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[Rovers drop out of football] [Return of the Prodigal sons] [The Early Fifties] [The Late Fifties]
[The Early Sixties] [The Late Sixties] [1970 - FAI and Blaxnit cups]

Sligo Rovers History 1940-70

Rovers drop out of Senior football

In 1940 Rovers announced that because of the ongoing war they would no longer be able to take part in senior football. They tendered their resignation to the league and the Football Association, however both bodies said that football would continue and refused to accept the clubs resignation. The club then withdrew from all competitions for that year stating the it would be in debt again at the end of the year. Eventually the league, reluctantly, accepted Rovers resignation by the narrowest of votes (5 - 4 )and advertised for a replacement. In the event a replacement was never found. There is no record of the club from here until the end of the war in 1945. The club re-emerged after the war and set about raising funds for a return to league football. Applications to rejoin the league for the 1946/47 and 47/48 seasons were unsuccessful as the league decided to stay with just eight teams. Rovers then invested in ground improvements at the Showgrounds in preparation for a further application for the start of the 1948/49 season. This application was accepted and along with Transport Rovers were re-elected to the league

Return of the prodigal sons

The Rovers appointed ex. Distillery player Sam Waters as player coach and set about recruiting a team for their return to the league. Rovers lined out for their first game since 1940 in the Dublin City cup at Kilcohan Park against Waterford. Rovers return was inaspicious as they went down to a 2 - 1 defeat. Rovers finished fifth in the city cup and also finished mid-table in the shield. A notable addition to the squad was local man Sean Fallon who would go on to have a successful career with Glasgow Celtic. In later years Fallon would be assistant manager, to the great Jock Stein when the Glasgow club became the first team in British football to lift the European cup. The league started in December and Rovers opened the campaign by avenging the earlier defeat by Waterford winning 2 - 1 with goals from Sergeant and Brannigan. Rovers used 41 players during this campaign as the side never really settled. They eventually went on to finish eight in the league. They didn't fare any better in the F.A.I. Cup losing to Transport in the first round. Rovers return to senior football left them in debt once again and this problem had to be addressed before preparations for the 1949/50 season could begin.

The start of the new season saw a new player coach installed. He was ex. Bournemouth, Blackpool and Bristol Rovers player Alan Fletcher. Fletcher had the rare luxury, for a Rovers coach, of retaining most of the squad from the previous season. The team started the season well and finished second, to Drumcondra, in the Dublin city cup. Rovers finished seventh in the shield aided by the goalscoring exploits of Jimmy Kilfeather who scored 10 goals in eleven matches up to December. These exploits saw him picked for the League of Ireland team to play the Scottish league. He was transferred to Glenavon for a fee of 250 in December this made him the first Rovers player to be transferred for a cash transfer fee. Rovers started the league well and even led for a while in the early stages. They only dropped out of the top two in the last few games, eventually finishing sixth. The F.A.I. cup also proved quite successful with wins over St. James Gate (3 - 0)and Albert Rovers (2 - 0) earning Rovers a semi-final against Transport. In spite of taking a first half lead through Sam Waters with a header from a Steven Leavy free kick Rovers lost by two goals to one.

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The Early Fifties

Yet another new coach was appointed for the start of the 1950/51 season. This time ex. Manchester City and Doncaster Rovers player Tommy Wright was given the task of bringing success to the club. He returned to England after a disastrous city cup campaign which saw Rovers earn only one win. He was replaced as coach by full back Bob Mooney but results were no better in the shield with only two wins to show for his efforts. Things picked up considerably in the league and Rovers were with the pacesetters all the way. With four games to go Rovers were joint top of the league with Shelbourne and Cork Athletic. A surprising defeat away to Limerick left them facing two home games against their nearest rivals. Both games ended in victories, 1 - 0 against Cork Athletic and 3 - 1 against Shelbourne. Rovers needed to win their last game against Transport to force a play-off for the league with Cork Athletic. A disappointing 0 - 0 draw saw the Corkmen lift the title with one point to spare. Once again Rovers advanced to the semi finals of the F.A.I. cup with wins over St. James Gate (4 - 0) and Dundalk (2 - 0). Cork Athletic were too strong for them in the semi winning 2 - 0.

