From growing up on the terraces with his late and very fondly remembered Father as a primary school student, to his emotional farewell on his 500th appearance nearly 3 decades later – Chris Lines is truly Mr Bristol Rovers. Across two spells at the Memorial Stadium, Lines achieved 3 promotions, a host of memorable goals and became the clubs record appearance holder this century.
Chris was born in Bristol and grew up barely a mile from the place he would later become a cult hero. He was initially released from the Rovers youth programme before signing back on at the age of 16 and graduating through the Bristol Academy of Sport. He made his professional debut shortly after his 21st birthday in 2006 and played a sporadic role the following season, narrowly losing a JPT final to Doncaster Rovers before achieving promotion to League One, with a 3-1 win over Shrewsbury Town in May 2007. It was in League One that Lines came of age literally and figuratively, becoming a regular starter and key player over the coming seasons. He scored his first senior goal in the season following the aforementioned promotion, a glancing header against Carlisle. Lines also earned plaudits for a string of excellent FA Cup performances, which saw Rovers make it to the last eight of the competition.
Lines would play almost 50 games in the 2008/09 season, seeing Rovers to a healthy top half finish. The following season would be Lines’ best in a scoring sense, notching 10 league goals and signing a new contract in January 2010 following heavy interest away from the Memorial Stadium. A tempestuous season followed however, and despite Lines still earning a plethora of admirers, Bristol Rovers were relagated back to League Two and despite featuring in the clubs first game that season, Lines would move back to the league above, signing for Sheffield Wednesday.
Lines would achieve instant success at the Owls, playing almost every game that season as the club bounced back to the Championship in his first season, being part of a midfield that genuinely consisted of Lines and Coke – But that’s another story! An injury hampered championship career would see the midfielder join MK Dons on loan a year later and subsequently sign for League One club Port Vale, where he would spend the next season and a half.
If I was to tell you that an English World Cup Quarter-Final goalscorer contributed to Chris Lines returning to the now, Non-League Bristol Rovers I don’t think many would believe it. But following an altercation with the now Tottenham and England play-maker Dele Alli, Lines would seemingly lose his place at the Valiants and in March 2015, every Gas fan (especially me) collectively celebrated as the news came from that Lines would be returning to Bristol Rovers on loan.
Lines played a part in a successful debut Conference Premier season, helping Rovers to a second placed finish and his stunning finish in the Play Off Semi-Final second leg against Forest Green, described by himself as one of his favourite moments of all time in football, sent the Gas to Wembley. After a tense and level 90 minutes, Lines battled cramp, thumped the ball into the stand for a goalkeeping substitution and still had enough about him to dispatch one of Rovers’ five successful penalties – sending Rovers back into the Football League and he then put pen to paper on a permanent contract soon after. Chris would play a pivotal role in another astounding season, as Rovers achieved an unthinkable back to back promotion celebration, securing a last minute win on the final day in 2016 to send them and Lines, back to league One, almost a decade after his first.
Two more good seasons came and went, the first of which seeing him curl an absolutely screamer in to the top corner against Cardiff, earning the Gas a trip to Stamford bridge in the League Cup. As Lines battled through a stop start 2018/19 his second spell would come to what the fans would see as a premature end. A rather public clash with new manager Graham Coughlan would see his release at the end of 2019. Many fans would subsequently turn against Coughlan, particularly as he begrudgingly admitted that he felt ‘forced’ to give Lines his 500th appearance on the final day, due to the deafening calls for his name from the home fans after an hour. In typical Lines fashion, he played a ley part in the Gas winner that day and bid his emotional farewell in front of an adoring Thatchers End at full time.