Will always be considered something of a hero by Rovers fans after scoring a hat trick against Scunthorpe United at Glanford in the Rovers 5-0 demolition of their rivals (see the video of Norbury’s 2nd goal below). Former jail bird, ‘Mental’ Mickey joined Rovers in 1994 having enjoyed a good record at Preston North End; however he suffered a broken leg at Deepdale which kept him out for 18 months and his promising career never really recovered. At Rovers he proved a decent, hardworking strike partner for the more skilful Graeme Jones, though he himself didn’t find the net throughout the whole of the 94-95 league season before suddenly scoring 5 goals in as many games. He left the club for Halifax the following season and drifted into the non-league game where he enjoyed some success as a striker in the conference.
In January 2007, whilst Goole’s assistant manager he was handed a six year touch line ban having been charged with two accounts of foul and abusive language and threatening behaviour towards referees. “I’ve had my share of sending’s off but never once have I threatened a referee – until this season” however happily this ban was later reduced to 182 days following an appeal.
Sometimes hot headed and occasionally reckless, Mickey was no stranger to red and yellow cards throughout his career, however his performance at Glanford Park made him a cult figure among Rovers fans, in total he made 27 appearances for the Rovers, scoring 5 times.
Laurie Sheffield joined the Rovers in the summer of 1965 having already established himself as a goal scorer during a three year stay at Newport County where he had broken the post war goal scoring record, scoring 27 goals during the 1964/65 season and in total scored 46 in 91 appearances for County.
His arrival at Belle Vue saw him team up with Alick Jeffrey in what is still one of Rovers’ most deadly strike forces. Laurie’s impact was immediate, making his debut against Lincoln City at Belle Vue on the opening day of the season; he scored twice as Rovers won 4-0.
Sheffield was outstanding all season and constantly among the goals with him and Jeffrey scoring a missive 50 league goals between them, with Laurie claiming the lion’s share of 28 to finish as the clubs leading goal scorer. His goals fired the team to the top places in division four, and in a close run in, the Rovers clinched the championship and promotion.
The following season started brightly until the tragic car accident that took the life of defender John Nicholson shook the club. The team began to struggle for results but Laurie still continued to find the net regularly and I came as a great surprise to everyone when he joined Norwich in November 1966 for a fee of £12,000. It caused uproar among Rovers fans who were angry at seeing one of the clubs most prized possessions depart, especially as he had already scored 14 goals that season, in just 21 appearances.
He notched a hat trick for Norwich on his debut and was a regular name on the score sheet for them, as he was during spells with Rotherham Oldham and Luton before return to Belle Vue in October 1969. Again his impact was immediate, scoring in a 3-1 at Walsall. Injury disrupted his second spell however and he was only able to make 17 starts for the club but still scored 7 goals before ending his career at Peterborough United.
Not the biggest of forwards, he was still excellent in the air and a strong leader of the front line, he was a talented footballer with good vision and awareness of others around him. A genuine goal scorer, he managed 48 goals in 85 games for the club and is still, rightly considered to be one of the clubs finest ever players.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the National Football Museum in Manchester. Whilst scouring for Rovers items of interest I chanced on the Museums audio feature and found worked my way through the Rovers section. Listening to the commentary sent me right back to some of the greatest moments of the recent past of Doncaster Rovers FC. The one from the League Cup tie against Villa in particular catapulted me straight back to the wooden seats of Belle Vue’s main stand. I caught a sniff of Bovril and felt my feet turn to blocks of Ice and I was once again witnessing Sean Thornton’s strike arc into the net for Rovers third.
I’ve added to the list myself, but here they are for you to enjoy.
Dag v rovers Conf po final – Sir Francis Tierney sends Doncaster Rovers back into the Football League in 2003.
Rovers v Villa League Cup Nov 2005 – Sean Thornton buries Villa with Rovers third goal.
Doncaster Rovers v Bristol R JPT final – Skipper Graeme Lee heads home in extra time
Doncaster Rovers v Leeds PO Final – James Hayter scores the only goal at Wembley in 2008 to send Rovers into the Championship
Brentford v Doncaster Rovers League 1 – Incredible end to the game at Brentford in April 2013 as Rovers go from third place to Champions in seconds
Doncaster Rovers v Bristol Rovers – JPT Final 2007– (YouTube video at bottom of page)
April 1st 2007 saw the club play its first major cup final in its long history, and 18,000 Doncaster Rovers fans made the trip to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the Football League Trophy final against Belle Vue. Rovers were favourites going into the game, playing in the League above their opponents, but Bristol Rovers were going well in league two and had yet to concede a goal in the competition, had beaten some good sides to take their place in the final.
Rovers were given a massive boost before kick off when forward Jason Price and top scorer Paul Heffernan were passed fit to play, with Heffernan having been absent for the previous seven games with an ankle injury. Heffernan was the clubs top marksman and had been the hero of the two legged semi-final, scoring four goals as Rovers edged past Crewe in a nail biting match up and the Irishman’s inclusion served as a huge lift for all.
