• Adam Stubbings

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

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

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 One here, then read on to see how the side got on into September including a big League Cup clash and two local derbies.

Saturday 23rd August saw Rovers travelling the short distance to Millmoor, home of Yorkshire rivals Rotherham United.

The Millers, who had begun the season with a 4-3 victory over Bury and then lost by the odd goal as they travelled to Shrewsbury, were trying to put their stamp on a successful season and Rovers knew they would be no pushovers.

Just two places separated the teams before kick-off with Rovers just having the edge on Goal Average.

Rovers were fielding four ex-Rotherham men: Rabjohn, Wilcockson, Clish and Watson. Haselden was not yet fully fit and Briggs’ illness had ruled him out of the starting lineup.

From the start it was a game of niggling fouls, often overlooked by referee Mr. R.L. Johnstone, yet none of them vicious. Still it produced plenty of good football and provided a great deal of excitement as both teams were intent on playing attacking football.

Although Rovers managed to snuff out the danger from Rotherham’s wide men it meant that the game became bogged down in midfield and many of the passes from both teams were cut out before any real chances were supplied.

The goal that settled the game came after 26 minutes, during a 20-minute spell when Rotherham were down to ten men while Furnell the Rotherham goalkeeper was off the field receiving treatment after a clash with Rovers player Watson.

Furnell had to be taken from the pitch to have four stitches inserted in a head wound having collided with Watson after he had failed to gather a cross from Johnson.

Regan had been lurking on the edge of Rotherham’s box when Flowers dispossessed a defender and played a pinpoint cross into Regan’s path; the forward made no mistake with an unstoppable shot from the 18 yard line to give Rovers the lead.

For the rest of the half – especially after the return of Furnell – Rotherham peppered the Rovers goal and time and again Rovers were thankful to the defensive qualities of their backline.

Wilcockson, Flowers and Ogston were the pick of the defence but every one of the team put in a vast amount of work to keep the Rotherham forwards at bay.

The second half followed the same pattern as the first, but slowly Rovers began to get into the game and chances were there for both teams as the game reached its conclusion but Rotherham could not find the equaliser they searched for and Rovers were unable to add to their solitary goal.

With three games played Rovers were lying in 5th spot on 4 points from 3 games, causing much excited speculation from their fans.

Regan Rues Penalty Miss...

Two of their first three games had seen Rovers on the road and they were travelling again on Wednesday 27th August as they made their way to Shrewsbury Town’s Gay Meadow ground.

Unlike the Rotherham game, where the referee allowed many niggling fouls to go unpunished, the referee for this game a Mr. R.C. Challis played a constant never-ending tune on his whistle to the extent that the game as any kind of showcase was ruined from the off.

Rovers dominated the game from start to finish but had to be content with just a share of the spoils in a 0-0 draw. It could have been so much more though.

With both teams struggling against a constant bombardment of the referee’s whistle, it was difficult for any cohesive football to be played and at half time the referee was soundly booed off the pitch.

The second half contained just as much whistle-blowing as the first, but one whistle cheered the Rovers and their fans as Mr. Challis blew for a Rovers penalty after 65 minutes.

Regan – who had scored each of Rovers’ last three goals – took the kick, but placed it too close to Philips in the Shrewsbury goal and he made the simplest of saves.

Terry Harkin shortly afterwards got the ball in the Rovers net only to find that the whistle had gone yet again, this time for offside.

The only other notable point from the game was that Rovers defender Colin Clish had to be replaced by Stewart Grey during the second half and the injury looked like keeping him out of the team for some considerable time.

It was not until later that it was discovered that Wilcockson in the same game had suffered a broken nose making him doubtful for the forthcoming game at Belle Vue against local rivals Barnsley.

So another game undefeated, but the single point gained could not stop Rovers from slipping down to 7th position in the league.

...But Makes Amends Against Tykes

Saturday 30th August saw Rovers back at Belle Vue and a game against the old enemy: Barnsley.

The game was pre-empted by an impassioned plea from the Rovers Chairman Mr. F.J. Wilson for calm between the two sets of fans. Mr. Wilson spoke at length to the local press, reaffirming the club’s policy on troublemakers.

He said, "I feel it necessary from time to time to reiterate our determination to isolate ill tempered and irresponsible behaviour from our club and surroundings, and to warn again the few participants who are solely responsible for creating these nuisances."

In addition, extra police had been drafted in to quell any possible trouble.

On the field of play meanwhile Wilcockson the Rovers centre half played in the game even though against Shrewsbury he had broken his nose.

McMenemy left the decision whether to play or not up to the player and with just 30 minutes to kick off Wilcockson decided he would play.

Derby games between these two were generally tight and not lacking in atmosphere and this game did not disappoint to start with.

A lively start greeted the 16,667 spectators and the visiting ranks of travelling Barnsley fans were in good voice.

Sadly, the game deteriorated badly after the first initial stages and a lifeless midfield stalemate ensued.

Fans of both teams became increasingly impatient with the midfield battle and quickly the cheers turned to groans.

The game remained scoreless at the interval with neither team making much headway against their opponents.

The second half started off as the first had ended and something special was needed to bring the game to life. That duly arrived in the 55th minute when, in Rovers first meaningful attack of the half, Watson was brought down in the penalty area by Boardman and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Before the game there had been a discussion in the Rovers dressing room about penalties and whether they should change the taker after Regan’s miss at Shrewsbury, but McMenemy decided to leave things as they were.

So as Regan placed the ball on the spot perhaps Mr. McMenemy was just as nervous as Regan.

He need not have worried as Regan easily beat Arblaster in the Barnsley goal to take his tally to four goals in the last four games.

