It’s a far cry from those Tuesday night trips to Leigh when the roar of the home crowd turned out to be a taped cheer played over the PA; its Leeds not Leigh… and it’s a sell-out. At the start of the 2002-2003 season we piled off a coach and into a pub around the corner from Leigh RMI’s HIlton Park “Sorry about the wait love,” said the landlady as we queued four deep for a pint, “we didn’t know there was a game on”. This weekend it seems most of Yorkshire knows there is a game; with over 35,000 making Saturday’s match at Elland Road a sell-out.
However, the key question for the travelling 4,000 Rovers fans will be whether Rovers can beat the big crowd curse. Since Rovers’ return to the football league they have played in front of more than 20,000 on six occasions with only April’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final resulting in a Doncaster win. The big day out in South Wales aside Rovers’ five league matches in front of sizable crowds have brought just a solitary point.
Defeats against Hull City, twice, Sheffield Wednesday and a heavy Boxing Day defeat at Nottingham Forest have all brought disappointment to large travelling Doncastrian contingents in the past four years, and an equally large Rovers support will hope this Saturday breaks that trend. October’s away point at the City Ground in front of 23,108 prospectively the turning point.
But something other than omens separate this side from that which crashed 3-1 at Hull City in that first league season. Now, Rovers have players who are experienced in playing in front of big crowds. As well as their Rovers’ experiences there are numerous big game outings for the current Rovers’ squad. Mark Wilson, Martin Woods and Neil Sullivan have all plied their trade in the Premiership. Gareth Roberts played in front of sizable Millennium Stadium crowds for Wales, Mark McCammon played in an FA Cup final. Jason Price, Brian Stock and Graeme Lee enjoyed sizable crowds at their previous Championship clubs.
Ok so the links get more tenuous the more you get through the squad, but the point is this; a big crowd is not a shock to the system for the current Rovers in the way it was for the team that had entertained 867 at Leigh just a year before they came face to face with a 24,000 strong KC Stadium.