The Cardiff pitch was bathed in sun on a crisp Sunday afternoon with half of its imposing and impressive stadium bathed in red and white and both teams were keen to get off to a good start and inside the first minute, Price fizzed the ball in towards Heffernan in the box. He challenged two defenders and got a foot to the ball just before keeper Phillips and then ball spun straight to Jonathan Forte who had the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. It was a dream start to the final, and just what manager Sean O’Driscoll would have wanted to settle his team down, but within minutes, things would get even better.
The Rovers fans were still celebrating the opening goal when Rovers keeper Neil Sullivan sent a long goal kick down field. Heffernan was alive to it, as the ball bounced over the Bristol Rovers back four Heffernan latched onto the loose ball before firing home a superb left footed down into the far corner of the net for his 21st goal of the season. The watching Rovers fans could hardly believe what they were seeing as their team cruised to a 2 goal advantage.
The game then started to settle down and a shell shocked Bristol Rovers managed to get hold of the ball and attempt to play their way back into the game. Midfielder Lewis Haldane test Neil Sullivan with an angled drive, but the Rovers keeper made a comfortable save and neither team looked likely to add to the scoring as the half drew to a close.
Bristol Rovers started the second half brightly, looking for an early goal of their own to drag them back into the game and within 4 minutes of the re start they did just that. Walker whipped a low cross in from the left hand side and Rovers defender Sean McDaid stepped across midfielder Sammy Igoe to let the ball run to safety, but in doing so the referee adjudged he had fouled the Bristol Rovers man and Walker placed the penalty past Sullivan.
Heffernan had a snap shot from a James Coppinger pass blocked as Rovers looked to restore their advantage and the game started to open up. However, just beyond the hour mark, Igoe latched onto the ball 7 yards from goal following good work down the left and swept the ball home to level the scores.
The momentum now with them, Bristol Rovers charged forward in search of a winner with Haldane and Walker both going close before Rovers went close themselves with Skipper Graeme Lee having a shot blocked on the line, with Brian Stock firing the rebound wide. Paul Green went close with a late header before Paul Heffernan shot wide with a chance to win the game in the final minute. It was a breath taking end to the ninety minutes as the game spilled into 30 minutes extra time.
Steve Elliott headed the first chance of the extra period straight at Sullivan and Green went close at the other end as Rovers began to look the most likely. With only 10 minutes remaining, Lee found room in the six yard box to nod home the winner from a Sean Thornton corner as the Doncaster fans erupted once more. The side held out, and Lee himself held the trophy aloft amid a backdrop of fireworks and fantastic celebrations.
Never mind Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher et al on Monday night football. Here is a proper breakdown of what went wrong (four times!) in Doncaster Rovers defending during Saturdays defeat at Blackpool. Even got pictures and all that technical stuff like on the telly..
First Goal against.
Slide 1. free kick just awarded to Blackpool. 3 of the back 4 visible, look in decent position. All 5 Rovers midfielders in shot, all within 20 yards of each other, none of them are picking anyone up.
Slide 2. Free Kick taken, none of the midfield have moved, still no one picked up. Back line still looks ok.
Slide 3. This reveals that Blair, like the 5 others in front of him is both fast asleep and also 10 yards out of position and can only look on as Blackpool forward runs into the gap he has left. Look how far he is away from Butler, especially as there is a forward who should be being picked up.
Slide 4.Butler can’t get across, others still yards out of position can’t recover. Goal. Midfield asleep, defence gets it terribly wrong.
Slide 1. Ball about to be delivered, decent defensive shape.
Slide 2. Ball in, Butler spare, 2 Blackpool players marked.
Slide 3. Clear it’s too high, Evina reacts to deal with cross. No pressure.
Slide 4. Evina in position to clear, no opponent even in shot at this point, nowhere near Evina who could deal with this in his sleep.
Slide 5.Ball bouncing. Opposition full back now approaching but 3 yards behind Evina who will smash it away easily. Cedric has so much time he begins to think about what baseball cap would go best with the away shirt.
Slide 6.Evina will smash it away, any second now. He’s still a yard infront of his man… wait, no not again!?!
Slide 7. “What was I doing again. Oh yeah, baseball hats”, Cedric watches on admiringly as the Blackpool man lobs the ball towards goal.
Slide 8. S**t.
Slide 1. Free kick, in excess of 25 yeards out. 4 man wall set up, evina in position to close down shot.
Slide 2. Ball rolling, Evina out. Wall in good shape.
Slide 3. Look at the position of the goalkeeper. Inexplicably, having set the wall up he has taken up a terrible position basically behind the wall, leaving his left hand corner massively exposed.
Slide 4. Goal. Even full length dive only gets to within 2 foot of left hand post, ball smashed through gap. This is pretty basic which you would expect the keeper to set up and deal with properly. Good hit but should be a simple save.