That was just what the game needed as both teams now turned on the style and gave the fans a scintillating game of football. Play flowed from end to end making this an exciting and enthralling local derby.

Fortunately for Rovers Barnsley fell well short of attacking options. Although their midfield play was sprightly, they fell down always as they got within sight of the Rovers penalty area.

At the final whistle both teams were roundly applauded from the field of play, but the points went to Rovers and lifted them back into 5th position in the league.

Rovers Valiant In Cup Clash

The following Wednesday, on September 3rd, Rovers and their faithful band of followers made their merry way across the Pennines to Ewood Park, the home of high-flying Second Division outfit Blackburn Rovers, for their 2nd Round League Cup encounter.

Blackburn were hot favourites to progress into the next round and most Rovers fans were intent on just enjoying a good game, but no one was expecting the frenetic opening first 30 minutes they got.

First after a dour opening spell Rovers shocked their illustrious opponents by taking a deserved lead. A foul by Hunter on Briggs brought trainer Frank Marshall racing onto the pitch, but no sooner had he walked off than the ball was in the back of the Blackburn net.

The Blackburn defence was caught napping as Briggs after his treatment got to his feet and raced forward into the heart of the Blackburn rearguard. Johnson lobbed the ball over the defensive wall and Briggs pounced to smash the ball past Blacklaw in the Blackburn goal.

Rovers were in the lead, but just 20 minutes later they were trailing by 3 goals to 1.

A long throw-in by Rogers found Martin and his header went straight to the feet of Mulvanney who turned and shot. The effort was blocked but Hill was there to hammer home the loose ball.

Next, Connelly had a fierce drive from the edge of the box and Ogston pulled off a great save diving to his left, but once again the ball fell to a Blackburn player – this time Martin – and he made no mistake with the follow up shot.

Regan had a chance to bring Rovers back into it but his shot across goal was narrowly wide of the mark.

A foul on Rogers saw the linesman’s flag raised but referee Mr. E.T. Jennings from Stourbridge ignored it and played the advantage. Rogers continued and played a superb through ball to Martin who from the closest of angles finished with aplomb.

There looked to be no way back for visiting Rovers, yet just as their fans were hoping for damage limitations they roared back with a goal of their own.

Usher was brought down halfway inside the Blackburn half and Robertson ran through from well back to head home in fine style.

Rovers were back in the game and had given their travelling fans a reason to hope.

The Doncaster fans’ half time cuppas tasted much sweeter than they could have hoped for and they eagerly awaited the restart.

The second half saw Rovers push their opponents back on the defensive as they went in search of an equaliser, but it was to be a cruel twist of fate that finished them off.

Eighteen minutes from the end a rare Blackburn foray up field saw a move which resulted in the killer goal. Rogers was allowed all the time in the world to dance through the Rovers defence. Lining up a shot on goal he sliced the ball into the air and over the top of Ogston in the Rovers goal.

It was a cruel blow to Rovers who had fought gallantly and had in no small way done themselves and their travelling fans proud.

A disappointing result and an even more disappointing attendance with just 10,024 seeing the match.

Blackburn with five international players in their team just had the edge on Rovers, that little bit of class that helped the form book turn out the right way.

The Age-Old Problem of Reading

It was back to the bread and butter of the league on the following Saturday, September 6th, and a trip down to Elm Park, the home of Reading FC.

The Royals had had an indifferent start to the season and were lying in 13th spot, two points adrift of Rovers in 5th.

Reading had one of the worst Goals Against records in the division and it was easy to see why. They had conceded 11 goals in the league and another three in the League Cup, so you would have thought that Rovers had at least some chance of scoring.

Not a bit of it!!

From the first whistle Rovers created chance after chance after chance and all to no avail.

Goalkeeper Roy Brown in the Reading goal, playing behind a shaky defence and beaten by almost every high cross, hardly handled a single ball cleanly and there was more panicky booting of the ball into touch and away for corners than anyone could count.

A little steadiness, a little calm, and a little high-quality finishing would have seen Rovers romp away with the points, but instead all their hard work went begging.

It was so one-sided that Ogston hardly touched the ball all the match, Robertson and Bird spent almost all of the first half on Reading’s side of the field.

The game continued in the same vain in the second half, Rovers probing and missing at a continuously fast pace, but while the game remained scoreless there was always the chance of a sucker punch.

That punch duly arrived in the 55th minute.

On one of their very few forays into the Rovers half, Reading stung Rovers with as soft a goal as you could wish to see.

Smee raiding down the left – his first involvement of the half – played a through ball to Chappell whose speculative shot was fumbled by Ogston. The ball rolled along the goal-line and Williams was first to react to push the ball over the line.

Now the game changed: Rovers still pushed forward, still created chance after chance, but now Reading’s defence became like a rock and nothing was going to get through.

Brown in the Reading goal clutched the ball as if it were magnetised to his hands, the bumbling Reading defence was suddenly solid as a rock. No matter what Rovers did they could not find a way through.

When the final whistle came Reading and their fans could not believe what they had just witnessed. Two precious points had been stolen from the jaws of what should have been a resounding defeat and Rovers would travel home to South Yorkshire pointless.

Reading now moved level with Rovers on 7 points but still below them on Goal Average.

The following day in the Doncaster Post Joe Slater made an impassioned plea to the Rovers board to re-sign an old favourite in Laurie Sheffield.

Sheffield was at the time plying his trade at Luton Town but had dropped down the pecking order at Kenilworth Road.

Rovers had tried unsuccessfully to bring Sheffield back earlier in the close-season but the price had been out of their reach. Now with Luton signing Matt Tees, his future at the club was in serious doubt and Slater thought that the time was ripe to pinch him back.

It was to prove prophetic several weeks later.

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.