So that was the noughties. Terrible name, brilliant decade. If you have followed Doncaster Rovers for its entirety then you have lucked out over the course of the last ten years, because quite frankly there will never be a better decade in this club’s history. Yes, we could stay in the Championship until 2021, we may even push on to the Premier League, but even achievements such as they will not match what we have experienced since the dawn of the Millennium. It began with an uninspiring goalless draw at Scarborough’s McCain Stadium and ended with an equally disappointing 1-0 defeat at Coventry, but in between was one hell of a journey.
I wanted to mark the past decade with a feature of some sort, but in all honesty did not know where to begin (aside from January 2000 obviously) in order to do such a monumental ten years justice. Thankfully the opportunity came to do what I always do when I am stuck for ideas… borrow someone elses. A couple of days ago Rovers fan James McMahon contacted Viva Rovers via our twitter feed to show us his ‘Team of the Noughties’. No doubting it was a good side James had picked, but I didn’t agree, and vowed to pick my own. But of course, just picking a best team does not actively sum up the past ten years. Watching football is about much more than the good bits, so I kicked on and picked a few more choice XI’s as well along some other criteria. Over the next five days I’ll be publishing them on here, for you to view, acknowledge and subsequently disagree and suggest your own alternatives instead.
We start with the ‘Best XI’, but before I crack on I should perhaps throw down some criteria, because as Doncaster Rovers current league position would suggest the club’s best team of the past ten years is probably the one Sean O’Driscoll last picked. So instead, each players in this side has been judged on their own merits, in relation to the level at which they played for the Rovers and the contribution they made to the journey of the last ten years. Similarly, as this is very much a retrospective piece, there is a distinct lack of some very talented players from the current side. Had they played more than half a season then there would have been a very good case for the highly talented trio of Billy Sharp, Jason Shackell and John Oster.
One last piece of housekeeping is to give further credit to the man we ‘acquired’ this idea from, so you can view James’ team of the decade here. Feel free to drop him a line and debate his line-up along with his top twenty album’s of the decade, what no G4? So, eyes down, look in, here we go.
Goalkeeper – Andy Warrington
I was understandably torn in the inevitable two-horse race for the goalkeeper position in this team, until I remembered one key piece of information. Andy Warrington was so well liked by Rovers fans that he managed to leave the club and go on to join Rotherham United without anyone bearing him any ill-will. Warrington joined Rovers at the end of the last decade and went on to make over 200 appearances in seven years with the club, a figure which would have been much higher, but for two terrible injuries. The first a horrific broken jaw suffered in a Conference Trophy fixture at Southport in October 2000 and the second a broken leg sustained in the League Cup win over Manchester City in September 2005.
That second injury was sadly to prove Warrington’s last appearance for the club, but it is testament to the ‘keeper’s professionalism and commitment that he was able to recover so impressively from the first one. Warrington played a huge part in Rovers promotion from the Conference in 2003 with a brilliant performance in the play-off semi-final second-leg at Chester City. After an incredible save late in extra-time Warrington went on to block the decisive penalty to put Rovers in the final. The following season was arguably his best though, with Rovers sweeping to the Division Three title at the first attempt thanks in no small part to Warrington’s twenty clean sheets.
Right full-back – Simon Marples
I would be prepared to name Simon Marples as Doncaster Rovers’ best signing in the last decade, were it not for one fact. He joined the club in September 1999. Signed from Stocksbridge Park Steels for less than my student loan, Marples was to remain with the club through seven seasons and three divisions and never once looked out of his depth, despite what would have been a considerable adjustment. In many ways the perfect full-back, Marples was as quick as any winger he faced and as well as providing valuable pace at the back was equally adept at getting forward down his flank and any swift overlap could always be guaranteed to bring a roar of encouragement from the Pop Side terrace. Marples made over 150 appearances for Rovers, but somehow, despite his forays forward, never scored a single goal.
Centre back – Graeme Lee
I hate researching things like this. I was about to point out that no-one had made a better debut for the Rovers in the last ten years than Graeme Lee, until I decided to check, and realised that my mind had come over all rose-tinted. However, Lee’s second appearance (not his first) after joining from Sheffield Wednesday in January 2006 was certainly notable as the centre-half secured all three points for Rovers at local rivals Scunthorpe with a glorious dipping twenty-yard half-volley. That folks, is how you endear yourselves to a new set of fans. An excellent centre-half Graeme Lee was the linchpin of Rovers’ back-line for the best part of two seasons and contributed some valuable goals too, including most notably the winner in the 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.
