Picture the scene, years have passed and it’s half time during a Rovers game in the distant future. A thunderous roar consumes the UWE stadium as the recently retired Tom Lockyer emerges from the tunnel. The club legend and fully fledged Wales international embraces the cheering fans from all four sides of the ground and receives a standing ovation from the thousands of excited Gasheads that have keenly followed his ascendency into becoming a Bristol Rovers icon.
And now snap back to reality. It may be optimistic or even downright crazy to imagine such a scenario happening, especially considering how unpredictable the fortunes of the club have been in recent years, but it makes for an interesting debate to predict which current squad members could end up as the modern day equivalent of Ian Holloway or Stuart Campbell. With a number of long serving players currently at Darrell Clarke’s disposal and many of them arguably already legends of our football club (Chris Lines and Lee Brown to name just a couple) it got me thinking, in modern football what must a player do to attain legendary status at his club? Well first off, and perhaps most obvious is the number of appearances made by the individual. With 253 league appearances to his name over two separate spells, Chris Lines is the current member of the squad with the most Rovers appearances to his name. The midfield stalwart has been virtually a mainstay in this consistently successful Rovers side post-John Ward and shows no signs of slowing down just yet. Three promotions just strengthens the case for the academy product to be granted legendary status within the club and the chants affectionately heard both home and away ensure the popularity of ‘Linesy’ is clear for all to see.
When it comes to Iconic moments, you’ll be hard pressed to find one more memorable and poignant than Lee Mansell’s penalty in the 2015 Conference play-off final at Wembley. The strike that sent the blue and white majority of the record 47,029 crowd into jubilation and confirmed Rovers triumphant return to The Football League at the first team of asking. Aside from his spot-kick heroics, Mansell was the midfield heartbeat for our solitary stay in non-league and contributed well towards our 2015-16 promotion back to League 1. Now working as a professional development coach with the club’s academy, the ex-captain’s legacy at the club is still ongoing as he looks to create a pathway for hopeful development players into the first team picture.
Mansell’s namesake, Lee Brown has had his fair share of classic moments himself, but perhaps none more vivid in the mind than his fateful left footed rebound on the 7th of May 2016. With 252 league appearances to his name, (Just one off behind Chris Lines) the loyal left back was repaid for his faith to the famous blue and white quarters when netting in the 92nd minute against Dagenham And Redbridge. Brown could have taken the coward’s way out when Rovers were consigned to playing in non-league for the first time in their history, but it speaks volumes about the 26-year-old that he felt he owed the fans for some lacklustre performances in the relegation campaign. Three years later, and ‘Browner’ can reflect upon one of the most uplifting moments in our recent history, guaranteed to make even the most hardened of Blackthorn End attendees shed tears of happiness.
Apart from being synonymous with our beloved football club, Stuart Taylor, Geoff Bradford and Wally McArthur all have one thing in common – they each spent their entire professional careers with Bristol Rovers. Such commendable loyalty and commitment is rare in the modern game (The January 2017 deadline day fiasco tells you all you need to know) so it is certainly refreshing to see a handful of our academy players racking up hundreds of appearances and impressing in the process. Ollie Clarke, Tom Lockyer and Ellis Harrison are each players that have spent their entire senior careers with the club (aside from brief loan spells away for the former and latter) and are recognised as key figures despite only being in the formative years of their careers.
Arguably the player to ever don the quarters is the late, great Geoff Bradford. The only player to represent England whilst at Rovers – and he even scored for his country of birth in a friendly against Denmark. Whether any of our current crop of talent can reach such heights is surely a mystery, but the potential is certainly there. There is definitely a case to be had that the players in each of our promotion squads deserve legendary status in their own right. The double promotion winning squad of recent times must be commended, but perhaps, more importantly, one man that can’t be overlooked for restoring hope for thousands of fans is someone that is undoubtedly a true legend in my eyes – Darrell Clarke.
Feature Image Credit: Bristol Rovers Football Club