Monthly Archives: May 2014

George Raynor – Rovers greatest there never was?

IMG_1415In the summer of 1967, the Rovers installed former Coventry City boss George Raynor as manager. Raynor lasted little over a year as his team, which though never short of goals, struggled for wins away from Belle Vue and never achieved their potential. His swift departure meant Raynor was consigned to history as just another name on a long list of other Doncaster Rovers managers who fell short at the club. However the story of his career and his journey prior to his return South Yorkshire is nothing short of remarkable and offers clear evidence that the club may have had one of the game’s best ever coaches at the helm, though his legacy has never received the recognition he deserved.

A Barnsley born lad, he made a career from football as something of a journeyman in the lower leagues (brief and unremarkable spells at Sheffield Utd, Mansfield, Rotherham, Bury and Aldershot were as good as things got) until the Second World War when he was working as a training instructor in Baghdad. It was here he constructed the basis of an Iraq national Football team, turning a few heads in the process, before returning to England.

The impact he had on those around him whilst overseas had not gone unnoticed and he was recommended to the Swedish FA as they searched for a national coach in 1946 and looked to begin in a new post war era.
George Raynor led his new Sweden side back to Britain for the 1948 Olympic Games, where quite amazingly and against all the odds, they won the gold medal by beating a strong Yugoslavia in the final, (in front of 60,000 people at Wembley) and in the process eclipsing the Matt Busby led British side who could only finish third.

Raynor combined the national team duties with a management career in the Swedes domestic league before masterminding an incredible performance in the 1950 World Cup Finals. His side topped their group (notably beating Italy in their opening game) before falling to eventual champions Uruguay and finishing the tournament in third place.

Olympic success with Sweden

Olympic success with Sweden

He took Sweden to Olympic success once more in 1952 as his team secured a bronze medal, following which his burgeoning reputation throughout Europe saw him handed spells at Juventus and Lazio before returning home for an albeit brief (and rather less glamorous) spell at Coventry City.

He once again returned to take charge of Sweden and took his new side to the 1958 World Cup finals with the incredible achievements eight years earlier still fresh in the mind. Amazingly, Raynor’s side were once again the tournaments surprise package and again they began the competition in fine form, comfortably winning their group before brushing defending champions West Germany aside 3-1 in a fiercely contested semi final. Raynor’s side were ultimately forced to finish as runners up behind a Pele inspired Brazil, eventually losing the final despite taking an early lead.

george raynor 2Following his glorious achievements with Sweden he returned home to England. Given his glittering cv on the international stage it is staggering to consider that Raynor left the World Cup runners up and could only manage the position of manager at non league Skegness Town, such was the disparity of recognition he received at home as compared to the continent.
It is during this spell however that he undertook the work which would ultimately play a hugely significant part in the history of Doncaster Rovers. It was during these two years at Skegness that a player, once one of the games brightest prospects arrived at Skegness in the faint hope of reviving something resembling a career.
Understandably heart broken and trying to rebuild a life following a career ending injury,Alick Jeffrey, once so famously courted by Manchester United, went to non-league Skegness Town depressed and depleted but determined to make a recovery. Not long down an already almost impossibly long road, Jeffrey fell victim to another set back by breaking his other leg. This would surely have proved too much for most people but Jeffrey, guided by the progressive and forward thinking Raynor fought back for a second time and after months of further hard work he was ready to re-join Doncaster Rovers and try to resurrect his career.
Raynor had another brief spell in Sweden before having a lengthy spell away from football management before heading to Belle Vue and an (on the face of things) un characteristically underwhelming spell with Doncaster Rovers.
George Raynor left the club following those travails away from home which meant the side only finished 10. Lawrie McMenemy succeeded Raynor and building on his foundations, was able to reap those rewards which had been originally sown by George Raynor and lead the side to the Fourth Division title.

In spite of his vast achievements Raynor never received the recognition he deserved in England and when he took over at Belle Vue it was following several years away from the game. Though the statistics record just another manager with an average record in charge at Doncaster Rovers, history shows that George Raynor may in fact have been the most talented name on the list.

Is Paul Dickov really the man for a Doncaster Rovers return?

doncaster roversI was sitting bored, like many before me, a number of hours into an aeroplane journey. I’d read a newspaper, watched a couple of movies and listened to some music, but now I was bored. Bored of doing nothing. We’d hit a little turbulence so the familiar seatbelt signs were in operation and even a trip to the toilet was off the table. The plane rocked gently from side to side and with more nervous energy than I’d like to admit I explored my seat for something of a distraction. I settled, somewhat underwhelmed, for the airlines generically cheesy inflight entertainment magazine in the hope that it would distract me from the planes increasingly forceful agitation.
I flicked through the pages of adverts interspersed with scandals bad gossip before coming across an interview with Ronnie O’Sullivan. The world championships were due to start shortly in Sheffield so snooker was relevant enough for Virgin to speak to its premier exponent.
The article proved to be a decent read with one of sports enigmas, and one of O’Sullivans answers stuck with me long after the plane had landed and luggage had been claimed. He said that for a number of years during his early career he never really achieved much, certainly not what he was capable of. He said that from playing against, and losing to Stephen Hendry, the man who’s crown he would go on to take in the following years, he was able to see first hand that the difference between Hendry, a true winner, and the rest of the field was that when a match got down to its crucial frames were the pendulum could swing one way or another, Hendry changed his approach and played aggressive snooker, taking on risky pots and forcing the issue against his opponent. When the going got tough, Hendry went for it and O’Sullivan suggests it was the acquiring of this attitude that changed him from potential great, to the best there’s ever been. It stuck with me because I was surprised that someone with such natural talent, so far above his compatriots in terms of ability, considers the crucial caveat to success to be that of attitude and a mental approach to winning.

