• Adam Stubbings

Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969-70 Part Six

Rovers fan Ray Jest takes 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 Five here, then read on to see how Rovers got on into November and their return to the FA Cup.

Saturday 15th November brought a welcome diversion to Rovers, with the 1st Round of the FA Cup and a home tie against Crewe Alexandra of the Fourth Division.

On a damp, dismal day, 9,390 fans turned up to watch what many thought was an easy trip into the next round of the competition, but it was to be quite a different affair.

In fairness to those fans who thought that, it really should have been quite a simple task. By far the stronger team, Rovers steamrolled their lowly opponents for most of the match yet the Crewe goal stayed relatively intact, and it was not until the 29th minute that Rovers managed to break the deadlock.

Johnson, who was fouled over on the right wing, got up himself to deliver a pinpoint cross and Sheffield headed home in fine style to the delight of Rovers fans.

Rovers though could not add to their lead and at half time they just had the one goal to show for all their endeavors.

Crewe almost equalised at the start of the second half when in the 48th minute, Morrissey intercepted a bad backpass from Wilcockson and sent over a low cross into the penalty area in front of an open goal. Unfortunately for him not one of his teammates was on hand to finished it off and Robertson shepherded the ball safely back to Ogston.

Crewe were becoming more and more dangerous though and were beginning to play some attractive football.

With Rovers’ first half promise fading, Crewe took full advantage to push further forward and their persistence paid off in the 77th minute when a shot from Gannon hit his own player but rebounded to Turner, who gratefully slotted the ball home for the equaliser.

It meant a happy trip back home for the travelling Crewe fans and a chance to face Rovers again on home soil the following Wednesday for the replay.

Crewe, struggling near the lower reaches of the Fourth Division, belied their lowly position and with a determination that impressed their fans went at Rovers from the off. Only some stubborn defending by the Rovers back four and in particular goalkeeper Ogston kept the Crewe forwards at bay.

Slowly though Rovers began to make inroads of their own and all of Crewe's enthusiastic play came undone in the 21st minute when Rovers took the lead.

They say when you are on top you should take your half chances and that is just what Rovers did. Centre half Robertson had on a couple of occasions broken free and joined in the Rovers attacks, and it was on just such an occasion that he ventured upfield as Brian Usher jinked his way down the wing.

Usher’s cross was floated into the area and it looked as if it would be claimed easily by Crewe goalkeeper Ernie Adams, but his hands groped only space as Robertson jumped in front of him to head home in fine style.

Now Crewe doubled their efforts and Rovers were again pushed onto the defensive.

On several occasions Crewe were denied by the outstanding Rovers defence and even when they managed to break through, they found keeper John Ogston in superb form.

Referee Mr. Harold Davey of Mansfield was determined to keep the game under control and this resulted in several bookings throughout the game.

In particular John Regan – who had only left Crewe last year – was singled out and on the end of some very aggressive tackles within the first three minutes, one which resulted in Crewe right half Roy Gater receiving a booking and a stern lecture from the referee, whilst Robertson was also booked for a crunching tackle on Bradshaw.

The half time whistle arrived with Crewe still on top and pushing forward but Rovers held them back.

As the second half got underway, it was Crewe once again who had the lion's share of the possession but they were unable to find an answer to Rovers’ resolute defending.

With the end of the game drawing near, Crewe produced a flurry of attacks and the Rovers rearguard were clearing more and more forays from the Crewe attack, with increasing desperation.

Ogston had to be alert on several occasions, firstly diving courageously at the feet of Morrissey then gathering the ball as Inglis and then Arnold made desperate lunges at it.

In the dying seconds Crewe skipper Peter Leigh found himself in front of an open goal but skewed his shot wide when it seemed easier to score and could only drop to his knees, head in hands, as he realised their last chance had gone.

It was not an impressive win by any margin for Rovers but it got them into the Second Round of the competition and an away tie at Chester, another team from the Fourth Division.