Slide 1. Back four in different post codes, Butler decides to get as deep as possible. Must have a cunning plan to allow the forward to run unchallenged to the edge of the box before he intervenes.
Slide 2. Butler still retreats but now appears to try to deal with onrushing striker as though he were a small flightless bird and tries to usher him away from goal.
Slide 3. “Shoo! Go on, away!”.
Slide 4. Oh well, it’s more or less straight at the keeper, look.
Slide 5. S**t
Do you see anything I’ve missed? Agree, Disagree, let me know… More tactical review next time there’s a defensive disaster… See you again next week.
Hmm. Never do things the easy way, that should be on the club badge somewhere. 3-0 up at half time at Stevenage (Butler, Mandeville and a cracker from Blair) and cruising. But we knew, we all knew it is never plain sailing. Cue some poor defensive lapses allowing the home side back in. A Marquis header (given as an own goal following a ricochet of a post then a keeper on its way in) made things a bit easier but once again we let them back in. Only difference to what history might suggest would’ve been, is that we held on and won. 4-3, maybe it’s a good sign that we still won the game… and a win is a win. Top of the league. Highlights below..
27th November 2016
Better, much better. We should’ve been ahead already by the time Orient went in front thanks to a thunderous 30 yard free kick. I questioned at the time, the starting position of Rovers keeper Marko Marosi which allowed the ball to travel all that way past him, and seeing it again on the telly still leaves a nagging doubt but maybe I’m just overly critical…
Jordan Houghton’s goal just before half time settled everyone down and meant the sides went into the break level. The least we had deserved, despite some ponderous build up play (we really do need to move the ball through midfield quicker) we fully deserved the goal having hit the bar 3 times in the opening 45minutes.
The second half was better, and a very poor Orient back four which struggled with a lack of pace were exposed on a number of occasions, not least the two runs into their box which led to penalty awardsfor the Rovers, both expertly converted byLiam Mandeville, who to his credit looks to have done enough to keep his place in theside, despite the returning fitness of Andy Williams.
Coppinger was again at the heart of most things which were of real quality, Butler and Baudry dealt with most things well and Craig Alcock looked like a proper full back (the first such exponent this season). Rovers 3 – 1 Leyton Orient.
15th November 2016
Out the FA Cup again, away at Oldham, again. The highlights from the game look like a blooper reel from a “Danny Bakers Crap defending” VHS. All our highlights need is some strategically placed sound effects and a laughter track and we could have the number 1 selling DVD this Christmas.
Still, i fondly remember a spell during the early 90’s when we didn’t win a single FA Cup tie for 9 years. This sort of thing is depressingly normal.
20th November 2016
Injuries to ‘Keepers, dodgy penalties, a Coppinger assist, a late winner… Its all getting nicely familiar this. Rovers beat Hartlepool 2-1, deservedly so, but allowing them back into it needed another late winner. Mandeville and Marquis both developing a pleasing habit of finding the net.
30th October 2016
2-2 draw with Wycombe. Good first half, fought back from 1-0 down thanks to an error from re installed keeper Ross Etheridge to lead 2-1 with Marquis scoring the kind of goal Messi thinks about in idle hours. Finished 2-2 thanks to another keeper error. Why do things the easy way?
24th October 2016
“I know I’m supposed to do something…?”
Ferguson tells reporter Liam Hoden “One or two of them, I keep giving them chances but enough is enough” with the only surprise being he has narrowed it down to only 2 – presumably the players will draw lots to see who is dropped this week, along with Cedric “what’s that round thing” Evina. Playing without full back every week is becoming very tiresome.
22nd October 2016
Having spent all week encouraging young striker Liam Mandeville to step up and take his chance, manager Darren Ferguson proceeded to drop him for the next game against Blackpool. Rovers were once again crap, went 1-0 up after a few seconds via an own goal and then played with the kind of speed of thought and defensive nouse you would expect to see on a primary school playground. Interesting enough, because of the own goal, we went into the second half having scored, but without a having a single shot on goal. Tommy Rowe scored a penalty, then missed one (4 missed this season by 3 different players) and we got beat 4-2.
18th October 2016
Darren Ferguson is in the press today encouraging 19 year old Liam Mandeville to step up and take his opportunity given Andy Williams is out for at least 2 months. This appears manager speak for “I’ve got nothing else to suggest? lets cross our fingers”. Mandeville has showed promise and application recently, but also he has displayed he is badly lacking in experience. There appears to be a lot of pressure headed for those young shoulders. Saturday showed some inexperience by a making a number of first half forays into offside territory, the regularity of which hasn’t been seen Prince Moncrieffe donned a Rovers shirt. Second half he didn’t – he was too knackered to get past the last man. Lets hope he comes good, he was neat on the ball and offered enough to be encouraged.
15th October 2016
Doncaster Rovers 1-0 Colchester. Wow, how that happened I will never know. Rovers had all the possession but offered precious little in advance of the middle third. Vulnerable every time the ball entered our own box the visitors could have been out of sight before we stumbled to a breakthrough with the only piece of quality on offer all game.