When Doncaster Rovers went to Leicester on the final day of the 2014 season the season was well and truly in the final frame. The only certain thing was that if they won, Rovers would be safe and avoid relegation from the Championship. Anything less would depend on results elsewhere.

Paul Dickov drfcI must admit that I was a little surprised when Paul Dickov’s teamsheet arrived and showed his side would line up with 5 at the back, with Lucas Neill as a sweeper.
I was even more surprised with this when I saw Leicester had gone with Nugent (a striker who has many pluses to his game, but blistering pace is not one of then) and Phillips (a man who was playing his last game before retiring at 40 Years of age and had never had any pace during any of his 20 previous seasons) up front, hardly threatening to run in behind a back line to bring a sweeper into play.
Anyway, the parking of the bus was understandable to a degree. Keep it all square then if results are going against us have ‘a right go’ late on. That was clearly the plan.
The problem was it was the plan of a side with the worst away record in the league and how often have we all seen similar performances from a team who defend doggedly before falling behind only to find the die is cast for the game and the ability to change tempo and direction is never really viable.
Still it was Paul Dickov’s plan and but for a dodgy penalty or a lump of injury time in Lancashire it would’ve worked, but I can’t help think it would’ve been more through luck than judgement. The truly baffling things happened after we fell behind. 15 minutes to go and we are 1-0 down. We might’ve well have lost 10-0 as 1-0 as in each possible outcome in the relegation lottery, that was fact and was known before the game. 0 points meant 0 points and we had the worst goal difference of them all so the moment Nugent’s penalty hit the net was the moment the bus needed to crank up the gears and get moving. We needed a goal at this point, one goal as a minimum and what was the response from the bench? Nothing.
Nothing for 7 minutes when with 8 minutes of the season remaining Dickov replaced the left back. With another left back. Even now the dust has settled, I cannot comprehend that decision. Assuming Husband wasn’t fit to continue there was still already 3 other fullbacks already on the pitch. Why not throw on a forward and change things at the back? It makes no sense to me to make such a short sighted and naive decision at such a crucial time (one which ultimately denied us the opportunity to have Theo Robinson on the pitch, the only player we have with any pace). Indeed it was not until 2 minutes later, with only 6 minutes remaining that two forwards were introduced.
In a game we needed to get something out of, we managed 2 shots on target.

The most frustrating thing of it all is that it feels as though we went down with a whimper. Not just on the final day but from winning at Leeds in March and being almost safe (we were 8 points clear of relegation at that point. I was almost confident), we managed only 1 point from the remaining 7 games and scored only 4 goals in the process. Going down from such a strong position at the end of March is the most unpalatable thing of all.
Certainly we can point to key injuries at key times, a small squad, financial disparity, terrible refereeing decisions regularly dished out to ‘small’ teams but there is also a lack of tactical guile which punctuated the season.
Rovers conceded the first goal 26 times this season in games which went on to yield 1 win, 3 draws, and 22 defeats. There was too often no plan B from the bench and too often games slipped us by with a familiar sense of inevitability.

Should the responsibility rest with the manager? Yes.

Should he be sacked just because he couldn’t keep Doncaster in the Championship? No, even Stevie Wonder could’ve seen it was a tough ask.

Is the run of form from March, and 1 point from 21 acceptable? No, absolutely not.

I am sure he is a genuine, hard working guy. There is enough evidence to suggest the players play for him and the dressing room is a settled enough place. Paul Dickov’s tenure has seen some astute signings (Sharp, Meite, Wellens, Tamas et al are all from good stock) and he was notably given the financial backing from the board to do so. There does remain however a huge question mark over his tactical nous. Ultimately he has been lacking all season in this crucial area. Granted however, it’s easy to be tactically astute when your sides better than the opposition and the simple fact is we haven’t been good enough.

I only hope that one can learn how to be a better tactician. God knows there have been enough lessons throughout this season for him to be going on with. Mr O’Sullivan has shown us albeit in a different sport, that it’s possible to work out how to win matches through losing them. Hope springs eternal, especially for a Rovers fan, but I still can’t help but think if Ronnie O’Sullivan had picked the team at Leicester the final frame, and the final reckoning might’ve been very different.