Viva Rovers was recently asked to contribute an article for the When Saturday Comes website about Doncaster supporters’ relief at retaining Sean O’Driscoll. The article appeared on Saturday, but for those who missed it, here it is;
The unveiling of Brian Laws as the new Burnley manager brought delight to a large number of supporters, in South Yorkshire at least. Laws’s appointment ended three fraught days for Doncaster Rovers fans in which they had faced, for the first time, the very real prospect of losing their most prized possession – manager Sean O’Driscoll.
Rovers fans had not been blind to the possibility. Like taking your favourite toy to show off at primary school, the more you gleefully talk about how great it is, the more likely one of the bigger boys will come along and pluck it from your grasp. There were only so many times Steve Claridge could drone “Donny do like to knock the ball about” on The Football League Show before others would eventually take notice, even Manish Bhasin was starting to look vaguely interested.
Thankfully for Rovers it was the smallest of the bigger boys who cast an envious eye at our wares. A hefty compensation clause was able to put paid to Burnley’s interest and they slunk away claiming they didn’t want to play with our toys anyway. Instead they chose Brian Laws, going out of their way to show he was the right man for the job by producing a study which enforced Laws as the best Championship manager, on a results-to-budget ratio, in the last three years.
Had the study focussed on just the last year the outcome would have been very different. Only three managers picked up more points in the Championship than O’Driscoll in 2009 and the playing squads assembled by Billy Davies, Dave Jones and Kevin Blackwell commanded a much greater outlay than that afforded at the Keepmoat Stadium. Of Rovers’ squad just three players came at a price – Brian Stock, James Hayter and James O’Connor transferred in for a combined cost less than £500,000.
To keep a squad in a division on a budget is one thing. To do so with reliance on an aesthetically pleasing brand of fluid football is another. O’Driscoll has achieved results with one of the most unfashionable teams in the Championship playing arguably its most fashionable football. The emphasis is on ball retention and movement. The system is fluid, the midfielders and full-backs are given freedom to roam – comparisons with Arsenal’s style have been made often. There is joy to be had in punching above your weight, but to do so while out-footballing players much more feted than your own carries an incredible amount of satisfaction.
Given that O’Driscoll also holds an obvious disdain for the by-products of modern football, it would have been interesting to see him handle the media envelopment of the Premier League. So down to earth he’s practically subterranean, WSC‘s Taylor Parkes once described him as “speaking so quietly, he’s drowned out by my wristwatch and looking like he’s just been told his dog has three weeks to live“. In 2008, when asked how he would be celebrating play-off promotion O’Driscoll whispered: “I’ve got a cup of tea waiting, but it’s going cold.” Refreshingly he is the very antonym of Phil Brown.
Burnley’s interest has made fans realise the prospect of losing Sean O’Driscoll is the most significant threat to the future of Doncaster Rovers. Players have moved on, but how do you replace or replicate an entire football philosophy? Should Doncaster Rovers win at Derby today then for the first time in half a century the club will both be in the FA Cup fifth round and the top half of the second tier. The current generation of Rovers fans has never had it so good.