The most alarming thing of the afternoon was that in order to turn around his teams fortunes, Darren Ferguson opted to introduce Ricardo Calder to the action. I can only assume Calder is mesmerising day in, day out during training as there must be a reason he is still in a Rovers shirt. Usual match day service resumed as his introduction was so spectacularly incompetent it invited further trouble onto an already shaky back four. Mental note, when your left back is already suspect, don’t put a man who appears to be running through treacle in front of him and then appear surprised that the opposition begin to drive a bus through the freely acquired space. How we won is anyones guess. Refreshing and a nice change, but still astonishing.
5th May 2016
Perfect finish to the season with a crap performance at home, live on Sky, to promoted Burton (who will struggle badly next year based on today). My Dad summed it up perfectly “I taped the game too, but when I get home I think I’ll just rub it off”. Once was enough.
3rd May 2016
Leicester are the Champions of England. A great story which will rightly be told for years to come. Somewhat apt that exactly 2 years ago today we stood shoulder to shoulder with the foxes. Both Championship sides we stood off on the final day of the season in 2014. Leicester won 1-0, got promoted to the premier league and we went down to league one. Now two years on, Leicester are the number one side in the country, we are in the countries bottom league. Two short years ago we were peers, now we couldn’t be further away.
30th April 2016
That’s that then. I’m more annoyed with myself really for starting to think things might be different and we might still have a chance.
1-0 up against Crewe, the 2016 vintage showed its true colours to slump to a comedic, incompetent 3-1 defeat. Cedric Evina got the ball rolling with a “charlton away esque” lesson in how not deal with a cross in your own 6 yard box, and things got worse from there on in.
“We’ve lost too many games. But I see a clear pattern. If I was to be asked ‘why?’, I think I’ve got a very clear idea of why and I have to fix it.”
Was the managers reaction. Presumably the ‘why’ being because the manager and players have been utter sh*te. Not sure that’s exactly what his thoughts are, or that he knows what to do about it. League 2 then, barring a 12 goal swing and a win against Burton on Saturday. League 2 it is then.
24th April 2016
Another win! 2-0 against Coventry. Much improved performance and a deserved win. Tommy Rowe excellent again as Rovers start to show some signs they are a team. 3 points behind, 6 to play for and the next game is at already relegated Crewe…
Ferguson told the free press:
“We thoroughly deserved the win. We’ve just got to maintain it now against Crewe and Burton.
“As a team we’ve got a bit of momentum now. You can see the belief.
Against my better judgement, I’m allowing an air of optimism to circulate my thoughts. I know it’s a mistake.
19th April 2016
First time in months and months I actually felt a pang of excited optimism about the Rovers, as my phone sent a joyous notification that Tommy Rowe had bundled us in front at Chesterfield. ‘it’s back on.. is it? Yes it is.. well, wait what??’ I tried desperately to convince myself. By the time I had decided that it was, it wasn’t anymore. Some less than decisive goalkeeping allowed Ariyibi to equalise for the Spireites 12 minutes later, and despite chances falling to Butler, Coppinger and (a by all accounts an almost customary glaring miss from) Williams it ended 1-1. The gap is now 5 points with 9 to play for. Ferguson tells the press it was ‘a lost opportunity’ and that we ‘have a chance, maybe not a good chance, but we’ve got a chance’. I’ve got a lottery ticket for Wednesday night’s draw, I think my odds are better.
16th April 2016
Just when you think you know about life’s constants, taxes, the sky being blue, grass being green etc, something happens that throws everything into doubt. Today was just such an occasion as Doncaster Rovers won a game. Not just a game, but a game against the league leading, form table topping Wigan Athletic. All after going behind and actually scoring 3 (three) goals in the process (that’s 3 in one game, not the total for the month).
Much improved and much deserved was the general consensus following thedays frivolities at the Keepmoat, where, to fit in with the other incredible feats, Andy Williams found the back of the net (his first goal in 16 games) to add further optimism to proceedings. The win (still feels odd to type that) means that we are now 6 points behind with 12 to play for. Still a big ask, but you never know.
9th April 2016
“Whatever happens errm, I…I…I’m gonna be…sort of…convinced…that..I’ll get this right” was the battle cry from Darren Ferguson following the sides defeat at Bury.
For what it’s worth Darren, I’m about as convinced as you are at the moment. Wednesday 6th April 2016
Same old story at Spotland during the first half as Rovers conceded what was one of the softest and most bizarre goals of the season. Remi Matthews seemed to forget he was in goal during a game of football and seemed to see something sparkly in the crowd which merited closer attention. By the time he came round he was almost off the pitch but recovered just in time to see a suspicious looking Rochdale forward roll the ball into a unguarded net.