The 1951/52 season saw another new coach in Dick Groves who had spells as a player with Bristol Rovers, Southampton, Plymouth and Torquay. The league was expanded to twelve teams and this meant that the Dublin city cup was run on a knock-out basis. Rovers came away from Dalymount Park with a 3 - 2 win over Bohs before receiving a bye in the second round. Rovers the beat Dundalk 4 - 3 in a replay, after a 0 - 0 draw, to reach the final. Rovers produced a very disappointing performance in the final and were thrashed 0 - 4 by Drumcondra. An indifferent performance in the shield saw Rovers finish mid-table before Groves dropped a bombshell by resigning, citing family reasons. Before he left, however, he strengthened the squad by bringing in a number of players including the Scot Johnny Armstrong who had spells with Stirling Albion and Chesterfield. A storming start to the league campaign saw Rovers top the table after an eight game unbeaten run. Former Grimsby Town player Jock Shearer had taken over as coach as Rovers continued to set the pace in the league. In the end they faded,losing four of their last seven games, to eventually finish fourth five points off the pace. Rovers reached their third semi-final in a row by beating Limerick (after a replay) and Drumcondra. Over 20,000 fans turned up to see them face Cork Athletic for the second year running. In a game of high drama Rovers lost a goal after only two minutes. Shortly after the break Tommy Buggy equalised before the Corkmen raced into a 3 - 1 lead. Once again Rovers fought back and a "Dusty" Miller free kick reduced the deficit again. A defensive error gave Cork a 4 - 2 lead before Mick Lipper again brought Rovers to within a goal of the Corkmen. Unfortunately there were only seconds left and time ran out on the men from the north west. It was during this season that the stand behind the Church Hill goal, which was to become known as the shed, was first constructed.

Rovers started the following season with a 2 - 2 draw against Shamrock Rovers in the Dublin city cup, losing the game on corner kick's. The performance in the shield was reasonable eventually finishing with six wins. Rovers did reasonably well in the league. They managed to stay in the top half of the league for the season finishing fifth, seven points behind champions SAhelbourne. The F.A.I. cup saw them progress to the second round after beating U.C.D., then a non-league team, after a replay. St. Patrick's Ath. were too strong in the second round and Rovers were eliminated. The season had been hampered by the club's inability to appoint a new coach and had failed to live up to the drama of the previous three years.

For the 1953/54 season it was all change again as this time John Black was appointed coach. The arrangement lasted only four matches until he was suspended for a breach of club discipline and returned home. No replacement was found for him with the result that the Dublin based players were coached by Jock Mc Cosh while the local players were trained by groundsman, Cha Howley. Once again the club struggled to find a settled side and 29 players had been tried before the league started. The inevitable result of such uncertainty was a first round exit from the city cup at the hands of Shamrock Rovers (0 - 4) and a second from bottom finish in the shield. By the time the league started the team had settled somewhat. Rovers had once again started the league well and won their first seven home games. Only one point from five away matches meant that they were second in the table to Shamrock Rovers at this stage. Their season fell apart after this and only one more victory was recorded in the league. A final league position of ninth was a poor reward for the early promise. In the cup Rovers earned a 1 - 1 draw at Milltown before losing 2 - 0 at the Showgrounds to Shamrock Rovers. This had been the first time the sides had met in the cup since the final of 1940.

Before the beginning of the following season the financial trouble which were a constant source of aggrevation to the club surfaced again. Rovers needed 1,000 pounds in order to be admitted to the league. The club formed a society called the Sligo Rovers Sports Association which was aimed at raising the money. Members paid a 5 fee and in return received a season ticket and a vote at the A.G.M. The future of the club hung in the balance as they tried to raise the cash. They were successful and the season started with a first round exit from the city cup and a poor performance in the shield. This poor form was carried into the league with Rovers eventually finishing ninth. Half way through their league campaign Rovers appointed Jimmy Batten as coach. The season finished with another of the glamorous imports that have littered Rovers history. For the F.A.I. cup game against Shamrock Rovers the Austrian international forward Albert Straka had been signed. A crowd of 7,000 packed the Showgrounds for the game and watched as Johnny Armstrong gave Rovers the lead. Shams equalised with a goal from Hennessey and Liam Touhy put them in front. With time virtually up Rovers were awarded a penalty. The crowd spilled onto the pitch holding up play for ten minutes. When order was restored Straka scored from the spot to earn a replay. Rovers lost the Replay 2 - 1 to go out of the cup.

