Player of The Month February 2012


*Mark is a sports writer who has a weekly Memory Lane column in the Sunday Independent, featuring ex Bristol City/Rovers players. He is also the author of LIFE AFTER BRISTOL CITY VOLS 1 & 2 and LIFE AFTER BRISTOL ROVERS VOLS 1 & 2. He is also the co author of Chris Garland’s autobiography A LIFE OF TWO HALVES.


Back in the seventies there were some great double acts. Morecambe & Wise, Starsky & Hutch and, the best of all, if you happened to live in the blue half of Bristol, Smash and Grab – aka. Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister - the striking duo that scored over 150 goals for The Pirates and formed one of the deadliest partnerships around. I was fortunate enough to catch up with one half of that duo – Bruce Bannister.

“Alan and I struck up an understanding early on and once the goals started going in the ‘Smash and Grab’ thing started,” said Bruce. “They brought out Smash and Grab scarves, banners and posters – I’ve still got one of the posters somewhere.”

Born in Bradford, Bruce was on Leeds United’s books as a schoolboy, but switched to Bradford City to be nearer home. “I got into the first team was I was seventeen,” recalled Bruce. “I played alongside some very good players there - Tony Leighton, Bobby Ham, John Hall, Kenny Leek and Charlie Rackstraw, to name just a few.”

Over the years, many of Bruce’s goals – he scored over 200 – came from the penalty spot. “When I first joined the club, Charlie (Rackstraw) was the penalty taker. I don’t think he ever missed one. We used to stay behind after training, practicing spot kicks and I took over the role when Charlie left.”

In 1971, after over 200 games and 58 goals for The Bantams, Bruce decided he’d like to try his luck in a higher division and was looking for a move. “The manager told me Bristol Rovers were interested in signing me. I wasn’t over keen, as they were in the same division (the old Third Division) but went to Bristol out of courtesy, to see what they had to say,” revealed Bruce. “Bill Dodgin, their manager, could talk the hind legs off a horse and I duly signed for Rovers.”

And so began a love affair with the club and fans that was to last five years, see Bruce net 93 goals and have his name entered into Rovers’ folklore. “I hit a rich scoring vein early on, which is always handy when you move to a new club,” said the amiable Yorkshireman. And it got even better for him two years after joining the club, when Alan Warboys arrived at Eastville and they combined up front to form the deadliest of striking partnerships, resulting in promotion from the Third Division and one game in particular that will remain in the memories of Rovers fans of a certain age. Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Bristol Rovers 8.

“We were on an unbeaten run when we went to Brighton. Cloughie had just taken over there and, because so many games had been cancelled because of the bad weather, the ground was packed with fans and also the national media – including the TV people,” recalled Bruce.

On a frozen pitch, Clough’s Brighton side was hammered, Bruce scoring three and Alan Warboys four, in the 8-2 away win. “To say Mister Clough wasn’t very happy with his team would be something of an understatement,” said Bruce with a smile.

But, of course, all good things come to an end and the Smash and Grab duo was broken up. Bruce left for Plymouth Argyle in December ’76 and Warboys for Fulham a year or so later.

"Tony Waiters was the Argyle manager and the reason I went there,” revealed Bruce. “When he got the push I didn’t want to say.” Not that Mrs Bannister was too pleased with Bruce’s decision. “We originally stayed in a hotel, then got our own place. My wife Janet had just finished hanging up the new curtains when I got a move to Hull City,” explained Bruce.

And so, less than a year after joining Plymouth, Bruce was on his way to Hull, where he was to enjoy two and a half seasons, before ending his professional career playing in France for Union Sportive Dunkirk.

“After I finished playing, I spent six months weighing up my options,” said Bruce. “I’d played over five hundred games, had ten years on the PFA Executive committee, four years on the National Negotiating Committee, passed my management degree and was a qualified FA coach. I was thinking about football management, but nothing that came up appealed to me.”

But when Bruce did get back into sport, it was in a direction that nobody, least of all Bruce, expected. “I was out trying to get some footwear for playing squash and realized that none of the stores in Bradford had a half decent selection of sports shoes and that got me thinking,” explained Bruce. The result was that Bruce set about establishing his own business – That was back in the eighties and he now has a thriving business employing around fifty staff, including son Brett and daughter Victoria, selling all types of sports shoes, plus other sportswear and equipment on line, not just nationally, but worldwide. “It’s gone from strength to strength and I’m very happy with it,” said Bruce.