Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969/70 Part Four
During lockdown, Rovers fan Ray Jest has been taking us back in time to relive classic seasons from the archives, and is currently documenting the 1969/70 campaign, with Lawrie McMenemy leading the side back in the Third Division. Check out Part Three here, then read on to see how Rovers got on into October culminating with a big game at the top...
Tuesday 30th September saw 10,779 fans welcome Rovers and opponents Brighton and Hove Albion onto the field in what was expected to be a match of titanic proportions.
Brighton, sitting three places above Rovers in the table albeit on goal average, had attracted the admiration of many football journalists for their attacking style and everyone agreed that Rovers would have to be at their best for the forthcoming match.
Rovers surprised their followers by taking the game to Brighton from the off and put their visitors firmly on the back foot.
Their slick passing and movement caused the visitors no end of problems and it came as no surprise when Rovers took the lead after just 12 minutes.
It was Gilfillan who made the goal, jinking his way along the touchline, turning a couple of defenders inside out before putting over a pinpoint cross which Watson rose to head powerfully past a despairing Sidebottom in the Brighton goal.
For the next twenty minutes or so Rovers were in the ascendancy then for some strange reason they took their foot of the pedal and allowed Brighton back into the game.
With Brighton now pushing forward for an equaliser Rovers had all their work cut out for them and half time came as a relief for both the team and the fans.
The second half began just as the first had with Rovers once again in the ascendancy but slowly, Brighton came more and more into the game and an even game ensued.
With the game on a knife-edge it became clear that if Rovers were going to win they needed the margin of another goal and thankfully it came with just 15 minutes left.
Rabjohn it was who forced a corner out on the right, Usher took the kick to the near post where Robertson leapt high to head the ball towards goal by the far post.
It looked to be goal-bound, but just to make sure Watson jumped in and chested the ball over the line.
With time running out Brighton intensified their pressure on the Rovers goal but their rigid defense held out to gain a precious win and two even more precious points.
Although it was Watson who scored two goals it was really Brian Usher’s night, his display was a Man of the Match performance and he was praised loudly by the fans as he left the field.
The win moved Rovers into 5th place in the league, just one point below Leyton Orient and Barnsley in 2nd and 3rd respectively and four points behind the leaders Luton Town.
More good news coming out of the Rovers camp was that Colin Clish was well on the way to recovery after having the plaster cast removed from the leg he broke five weeks ago.
Ground Sale On Horizon?
Breaking news the following day in the Doncaster Post suggested that Doncaster Corporation was willing to discuss the sale of Belle Vue to the football club.
In an article by an "Evening Post reporter" it was stated that, despite repeated refusals by Doncaster Corporation to sell the land which Rovers had on a 99 year lease, there now seemed to be a possibility of a deal between Corporation and the Rovers Board.
The Corporation Estates Committee – in response to a request by Rovers Chairman Mr. Frank Wilson – stated they were willing to enter talks with the football club about selling the ground and car park on certain terms, and that the District Valuer would be consulted regarding the price.
It was confirmed by the Finance Committee and would be brought to the full council the following week.
If the deal were to be approved it would allow Rovers to go ahead with building a much needed £100,000 stand.
Mr. Wilson said that the old stand would be pulled down to be replaced by a new one and that much needed work could be carried out on the car park. Mr. Wilson also re-iterated that the Corporation could use the car park for free on all race days.
Tough Test at the Cottage
In the league, Rovers were concentrating on their next game which would see them travel down to Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC, on Saturday 4th October.
Lying three places below Rovers in the table, Fulham were seen by many as a test of the team’s resolve and if they could get any kind of result here it would prove their ability to go further in the league.
So it was then that the travelling Rovers fans saw this as the biggest game of the season so far.
Fulham began the game with their intent obvious as they pinned Rovers in their own half for long periods of the first half.
Rovers did well to stem the onslaught and in fact turned the game on its head with the first goal.
In a rare Rovers attack, Graham Watson burst away down the wing and sent over a long curling cross to Rodney Johnson on the far side of Fulham's area. Johnson crossed the ball to the far post and Wilcockson was there to head the ball home for yet another first, this time his first goal of the season.
Now Rovers began to look just as dangerous as Fulham and the game began to sway from one end to the other, but there was no more scoring before half time.
Fulham began the second half as they had the first – on the ascendancy – and thought they had equalised after 47 minutes when Richardson had the ball in the net but his joy was turned to despair as the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.
As the second half progressed, the play became more even with both teams having several chances. The woodwork came to Fulham's aid on a couple of occasions as first Robertson and then Johnson both had shots come back off the bar, whilst Steve Earle also had a shot for Fulham that hit the woodwork.
As the excitement mounted for both sets of fans it was Fulham who struck next to get back on level terms.
With 18 minutes left, Jimmy Conway jinked down the right hand side and played a cross that evaded everyone except Stan Brown, who gratefully headed it back across and into the top corner of the net.
At the final whistle both teams were roundly cheered off the pitch. Rovers would travel home with another point in the bag, their unbeaten run now stretching to six games but despite the hard-earned point Rovers dropped to 6th spot in the league after Bristol Rovers triumphed 3-0 at Brighton to move ahead on Goal Average.
