There is one downside to this feature, which I didn’t envisage when planning it, and that is for five days straight I have to write a different version of effectively the same introductory paragraph. So here we go for day three, as Viva Rovers honours Doncaster Rovers’ past decade through naming five different line-ups which offer an effective summary of those ten years. On Monday it was the ‘Best XI’ of the decade, yesterday saw the ‘Cult Hero XI’, and today brings us a World XI. The Noughties were the decade that the penchant for overseas players began to filter down from the Premier League to the lower divisions, meaning that even lowly Rovers could boast international stars*. As previously stated in order to cover more ground I am only allowing players to make one XI over the course of the week so you there are some notable absentees, but we shall soldier on regardless. Here goes…
(*To avoid disappointment I suggest lowering your expectations of both the term international and star for the duration of this article)
Goalkeeper – Alan Blayney (Northern Ireland)
Though Rovers have boasted goalkeepers from five different nations in the past decade Alan Blayney is the only custodian to earn international honours whilst on Rovers’ books. Blayney made his one and only appearance for Northern Ireland in a 2-0 defeat to Romania, played during a summer tour of the USA in 2006. That was to be the high point in the career of a goalkeeper perhaps best described as an enigma. It had all started so well for Blayney who began his career with then Premier League Southampton and during a late 2003-04 season cameo made a stop from an Alan Shearer effort which won S** Sports Save of the Season Award. Unable to supplant Anti Niemi Blayney enjoyed numerous loan spells away from the Saints before Rovers paid £50,000 for him in January 2006. His form that first season was enough to convince us that Rovers had made a bargain signing, but then it all went a bit weird. First he was sidelined by an ankle injury, and then his spell out was increased after he gained an infection from a gash sustained on a goalpost in training, and in February 2007, Blayney left citing personal reasons which were never properly explained. He pitched up in a game for at Oldham later that season before moving onto the League of Ireland where he is yet to secure a regular side.
Right Full-back – David Mulligan (New Zealand)
Probably the only ex-Doncaster Rovers player with a chance of playing in the 2010 World Cup, Liverpool born New Zealand international David Mulligan arrived at Doncaster in February 2004, a few months after being released by Barnsley. Despite a reputation as something of a party boy Mulligan fitted well into Dave Penney’s squad of seemingly Aryan ideals as he joined Messrs Green, Coppinger, Ravenhill, Roberts in the blondest side in League One. Mulligan possessed an incredible ability from the dead-ball and scored some quite brilliant free-kicks for the Rovers, including a glorious strike at Hull and two brilliant identi-kit strikes in an FA Cup win at Boston. After just short of eighty games for Rovers ‘Dangerous’ Dave Mulligan went onto Scunthorpe in 2006, and a later spell with Port Vale, before heading to play in New Zealand for whom he can boast twenty-six caps and three international goals.
Centre Back – Jos Van Nieuwstadt (The Netherlands)
Dutchman Jos Van Nieuwstadt arrived in Doncaster as an unnamed trialist in the summer of 2008, with Rovers so desperate to hide his identity they refused to offer him so much as a first name until he had signed, and so he was coined ‘The Hoff’ by Rovers fans due to his Hasslehoff like perm. After impressing in his trial run with some steady composed performances at centre-back Van Nieuwstadt signed a permanent deal and his identity was finally revealed, giving access to an impressive back story of close to two hundred appearances in the Dutch top-flight with Willem II and Excelsior Rotterdam. After some early season substitute cameos ‘The Hoff’ was handed his first league start in October 2008 and he marked it with a goal as he headed home a shock equaliser for Rovers at Reading.
Just as it looked as though he was about to establish himself in the side Van Nieuwstadt suffered a hamstring injury and despite another run of games for the side at the season’s end he elected to move on from the club in August 2009, parting by mutual consent. A hugely popular member of the squad Van Nieuwstadt fitted the Dutch ‘relaxed’ stereotype so much, that even when at top speed his body shape suggested he was still ambling at a gentle jog. For our group in the West Stand his departure also meant we lost the regular entertainment that were his old-school European substitute warm-up routines which often featured squat-thrusts and a few Jane Fonda-esque lunges.