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The Late Fifties

For the beginning of the 1955/56 season Rovers, once again, failed to find a player coach. They started the season well and reached the semi-finals of the Dublin City cup. St. Pats. were too strong and Rovers lost the game 5 - 2. The shield also provided reasonable success with the club eventually finishing fourth. The highlight of the shield campaign was a 7 - 0 win over Transport. The league campaign went from one extreme to the other. In the early stages Rovers went seven games without a win but as the league drew to a close the team won six gams in a row to finish in fifth place. Rovers cup campaign was over after the first round when they lost the replay to Drumcondra (2 - 0) after a 1 - 1 draw at the Showgrounds. The original game had been postponed after a controversial penalty awarded to Drumcondra triggered a pitch invasion.

There was still no player coach for the following season as Rovers crashed out of the Dublin City cup in the first round to Dundalk, on corners, after a 1 - 1 draw. There followed a disastrous campaign in the shield with only two wins from from their eleven games to finish second from bottom. At last a player coach was found for the start of the league campaign as Hugh Colvin from Derry was installed. A new innovation was introduced for the league in which the teams finishing in the top four played off for the championship. Rovers went through the league, losing only four games, to finish third behind Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra. They lost to Evergreen United in the top four knock out tournament to end any hopes of a second championship. In this season Rovers became the first senior side to play at Flower Lodge in Cork when they beat the Ancient Order of Hibernains 1 - 0 in the first round of the cup. They came unstuck in the next round against Shamrock Rovers losing 2 - 1.

The 1957/58 season was not a successful one. Rovers went out of the Dublin city cup at the first round stage to Dundalk and in the shield they had to settle for a position in mid-table. They did have a new player coach, though, as Tommy Mc Lead, the ex. Manchester City player born in Scotland took over from Colvin. The league campaign was disastrous with only five wins from twenty two games leaving Rovers second from bottom. For the first time in the history of the club they had to apply to the league for re-election. In the cup a 2 - 0 win over non-league Cobh Ramblers set up a second round game against old rivals Shamrock Rovers. The first game ended in a 1 - 1 draw at the Showgrounds leading to a replay at Milltown. In the replay Rovers raced into a two goal lead after only nineteen minutes with goals from Willie Bradley and Liam Mc Caul. They could not sustain the momentum and Shamrock Rovers came back to win 3 - 2.

The following season Rovers were once again without a coach. In their first game in the Dublin city cup Rovers faced their heaviest defeat since they joined senior football as Dundalk thrashed them 9 - 1. The team did not contain a single local player and, indeed only Johnny Armstrong lived in the town. One win in the shield left Rovers bottom of the table and the prospects were not looking good for the league. In spite of strengthening the team for the league campaigm results were no better. So bad were the results that Rovers were spared the ignomy of having to apply for re-election for the second year in a row on goal average. Four teams finished with 15 points at the bottom of the league. Rovers and Cork Hibernains had a slightly better goal average than Dundalk and Bohemians and the latter teams had to apply for re-election. In fact it was the two goals Rovers scored in a 5 - 2 defeat to Waterford in the final match which had saved Rovers bacon. Another first round exit in the F.A.I. Cup, to St. Pats, capped another miserable season.

