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.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…
The team in full:
GK. Dean Williams 97/98
RB. Martin Pemberton 97/98
CB. Lee Warren 97/98
CB. Andy Butler 2016
LB. Ian Clark 97/98
RM. James Coppinger 2016
CM. Martin McDonald 97/98
CM. Jim Dobbin 97/98
LM. Mike Smith 97/98
CF. Gary McSheffrey 2016
CF. Andy Williams 2016