• Adam Stubbings

Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969/70 Part Three

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 Two here, then read on to see how Rovers got on throughout the rest of September.

On 13th September, Rovers were host to Tranmere at Belle Vue, a side sitting one point and four places below Rovers in the table.

9,977 fans turned up hoping to see Rovers get back to winning ways, and they would not be disappointed although they would have to endure a first 45 minutes of the worst football that Rovers had played for many a day.

Tranmere’s goal had come as early as the second minute when Derek Smith was allowed all the time in the world to break through the defence and become the first player this season to score against Rovers at Belle Vue.

For almost 21 minutes of the first half, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when goalkeeper Kevin Thomas clashed with Marsden and had to leave the field to receive attention.

Tranmere centre forward George Yardley took his place in goal but was never tested once, even though Rovers had a man over.

Rovers fans must have wondered what they were watching as half time approached and they all knew that there had to be a vast improvement in the second half for Rovers to get anything from the game.

Whatever Lawrie McMenemy said at half time, it had the desired effect because Rovers came out a team transformed in the second half.

The flowing, attacking football was back, and with the way they set about their business it was only a matter of time before they got back on level terms.

The equaliser, as with many of Rovers’ goals so far this season, came from a free kick.

It was awarded in the 65th minute just outside the penalty area. Johnson standing over the ball took a couple of paces back as if to hit the ball but at the last moment moved to one side and Tony Marsden ran up and crashed the ball through the line of defenders as if they weren't there.

It was Marsden's first goal and could not have come at a better time. Rovers were now charged up and with the home fans roaring them on they went at Tranmere.

Seven minutes after Marsden's goal, Usher in a good shooting position decided to try to get closer to goal and was unceremoniously upended by Pritchard in the penalty area. Regan stepped up and scored from the spot to put Rovers into the lead.

Heads went down amongst the Tranmere players now and Rovers should have had at least a couple more goals, but were denied in part by Thomas in the Tranmere goal and again by some woeful finishing.

That though would have been totally unfair on Tranmere who had played their part in an entertaining second half, and who for the majority of the first half had been on course to cause an upset.

Rovers were now in 8th position, three points behind the leaders.

Far From Buried

The following Tuesday, 16th September, Rovers were at home again playing host to Bury.

Bury, lying just one point away from a place in the bottom four, seemed the ideal opponents for Rovers to carry on from where they had left off against Tranmere but as often happens when a bottom of the league team appears the form book never seems to go to plan.

Bury had been relegated from the Second Division last season and at times they showed it. Their passing play was illustrated when after just 12 minutes they shook the Rovers faithful by taking the lead.

Robertson, hurt in a collision, was still coming round after treatment when Bury were awarded a free kick on the edge of the 'D'.

The quick-thinking Eccleshare tried to float the ball over the defence and into the net but it was cleared off the line by the Rovers defence. The ball only found its way to Jimmy Kerr however, being marked by Robertson, and he smashed it past the despairing dive of Dave Clark in goal.

Marsden was then denied a penalty when Ramsbottom seemed to catch him diving at the striker’s feet as he was about to shoot but despite the Rovers appeals, the referee Mr. J.E. Thacker waved play on.

That decision though seemed to spur Rovers on even more and they moved up another gear as the crowd got behind them.

There were shots from every angle after that: shots off target, shots on target, shots punched away, shots cleared off the line and shots cleared by Bury's defence one way or another, many of them in true desperation.

The equaliser unfortunately would not come and half time arrived with Bury leading by that solitary goal.

In the second half, Rovers kicked off straight from the start applying much pressure and it duly paid off after 50 minutes.

Flowers, who had caused the Bury defence all sorts of problems all evening, sent through a defence-splitting pass straight into the path of Regan and the Rovers man made no mistake from close in.

After that, Rovers pressed further and further into the Bury half desperately seeking the winner but Bury drew 10 men behind the ball leaving loan striker Kerr to toil up front on his own.

As the game drew to a close even Kerr was called in to help his team mates stem the tide. Rovers just could not find the finishing touch and the game petered out to a 1-1 draw.

Only a point for Rovers but they were given a great ovation by their fans as they trooped off the field at the end.

A Fortuitous Goal

There was good news from the Rovers camp during the week when it was revealed that John Haselden, who during the summer had been studying for his FA coaching badge, had successfully passed. The badge he attained is the top award and put him in rarefied company.