The 1959/60 season saw Rovers appoint Sean Thomas as coach but he only lasted a few months. Once again a first round exit in the Dublin city cup at the hands of Dundalk set the tone for the season. The shield was slightly better with five wins from from eleven. There was, however, a 9 - 0 defeaat at home to Drumcondra which remains the club's heaviest defeat at the Showgrounds. In the league Rovers struggled once again and eventually avoided having to seek re-election after finishing third from bottom. In the cup Rovers beat Bray Wanderers in the first round 4 - 2 with a hat-trick from Dr. Kevin Mc Garry. After a draw with Cork Hibernains (0 - 0) in Cork, Rovers lost the replay at the Showgrounds (3 - 2). Rovers had started the season deep in debt (~1000) and though they had managed to reduce this to 500 at the end of the season a door to door collection was organised to keep the club in senior football.

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The Early Sixties

Before the start of the 1960/61 season Rovers decided that they would try out more local players rather than bring in players from Dublin and the North. This developed into a row between the club and the local junior administrators of the Sligo / Leitrim league. Rovers had asked for a list of the best 25 junior players from the league and this request was refused. The junior authorities felt, with some justification, that Rovers should be aware of the local talent. The row culminated in Rovers withdrawing the Searle cup, which they had donated to the junior body for summer competition. Alex Rollo joined the club as coach for the start of the new season, though like some of his predecessors he had left before the league started. Rovers looked at a number of local players but in the end only two of them were signed, Gerry Mitchell and Gus Lynch. Rovers were eliminated from the city cup in the first round and fared no better in the shield where they could only manage three wins.

Once the league started things went from bad to worse. In their first twelve league games Rovers could only manage two draws and conceded 55 goals. The team only managed one win all season, in their third last game of the season against Dundalk. This meant that Rovers had finished bottom of the league for the first time in the history of the club. The F.A.I. cup capped a miserable season as Waterford won the first round encounter at the Showgrounds. Once again Rovers had to find a way of raising money to keep their debt in check. They found a novel, if unusual, way of doing this by engaging in terrier racing. This venture proved quite successful.

The following season started in much the same way with an exit from the city cup in the first round. In the shield Rovers could not manage a single win and had to settle for two draws from their eleven games. Rovers lost their first seven league games before things picked up slightly and a run of five games in which they lost only once gaining one win and three draws. They went on to lose their last ten games to finish bottom of the league for the second year running. Shamrock Rovers visited the Showgrounds for the first round of the cup and the result was a 3 - 3 draw. The replay in Dublin saw Shams go through 1 - 0 ending another miserable season for Rovers.

At the end of the season the League of Ireland decided to reduce the number of teams in the league to ten. This resulted in them dismissing the bottom two clubs Rovers and Transport. Such a move caused consternation throughout the country and in the ensuing row Rovers withdrew from membership of the F.A.I. The following year they tried to keep the club alive by organising tournaments in the north west but this brought them into conflict with the local junior authorities once again. Rovers were accused of running money making competitions and players who played at the Showgrounds were to find themselves banned by the local authorities. For the 1963/64 season the League of Ireland once again decided to expand the league to ten teams and sought applications for the two extra places. Rovers applied and were told that they would have to apply for re-instatement to the F.A.I. first. Once they had re-joined the F.A.I. a second application was forwarded and this was eventually accepted. Along with Drogheda they were re-elected to the league.

For the new season former Drumcondra player Johnny Robinson was appointed coach. The first game played by the club resulted in a 2 - 1 win over St. Pats. Ath in the City cup with goals from Damien Bradley and Jimmy Burnside. They were eliminated in the next round by Dundalk (3 - 1 ). Rovers only managed two wins in the shield but they did introduce two locals who would go on to have a hugh impact at the club. They were David Pugh at centre half and seventeen year old goalkeeper Fintan Brett. Rovers went on to finish ninth in the league winning six and drawing seven of their twenty two games. The season ended with a first round exit to Limerick in the F.A.I. cup at the Market's field.

The 1964/65 season started with a defeat to Shelbourne in the city cup (3 - 2) which was followed my a run of two wins and seven draws in the shield. It wasn't top class form but it was enough to see Rovers finish sixth in the shield. For the first time in almost ten years Rovers had a good run in the league. The club eventually finished fifth after a campaign which saw them win ten matches and draw five to see them finish just seven points behind champions Drumcondra. There was to be no joy in the cup however as Dundalk visited the Showgrounds for the first round and plundered a 3 - 0 win.

