Back in the day, for our editor holed up at uni in south Wales, Bristol Rovers would have made for a dream away day...
Photo: "Bristol Rovers dolls" by stringberd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Back in the day, for our editor holed up at uni in south Wales, Bristol Rovers would’ve made for a dream away day. It was nothing more than pure self-interest; making a short hop across the Severn to the next city on the rail line as Swansea, Cardiff, and Newport managed to stay clear of Boro’ for one reason or another. But it wasn’t to be. Neither the Gas nor their fierce rivals Bristol City could oblige our editor during that four-year stay over the border. And our editor couldn’t afford to go wasn’t going all the way to Swindon.

So, you can imagine the frustration when they eventually did turn up on our fixture list years later. But we’ll come to all that once we’ve learned a little more about them…

Who are Bristol Rovers?

Formed in 1883, the Gas took some time to settle on their now-familiar name. At the start, they went around as Black Arabs; inspired by the Arabs rugby side and the black kits they wore at the time. But this name lasted just one season. Next up, Eastville Rovers was the name of choice and this stuck around for a little longer. In 1897, Bristol was put in front of their name and – in 1899 – ‘Eastville’ was binned; leaving us with ‘Bristol Rovers’.

Quite the early adventure. And that’s just their name!

It seems that 1899 was a milestone year in more ways than one, however. It was also a year in which the Gas joined the new Southern League, having already gone professional two years before. A high point in the early 20th century was their title win of 1905. But that was an exception, not the norm. And the seasons either side of World War One saw them pottering around the lower half of the table – usually in 16th or 17th out of 20 or 22 teams.

To be fair to them, the mediocrity didn’t stand in their way of Football League membership. Like other Southern League members (or so it seems), the Gas were absorbed into a new Division Three South for the 1920-1 campaign. And here they remained until breaking the mould and winning the 1952-3 title; going up to Division Two at the same time. It wouldn’t be the last time the club would swap places between the second and third tiers either.

Why do we know them?

Ups and downs between Divisions Two and Three (as they were called back then) would become a semi-regular event for the Gas. At least you can say they were consistent with that. And it kept them a long way out of arms reach of a Boro’ team climbing the pyramid during the 1990s. Of course, we did get to know each other very briefly in 1997 when the Gas handed over some cash to sign Barry Hayles as our remarkable rise came to a halt.

Into a new century and things started to turn iffy for Bristol Rovers. They dropped into the fourth tier for the first time in their history at the end of the 2000-1 season. And it could’ve been a second straight relegation (into the Conference) the following year too. Luckily for them, Halifax Town were much worse and came down instead. This wouldn’t be a sign of things to come either. Rovers turned it around and returned to the third tier in 2007.

Fast forward to the early 2010s and – again – our paths refused to come together. As Boro’ went up to League Two, the Gas were in League One. At the end of the 2010-1 season, we’d swap places. And by the time we were back in League Two in 2014, they’d somehow found themselves down in the Conference. In 2015, the two magnets that were us and them finally stopped repelling each other and we met them for the first time in a competitive fixture.

What is our record against the Gas?

It can be weird how football works sometimes. Bristol Rovers returned up to the Football League and – like others before them, Boro’ included – shot through League Two up into League One. But that wasn’t before we’d taken four points off them from the six available. The first three of them came from a 2-1 win at the Memorial Stadium in November 2015. That was Teddy Sheringham‘s first away win as Boro’ manager.

The return at ours in April 2016 was far less memorable; a 0-0 draw that could’ve ruined their hopes of automatic promotion. It didn’t in the end. So, all’s forgiven (we assume)…

Bristol Rovers: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 3 — W 2 — D 1 — L 0 — F 3 — A 1 — Pts 4 — WR 66%
Our last tango: Bristol Rovers 0-1 Stevenage, 08 January 2020

What happened to them?

After returning the third tier, the Gas haven’t looked back. And we’ve not exactly come all that close to joining them. Just falling short of the 2018-9 playoffs is the best we can offer. That doesn’t mean our paths haven’t crossed since, however. The 2019-20 Leasing.com Trophy Round Three draw took us back to the Memorial Stadium. And, for a campaign in which a Boro’ win was rarer that a £6 note, we somehow managed to come out on top.

We told you it was funny how football sometimes works out…

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Bristol Rovers club profile

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