Gas around the globe

Country flags bunting in the streets of the old town in Cartagena, Colombia

English football is known for it’s wide array of talent from every corner of the globe. The Premier League current boasts an incredible 64 different nationalities amongst its players and this year League One has 49 nations, with Rovers themselves having 10.

This blog I will pick my different nationality XI of all time, what could possibly be more controversial? I will declare at the tender age of 25 I lack some of the knowledge of players than the older generation will be screaming whilst reading this, but am more than happy to acknowledge those differences during cross examination!

Mikkel Andersen – Denmark

Narrowly beating our flying Fin Anssi Jaakola, Mikkel Andersen remains my personal favourite goalkeeper in my time at the Memorial Stadium. The ‘Viking in our net’ began his career in his native Denmark, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to play at senior level in the country. He moved to England in his late teens, starting at Reading before a couple of loans led to him eventually landing in Bristol.

Even to this day he has made more professional appearances for the Gas than any other club he’s played for since his debut in September of 2009, a debut in which he kept the first of many clean sheets. Andersen was named the Young Player of the season at Rovers and became the first goalkeeper of the time to be in the top 3 overall League One players of the season. He was also named in the BBC Team of the Year that season.

Since leaving the Mem, a couple of further loan moves in England led to an initial loan move back home with Randers before a permanent free transfer to fellow Danish side Midtjylland. In the first of his two spells, he enjoyed his first season in European Football, including a penalty save at Old Trafford against Manchester United. In his second spell at the club after a years move to Lyngby, Anderson got his first taste of Champions League football, getting a rare recent start against Premier League champions Liverpool.

Michael Smith – Northern Ireland

Our first of the home nations and another of my own very favourites in a certain position. ‘Smudge’ starting his career in Northern Ireland, before jetting over to the Gas. He was Player of the year at two different clubs in his homeland for three seasons in a row. His first of over 100 appearances at Rovers, came against Wimbledon on the opening day in the 2011/12 season and he became a firm fan favourite very early.

Despite a rocky period over the years in which he was here, Smith was one who always gave 110%. A marauding right back before his time, his quality at both ends of the pitch earned him back to back Rovers Player of the Season awards and incredibly, despite Rovers relegation in 2014, he was still named in the PFA Team of the Year for that season.

Smith then joined Peterborough United for a few successful seasons and another ton of appearances before moving up to Scotland with Hearts in 2017, where he still resides today. He is a full Northern Ireland international and only last year did he finally score for them, against no less than national juggernauts Germany.

Kevin Austin – Trinidad and Tobago

Kevin Austin had an immensely successful EFL career before his tragic passing in 2018. The London born centre half flittered all over English football, with hundreds of appearances for the likes of Leyton Orient, Lincoln, Brentford and Kettering before he joined the Gas in 2002.

Austin made well over 50 appearances for Rovers after being recommened by the then assistant manager John Still. He was nicknamed ‘The Doorman’ due to his imposing stature but off the pitch he was always incredibly well liked by players and fans alike.

Kevin then moved to Swansea where he had his most productive and successful spell of his career, earning promotion in one of his four seasons and all 150 games for the Welsh club. 3 more spells in English football came and went before he went on to become a youth coach at Scunthorpe. He also made 7 appearances for Trinidad and Tobago.

Byron Anthony – Wales

Facing stiff competition from fellow Welsh stars and just pipping Tom Lockyer, Byron Anthony was a warrior in the heart of the Rovers defence. Byron came through Cardiff’s youth system before a loan spell at Forest Green, where he made his first senior appearance at English Football.

Anthony joined Rovers following his Cardiff release in 2006, linking up with his former Bluebird manager Lennie Lawrence. He spent 6 years with the Gas, making almost 200 appearances, including being a regular in the 2006/07 season and starting in the play off final success against Shrewsbury. Despite a series of injuries in the next few seasons, Byron remained an ever-present at the club and still remains one of Rovers most famous and beloved sons.

A brief spell at Hereford followed before Anthony signed for Newport, the city where he was born and grew up. He helped them return to the Football League after their 25 year wait, with another play off success in 2013. The following season, Anthony suffered a horrific double leg break in a cup tie against Brighton and despite returning to limited first team action, it would end up resulting in his retirement. He went into coaching and development management with Newport before resigning in 2018.

David Tutonda – DR of Congo

The first of two current players in this side, David Tutonda joined the Gas this summer and came to England at just 5 years old, all the way from Kinshasa in Congo. The left back came through the system at Cardiff before making his first senior appearance on loan at Newport. A further loan at York followed before he made the permenant switch to Barnet, where he would play over 100 games.

David began his Rovers career as a trialist in a pre season friendly, where he scored the opening goal and it was pretty much foregone that it would earn him the contract! His debut as a sub against Sunderland was followed by a much needed win in his first start against Northampton. Despite only having been at the club for under half a year, Tutonda has already become a fan favourite and will hope for a long and successful career at the Mem.

Vitalijs Astafjevs – Latvia

Perhaps the most well known and successful international in Rovers history. Vitalijs began his career in his hometown of Riga, shortly after Latvia’s independence. He won the League in all of his first four seasons with Skonto Riga including winning the golden boot, scoring 19 goals from midfield. He spent a season in Austria with Vienna before returning to Skonto and winning a further 3 consecutive league titles.