Crazy scenes then erupted as the Rovers scored, and unbelievably then scored again! Two goals in one game at Rochdale allowed a brief departure from recent travails, though the surprising upturn in fortune didn’t last as 10 man Rovers conceded an equaliser deep into stoppage time. The goal was a scruffy, frantic mess of thing but worryingly there appeared too many blue shirts left to their own devices in the Rovers six yard box. Anyway, everything points to a much improved performance from the Rovers, with a modicum of pride and spirit creeping into the display and the start of a new, unbeaten run – 1 game without defeat. From little acorns and all that.
Manager Darren Ferguson couldn’t help but bemoan events leading to the finale as defender Craig Alcock had been sent off somewhat harshly for a second yellow, prompting the Rovers boss to angrily remonstrate with anyone who would listen, and a couple of people who wouldn’t. The decision undoubtedly made the last seconds of the game more difficult than they might’ve been, but hopefully Ferguson’s rant may serve to galvanise some spirit among his charges for the remaining games.
Friday April 1st 2016
Enjoyed the BBC sport ‘April fools’ joke for an hour or so this morning, before I realised it was actually the genuine League One table.
The aftermath of an embarrassing Easter weekend has hung around for most of the week with manager Darren Ferguson insisting to the Free Press that he is the right man for a “long term project”. Ferguson doesn’t provide any specifics as to the details, so having seen his side play recently, I can only assume he is volunteering to take on the lengthy task of painting my house. I’m happy for him to provide me a quote, though only if his competence with gloss and masking tape is greater than with a piece of chalk and a tactics board. It may be his best chance of paid employment come the summer.
Further blow to Rovers hopes this year is reported in the news that midfield shadow boxer Paul Keegan is likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Unfortunate, though if the Irishman represents our best hope of getting out of this then we might as well call it a day now and save everyone from further inconvenience.
Gary McSheffrey blasted the quality of his hotel during his loan spell here by telling the local press “clean sheets are a priority” whilst new goalkeeper Remi Matthews has told of his surprise that the Rovers are struggling at the wrong end of the table. I presume by the time he picked the ball out of his net for the fourth time against Colchester he had a better understanding of who, what, why and when.
On a happier note, I did secure tickets to the ‘Evening with Peter Kitchen‘ event the supporters club have arranged for mid April. It promises to be a good evening, get your tickets via the link below.
The build up to Saturdays game at Rochdale gently mentioned that Rovers last 12 games represent the clubs worst ever run of form (1 point from 36) and by contrast Rochdale have won six out of their last eight games. Things may well get worse before they get better.
One of twelve brothers, four of which played for the club during the 1920’s, Tom Keetley joined the Rovers from Bradford Park Avenue in 1923. He went on to become one of the most significant names in the history of Doncaster Rovers. He spent six seasons at Belle Vue and scored more than 20 goals every term, and in the process installed himself as Rovers all-time leading goal scorer with an incredible 180 goals.
During the 1926-27 season, Keetley bagged an amazing 36 league goals in 36 games, an incredible scoring record over the course of a season that never looked like being surpassed. That was however until two years later when in 1929 Keetley finished top of the scoring charts with 40 league goals on just 32 matches, including an outstanding performance in a match at Ashington when he scored 6 of the Rovers goals in a 7-4 victory.
He was a legend whilst at Rovers, so it is understandable that consternation resounded around Belle Vue in October 1928 when he was placed on the transfer list at his own request, having had a disagreement with the board over the terms of his benefit. Eventually however the dispute was resolved with the club guaranteeing a sum from a match to be played against Hearts.
Evidently however, the problems with the board was never totally resolved and the following summer Keetley declined to re-sign for the club, instead preferring to move back to Derbyshire to be closer to his business interests there. The fee the club received from second division Notts County went towards offsetting the loss the club had accrued the following season, however the loss of Keetley’s goals would have left a bigger void in any team than the one on the balance sheet.
The goals continued to flow at his new club, where he still holds the club record for goals scored in a single season with 39 and he scored a total of 94 goals in 103 games for Notts County, and when his career ended in 1934 following a brief spell with Lincoln City he had made a total of 330 league appearances, with yielded a return of 284 goals.
Keetley was a goal scorer the likes of which are seldom seen, his record in a Rovers shirt (185 goals in 241 appearances in competitions for the club) is unparalleled, with the biggest surprise of all being that Rovers never achieved promotion during his time at the club, despite his goals. Quite simply Tom Keetley is the clubs greatest ever goal scorer.
