On 6th May 1966 Rovers entertained Notts County in a game they were desperate to win in order to further progress their march towards promotion with only three games remaining.
Things didn’t go well on that night at Belle Vue; Rovers struggled to get going and were frustrated by a number of ‘questionable’ decisions awarded against them by referee Mr Jack Pickles, with a number of them serving to frustrate the home side’s talented midfielder Tony Coleman.
Coleman fell victim to a number of niggling and cynical fouls in the middle of the pitch that continually went unchecked by the abstinent Pickles and his frustration was beginning to grow as each moment ticked by.
Coleman’s mood was clearly not helped by his side’s performance, as with a quarter of an hour to go the home side were 3-0 down and lucky to have registered nil. It was at this point that County winger Tony Flower had yet another ‘coming together’ with Coleman which again went unpunished by the match official, and proved the straw which broke the camel’s back. Coleman stood up, the ball long since having gone, and booted the visiting midfielder as if he was trying to kick him onto the main stand roof, instead leaving lying on the Belle Vue turf. Mr Pickles immediately showed he was in possession of some cards that evening should he feel inclined to use them and promptly gave Coleman his marching orders.
After setting off on the lonely walk to the dressing room, Coleman appeared to think better of it, turned round and proceeded to punch the referee squarely in the head.
Players from both sides were needed to separate the two and Coleman eventually left the field, to receive the backing of his chairman, who vowed to support one of his star players in any inquiry into the incident.
Inquiry there was, however it is now universally accepted that the referee swore at Coleman as he left the pitch and this prompted his about turn and subsequent Mohammed Ali impression and as a result the FA adopted a lenient approach to his punishment, handing out only a 6 week ban!
Loved by Rovers fans before the incident, Coleman became a hero on the Belle Vue terraces as a result of it.
He left Rovers to enjoy a richly distinguished career, with the hard man winning the Forth Division with Rovers that year and going on to win the league championship and FA cup with Manchester City.