Centre Back – Colin Hawkins (Republic of Ireland)
Colin ‘Hawk-eye’ Hawkins came to Doncaster from League of Ireland side St Patricks ahead of Rovers third season in the Conference in 2000. Hawkins arrived with a big reputation in his homeland having been part of the Republic of Ireland side which finished third at the 1997 Under-20 World Cup, and latterly winning the FAI’s Player of the Year Award. With that ort of reputation in was perhaps no surprise that Hawkins established himself in the side straight away making thirty appearances for Rovers that season most often alongside the experienced Mark Atkins. Hawkins started the following season well, but in November Rovers found themselves overreaching financially and Hawkins was one of those to meet the blunt and long winded blade of Trevor ‘the Axeman’ Milton, forcing a return to Ireland. After winning league titles with Shelbourne and Bohemians Hawkins joined Coventry in the Championship in 2007, reaffirming just what a talent Rovers had enjoyed as a non-league side.
Left Full-back – Sean McDaid (Scotland)
Given the unfortunate injury plagued last two years which have seen McDaid go twenty-one months without a competitive match, it can be all too easily forget that he was once as impressive a stalwart of the left back position as he is the medical room. McDaid is actually Rovers’ second longest serving player having joined the club in 2005 after being deemed surplus to requirements at Leeds United. He did not hang around in showing the West Yorkshire side what they could have had either as he went on to make over forty appearances and finish with the Young Player of the Year Award in a first season when, even faced with international class opponents such as Sun Jihai and Alexandr Hleb, he was rarely phased. The signing of Gareth Roberts curtailed McDaid’s appearances at left-back but Sean O’Driscoll has shown faith in McDaid in midfield, a position from which he scored his only goal for the club, against Swindon in 2008. Despite all his injury problems McDaid is still not far off his 100th appearance for Rovers, and is most remarkably, still just 23 years-old.
Right Midfield – Noureddine ‘Dino’ Maamria (Tunisia)
Dino, as Ken Avis elected to dub him, joined Rovers a month into their first Conference season in 1998 with a background of international caps for Tunisia’s ‘B’ and under 21 sides and rumours that he had been on the fringe of their full squad for the previous Summer’s World Cup. Thankfully he managed to live up to the hype and featured regularly for the club across the next two seasons, notching a fair number of goals in the process. I’m going to stretch the boundaries of this concept for my favourite Maamria memory which actually comes from 1999 and a summer tournament at Scarborough. In high heat before the final Dino conducted his own warm up which consisted of thirty-plus solo laps of the pitch, rarely seen discipline for the Snodin years, and justified his marathon session by coming off the bench to score the winner.
He was used regularly and effectively as a sub, and his final league appearance at Belle Vue fitted that mantra as he appeared for the last twenty-five minutes against Northwich and notched both goals in a 2-0 win. After leaving Rovers Maamria remained in the UK, save for one brief spell at US side Charleston Battery, and embarked on an attempt to play for every other side in the Conference. He managed six, including a spell as manager at Northwich as he staved off relegation for the Vics in 2008, before eventually retiring after a third spell with Stevenage last year.
Centre Midfield – Uros Predic (Serbia)
In terms of this World XI, they genuinely don’t come any worldlier than Uros Predic. After beginning his career in his native Serbia with Hajduk Kula, Predic played for two other Serbian sides before embarking on a mini World tour with spells in Poland (twice), China, a brief return to Serbia and Azerbaijan before eventually pitching up in Doncaster in 2005. He made is debut for Rovers against Huddersfield as a fortieth minute substitute for an injured Jamie Coppinger. This short unassuming balding man, who had kissed an unsuspecting and bemused Coppinger on the cheek as he replaced him, quietly took his place in front of the Pop Stand and began pulling strings like Gerry Anderson. Composed on the ball he sprayed passes around at seemingly impossible angles, and looked the perfect addition to the team.
After an impressive debut he moved up to the starting eleven and retained his place for a derby win over Scunthorpe and the Carling Cup match against Manchester City. He was withdrawn from that match soon after half-time as despite his promising early games, he had looked increasingly lost with each passing appearance and after eight outings for Rovers, the most he’d managed for a club in five years, he probably had itchy feet anyway. To paraphrase BBC’s The Thick of It, Predic just had to keep moving or else he was dead, like a shark… or Bob Dylan. He left Rovers less than three months after arriving and went on to play for the Serbian White Eagles… in Canada naturally. To complete his mystique Predic also shared his name with one of the greatest Serbian Realist painters, but then you all knew that.
