All time greatest F A cup giant killings
Bristol Rovers 2-0 Preston North End
Saturday January 12th 1952
Scorers: Geoff Bradford , Vic Lambden
Post war clothes rationing finally ended, Laurence Olivier celebrated the first British film to win best picture at the Oscars with 'Hamlet', During a BBC programme on astronomy, Fred Hoyle coined the phrase 'Big Bang', Russ Morgan & The Skylarks were 'Crusing Down The River' and 'Russian Hero' won the Grand National at Aintree.For over thirty years Bristol Rovers had quietly meandered through life as a Third Division club without ever threatening the National headline writers. Promotion to the Second Division was only ever afforded to the Champions but Rovers fans were much more used to seeing their side struggle at the wrong end of the division.
1949 gave the club a best ever fifth place finish in the division and under the guidance of new manager, Bert Tann, the Pirates managed to maintain a healthy top half placing in both 1950 and ’51. This season Rovers were taking their fans into the uncharted waters of a genuine promotion chase.
Central to this new improved Rovers was an unusual no buy, no sell club policy introduced after the war and despite harsh criticism in the local media, it seemed to be improving the club. Roy Warren was the only pre-war player still at Eastville and like most of his team mates, he came from junior Football. George Petherbridge joined the club during the war while Vic Lambden and Harry Bamford demobbed into the club. Jackie Pitt was signed from Bath in 1946 and Bryan Bush also arrived from the amateur ranks the following year. Local boy Geoff Fox came home after an unsuccessful spell in Ipswich in 1947, Geoff Bradford, Peter Sampson, after buying himself out of the army and Bill Roost were all among the free talent of 1948 to give the Bristol Rovers’ directors ten players who cost the club exactly nothing. Occasionally it proved impossible to maintain their policy and £2,000 was spent to bring the colourful Bert Hoyle from Exeter. Hoyle kept oranges in his goal and remains perhaps the only player in English Football history who had fruit thrown to him rather than at him. Often his net resembled a grocer’s. These core eleven came through the end of 1951 with just one defeat in nine games to lie six points off the title and promotion spot.
Rovers made a name for themselves in the cup too in 1951, seeing off a brace of Second Division sides to reach the quarter finals where eventual cup winners, Newcastle were forced to a replay. This term a routine path took them past the Southern League duo of Kettering and Weymouth to the aggregate of 5-0 and earned them a visit from First Division Preston North End in round three.
The men from Deepdale won promotion from the Second Division the previous season but took no time getting used to life in the top flight and were lying fifth going into the new year. Like Rovers, they were six points adrift of topping the table in what was developing into their best bid to be crowned League Champions since the turn of the century. Boarding the train for the journey south to Bristol were Scottish international duo, Willie Cunningham and Tommy Docherty as well as the Australian International, Joe Marston, who had been coaxed into staying in the UK after the war. Former Scottish International, Bobby Beattie was the only remaining player from North End’s last glory day when winning the cup in 1938 but even Rovers fans must have been disappointed to learn that North End’s brightest talent, Tom Finney wasn’t passed fit to play.
The Preston fans set up for Bristol in the early hours and many were already taking an early morning stroll out of the City to see the venue for this afternoon's entertainments as early as 7am. Having made their way back into the heart of Bristol, they spent Saturday morning taking in the sites and milled around happily with a growing band of exuberant Rovers supporters as well as a healthy smattering of South Africans, enjoying the Soccer atmosphere before making for Bath where the Rugby Springboks were set t face Western Counties. Indeed, with City at home for a Third Division game, the Bristol press argued this as possibly the biggest sporting day in the City's history. The City fans themselves, kept a reasonably low profile however as a City, usually considered red, was allowed to give the blues their day in the sun and it was noticeable that Rovers could boast an unusually higher number of female fans than would normally be found at a cup tie .
Over thirty thousand fans streamed into the Greyhound Stadium, renowned for the hint of gas from the nearby gas holder, which hadn’t witnessed the fall of an elite club for thirty-nine years but the drama began long before a ball was kicked when smoke was seen rising from the back of the stands. Quick thinking Rovers fans dashed in to save the day, the stand and almost certainly the tie by extinguishing the flames before they could take hold.
The drama was over in good time for the fans to turn their attentions back to the coming attractions as Rovers took the field to the strains of the relatively recently adopted anthem, 'Good Night Irene' along with a huge white dog, adorned in club colours.The Preston players followed, one or two of them kicking into the turf and throwing looks at each other that summed up their opinion that the Eastville pitch was very close to unplayable.
Few could argue that the state of the ground had to be considered a concern and while the ground staff had rolled the pitch and dried it as best they could, it surely wouldn't be long before it would cut up and turn into a quagmire. Some in the press core took note that for a side like Preston, whose game tended to suffer on poorer pitches, the Eastville ground could be the epitome of being the great leveller.
The state of the pitch didn't stop Preston taking an early grip on the game however. Angus Morrison had their best early chance but fired wildly wide of Bert Hoyle’s fruit laden goal when the keeper should have been made to work. Charley Waymen proved the biggest handful to the Rovers back line with a couple of dangerous raids towards the Pirates’ goal before Rovers’ captain, Ray Warren began to pay a closer check on the North End centre forward in a bid to stifle him.