I wrote this for issue 77 of PopularSTAND magazine at the beginning of the 2015/16. Time has moved on since, much like some of the names included in the article, but the sentiment remains:
One morning in early October last year I found myself on the familiar journey to the Keepmoat, though with the Rovers away, my visit was to watch an under 11 team to which my daughter belongs. It was a crisp Saturday morning, as usual we were running late and found the parking spaces near to the sports pitches typically full, forcing us to head further round the stadium for a space in which to abandon the car. We jumped out and as the doors slammed behind us began to hurriedly make our way back towards the pitches. My eye was drawn to the row of parked cars which ran snuggly alongside the edge of the ground. It appeared on first glance as though 50 Cent must have been putting on a concert, as the tarmac was lined with black 4x4s and sports cars, each equipped with the uniformed alloy wheels and blacked out windows, one such vehicle could be heard gently thumping away some ‘music’ whilst it rhythmically rocked it’s occupant. I was still pondering quite what was happening when a face emerged, making its way towards us. I recognised him, but couldn’t think where from – work? School? Another Dad late for the mornings football? I couldn’t be sure and despite my fierce squinting I couldn’t place him.
“Is that one of the Rovers players Dad?” asked my daughter, her sharper, younger eyes identifying that the badge on his tracksuit top matched her own. I again looked at the bloke, now scurrying towards the entrance, almost nervously and awkwardly avoiding eye contact. “Yes, that’s Dean Furman” I replied, the pieces dropping into place. The players were gathering to travel to their away game.
No sooner had the words left my lips then other members of ‘Fiddy’s’ entourage made their way towards reception, all uniformly clad in both club leisure wear and a vast array of jewellery, watches and wash bags. I looked at my daughter’s face, as Kyle Bennett and Reece Wabara jovially waltzed by with perfectly styled barnets and intricate facial hair, to see her fixing something of a suspicious gaze towards Rovers’ finest.
I was a little more concrete in my outlook. Having spent a large sum of money already in watching our diamond clad charges deliver a number of gutless performances already that season I was totting up in my head the cost of the motors the trio had left behind. While edging past 6 figures the final straw appeared at the end of the queue of pimped out rides. Harry Forrester, the source of the stifled music, threw open the driver’s door on his personalised number plated BMW and emerged with full complement of bling, sporting a ridiculously large baseball hat which he was forced to gently ease out of the car before carefully using his immaculately manicured trainers to place his feet firmly on the ground, somewhere that I fear from looking at them, most of the players struggle to keep theirs.
My 10 year old summed it up perfectly when asking, faced screwed into a mix of confusion and contempt “Why are they all like that? They’re ridiculous”
The sense of injustice had built up inside me throughout the preceding half dozen or so footsteps, but given the time, my proceeding rant couldn’t be directed towards those most deserving of it, instead my little girl was forced to nod quietly, as I recounted exactly what those players had done to ‘earn’ the money which paid for them to look so ridiculously stereotypical over the last six games. Six games, of which they had lost four and only scored in two. I felt vein popping anger at the ease and nonchalance at which none of it seemed to matter to them. It got me so angry because it mattered so much to me.
I’ll never come to terms with it and I’ll never be able to identify with players who are so far removed from the rest of us. I find it almost impossible to get behind someone who’s first concern appears to be the quality of their hair product or procuring the latest Nike’s.
When Paul Dickov announced at the end of last season that he needed ‘a squad of men’ it conjured a large sigh of relief. I recalled some names of the past, the likes of which would fit the bill, names like Alan Warboys, Jack Ashurst, John Schofield – proper men who not only would run through brick walls for the side but you could also imagine just washed with a bar of soap, spent under a fiver on a haircut and looked suspiciously at a fella with an earring.
I remember seeing Tim Ryan during his pomp in the local Sainsbury’s of a Saturday night, getting stocked up with fags before a night out, or turning up to play 5 a side at the Dome only to find that Ian Duerden was lining up for the opposition. I recall stumbling from the Karisma nightclub late one evening in the late 90’s to find Colin Sutherland slumped in a bus stop outside. Slurring some inaudible words with eyes as glazed as an iced bun, he was and still remains to this day, the drunkest I have ever seen a man.
However, he and his kin were like the rest of us, we moved in similar circles, we did similar things and we battled the same demons, whilst we were happy to see them on something of a pedestal, we could relate to them and we were all in it together. It’s a feeling which is fast fading for me, I can’t relate to the modern footballer in any way. Yeah, I’ve been to Nando’s, but to be honest I didn’t much care for it. I’ve tried sifting through their Twitter feeds but am left numbed by pictures of body kits and boots, shout outs and endorsement and even one ‘urgent’ plea for a decorator- obviously not urgent enough for an underachieving League One forward to dirty his own hands and open a tin of emulsion.
These days a third tier footballer earns life changing money and whilst it is not their fault, it has hastened their detachment from the rest of us. Paul Dickov’s recruitment policy gave me renewed hope, someone to relate to, to get behind. Someone who would feel the pain felt on the terraces and bare the scars just like the fans. A squad of men? That’d be great, to be honest, I’d settle for a few normal blokes.
The Easter period saw us rack up the worst run of form in the Rovers history. It got me thinking, I know the last few months has been terrible, but I’m sure I have seen worse? I sat through every home game of the 1997-98 season during which we were rightly crowned as the worst team in English footballs modern era.