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The Late Sixties

The beginning of the 1965/66 season saw the club in optimistic mood. Johnny Robinson was about to start his third season as coach, a feat almost unheard of at the club. The club hoped to build on the good form of the previous season. The season started badly for the club as Shelbourne knocked them out of the city cup with a resounding 4 - 0 defeat. The performance in the shield was even worse. The club went through the competition without a single win and eventually finished bottom with just five points. Once the league campaign started Rovers form picked up considerably. They were always up with the top three. Rovers only lost three of their first fifteen games but they faded badly in the run-in. Only one win from the last seven games saw the club slip off the pace eventually finishing fifth for the second year in succession. Rovers carried their good league form into the F.A.I. cup and managed to knock out Drogheda in the first round (2 - 1) in a replay after the first game ended 1 - 1. Another 1 - 1 draw in the second round against Cork Celtic saw Rovers finish off the tie 3 - 0 in the replay. Rovers had reached the semi-finals and would play Limerick. Once again the game ended in a draw (0 - 0) and a replay was required. This time, however, Rovers lost out and Limerick progressed to the final by three goals to nil.

Fot the following season Johnny Robinson was replaced as coach by ex. Shamrock Rovers player Shay Keogh. Rovers opened the season with a first round victory against Dundalk (2 - 1) in the city cup before being eliminated in the second round by Shelbourne 3 - 1. The recent poor form in the shield continued as the team won only two matches with nine defeats from the rest of the fixtures. The form picked up for the league campiagn and Rovers were to suffer only two defeats from their first fifteen matches and were just behind the leaders Dundalk in second place. The highlight of this run was a victory at Oriel Park against thr league leaders with Rovers winning 2 - 1. Rovers had signed a new centre forward Johnny Brooks from York City and he would score fifteen league goals in his first season. Rovers challange faded when they hit a sticky patch which started with their F.A.I. cup first round replay defeat against Cork Hibs by 3 - 2. Three league defeats in a row followed and the league challange was over. The league campaign ended with Rovers final league game of the season being abandoned after crowd trouble. Rovers fans spilled onto the pitch after Gerry Mitchell equalised against Champions Dundalk. Fighting then broke out between the Rovers fans and the Dundalk players and the referee was left with no choice but to abandon the game. The result stood. Rovers eventually finished third which gained them entry into the top four competition. They lost 2 - 1 to Dundalk in the semi-final at Oriel Park.

Rovers were searching for a new coach again for the 1967/68 season as Shay Keogh resigned. He was replaced by ex. Chesterfield, Bury and Oldham player Ken Bartley. In fact Bartley became the first coach at the club to have full responsibility for team matters. Although Rovers had always employed a player / coach the responsibility for picking the team was left to the management committee. Bartley added some more full time professionals to the squad from the previous season, but a local lad by the name of Tony Fagen also made his first appearances for the club. Another mediocre start to the season saw the club out of the city cup at the first round stage with a defeat to Dundalk. This was followed by a mid-table finish in the shield. The league started well enough and a 7 - 1 win against St. Pats. win on the opening day seemed to be a good omen for the campaign. In fact the side won their first three games before Shamrock Rovers inflicted a 7 - 0 defeat on the side at Milltown. This signalled the beginning of a slump which saw the team win just three more games during the rest of the season. A season which had started with such promise saw Rovers finish second from bottom and having to apply for re-election again. Dundalk beat Rovers 4 - 0 in the cup in yet another replay at Oriel Park after a 1 - 1 draw at the Showgrounds. The season ended with Rovers so short of players that goalkeeper Fintan Brett was forced to play a number of games at full back.