With North End unable to make their early pressure count and the pitch, as expected, starting to cut up badly, Rovers began to make headway of their own with counter attacks that promised much but were often snuffed out before they came within danger of troubling Gooch in the North End goal. And as half time approached, the Rovers fan, who must have feared for their team in the opening minutes, were feeling quite relieved that the home side appeared to have weathered the Preston storm.
The breakthrough therefore was both a shock and a surprise that had the crowd wild with delight. Vic Lambden and Geoff Bradford had seen precious little of the ball in the first forty-three minutes of the game until a long ball to Lambden occupied the attentions of two North End defenders, neither of whom dealt properly with the danger and gave Bradford the space to slot home the opening goal.
The, up to then, relatively subdued Eastville was a cauldron of excitement at half time with the prospect of a cupset on the cards and many in the Rovers brigade must have been speculating that the Sunday paper headline writers might be saving the space for them. Unknown to them was that this date was proving to be one of the most shocking in cup history around the grounds on third round day and that, if Rovers held on, they were going to have to share space with a host of cupsets.
Preston had other ideas and pushed hard for an equaliser after the break but major controversy was to deny them on the hour mark. Ken Horton was felled on the edge of the penalty area and, to a groan from the Tote End, Referee, Chadwick pointed to the penalty spot. The game stopped as the man in black was surrounded by a host of furious Rovers players incensed at the injustice of the decision and imploring the ref to go and talk to his linesman. In the 21st century it’s often said there’s no point arguing with a ref because they never change their minds but back in the 50s and free from the scrutiny of a dozen TV cameras, Chadwick discussed the situation long and hard with his assistant in front of a hushed crowd before turning and signalling that the offence was committed outside and not inside the penalty area. Preston’s free kick came to nothing and a huge roar greeted it like a goal.
It was as close as the visitors came to an equaliser as Rovers stood strong and kept them at arm’s length. Any danger of being pegged back was then finished off fifteen minutes from time when a Rovers corner turned into an almighty scramble with boots flailing in all directions before Vic Lambden prodded the ball home. By the pitch was little better than a bog of ankle deep mud in places and Preston simply couldn't play their game on it or adapt to suit it. Rovers, by contrast could and knew to keep the ball off the mud as much as possible.
The final whistle brought the greatest afternoon at Eastville since before World War One as the Preston players left the scene to return to a League programme where their form deserted them. They took the field another ten times before winning a game, which left them eleven points adrift of the Champions in seventh. Even the crowd invasion was hampered by the terrible state of the pitch with many who stayed in the stands finding amusement by two young teenage girls whose efforts to reach the players result in both losing their shoes in the bog and ending covered in mud.
Ironically, having spent the days leading up to the Preston tie preparing in Southend, Rovers were given a trip to the fellow Third Division side in round four. Their 1-2 defeat their in the League back in October provved prophetic as the result was repeated in the cup but not before luck deserted them. Geoff Bradford gave them a second half lead and the Pirates looked set fair for round five until Bill Roost had to be carried off injured. Southend fought back and equalised but Bradford was denied a second goal when his shot hit the post, rolled along the goal line and stopped in the mud without going into the net. Southend rode that luck to net a late winner and Rovers were left to rue mud for their exit from the cup as much as Preston had suggested in the previous round. Perhaps it played a part in the club investing over £8,000 trying to improve the playing surface at Eastville before the end of the season.
Rovers never threatened to challenge for the Third Division title as their season ended with them in seventh place but for the die hards of Eastville, that represented a good season. It was a precursor of the greatest season in the club’s history as Tann’s virtually unchanged side swept to the title and won promotion to the Second Division for the first time in their history.
Bert Tann took the club through a fantastic era in their history as Rovers adapted to Second Division life with aplomb and even threatened to join the big time during the 1950s. Tann stayed in charge once the club dropped back into the Third Division in the sixties before moving upstairs at the club where he stayed in a general managerial capacity until his death, aged fifty-eight in 1972.
The Directors at Eastville maintained their general no buy no sell policy even through their Second Division days, only scrapping it when the abolition of the maximum wage made the policy impossible to continue. None of Rovers’ heroes ever made it to the top flight but Geoff Bradford so impressed in the Second Division that he was capped by England and turned down the attentions of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool when they were a Second Division rival. After retirement, Bradford became a petrol tanker driver.
Geoff Fox and Bill Roost moved on to Swindon in 1955. Fox also worked as a paintbrush salesman and Roost as a scaffolder although the former became better known as the long standing groundsman at Gloucestershire County Cricket Ground. Jackie Pitt followed a similar path but stayed loyal to Rovers, moving onto the coaching staff when his playing days were over before also working as a groundsman. After fifty years in service of the club he was awarded a benefit match in 1988. Ray Warren also retired from the game in 1955 while Vic Lambden and Bryan Bush also left for non-league Football, a path Peter Sampson also took in 1961. Tragically Bert Hoyle and Harry Bamford’s fates were more violent as Hoyle’s career was ended by a car crash as he made his way home from the Bristol Derby in 1953. He recovered to later become the landlord of the Ship Inn in Cockwood. Harry Bamford was not so lucky as he died at the bars of his motor cycle in 1958 when still playing for Rovers.
George Petherbridge was another Rover who eventually drifted into non-league Football in 1962 and when he passed away in 2013 it broke the last living link to the team that humbled title chasing North End sixty-one years earlier.