Vitalijs was signed for the Gas by Ian Holloway in what was considered a major coup on the turn of the millennium. His flair and eye for goal made him a fan favourite in his 3 years at the Gas, some to this day maintain he was the most naturally gifted player in the clubs recent history. He was released in 2003 and returned to Austia.

He moved to Kazan in Russia before a third return to Skonto, where he won his NINTH Latvian League title. He played an astonishing 167 times for Latvia, including briefly breaking the European record for most international appearances before it was equalled then broken by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. He has also won Latvia Player of the Year three times.

Stuart Campbell – Scotland

Stuart Campbell played almost 300 times for the Gas and is one of the clubs most popular names. The midfielder started his career at Leicester after a youth career at Corby Town. He spent 5 years at the club including two loans away at Birmingham and Grimsby. He then joined the latter on a permanent basis under then manager Lennie Lawrence. He played over 100 times for the Mariners before turning down a new contract to come down to Bristol.

Campbell signed for Rovers in 2004 and after a couple of productive seasons he was named club captain. In his first season as skipper, Stuart led the club to the final of the Football League trophy and promotion via the play offs a month later, including scoring a screamer in the semi finals against Lincoln. He then led the club to a good League One season and the quarter finals of the Fa Cup. He also stepped up as Caretaker Manager of the club, but failed to save them from the drop back to League Two.

Since leaving the Gas, Stuart joined Tampa Bay Rowdies in America, becoming player/coach and then the permanent manager. He now owns camps in Tampa Bay geared towards coaching the next generation of footballers.

Chris Lines – England

The toughest nation to choose just a single player in, anyone who knows me knew this one was fairly obvious! Chris Lines came through the academy, a personal dream as he had supported the club all his life. He earned promotion the year after his debut and became a full regular in that first League One season. He moved to Sheffield Wednesday and won another promotion in his first season. A solid couple of seasons was followed by a loan to Mk Dons before joining Port Vale.

In 2015, Chris completed a shocking move back to the then non-league Gas on loan, helping the club to an instant return back to the Football League, scoring in both the Play Off Semi Final and a penalty in the shootout at Wembley. He signed a permanent deal following the success and fired Rovers to back to back promotions the following season.

To the dismay of the supporters, an unfortunately public falling out with then manager Graham Coughlan led to Lines’ release and signing for Northampton. It was here he received his fifth EFL promotion, guiding the Cobblers back to League One. He has recently joined League Two Stevenage, in an attempt to keep them in the league.

Mustapha Carayol – Gambia

Mustapha Cayarol was only at Bristol Rovers for one season but it’s fair to say he set the world alight. Born in Gambia, he began his career at youth level with Swindon before being signed twice by manager Paul Ince as a youngster, secondly at Mk Dons, where he made his professional debut. He was sent on loan to Crawley before signing for Torquay and then Lincoln.

‘Muzzy’ struggled in his early months at the club, but a productive series of reserve performances had him back in the first time in the winter of 2011. Carayol’s most famous moment at Rovers were as he played a huge factor in Rovers having two famous back to back home wins, a 7-1 win over Burton in which he scored and assisted and a 5-1 win over Accrington in which he set up 3 goals.

Carayol was highly desired in the summer, with Rovers reportedly turning down interest from Championship clubs before eventually allowing him to sign for Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough. Injuries halted his early Boro momentum before three loan deals and a subsequent move to Nottingham Forest. His final appearance in England was for Ipswich before he moved to Cyprus to play for Limassol. He currently plays for Turkish side Demirspor and has 7 caps for Gambia.

Erhun Oztumer – Turkey

Erhun Oztumer is the newest member of this list but his glittering career speaks for itself. London born of Turkish Cypriot descent, Erhun started his youth career with Charlton before moving to Turkey to play for Sivasspor, before joining Anadolu. His return to England was to join Dulwich Hamlet, scoring over 60 goals in just two seasons from midfield. He then made it in to the Football League, joining Peterborough. He then had good spells with Walsall, Bolton and is currently on the books of Charlton.

Rovers secured the loan deal of Erhun just within the transfer window. He made his debut against Burton Albion and scored his first for the club against Darlington in the Fa Cup. He will be hoping to secure more football under Tisdale and push Rovers up the table and rumours of a permanent deal will be eagerly anticipated by the fans.

Jason Roberts – Grenada

I confess myself as only very young but Jason Roberts was all I was told about before I could truly catch the Rovers bug. The striker started his career with non league Hayes before signing a proffesional deal with Wolves. His first senior game came in a loan spell with Torquay and his 6 goals in 13 games helped the club survived relegation. He then had a 3 game loan spell at Bristol City… let’s move on.

Jason was only at the club two years but quickly became and has maintained status as a true club hero. He scored 16 league goals in his first season including 7 in the FA Cup and then went on to get 22 in the following season. He was only in his early twenties at the time and it would always be difficult to keep him at the club.

He then moved to West Brom for a record fee before injuries took him out of favour and he was sold to Wigan. He scored just 35 seconds into his debut and quickly recovered the form he’d shown at the Gas. His most notable goal being a winner at Highbury against Arsenal to get Wigan to the first major cup final in the clubs history. He then spent 6 years at Blackburn before a final stint at Reading and retirement to a persistent hip injury. He now spends his time in punditry and is a director of development for Concacaf.

Cue the pitchforks..!