No room for com­pla­cency as Rovers bid to cre­ate FA Cup mem­o­ries worth cher­ish­ing

Bristol Post - - SPORT -

BRIS­TOL Rovers’ FA Cup visit to Bar­net this week­end rekin­dles happy mem­o­ries of my early days wear­ing the blue and white quar­ters.

It is a re­peat of the first-round tie back in Novem­ber 1983, which I be­lieve was the first-ever meet­ing be­tween the clubs. Af­ter a goal­less draw at Un­der­hill, we won the re­play 3-1 at Eastville three days later and yours truly ac­tu­ally man­aged to get on the score­sheet!

It would be less than hon­est if I claimed to re­mem­ber the goal or much about the two games, al­though I do re­call we were not very im­pressed by the dress­ing rooms on our visit to Bar­net.

That is part of the so-called magic of the FA Cup, which pro­fes­sional play­ers have to adapt to when fac­ing non-League op­po­si­tion. If you don’t, or you think you only have to turn up to win, the stage is set for a shock re­sult.

What I do re­mem­ber well is the Rovers team I was be­com­ing a part of when we faced Bar­net and one player in par­tic­u­lar who was play­ing out of his skin at the time.

Micky Bar­rett was in the mid­dle of a pur­ple scor­ing patch from the left wing. He also scored in the re­play against Bar­net, along with Neil Slat­ter, and looked set for a glit­ter­ing ca­reer.

It’s still hard to credit that Micky died of cancer the fol­low­ing year at the age of 24. While I played a lot of games on the right wing dur­ing my early days with Rovers, I al­ways con­sid­ered my­self a cen­tral mid­field player.

Micky was the real deal, a proper winger with the skills to take on de­fend­ers, fly past them and get crosses in, as well as score goals. A real en­ter­tainer. Who knows what he might have gone on to achieve?

David Wil­liams was player-man­ager when we played Bar­net and the team in­cluded the likes of Phil Kite, Brian Wil­liams, Ai­dan McCaf­fery, Tim Parkin, Geraint Wil­liams, Phil Bater, Steve White and Paul Ran­dall.

It was great hav­ing so many ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers around me and I re­mem­ber the im­mense pride I felt ev­ery time I stepped on to the pitch with them in those fa­mous blue and white shirts.

We had a good side, but I can’t say the FA Cup is a com­pe­ti­tion that has done me too many favours over the years.

In fact, the tie in­volv­ing Rovers I re­call most vividly was when we lost 2-1 at home to Ex­eter City in the first round in Novem­ber 1996, by which time I had be­come play­er­man­ager.

It was my first sea­son as team boss and the board had ham­mered Bris­tol Rovers goal­keeper Steve Phillips saves a penalty when the Gas last met Bar­net in the FA Cup in Jan­uary 2008. Phillips’ save proved de­ci­sive as Rovers won that game 1-0 at Un­der­hill, Bar­net’s old home ground, and went on to reach the quar­ter-fi­nals where they lost 5-1 to West Brom home to me the im­por­tance of a good cup run to the club’s fi­nances. So I was feel­ing the pres­sure even be­fore kick-off.

De­spite that, I had a re­ally good game in mid­field and was named man-of-the-match. It was a strange feel­ing col­lect­ing the award amid the dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing and then I had to go and face the press to ex­plain how we had been beaten.

When all that was done I ended up in the board­room where you could have cut the at­mos­phere with a knife. The di­rec­tors were pretty frosty, so I broke the ice by throw­ing my man-of-the-match tro­phy down and yelling: “What more do you want me to do?”

Twenty-two years later I am sure Dar­rell Clarke and his play­ers are equally aware of how im­por­tant a cup run could be in terms of rev­enue to put to­wards de­vel­op­ing the squad.

They don’t face an easy task. For Un­der­hill, now read The Hive, where Bar­net host their games th­ese days and you can bet your life that wily old cam­paigner John Still will be work­ing hard on mak­ing home ad­van­tage tell.

John is a man­ager I truly re­spect. He had a spell as as­sis­tant at Rovers in the 2000s and has done well on low bud­gets at a num­ber of small clubs. I was with him at a char­ity golf event the other day. He does a lot of good work rais­ing money for Lon­don hos­pi­tals and dur­ing our chat it was clear that, at the age of 68, he is as in love with foot­ball as he ever was.

John has pro­duced so many top play­ers as a coach and Rovers can be sure the team they face on Sun­day will be well-drilled.

To avoid an up­set, the play­ers will have to ob­serve the First Com­mand­ment of play­ing FA Cup foot­ball against lower teams – that you must match their de­sire and workrate.

Rovers are tra­di­tion­ally much more com­fort­able in the role of un­der­dogs. I cer­tainly used to pre­fer it as a player, but when the boot is on the other foot you have to com­pete like mad for 90 min­utes and hope your ex­tra qual­ity tells.

A pos­i­tive is that Dar­rell Clarke’s team go into the match on the back of a huge League One re­sult at Black­pool last week­end. The 3-0 vic­tory could hardly have been more timely.

As a pun­dit for Quest TV, I was able to watch the goals and the high­lights from their stu­dios, along with ac­tion from a lot of other games, and I was de­lighted for Dar­rell. I wrote in my first col­umn about how much time I have for him as a coach and as a man com­mit­ted to the Rovers badge. Hope­fully, a dif­fi­cult sea­son has now reached a turn­ing point and we can look for­ward to more suc­cess in League and cups over the com­ing months.

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