The 64/65 season always looked as though it would be difficult, even before the first ball had been kicked, as manager Bill Leivers made wholesale changes to the playing staff during the summer with only 9 players being retained on the clubs books. Among those to leave was chief goal scorer Colin Booth who joinedOxfordfor a substantial fee that was well in excess of the £10,000 the club had spent on bringing him to the club two years earlier. Further problems arose as Booths strike partner Alfie Hale was in dispute with the club over the terms he had been offered. The football league management committee had ruled that the wages offered by the were fair and reasonable and in a time still decades away from the Bosman ruling the Football league stated they would not accept a registration for any other club without the consent of Doncaster Rovers, and the 25 year old Irishman continued on a series of monthly contracts.
New players were brought in and took time to settle although there was enough quality in those players retained to offer some encourage for the coming months, Albert Broadbent and Keith Ripley, along with Hale, were all quality players with a great deal to offer. The most notable presence was indeed that of Alick Jeffrey, who having returned to the club mid way through the previous season following a career destroying injury, had got himself fit and among the goals in the final games of the season and was beginning to look a player of immense quality once more.
Rovers had begun the season with a mixed bag of results having won half of the first 10 games, but encouragingly Jeffrey had already notched six goals in the spell and goals didn’t look to be a problem, and as the new additions began to settle in, expectancy levels started to grow with the sides’ confidence.
Darlington, having been battered on their last visit to Belle Vue 10-0 certainly had a point to prove and fought hard in the middle third of pitch during the early exchanges but at times were second best to a Rovers side who were bursting with confidence having slammed 4 past Halifax at the shay last time out and the home side had the better of the first twenty minutes with forwards Broadbent, Jeffrey and Hale combining terrifically in the last third and causing all kinds of problems for the Darlington defence. How the visitor’s goal remained intact for the opening 20 minutes was a mystery but testament to the resolve of their defending.
The bumper crowd rang boos round Belle Vue as referee Harry Richards waved play on in the 29th minute as Rovers slick and incisive passing drew a clumsy challenge in the box with the Quakers surviving another scare, but it would not be long before the pressure told.
Barely 5 minutes later Rovers surged forward once more with some neat passing setting Broadbent free and in space out wide. He had time to look up and deliver a superb pin point cross into the box which was met brilliantly by Alick Jeffrey who had timed his run across his marker perfectly to direct a glancing header beyond the despairing dive of O’Neill in theDarlingtongoal. Finally the visitor’s rearguard had been breached and the home fans sat back in expectation of more of the same butDarlington, still smarting from their previous heavy defeat, were made of sterner stuff this time round and within four minutes stunned the home side by drawing level. Yeoman drove the ball deep into the penalty box and with Darlington forward Allison challenging fiercely the ball dropped to Lawton who fizzed the loose ball home giving Rovers keeper Oxford no chance. A fantastic half drew to a close at 1-1 with the Rovers players left scratching their heads at how they were not already out of sight with Jeffrey and Broadbent outstanding with Robinson excellent behind them.
Few could have expected the sensational second half showing from both sides which totally eclipsed the breathless first 45 minutes.
With the half barely two minutes old Wylie found some space from deep and clipped the ball forward towards the impressive Broadbent who held off the attentions of the Darlington defenders before coolly lobbing the ball over the keepers head with a finish of real quality which caught everyone by surprise.
Belle Vue erupted as the home side put on a sensational display of football as Robinson exploded down the right wing before cutting in and darting for the bye line before cutting the back to Jeffrey, who was in the right place yet again, to hammer home number 3 after 55 minutes.
Within a minuteDarlingtonhit back once more as the game pulsated from end to end. The Doncaster Rovers defence, seemingly still celebrating the third, were caught by a long ball over the top and Allison raced clear before lobbing the ball over the advancingOxfordin a near carbon copy to Broadbent’s goal and suddenlyDarlingtonhad dragged themselves back into the match at 3-2.
Still there was no time to catch your breath as from the re start Grainger surged forward for the Rovers, breaking down the left flank before scything the ball into the middle where who else but Alick Jeffrey was once again on hand to prod the ball home to complete a splendid hat trick and end a scintillating spell of 3 goals in 3 minutes.
The game then streamed back and forth with both sides still very much in the game and creating chances almost at will before on 75 minutes a fifth Rovers goal put some daylight between the two sides. Grainger it was again who surged forward, cutting straight through to middle of the park, heading for goal when the ball cannoned off a defender and dropped to Broadbent within shooting distance. Without pause for thought he immediately let fly, only to see his shot blocked and the ball ricochet back to the feet of Grainger who rolled the ball home from close range.
Still the sides exchanged blows, continuing at lightening pace before the Rovers added a sixth 4 minutes from time. A bad mistake from theDarlingtondefenders let in Alick Jeffrey, who strolled clear of the last man and almost broke the net to cap a wonderful individual performance and notch his forth of the afternoon.
To their credit, the visitors refused to lie down and would have certainly still been in the game had it not been for a brilliant display from Rovers keeper Ken Oxford, who had produced soon fine saves. He had been called into action to make some great saves throughout the match, but even he was helpless with two minutes to go as Darlington deservedly added some credibility to the score line. It was some rare poor defending from the home side which brought about the chance as they failed to clear the danger on a number of occasions beforeLawtonspun on a loose ball to snatch a fine goal and complete the scoring at 6-3.
It had certainly been a night to remember as both sides had played some terrific, high tempo football throughout 90 breath taking minutes which were a credit to the division.
The fantastic gate of 14,103 boosted the home average to 10,394 for the season and earned the players £7 in “gate” bonus, but it further served as a great example of the potential surrounding Doncaster Rovers football club with the result and the manner of the victory providing a glimpse of the abilities of the players and a sign of how things could develop on the playing field.
The improvements on the pitch were always going to take time, and after an encouraging start the team stuttered and only one win combined with three successive defeats during October meant that a promotion challenge was never really on the cards, however the side overcame this hiccup and maintained a position in the top half of the table which meant a reasonably successful season which would ultimately provide the basis for the following season, during which the side clinched the fourth division championship.