My mind drifted back to such devastating lows and the band of incompetent misfits which oversaw such a period and I couldn’t get the two to match. How could that season, where the club was dismantled from inside out compare favourably to our last few months as a proper football club once more? Well, obviously the two clubs bear no comparison, where we are now bears absolutely no resemblance to then I do not wish to suggest otherwise, though in terms of players I began to muse, could any of those be better than out current record-breaking crop? Would any of that fateful season at the end of the 90’s get into today’s side? Surely not, let’s take a look. The record clinching game this season was the defeat against Blackpool, so let’s take the 11 from that day and compare them with the squad from 1997-98. Anyone who played a game for the club during that year will be considered, would any of that group have been preferred to the 11 who took the field vs Blackpool?
Goalkeeper: Remi Matthews or Dean Williams
From the 97/98 squad, Dean Williams. Played 7 times during that doomed season but had made over 80 appearances in a Rovers shirt in the 3 years beforehand. Always looked a bit smaller than his officially recorded height of 6’1” but he was a good keeper. Good shot stopper and a reliable figure at the back during some quite difficult times.
Special mention goes to Tony Parks, UEFA cup winner with Spurs who also made 6 appearances in 97-98 for the Rovers, but at 35 was past his prime and must’ve been bewildered by what was happening in front of him
I’m going for Williams over Matthews.
Right back: Mitchell Lund or Martin Pemberton At right back I would put forward Martin Pemberton. Martin played a number of positions during his time with Rovers, usually midfield or full/wing back and made 27 appearances that season before escaping and ending the season with 6 games at Scunthorpe. He was mobile, decent on the ball and got up and down pretty well. He went on the play league football for Stockport and Mansfield (who paid £10,000 for him) over the course of a decent career. It may be harsh on youngster Lund, whom I am a fan of, but I think if pressed I would go for Pemberton.
Centre Backs: Craig Alcock and Andy Butler or Ian Gore and Lee Warren. Lee Warren was the player of the year during 97-98, not much of an accolade to be fair, but followed that up by winning the same award the following year as the club rebuilt in the conference, amid stronger competition for the title. Lee had been a Rovers for a couple of seasons prior, playing really as a ball playing midfielder, to not much affect if I’m honest. A player of a good pedigree it wasn’t until his switch to defence that he really shone and became Mr reliable over those two seasons, rightly becoming a fans favourite along the was.
Ian Gore moved from Torquay where he had been signed to replace Darren Moore, before joining the Rovers to play alongside, strangely enough, Darren Moore. A decent, solid centre back, Gore actually played 25 league games that year though they were all an uphill battle, again he was of good pedigree, playing over 200 times for a good Blackpool side. The only draw back to Ian Gore was that at 5’11” you sometimes wondered if he was big enough for a centre back, though he had enough aggression and determination to make up for a lack of height and at least he was reasonably mobile. I’d take Lee Warren over Alcock every day, Gore or Butler? I’d prefer both to be a bit taller, close run thing this one for me, but go on then, Andy Butler.
Left Back: Aaron Taylor Sinclair or Ian Clark. Clark could operate as a winger, wing back or full back. He had a good left foot and was mobile. Went on to enjoy a successful 4 year spell with Hartlepool following his escape from Rovers. Close one this for me, Taylor Sinclair is bigger, but due to his penchant for not defending properly and crap distribution I’ll go for Clark at left back. Wide right: James Coppinger or Simon Ireland. Highly rated as a youngster Ireland enjoyed a big money to Blackburn for £200k before moving to Mansfield for £60k in the search for first team opportunities before arriving in Doncaster, initially on loan, for another five-figure fee apparently. A tricky winger who never came close to getting anywhere near where his young potential suggested he might. Showed occasional flashes of quality but in the main was less than average.
Needles to say id go for Coppinger, obviously. Be serious.
Wide left: Riccardo Calder or Mike Smith. I liked Mike smith, he had a super left foot. And a right foot too, but that was strictly for standing on only. The scouser got up and down really well, was quick, tricky and had some quality. He also famously scored a break away goal out of the blue as the hapless Rovers somehow recorded a 1-0 win away at then play off chasing Peterborough in 1998. Smith or Calder? I know it’s getting daft, but Smith for sure.
Central midfield: Tommy Rowe and Harry Middleton or Jim Dobbin and Martin McDonald Martin McDonald was a tough tackling central midfielder who could put his foot in and was actually not bad in the centre of the park. He had decent distribution and would look to move the ball on once he had won it. Enjoyed a successful season in league football with Macclesfield after the debacle of 98.
Jim Dobbin was 34 on his return to the rovers in 1997 having spent a long and successful career playing for Barnsley, Rotherham and Grimsby Town. Jim was a good player and a quality passer of the ball, his legs had gone by then but he had loads of experience and plenty of quality. I saw him recently as he directed a scowl towards me which preceded a minor verbal disagreement between the two of us over who had right of way round a parked car. In order to maintain a balanced view of things I won’t allow this to taint my view (though I was definitely right. Definitely).