In 1968 Rovers announced that they had bought the Showgrounds and the set out on improving the facilities. A new set of dressing rooms were started on the Church hill side of the ground and these would be completed for the 1969/70 season. Tony Bartley set about improving his squad for the beginning of the 1968/69 season. Notable signings during this season were goalkeeper Tom Lally from Galway and centre half Tony Stenson from Sheffield Wednesday. The season started with another first round exit in the city cup to Dundalk followed by another mid-table finish in the shield. The league campaign was a big disappointment. In fact but for four league wins from their last six games Rovers might have been seeking re-election again. During the league campaign Rovers made another notable signing Johnny Cooke from Manchester United. They eventually finished in eight place. But this season will be remembered for the clubs biggest cup disaster. Rovers were drawn away to non-league side Longford Town from the leinster senior league. A team filled with full-time professionals (something very unusual for the League of Ireland) were defeated 2 - 0 by the minnows, a result which forced Ken Bartley to resign. He was replaced for the rest of the season by Ken Turner strengthened his squad for the 1969/70 season with the return of David Pugh after spells with Boston Beacons and Shamrock Rovers being the most important. Finn Harps and Athlone Town were added to the league bringing the numbers up to 14 clubs. In the city cup the club faced another first round exit, this time at the hands of St. Pats. The shield was now split into two groups of seven because of the increased number of clubs. Rovers won only one of their six games. The league also saw the team produce indifferent form with the club in a mid-table position for most of the season. Turner strengthened the side with two more signings. Johnny Brooks returned to the club after spells in America and South Africa and Pat Mc Cluskey arrived on loan from Celtic. Mc Cluskey would go on to play for Scotland until his international career was ended by an infamous nightclub incident in Copenhagen involving Billy Bremner. Once again the clubs financial problems re-surfaced and they announced that they would need to raise 5,000 immediately. At this stage the club were losing 200 a week.

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1970 FAI Cup and Blaxnit cup runs

The F.A.I. cup was to provide the seasons highlights and Rovers beat St. Pats. 3 - 0 in the first round to earn a home tie with non-league Rialto in the second round. A comfortable 4 - 0 win helped to ease the memory of Longford the previous season and Rovers were now in the semi finals. The semi final against Cork Hibs required a replay after the first game finished 0 - 0. In the replay Rovers raced into two goal lead after only twenty minutes. The first was a lob from Brooks and when Gerry Mitchell put the side two up after Ken Turner set him up a place in the final looked to be secure. In the end Rovers had to survive a late rally which saw the Corkmen pull a goal back with a penalty six minutes from time.

Rovers stepped out for their first cup final, since the defeat to Shamrock Rovers in 1940, on April 19th 1970. Rovers opponents were Bohemians who would be playing on their home ground, Dalymount Park, in the final. The game itself had little incident and it was no surprise when the game finished 0 - 0. The replay was fixed for the following wednesday at Dalymount and provided a much more entertaining game. Both sides had their chances with the best of Rovers efforts falling to Brooks, Mitchell, Mc Cluskey and Stenson. Once again the game ended 0 - 0 and a second replay was required on Sunday May 3rd. In the second replay Rovers had no luck. They lost Tony Stenson with a twisted ankle after only twelve minutes. In spite of this Rovers took the lead two minutes later with a goal from Johnny Cooke and held this lead to half time. But the misfortune continued. Bohs equalised soon after the break and then Ken Turner was left dazed after a collision with a Bohs player. After 62 minutes Tony O'Connell put Bohs in front. Shortly afterwards David Pugh collided with Kevin Fallon and was concussed for the remainder of the game. Rovers walking wounded could not retrieve the game and the cup went to Bohs.

Qualification for the semi-final of the cup meant that Rovers would also qualify to play in the Blaxnit cup. This was a competition which featured the cup semi-finalists from north and south of the border. Rovers faced Ballymeana United in the first round and a hat-trick from Gerry Mitchell saw off the Irish league team. A goal from Joey Wilson was enough to see off Derry City at the Brandeywell and Rovers were in the final. The final, against Coleraine, was to be played over two legs with the first game played at Windsor Park in Belfast. Rovers won the game at Windsor Park 1 - 0 with a goal from Johnny Cooke. In the second leg, at Dalymount Park, Coleraine proved to be too strong and won 4 - 1 with Rovers goal scored by Tony Fagen. Once again Rovers had narrowly missed out on a trophy.

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