Contributor Rory Ngah trawls through the record books to present an all-time Gas-Grecians XIExeter City and Bristol Rovers have a long history, dating all the way back to 2nd May 1921 when the Gas saw off a visiting Grecians side 5-0 in a Division 3 South fixture. It is perhaps a testament to the competitive nature of both clubs that the 89 games that followed have been of a similarly formidable nature, with City’s 5-4 victory on penalties in 2010 a particularly cherished moment for many of those who made the trip to the Memorial Stadium that day. As of 23rd April 2016, Exeter’s record stands at 90 Played, 28 Won, 31 Drawn and 31 Lost.
The clubs are not merely linked by a vast number of enthralling encounters. With Exeter sitting just a short trip South on the M5, it is perhaps unsurprising that the clubs have shared no fewer than 34 players and a solitary manager. This short piece will trawl through the record books to present an all-time combined XI.
Goalkeeper: Kevin Miller
Exeter City: 1989-93; 2002-3: 209 Appearances; 0 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 2003-05: 72 Appearances; 0 Goals
Born in Falmouth, Miller signed a contract with the Grecians in 1989. Having quickly established himself as the club’s number 1, he was an instrumental part of the club’s 1989-90 Division 4 winning side. After spells at several clubs, including Premier League outfit Crystal Palace, Miller returned to Devon for another stint before spending 2 seasons with Bristol Rovers. In a career spanning 18 years Miller racked up an astonishing 628 league appearances.
Defender: Phil Roberts
Exeter City: 1979-1982: 105 Appearances; 0 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1968-73: 175 Appearances; 6 Goals
A graduate of the Gas’ youth academy, Roberts spent 5 years with Bristol Rovers notching up 175 caps. After a successful spell at Portsmouth, during which he was capped by the Welsh national team, the right-back signed for the Grecians in 1979. Well regarded by all who saw him play, Roberts was nominated to be part of Rovers’ all-time XI in 2008.
Defender: Danny Coles
Exeter City: 2011-2014: 123 Appearances; 8 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 2007-2011: 112 Appearances; 5 Goals
A native Bristolian, the centre-back began his career at Bristol City. After a spell with Hull City, Coles moved on to Bristol Rovers, scoring his first goal for the club in an FA Cup tie against then-Premier League side Fulham. Having spent 4 successful seasons at the Memorial Stadium, Coles signed for the Grecians in 2011. After initially impressing manager Paul Tisdale, Coles was handed the captaincy in 2012.
Defender: Aidan McCaffery
Exeter City: 1985-1987: 58 Appearances; 0 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1980-1985: 184 Appearances; 11 Goals
Having turned pro in 1974, the centre back spent the first 6 years of his career with Newcastle United and Derby County. Signed by Bristol Rovers in 1980, he ensured himself eternal adoration by netting against Bristol City, giving the Gas their first victory over their bitter rivals in 10 attempts. After a spell with Torquay, he signed for the Grecians in 1985 and appeared 58 times.
Defender: Keith Viney
Exeter City: 1982-1989: 270 Appearances; 8 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1988 (Loan): 3 Appearances; 0 Goals
A classy left back, Viney began his career at Portsmouth where he was awarded the club’s Player of the Season Award in 1981. Signing for Exeter in 1982, he went on to make a remarkable 270 appearances in the red and white. After 5 happy seasons at St James’ Park, Viney moved to Bristol Rovers on loan, making 3 appearances.
Midfielder: Gerry Francis
Exeter City (Player/Manager): 1983-84: 28 Appearances; 3 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1985-7; 87-91/2001 (as manager): 32 Appearances; 0 Goals
Although most famous for his time at QPR, Francis is the only man with the distinction of playing for, and managing both, the Grecians and the Gas – guiding the latter to the 3rd Division title in 1990. Distinguished as both a player and a manager, Francis won 12 England caps, and was entrusted with the captain’s armband on 8 occasions.
Midfielder: Matt Gill
Exeter City: 2006-2009; 2013-14 (Loan): 189 Appearances; 14 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 2011-2014: 50 Appearances; 0 Goals
Gill signed for the Grecians in 2006 and enjoyed a productive first season at the club reaching the Conference play-off final. Having become the first player to be sent off at the new Wembley Stadium in City’s 2-1 loss to Morecambe, Gill and City would return to the capital the following season and secure promotion with victory over Cambridge United. After 2 seasons at Norwich, the midfielder joined the Gas in June 2011, being granted the club captaincy. After another spell at St James’ Park on loan, Gill hung up his boots at Tranmere in 2015.
Midfielder: Ellis Crompton
Exeter City: 1912-13; 1921-25: 176 Appearances; 16 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1913-21; 1922: 150 Appearances; 36 Goals
As the oldest player to make our list, Crompton is perhaps the only veteran of the original meeting between the two sides. Having only picked up a football at the age of 16, he operated as either a right half or an inside right, which in modern currency would be a central midfielder or a CAM. Crompton spent the last 10 years of his career alternating between Exeter and Bristol, raising the proverbial bat for both clubs. He died in 1953.
Midfielder: Alan Ball
Exeter City: N/A; Manager: 1991-93
Bristol Rovers: 1983: Appearances 17; Goals: 2
Whilst Ball never donned a City shirt, a special exception must be made for one of the most talented footballers these Isles have ever produced. The youngest member of the 1966 World Cup winning squad, and noted for his herculean performance in the final, Ball was capped by his country on 72 occasions. Although his powers were waning by the time he arrived at Bristol Rovers in January 1983, he still managed 2 goals in 17 appearances before retiring the following season. After management spells at a number of clubs, Ball arrived at St James Park in 1991 and, in spite of tight budget constraints, managed to keep the club in Division 3. Ball died at his home in Hampshire in April 2007.
Striker: Jamie Cureton
Exeter City: 2010-2011; 2012-2013: 88 Appearances; 39 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1996 (Loan); 1996-2000: 174 Appearances; 72 Goals
Football League stalwart Jamie Cureton began his career at Norwich City before making the switch to hometown club Bristol Rovers in 1996. He would go on to net 72 times for Rovers in 174 appearances before leaving for Reading at the turn of the millennium. He first linked up with the Grecians in 2010 and repaid the faith shown in him by Paul Tisdale by stringing together a number of impressive performances. A potent force in the final third, he finished as the club’s top-scorer that campaign with twenty goals in all competitions and won the Supporters’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the year accolades in the process. Following a brief spell at Leyton Orient, Cureton re-signed for City on a permanent basis in late July 2012. He bettered his previous goal tally with the Grecians by one, netting twenty-one times in forty-two appearances.
Striker: Marcus Stewart
Exeter City: 2008-11: 85 Appearances; 9 Goals
Bristol Rovers: 1991-1996: 171 Appearances; 57 Goals
Stewart began his career with the Gas in 1991. After a spell at Huddersfield, he moved on to Ipswich Town and fired them to promotion in 2000. The striker adapted to top-flight football with ease, notching 19 goals in his first season. After spells with Bristol City, Sunderland and Yeovil, Stewart finished his career at Exeter City, scoring his 250th career goal in August 2009. In 2012 he returned to his first club as a coach, being promoted to assistant manager in 2013.