Centre Midfield – Kevin Horlock (Northern Ireland)
Another Northern Ireland international, veteran midfielder Kevin Horlock, as he was always prefixed, joined Rovers on loan from Ipswich in February 2006, and struck up an impressive central midfield partnership with Paul Green for the remainder of that season. At the end of the 2005-06 season Horlock made his move to Rovers permanent causing much excitement amongst supporters who had reason to believe that his signing could help the side kick on from an eight place finish to promotion in the 2006-07 season. Sadly it was not to be, Horlock scored an impressive goal in the first home game of the season against Crewe, but also hobbled off with a knee injury late in that match that would keep him out for the remainder of the season. Despite remaining with Rovers until January 2008 that was to be Horlock’s last action for the club as once he recovered from his knee injury in the summer of 2007 he suffered a dislocated shoulder and eventually moved onto Scunthorpe without making another appearance for Doncaster.
Left Midfield – Stuart Elliott (Northern Ireland)
A former scourge of the Rovers whilst with Hull, Northern Ireland international Stuart Elliott joined Doncaster on loan at the end of the 2007-08 season, complimenting his ten games for Rovers with a game for Northern Ireland as well. He joined the club permanently in the Summer of 2008, but despite his obvious pedigree Elliott had seemed an odd signing for two reasons, the first being an asthma condition which meant he was unable to play for a full ninety minutes, and the second being that he was a natural winger joining a team that played without natural wingers. Still, though he remained popular as he made nine appearances in the first half of Rovers’ Championship season, but failed to find the net. The closest he game was with a bizarre fifty-yard hooked volley which fell inches wide of the post late in a goalless draw with Blackpool.
Elliott was still with Rovers for the start of 2009-10 season, but was edging towards mythical status as he failed to make a single appearance. Only a grainy photograph showing him warming up as a substitute at Sheffield United in October suggested he was truly amongst us, but many sceptics have suggested the image was a hoax and was just Lewis Guy’s shadow. In the first week of 2010 Elliott did indeed move on to pastures new, joining Scottish Premier League side Hamilton Academicals, though it may take him a while to familiarise himself with the red and white hooped kit.
Striker – Mark McCammon (Barbados)
There is a case for suggesting that Mark McCammon is something of a journey-man footballer, with Doncaster Rovers representing his eighth football club in as many years when he joined in 2006. But, despite his tendency to keep moving he has racked up some notable achievements. He commanded a £100,000 transfer fee before he had even reached double figures in matches played, he played in an FA Cup final for Millwall, and he has also scored an international hat-trick, for Barbados against Anguilla in the Caribbean Cup. Most notably for Rovers fans though he is of course the man who netted Rovers’ first ever goal at the Keepmoat Stadium, with an emphatic half-volley against Huddersfield on New Year’s Day 2007. McCammon was a key part of Rovers promotion to the Championship in 2007-08 giving the side a much needed element of physicality up front and was certainly missed when he moved on to Gillingham. A useful addition to any side he’s also not afraid to speak his mind, as infamously shown when he decided to respond to criticism of his performances on BBC Sussex phone-in by calling up to answer in person.
Striker – Neil Roberts (Wales)
“Oh Neil Roberts’ magic, he’s got four Wales caps”. The magic hat wearing Welshman arrived at Doncaster in the summer of 2004 just one month after his last international appearance. Roberts had begun his career with his local club Wrexham before going on to join Wigan on the ascent of the divisions, making 125 appearances for the latics in four seasons. Though far from a prolific striker for Doncaster Roberts still managed to endear himself to Rovers fans with his committed approach to the game and he was incredibly effective at playing with his back to goal, holding up the ball to bring the midfield into play. Roberts scored the last goal of the 2005-06 season away at Tranmere, and it was also to prove his last match for the club as he returned to his home town Wrexham in the summer. Last season Roberts managed to get even closer to his roots as he finished as the League of Wales’ top scorer for Rhyl as part of an ex-Rovers trio, along with Gareth Owen and Jimmy Kelly, at the other Belle Vue.