Centre-back – Stephen Roberts
If you want anyone to testify Stephen Roberts inclusion in this line-up then you need only ask Robin Van Persie, as one firm but fair challenge in the League Cup Quarter Final in 2005, was enough for Van Persie to decide he didn’t much care for the Belle Vue cold, and hobble off to the sanctity of the dressing rooms. Roberts followed brother Neil to Rovers from Wrexham in August 2005, but despite playing only three seasons for Doncaster he made a sizable impact. An impressive presence at the back Roberts was fearless and resolute in the tackle and his uncompromising approach was the rock on which that 2005 Carling Cup run was built. After an off-the ball incident which led to a dislocated shoulder at Rotherham on New Years Eve, Roberts struggled with injury but fought his way back to form to become the first Doncaster player in over seventy years to be called up for Wales, in February 2008. Sadly though he was not capped as he remained an unused substitute in Luxembourg. Roberts left Rovers to play for Walsall in the summer of 2008, but injury sadly brought a premature end to his career and he was forced to retire towards the end of last year.
Left full-back – Gareth Roberts
When Gareth Roberts joined Rovers in 2006 fans of his previous club Tranmere were to say the least, incredulous. They found it hard enough to believe that Roberts was leaving Prenton Park after seven years and over three-hundred games, yet alone that he was doing so for a club like ours, and for free too. Roberts has not had it easy in his four years with Rovers, taking time to win fans over given that he had replaced cult hero Tim Ryan at left-back. Despite this Roberts has stuck to his task admirably and professionally and is now one of the first names on the team-sheet in Rovers second season in the Championship. Hard working, tenacious, quick and capable of delivering a wicked ball in Roberts has taken over the captaincy this season; a fitting reward for a model professional (that red card against Huddersfield aside).
Right Midfield – Jamie Coppinger
The longest serving player in Rovers’ current squad Jamie Coppinger was signed by Dave Penney ahead of the club’s first season at the third tier in 2004. Initially used to great effect as a winger in Penney’s conventional 4-4-2 formation Coppinger has shown his ability on the ball to transform his skills into a supporting forward in Sean O’Driscoll’s much more fluid system. On his day Coppinger is Rovers’ most adept footballer and can leave even the best defenders in his wake, as shown by his incredible performance in the 2008 League One play-off semi-final with Southend. The second half of that season had probably been Coppinger’s best spell with the club and he capped it with the best hat-trick I will ever have the priviledge of witnessing live.
Centre Midfield – Brian Stock
I don’t think it is stretching towards hyperbole to say that whatever Doncaster Rovers have done well in the past three years, Brian Stock has been integral to it. Signing Stock was the first thing Sean O’Driscoll did when he arrived at Doncaster Rovers, and he went onto build a team and a footballing style around him. Measured and controlled on the ball Stock is the fulcrum to the football ethos which delivered Rovers back to the second tier for the first time in half a century. Able to strike a ball as sweetly when shooting as when passing, there has been no Rovers player in the past ten years who has possessed as brilliant a football brain. I was lucky enough to be in the stadium for Brian Stock’s first full international for Wales earlier this year, and up against some of the best players, he looked like he not only belonged there, but had been crafted to play there.
Centre Midfield – Paul Green
I was about to call Paul Green Rovers’ Mr Noughties, then I realised it sounded like a terrible spoof adult Mr Men character, the sort who’d be crudely drawn wearing an open mac, so instead I’ll settle for labelling him the first name on this team-sheet. You may not agree with the way Green left the club for Derby County in 2008, but you can’t deny his integral part in the years up to that point. Green joined the club’s youth team as a freckly local kid and progressed to the centre of the first team midfield in the club’s last season of non-league. And there he stayed for the next six seasons, the club’s energy source from Conference to the cusp of Championship. Green was still only twenty-five when he left the club, but he had already racked up well over 250 appearances and some important goals; netting in the Conference Play-off final and the League Cup Quarter Final with Arsenal. It his a crying shame that he did not get to represent Rovers in a fourth division, but that should not take away from his sizable achievements in the previous three.
Left Midfield – Michael McIndoe
Another player who left in fairly acrimonious circumstances, but whatever his apparent ego at the denouement of his Rovers’ career you cannot disagree that he was one of the most exciting players to watch in the red and white hoops in recent memory. McIndoe joined the club from Yeovil on the verge of Rovers’ first season back in the Football League, and was one of the most significant factors in Doncaster’s 2003-04 title success. His devastating pace down the left would always bring an incredible roar from the Pop Side and more often than not led to a goalscoring opportunity. When not laying them off for others McIndoe was capable of putting them away himself; his highlights including the opener in the infamous Arsenal match and his hat-trick goal against Bristol Rovers at Belle Vue, where he neatly performed three kick-ups before turning his marker to volley home. A great talent, who should be more fondly remembered.