I’d have McDonald over Rowe and so it comes down to would you have a young Harry Middleton or a mid 30’s Jim Dobbin? (I’d have Ritchie Wellens actually but that’s by the by) Again, maybe harsh on Harry, but I’d go Dobbin.
Strikers: Andy Williams and Gary McSheffrey or Adie Mike and Prince Moncrieffe. A hot prospect in his youth, Adie Mike joined permanently following a loan spell in 1997 partnering Colin Cramb up front. He actually played (and played well) a number of times as centre back that year and was decent in the air, decent on the deck and had some pace. The goal he scored against Hull city in a ridiculous 1-0 win that year sticks in the memory still.
Moncrieffe scores at Lincoln (honest)
Prince Moncrieffe was young, raw and very quick. He liked wearing oversized baseball caps and didn’t seem to understand the offside rule. He was a 20-year-old from the Manchester area with friends whose reputation was ‘questioned’ from time to time. However the Prince had an undeniable knack of getting in behind defences and scoring goals. By early January he scored 8 times in the league and was featured among Division Three’s top scorers list so, in keeping with the ethos that year, the management decided to move the biggest attacking threat in the team to right-wing back. Needless to say, he didn’t find the back of the net again, but up to that point had scored 8 league goals in 19 starts.
There is a huge part of me that wants to include Moncrieffe in this mashed up 11, and Mike for that matter, but for all his recent failings, Andy Williams has 14 goals to his name this season, and was league one player of the month as recently as the turn of the year. McSheffrey is not an out-and-out striker, but has the pedigree and the quality to merit inclusion over these two.
So there you go, based on my reckoning (which maybe clouded by both rose-tinted looks into the past, and a frustrated assessment of the present) 7 of the 11 who played against Blackpool on Easter Monday to become holders of the worst run of form in the history of Doncaster Rovers would be replaced by members of what is universally acknowledged as the worst team in the history of Doncaster Rovers. Things are worse than I thought… Continue reading →
Richie Wellens legs have gone. There, I’ve said it. We were all thinking it. He is now well into his 30’s and he is no longer the mobile midfielder who dominated games alongside Brian Stock and Paul Green in those halcyon days gone by and, worse still, he no longer effects game as he once did.
Richie Wellens is the best central midfielder at the club. There, I’ve have said it and we were all thinking it too, though its no longer socially acceptable to say it. His quality on the ball, passing and ball retention is better than any of his peers at Doncaster Rovers. His legs have gone but he could still win us games if we were tactically more able to accommodate him.
Statistical analysis shows us that on average possession of the ball changes around 400 times a game an around 30% of regained possession in the opponents third of the pitch lead to a shot on goal. It is simple to acquire statistics such as this, however the true meaning of statistical analysis in football is to find the truth behind the numbers and the relevance to one’s own cause.
In this example then the numbers can be assimilated to indicate that when Doncaster Rovers lose possession of the football, James Coppinger, Harry Forrester and Richie Wellens should press their opponents as high up the pitch as possible. They are the talented ones, they are the ones who you want in possession of the ball in the opposition half so it stands to reason that this is where we should look to regain the football.
It is simple to point to the way Barca have become the gold standard in pressing high up and turning over possession, this ethos has become the norm among most of the modern day elite. Richie Wellens should be employed to do his work in advanced positions, not go box to box and not sit in front of the back four. He cannot create chances, thread neat passes through to the front men and be effective from a starting position in his own third, he no longer has the mobility. The issue is that because we do not have an effective holding midfielder alongside Wellens, nor an effective tactical approach. As a result he is persistently forced back in order to try to get a grip on a game. This means we have no mobility going forward, and the back four are suppressed into areas deeper than even our leaden footed centre halves would prefer. I have lost count of the number of times I have pleaded with the two banks of 4 to “get out” or to move 15 yards forward, and it all stems from the central midfield area, or what should be the engine room. There is no point in Wellens acquiring possession on the edge of his own area, he can’t have an offensive impact from there.
Richie Wellens is what his is now – in the last third he is an effective mover of the ball and can hurt teams. We have been asking him to be the central mdfielder of 8 years ago at which point he becomes another ‘also ran’ fading into the inadequacy around him. The team should play higher up the pitch, press higher up and we should employ a more effective and more mobile holding midfielder to get through more of Wellens running (Keegan is ok to a point and has been missed, but he is limited and against better more mobile teams he is found wanting). Wellens has been tactically let down by Paul Dickov, as have the rest of the team who are regularly becoming less than the sum of their individual parts. It’s easy to see why Wellens so regularly cuts such a frustrated figure in an increasingly rudderless Rovers midfield and why the opportunity for something else would be such a draw for a player who can still offer more than he is currently allowed.
Wellens has attracted a great deal of criticism from some quarters for considering voting with his feet. I for one could not blame him for refusing to accept a seemingly increasing culture within the club of mediocrity.