Argyle Frustrations

Friday 21st November saw Rovers entertain Plymouth Argyle in an evening fixture that also saw manager Lawrie McMenemy celebrate a year in charge at Belle Vue.

It had been a highly successful 12 months with promotion from Division Four as champions being the pinnacle, and now a very ambitious push for another promotion in the process.

With Rovers lying in 4th place, just one point behind Barnsley and two behind leaders Luton Town as well as Rochdale, a win could see them moving top of the standings, if only for one night.

8,195 fans turned out on a chilly night hoping to see Rovers capitalise on a Plymouth side that were not having a great season, lying just below halfway in the table.

Buoyed from their last home league victory over Bristol Rovers and their passage into the Second Round of the FA Cup, Rovers began in fine form and never allowed their opponents to get a foothold in the game. Surprisingly though, Rovers only had one goal to show for all their first half supremacy.

Lawrie Sheffield, who had returned last month from Luton, was on hand to head Rovers in front from a pinpoint cross by John Flowers. It was Sheffield's third goal in five games but he was guilty of wasting several other chances during the first half that would surely have ensured a Rovers victory.

Still, at half time with their warm cups of tea in hand, Rovers fans had much to be optimistic about. Plymouth had barely shown any urge to play attacking football, instead being happy to rely on the odd breakaway.

The second half followed the same pattern as the first with Sheffield and Regan missing chance after chance to sew the game up.

Ogston in the Rovers goal was merely a spectator for 90% of the game whilst Dunne at the other end was called on time and again to clear his lines.

Plymouth made no pretence of the fact they had come seeking no more than a point as their lack of attacking play suggested, nor did they have one direct shot on goal throughout the first half and barely troubled Ogston in the second.

So it was much to the despair of the Rovers fans that with just two minutes left, Plymouth finally got one chance on goal thanks to the industry of Norman Piper, who for the only time in the match caught the Rovers defence dallying and played a neat one-two with Mick Beckle, who scrambled home the equaliser.

Points dropped were not what the Rovers faithful were wanting especially with a spot on top of the table waiting, and with results not going their way the following day it saw the team still in 4th position, but with only a one-point lead over their three nearest rivals.

A Long Road Back

Wednesday 26th November saw Rovers on the road again with a long, hard trip down to the South Coast for a game against Bournemouth at their Dean Court home.

Rovers began the game on defence and, aside from a few minutes of the first half, played that way throughout. Bournemouth were no better mind and the first half hour of the match was not pleasant viewing for either set of fans.

Then after 32 minutes of drab defensive play Bournemouth suddenly came to life. Hartley raiding down the left won a corner and it was he who took it, floating over a high cross to the far post. The ball was cleared out but fell to Powell, who played a smart ball to East giving him the easiest of chances to put Bournemouth ahead.

Rovers were now forced to abandon their defensive measures but before they knew it they were two goals down. With 37 minutes gone, Ted McDougall chested the ball down and ran fully forty yards to the corner flag before crossing. His delivery was hooked into the area where White controlled the ball and turned in one precise movement to hook the ball into the net.

Rovers could have crumpled at that but they threw everything forward and the Bournemouth team and their fans were still celebrating White's goal when after 40 minutes, Johnson took advantage of a slip-up in the Cherries defence to slip in and power a strong shot into the net.

It brought Rovers straight back into the game and should have signaled a revival but instead for some strange reason they went back onto their defensive stance and hardly troubled Jones in the Bournemouth goal again.

The second half saw Bournemouth push more men forward looking to tie the game up and their third goal, from leading scorer Ted McDougall halfway through the second half, was a powerful header to wrap up the points.

It could have been much worse but Bournemouth's forwards missed a hatful of chances and at the end they were just content to sit back on their lead as a toothless Rovers could find no way through.

It was the first time in over a year that any team had scored more than two goals against Rovers, so another record had been lost.

The 3-1 loss saw Rovers drop to 7th place in the table and losing ground on the promotion pack.

We would like to thank Ray for his contributions and would like 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 intotheemptynet@gmail.com.

All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.