Centre Forward – Paul Heffernan
Doncaster are not really a club to foster individual goal-getters, and has proved the graveyard of more than one striker in the past ten years. Paul Heffernan though is one of the few players to constantly profit in front of the posts for the Rovers and has notched over fifty goals for the club since joining in the Summer of 2005. Though hampered with injury Heffernan has often come to the club’s rescue with vital goals scored out of nothing. His cameo in the 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy semi-final a great one-off example as Heffernan changed the game to send the club to its first ever Cup final. There has been no better forward for the Rovers in the past ten years than a fit Paul Heffernan, and its with much thanks to his goals last season that the club remains in the Championship for this campaign.
Centre Forward – Paul Barnes
One of the last great football journeymen, Paul Barnes pitched up at Belle Vue in 2001 like a footballing version of the Littlest Hobo, having made friends at every club he had previously been. Doncaster was to be no different, thanks to the small matter of thirty-one league goals in sixty-two league starts including twenty-five goals in Rovers’ promotion season from the Conference. Alan Patching in the Popular Stand fanzine memorably likened Barnes to “an irritating bouncy dog who keeps biting you and peeing in your garden”, because whilst he was great to watch he was undoubtedly a nightmare to play against, wearing his opponents down with a double-edged armoury of persistent niggly physical contact and a volley of moaning and whingeing. A welcome breath of stale well-fed air before we get too acclimatized to our new surroundings.
An undoubtedly brilliant signing. Having been deemed surplus to requirements by Leeds United manager Dennis Wise, Neil Sullivan came on loan to the Rovers and impressed in two spells, and despite a successful career in the top flight and as an international, Sullivan made his first ever Cup final appearance whilst playing for the Rovers, keeping goal in the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy Final in 2007. A year later, now a permanent member of the Rovers squad Sullivan gained sweet revenge over his former employers with a clean sheet against them in the 2008 League One play-off final. He remains Rovers goalkeeper today, and his experience has been valuable to the club’s survival in the Championship.
‘The Sarge’ makes it onto the bench so that we are well prepared should we need to beef up our Best XI. Coming from non-league stock having played previously at Atherstone and Telford, Albrighton joined Rovers in 2002 and stayed with the club for four seasons and two promotions of which he was an integral part. A non nonsense and committed player, attributes perhaps best summed up by the picture of him kindly illustrating to Joey Barton in a pre-season friendly what makes a proper football hard man.
‘Shoooot!’ Only the impressive consistency of Gareth Roberts has kept the rugged old school Tim Ryan from the first team. Ryan had originally played for Rovers in the Football League in the 1996-97 season, and returned to the club for a second spell in 2000. This second term was to prove much more significant as Ryan made over 180 appearances at left-back and scored some memorable goals including a couple of long-range Exocets against Mansfield and Cambridge and the first strike in Rovers’ return to the third tier against Blackpool in 2004. Ryan formed a great partnership with McIndoe on the Rovers’ left and was integral to those back to back promotions.
A fantastic footballer Wellens may have spent only two seasons with the club, but the fact that Leicester were forced to pay a then record £1.2million for his services at the end of that spell speaks volumes about his ability. Assured and skillful on the ball Wellens also possessed a steely physical resolve which added beef where it was needed to the fluid style which ushered Rovers into the Championship and subsequently kept them there as well. Only the longevity of Paul Green, and the necessity of Brian Stock keep him from the starting line-up.
Franny Tierney is remembered most famously of course for scoring the Golden Goal that won the 2003 Conference Play-Off Final for Rovers and secured promotion back to the Football League, but to remember him solely for this goal does him an injustice. Tierney was a brilliant wide player and an incredibly skillful footballer. When he first joined the club he was a revelation on the right flank and seemed to possess all that we had been missing up to that point. Aside from the obvious two memories of Tierney jump out at me, firstly an incredible performance in a Friday night win over Stevenage at Belle Vue where he absolutely tore the Borough defence to shreds, and secondly a brilliant free-kick away at Telford. It really is a shame that injury prevented us from seeing more of him.
Like Barnes, Albrighton and Ryan above Jamie Paterson was a throw-back of a footballer, and also great fun to watch. Often siding up to the referees, whilst giving a few playful nudges and winks to the Pop Side he was one of those players that you cannot help but give the label ‘an entertainer’. In his element in the Conference, Paterson also made the step up to the Football League impressively and for a midfielder did incredibly well to average just shy of a goal every three league games for Rovers.
I can honestly say that I have never watched another professional footballer who looked like they were enjoying themselves more than Greg Blundell. Plucked from Northwich Victoria, not long after his arrival there from Vauxhall Motors, Blundell always looked like he was having the time of his life. Whilst many a seasoned pro may have chosen to ignore the crowd at Belle Vue, Blundell seemed to revel in it, and could often be seen laughing along to the jokes on the Pop Side. Incredibly quick he was the perfect foil for Leo Fortune-West in the Division Three title year, which he finished with twenty goals, including Rovers first strike back in the Football League.
So thats my laboured selection for the best of Doncaster Rovers 2000-2009. Lets hear your replies.