April was against Workington and 8,787 fans gathered to watch a game that would hopefully send Rovers into the Third Division.
Faced by a packed Workington defence, Rovers were unable to find their scoring boots and another game was destined to finish goalless to the frustration of the watching fans.
The silver lining however was that it would prove over the next few days to be enough for promotion.
Watching, Waiting & Hoping
There were eight teams including Rovers battling for a place in the top four and neither Lincoln City nor Colchester United could pass Rovers’ total of 57 points.
Rovers’ goal average is better than any team except Rochdale and means that for Rovers to fail to gain promotion the following scenario has to happen:
· Southend must win all of their remaining six matches.
· Darlington and Bradford City can afford to drop only one point each from five games.
· Rochdale can afford to drop two points from five games.
· Halifax Town can afford to drop five points out of their remaining seven matches.
However, they cannot all overhaul Rovers due to matches still to be played between the contending sides.
Amongst those games still to play are Bradford City vs. Darlington, Bradford City vs. Southend, Darlington vs. Bradford City and Darlington vs. Southend.
So therein lays safety for Rovers.
With many of the games still to be played within the following week the table at the beginning of the week read as this:
On the Monday of the week, Rovers’ final game at Grimsby Town was postponed which meant McMenemy’s side could sit back and keep tabs on what their rivals were doing.
On that same day Darlington and Colchester drew 1-1 at Feethams, meaning that Darlington dropped the only point they could, and Colchester were unable to match Rovers’ 57 points.
Halifax beat Brentford 2-0 at The Shay and were still on course to pip Rovers’ maximum points tally of 59.
Rochdale drew 1-1 at Notts County so had dropped one of their two points.
Southend beat Newport County 1-0 at Roots Hall and were still in with a chance of promotion by winning all of their final games.
On Tuesday, Bradford City beat Peterborough United 2-1 at Valley Parade and so were still within striking distance of Rovers.
On Wednesday, Rochdale beat Halifax 1-0 at Spotland. Rochdale could only gain a possible 58 points, but Halifax’s chances of catching Rovers had now been severely dented.
On Friday evening, Bradford beat Southend 3-2 at Valley Parade effectively killing off any hope Southend may have had of promotion and leaving Bradford still clinging on to the chance of catching Rovers.
Notts County saw off Colchester 2-0 at Meadow Lane, ending Colchester’s dreams of promotion.
Scunthorpe United held Darlington 0-0 at The Old Showground which effectively meant Darlington could not match Rovers either.
Only two matches were played on the Saturday, one of which was Halifax against Aldershot.
Halifax duly won the game 1-0 and kept alive their hopes of at least matching Rovers.
The result of all these results through the week was that Halifax were now the only team that could still match Rovers if Rovers were to win their final game, and so the job was done for the boys from Belle Vue.
Lap of Victory
On Monday 5th April, as Rovers travelled to Grimsby Town’s Blundell Park for their final game of the season, they knew that promotion had been gained but the title was in their own hands for the taking.
The attendance of 5,103 was swelled by a considerable travelling contingent of Rovers fans and they were duly rewarded by a display of brilliant football.
With their fans roaring them on Rovers swept forward in droves but, as had been the case all season, their finishing left as much to be desired as their build up play was to be admired.
It still seemed to be a question of when not if Rovers would score and in the 41st minute Briggs duly obliged the travelling fans.
Clish it was who laid down the groundwork as he received the ball and after beating a couple of hefty challenges, played a pass to Briggs who fired home a terrific drive.
Half time arrived with Rovers leading 1-0 and Champions’ elect.
As the second half got under way there was a growing belief in the away end that this was going to be the night they clinched the Championship and they were even more buoyed up when just two minutes after the re-start Watson fired Rovers further ahead.
Picking the ball up by the halfway line Watson moved forward and, seeing no other options open to him, he fired in a shot from long range that simply zipped into the net.
It was all Rovers as they powered forward with Briggs, Webber and Watson all going close to adding to Rovers score.
Grimsby however shocked the travelling hordes when, after Wilcockson had been adjudged to have fouled a Grimsby player on the edge of the Rovers area, Dave Boylen stepped up and cheekily lobbed the ball over the defensive wall and past Ogston to bring Grimsby back into the game.
Now it was Grimsby’s turn to push forward and Rovers’ rearguard was severely put to the test as they repelled attack after attack from the Mariners forwards.
The defence held out stoutly and 12 minutes from the end Rovers sealed the win to clinch the points and the title.
John Flowers was brought down and needed attention from the physio but recovered to take the free kick.
With everyone expecting a high ball over the defence Flowers instead slipped the ball to Briggs who laid on a pass for Johnson. He took the ball inside two Grimsby defenders and powered a shot towards goal. Stuart Robertson – in the penalty area for the free kick – added the finishing touch and Rovers regained their two-goal advantage.
Triumphant Rovers Look Ahead
It was a fitting way to end the season, as Rovers and their fans travelled back home as Champions.
There was much speculation regarding the future of Rovers Manager Lawrie McMenemy, with several top flight clubs reportedly watching his progress, but Rovers Chairman Mr. F J Wilson allayed the fears and gave details of a new contract that had been offered.
The new contract would give McMenemy “tremendous incentives” for taking the club into a higher class of football without endangering the club’s financial position.
Mr. McMenemy and Mr. Wilson had agreed a three-year deal.
Mr. McMenemy said at the Hatfield supporters meeting that “It is a very good contract and I am very happy with it.”
Rovers and their fans could now look forward to next season in the Third Division with plenty of optimism.
We would like to thank Ray for offering to help us with content during this difficult period for football and the wider world, and would be happy to field enquiries from other Rovers fans with an interest in writing about the club if they wish to join the growing ITEN community. Please get in touch with us via our website or social media pages, or else we can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.