BRUCE Bannister and his strike partner Alan Warboys were dubbed ‘Smash and Grab’ but it was their club Bristol Rovers who ended up victims of a final day robbery.
Rovers were nailed on to win the Third Division title after romping clear of the pack when they went unbeaten for the first 28 games of the 1973-74 season.
They went top on September 22 and, despite winning only two of their last eight games, were still at the summit after drawing their final game against Brighton on April 27.
Rivals Oldham Athletic had two games to play – at home to Charlton Athletic which they lost 2-0 and then away to Rovers’ West Country rivals Plymouth Argyle at Home Park.
The Latics secured a 0-0 draw and the point was enough to take them clear of Rovers – to the annoyance of Bannister.
He says: “It was very, very upsetting because we were so far in front it was a joke. Oldham beat us towards the end of the season and it enabled them to go on and win the league.
“We were competing with Leeds United, who were in the First Division, for the longest unbeaten run from the start of the season and went 28 games.
“We got beaten at Wrexham 1-0 on a pig of a night and Leeds went on for another couple of games and took the record on their own.
“We should have walked the league from where we were, it shouldn’t have been possible to lose it, but we managed to do that! “Obviously it was satisfying to be promoted, but it was frustrating not to have taken the Championship.”
The Yorkshire born duo of Bannister and Warboys were given their tag line because of their devastating reputation which yielded 40 of the 65 goals that Rovers netted.
Warboys (‘Smash’) finished the season as leading scorer with 22 goals and Bannister (‘Grab’) was right behind him with 18.
John Rudge was their next highest scorer with four.
Rovers had Wild West-style posters scarfs produced after Bannister scored three and Warboys four in an 8-2 demolition of Brian Clough’s Brighton.
The pair are still great friends in their home county of Yorkshire 40 years later.
Bannister says: “We had played together for about half the season before, and had scored something like a goal a game between us in the time we played together.
“Something just clicked with us. He was a very, very big man, but he could play. We were very mobile with a lot of ability on the ground.
“We were both Yorkshire lads, and when I first went down to Bristol speaking as I do, most people couldn’t understand a word I was saying.
“So it was great to speak to somebody who understood me. Alan is a good lad and he tells it how he sees it. I have a lot of time for people like that.”
1. Dick Sheppard: The goalkeeper who also coached at Rovers was running his own double glazing business in Bristol before his death in October 1998 aged 53.
2. Jim Eadie: The goalkeeper who was an ever present still lives locally and worked as a plumber for many years until retiring.
3. Richard Crabtree: The third choice goalkeeper moved back to his native Exeter where he is a civil servant for the local council.
MIDDLE ROW FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
4. Lindsay Parsons: The left-back managed Cheltenham Town and coached at a number of other clubs and was Stoke City’s chief scout until May 2013.
5. Frankie Prince: The midfielder has been a greengrocer, an odd job man, and now community officer at Torquay United since 1992.
6. Mike Green: The central defender settled in Torquay where he owned a post office in Sherwell Valley Road for over 30 years until retiring.
7. Alan Warboys: The striker ran the Ring O’Bells pub, Swinton, Yorkshire but is now an HGV driver for SYS Scaffolding near his Doncaster base.
8. Stuart Taylor: The central defender was Rovers’ commercial manager, night club owner, publican and plumber before running another pub until earlier this year.
9. John Rudge: The forward managed Port Vale for 16 seasons and was director of football at Potteries rivals Stoke City until May 2013.
10. Bruce Bannister: The free-scoring forward has run Sportsshoes Unlimited in his native Bradford after retiring in 1982. He is also a director of Bradford Golf Club.
11. Malcolm John: The forward became a school teacher in Lewistown, near Bridgend, and is now living in retirement in Flintshire.
FRONT ROW FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
12. Colin Dobson: The winger has worked for a number of clubs and has been scouting for Watford and Stoke City since 1998.
13. Gordon Fearnley: The forward settled in Boca Raton, Florida and was running his own physiotherapy and law practices until retiring.
14. Peter Aitken: The full-back held various coaching posts and has been running Rovers community department since 2000.
15. Trevor Jacobs: The right back has run several pubs and was a Rovers youth coach. He is now working as postman in Bristol for a second time.
16. Kenny Stephens: The right winger operates a building company in Hanham, Bristol with his brother. He was chairman of Hanham Athletic for 12 years.
17. Bryn Jones: The midfielder settled in Weston-super-Mare where he works for helicopter manufactures Westlands.
18. Tom Stanton: The midfielder ran an antiques business in Clifton and a recruitment agency and then a communications company – Union Blue Communications.