It must be pretty rare for a club to make a triple raid on players from another club but then again Brian Clough and his sidekick Peter Taylor were not known for convention.
In late April 1974, the exasperated former management duo who’d steered unfashionable Derby County to the league championship were trying to breathe new life into Third Division Brighton and Hove Albion.
After an indifferent run of results since their arrival the previous October, Clough and Taylor were planning a huge end-of-season clear-out of the players they had inherited and the pair needed plenty of replacements.
That was why Taylor, the fixer of most of their transfer dealings at that time, took himself off to the Carrow Road home of Norwich City, and persuaded their manager John Bond to let Brighton sign Ian Mellor, Steve Govier and Andy Rollings.
Mellor was said to have been worth £40,000 – a record fee for the Albion at the time – and the trio arrived on the south coast for a combined total of £65,000 (what in today’s money would be something approaching £475,000).
Mellor had been a promising youngster at Manchester City, and although he’d played 54 games over two seasons for Norwich, he was deemed surplus to requirements. Govier and Rollings were both centre backs more familiar to the Norwich reserves.
Govier had played 30 times for the first team but was only ever a deputy for the established Duncan Forbes and Dave Stringer. Rollings was still a teenager who had only played four first team games.
Rollings later revealed how Clough had somewhat persuasively told him ‘you’re going to be my next Roy McFarland’ – he’d become England’s centre half alongside Bobby Moore under Clough’s guidance at Derby.
Leeds-bound Clough, of course, didn’t hang around even to witness Rollings make a competitive start with the Albion, but with Taylor in solo charge, all three new signings donned Albion’s new Admiral all white kit with blue collars and cuffs and were in the line-up that began the 1974-75 campaign with a win over Crystal Palace.
Govier and Rollings retained their places for the opening 12 games but with only three wins and 14 goals conceded, Taylor brought in the more experienced Graham Winstanley from Carlisle to try to shore up the leaky defence and Govier departed, former Norwich boss Ron Ashman signing him for Grimsby Town.
As the history books will tell you, both Mellor and Rollings went on to great success with the Albion. Indeed, as described in my blog The postman who delivered for Ward, Mellor, under Taylor’s successor Alan Mullery, created one of the club’s most memorable striking partnerships and eventually made 150 appearances for the Seagulls, scoring 35 goals.
Rollings became a regular in defence for the remainder of the decade, playing in 192 games and chipping in with 12 goals.
Govier’s career ended prematurely through a knee injury when he was aged just 25. Norwich fans will remember him most fondly for his stand-in role in the 1973 League Cup semi-final.
In for the injured Forbes and up against Chelsea’s England international centre forward Peter Osgood, a 20-year-old Govier scored the only goal of the game to secure City’s place in the final against Spurs. Forbes returned for the Wembley showpiece, which Tottenham won 1-0.
In Brighton’s climb from the Third Division to the First, Rollings developed into a solid stopper, initially alongside a series of experienced centre back partners in Winstanley, Dennis Burnett and Graham Cross, before two seasons alongside the imperious Mark Lawrenson.
Promotion to the top tier and the signing of Steve Foster marked the beginning of the end of his time at the Goldstone. His penultimate game was ironically against Norwich and, in a 4-2 home defeat, he was sent off for retaliation over an ugly challenge in which Justin Fashanu broke the defender’s nose.
After leaving Albion, he had a brief spell with Swindon Town; had two years at Portsmouth (29 games) played twice for Torquay and once, very ignominiously, for Brentford.
Mansley Allen chronicled that single game in the April 1997 edition of football fanzine When Saturday Comes. “Within half an hour we were three goals down, with Rollings hapless in a cameo of schoolboy errors,” Allen wrote. “The manager was forced to save the player’s blushes and he was substituted before half-time.”
Rollings is now a matchday host at the Amex and runs a cafe with his wife in Preston Park.
‘Spider’ Mellor struggled to prosper under Taylor but when Alan Mullery converted him from a left-sided midfield player to a striker, there was no looking back and the emerging Peter Ward was the chief beneficiary as goals flowed from the partnership.
Mellor left the Albion in 1978 and moved back to his native north west to play for Chester for two years before ending his career with Sheffield Wednesday.
One of Mellor’s sons, Neil, is now better known than his dad among football fans through his TV punditry work. He had to quit the game early through injury after beginning at Liverpool and playing six years for Bolton Wanderers.
- Pictures from my scrapbook show:
– an article from Goal magazine in which Mellor talked about how his move from Man City to Norwich.
– Govier captured by the Evening Argus photographer scoring against Wrexham.
– Rollings in another Evening Argus photograph making his presence felt on his Albion league debut v Crystal Palace.