Of the few who do have it, Rovers present Manager Mr. Lawrie McMenemy, Trainer Frank Marshall and England Boys Team Manager Eddie Beaglehole (father of Steve) are among the group.

Slightly more strange news was that Walsall had been granted permission to switch their match with Rovers from Saturday 1st November to the previous Friday night. Strange because when asked, no one at Belle Vue knew anything about it!

The following Saturday, 20th September, saw Rovers travel the short distance over to West Yorkshire for a match at The Shay, home of Halifax Town.

Halifax were still smarting from their midweek mauling at the hands of Fulham, who had smashed eight goals past their luckless opponents.

An early goal for Rovers could perhaps make the Halifax players heads drop and lead to a good result. Unfortunately, that did not go to plan and within two minutes of kick off Halifax were in front.

The Rovers rearguard were caught napping as Lawther, poaching down the middle, saw Clark off his line and accurately lobbed the ball over the stranded keeper to give his side the lead.

With the mauling from Fulham still fresh in their minds it was no surprise that Halifax fell back in defence, although a little early in the match, which allowed Rovers the run of midfield for the rest of the match.

So much was the superiority of Rovers possession that Robertson and his defensive colleagues spent almost all of the game sat on the halfway line clearing long balls from the Halifax defence back into their opponents’ area.

With so much possession the Rovers fans were bewildered at the lack of finishing punch by their forwards and half time duly arrived with Halifax still one goal to the good.

The second half continued where the first had ended with Rovers attacking and Halifax being limited to a few unthreatening breakaways.

It looked as if Rovers’ inability to finish off any kind of promising move would once again cost them dearly, but then in the 78th minute a strange mistake by Halifax keeper Alex Smith gifted Rovers their equaliser.

Collecting a long through ball, Smith stood in his area bouncing the ball, watched by Rod Johnson. Johnson challenged the keeper and as the ball bounced one more time Smith lost hold of it, it fell at the feet of Johnson and he duly prodded the ball over the line for the Rovers equaliser.

It was an equaliser that had never seemed like coming and it was an opportune time for Johnson to score his first goal of the season.

Rovers pressed ever more forward in search of the elusive winning goal, but Halifax were even more determined now not to concede and the final whistle gave both teams a point.

A dropped point meant Rovers fell two places in the table down to 8th, but they were now unbeaten in their last three games.

No Autumn Blues for Reds

Saturday 27th September saw Rovers entertain Southport at Belle Vue on a dull, grey afternoon.

Bad news for Rovers fans was that influential midfielder Rod Johnson would miss the game due to "bleeding under the skin". It was an aftermath of an injury he received against Tranmere Rovers. After the club doctor had examined the player his recommendation was that he should sit this game out.

Rovers were cheered onto the field by 10,042 fans, a gate swelled by just a few hundred Southport fans.

Southport showed why they were only just above the drop zone by failing to trouble Rovers in any way, shape or form throughout the afternoon.

Rovers totally dominated play from start to finish, and the question on most fans’ lips both during and after the game was what was McMenemy going to do about a goalscorer.

For fully 90 minutes Rovers totally controlled the game. Chances – and they were plentiful – came and went although admittedly there was some stouthearted defending from the Southport defence, but the number of chances Rovers threw away and completely fluffed was enormous.

Southport goalkeeper Wraith was a constant thorn in Rovers side as time and again he managed to get hand, fist, boot or leg to clear his line, and when he was beaten his colleagues came resolutely to his aid.

There was a time when even the goalpost and bar seemed to be on Southport's side as on at least four occasions Southport were saved by them.

The winning goal did come though, after 25 minutes as the defence allowed Usher to score his first of the season. Gilfillan started the move down the wing where he beat Aindow, the Southport full-back. His cross sailed aimlessly it seemed over both Briggs and Regan but fell at the feet of Usher near the far post, and he lashed an unstoppable shot past the diving Wraith to put Rovers ahead.

It was the second game in a row that a Rovers player had scored his first of the season, following Johnson being the first at Halifax the previous week.

There are now four teams on 13 points and Rovers’ Goal Average is the worst of them. Goals will probably be a deciding factor later in the season and everyone was assured Rovers needed to address the situation.

The two points did keep Rovers abreast of Brighton and Fulham, two teams that they face next starting with the Seagulls on home soil next Tuesday.

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 intotheemptynet@gmail.com.

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