Mansfield Meet Their Match
Rovers were in action again just 48 hours later as on Monday 6th October they travelled to Field Mill, the home of near neighbours Mansfield Town.
Mansfield were lying in 12th spot in the table, four points adrift of Rovers. With six games played at Field Mill they had managed to score just six goals and had conceded four, a poor record for the watching fans.
The gate of 9,454 was swelled by a huge travelling army of Rovers fans and they roared their team onto the pitch.
Rovers were defending their six game unbeaten run and the determination to hold onto that showed from the very first minute.
Resolute defending against a team that was seemingly out to prove a point kept Mansfield at bay.
After just eleven minutes the deadlock was broken as John Flowers robbed the ball from the feet of Stewart Boam with the easiest of tackles. Flowers then ran for the byline, steadied himself and crossed to the near post. His delivery was helped on its way by Graham Watson and Brian Usher lurking at the back post had the easiest of jobs to strike the ball home and give Rovers the lead.
Flowers was booked ten minutes later for a foul but Rovers were undeterred.
After this, Mansfield piled on the pressure but the Rovers rearguard held firm and even helped to set up a series of attacks which helped to ease the pressure.
Half time duly arrived with Rovers leading 1-0 and the fans were hoping for more of the same after the interval.
To the delight of their travelling support Rovers began the second half on the front foot and with 51 minutes gone, gave the faithful even more to cheer as they took a two goal lead.
Usher was obstructed running down the right flank and from the resulting free kick, Johnson swung over a tantalising ball into the heart of the Mansfield area. Regan hooked it goalwards and Stephen Briggs jumped in to put the ball in the net.
Shortly after Johnson reacted to a bad tackle by Alex Pate and was duly booked for his actions along with Pate who was booked for the tackle.
Flowers and Johnson had both been carded for the second time this season and one more for either player would see them missing vital matches, something that Rovers did not want at this stage of the season.
Rovers now looked to be coasting to victory, but with twenty minutes to go a terrible mix up between Robertson and Ogston let in Dudley Roberts to reduce the arrears.
Suddenly Mansfield seemed to find a second wind and Rovers were all players to the pumps to stem raid after raid from the Mansfield team.
Ogston in particular made up for his and Robertson's error by pulling off some magnificent saves to keep the Stags at bay.
Rovers dogged defence, Ogston's saves and a mixture of bad finishing and luck kept Mansfield out and the final whistle was greeted by the Rovers fans, not with cheers but by sighs of relief.
With none of the teams around them playing on the Monday, the win moved Rovers up to second in the table, just three points behind leaders Luton Town – although of course the chasing pack now all had a game in hand.
Big Clash at Belle Vue
Above all else though, what the victory gave to Rovers was a boost to their morale against their next opponents…who just happened to be table-topping Luton Town.
Saturday 11th October then saw the Hatters arrive at Belle Vue as vaunted league leaders and Rovers’ biggest crowd of the season by far – 17,380 – awaited kick off with baited breath
Luton had so far this season stormed the league: their record upon arriving at Belle Vue was Played 13, Won 9, Drawn 4.
Only four points dropped all season and Rovers as well as their followers knew this would be a huge task against a team in such good form.
From the kick off, it was apparent that both teams meant to play good football with none of the niggly little fouls or time wasting on show.
Although there was plenty of good football on display neither team could manage to dominate the other, though it was Rovers who marginally had the edge during the first 30 minutes or so and this led to them taking the lead.
During a short spell of possession football Rovers pushed Luton onto the back foot, which gave Wilcockson a rare chance to venture upfield and as the ball fell to him he sent over a high cross into the Luton penalty area. Several players jumped for the ball but the unfortunate full back Slough was first to it and looped the ball over the despairing hand of Davy into the Luton goal.
It gave Rovers fans the half time lead they had been hoping for but both teams were loudly applauded from the field at the break with the fans knowing this game was far from over.
The second half began in a frenzy of action. Within a minute of the restart Rovers’ young defender Stuart Gray headed clear off the line when it looked almost a certainty that Luton had equalised.
The ball was cleared downfield to Graham Watson, who raced away down the wing and sent over a low cross which gave Stephen Briggs no more than half a chance to finish, but he did so with aplomb to make it 2-0.
The fans went wild and the benefit of the second goal allowed Rovers to steady their nerves and play the ball around in fine style.
One of the biggest cheers from both sets of fans was the appearance of Luton Town substitute Laurie Sheffield who came on after 50 minutes against his former club, but even his presence could not get the visitors back into the game.
The pick of Rovers players was Stuart Gray, who despite his lack of years or experience played as if he had been in the heart of defence for years.
The atmosphere created by the fans was reciprocated by the players as throughout the 90 minutes there was not one bad foul and both teams were once again resoundingly cheered from the pitch at full time.
Rovers had inflicted the first defeat of the season on the leaders and had been well worth their two points.
With other results going against them after their win over Mansfield, Rovers had to settle for fourth place but now they were just two places behind the leaders and had stretched their unbeaten run to eight games.
The question on most lips in Doncaster that week was whether or not Rovers were good enough to push on for another promotion season.
We would like to thank Ray for his contributions 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 email@example.com.
All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.