Remembering where we once were.
Town, managed by local lad Steve Cotterill, hosted Rovers for the Club’s first ever meeting and were hotly tipped to end the season in the Football League – a place from which Ian Snodin’s men had just arrived.
The Gloucestershire outfit had ended the 97/98 season second in the Conference, just two places below Rovers in the English footballing pyramid, and didn’t let the tipsters down during the following year.
The two sides met at Whaddon Road in October ’98 and the game was going true to form just six minutes in, when John Brough opened the scoring for the hosts.
Mark Hume duly replied for the visitors on 28 minutes, who were struggling at the wrong end of the table heading in to the winter months.
However, two minutes later, centre-back Mike Duff (now of Burnley) put Cotterill’s side back in command and the Robins held on for all three points as their title push really started to gather pace.
In the return fixture at Belle Vue in January ’99, Rovers found themselves in the familiar position of trailing the West Country side – two goals from Dale Watkins ensuring the visitors had a healthy cushion at the break.
Rovers, firstly through Shaun Goodwin and then marksman Ian Duerden, managed to restore parity within ten minutes of the restart however and hold on for a point.
That fighting spirit would serve Rovers well over the remainder of the season and they would go on to finish in what seemed like an unlikely 16th position – some sixteen points clear of relegation.
Cheltenham, famed for their racecourse rather than their football team, saw themselves pass the winning post in first position and gain their first ever promotion to the Football League.
They haven’t looked back in their fifteen years in the league system and have subsequently had two stabs at League 1 – their highest ever finish, a lofty 17th (or 61st in the pyramid) – before falling back to League 2 where they continue to play at their newly redeveloped Whaddon Road.
*Rovers captain Dave Penney poses for the obligatory pre-match photo in the centre circle with the mascots and match officials on Saturday 9th January 1999 at Belle Vue*