In the past couple of years there has been an odd empathy between fans of Doncaster Rovers and Hull City. It is an allegiance born over the late May Bank Holiday weekend of 2008, when on successive days Hull and Doncaster secured surprise victories in Play-Off Finals at Wembley to achieve promotions to unfamiliar heights. On the Saturday a Dean Windass volley against Bristol City took Hull to the top flight for the first time in their history, whilst the next day Rovers victory over Leeds earned the club a return to the second tier after half a century’s absence. Both were heavily tipped for relegation the following season, and with a mutual Yorkshire-against-the-world sentiment both survived. Congratulations comrades.
This regional love-in with our fellow underdogs is perhaps understandable on the surface, but just three years earlier it would have been unthinkable. For two seasons, from 2003-2005, Doncaster and Hull were far from firm friends as a rivalry was born out of an unexpected 2003-04 Division 3 title battle. Hull City, or Peter Taylor’s Hull as they were known to the nation’s press back then, had just moved to the new KC Stadium and with a bit of money and sizable crowds they were out-and-out favourites for the division. Rovers on the other hand, back in the league as the first ever winners of the Conference play-off final, were favourites for relegation.
Yet, when the two clubs met in Hull between Christmas and New Year, in front of an improbable fourth tier crowd of over 23,000, it was Doncaster came into the game as League leaders whilst Hull sat fourth. City triumphed 3-1 that day but despite predictions and regional hype suggesting the title was now in their hands they would ultimately falter in the Spring. Rovers returned to the top of the table in February in the midst of a fourteen game unbeaten run that would eventually saw them achieve promotion on Easter Monday, going on to secure the title at Boston on the penultimate day of the season.
A couple of thousand Rovers fans made the trip to South Lincolnshire to celebrate, and as York Street literally rocked the Yorkshire news cameras filmed the buoyant away crowd… in Yeovil. The unfancied and unexpected title for the no-hopers had been shifted down the pecking order as Look North and Calendar elected to show the bigger club down the road celebrating second place. It was a peculiar decision from the local news teams and one which was viewed as the final nail in the coffin in terms of weighted local news coverage by Doncaster supporters. So irked was one group of Rovers that they chartered a plane to fly over the KC Stadium on the final day of the season with a banner attached proclaiming a non-too friendly message, sadly though cloud in the Humber on match day meant the plan never came to fruition.
Instead Rovers would get revenge the following season. Though Rovers again lost in front of a huge Christmas crowd in Hull (24,000 this year) they would have chance to redeem themselves within a month, as the two clubs met again in Doncaster in January. A packed Belle Vue was already quite vocal, but to crank the atmosphere up a notch the home club decided to step boldly into the previously untrodden world of co-ordinated crowd incitement. Taking inspiration from the “Lets have a look at what you could have won” section of Bullseye Rovers decided to parade the Division 3 title trophy around the ground just before the teams came out. A job which should have been undertaken in armoured vehicle was instead given to cheerleaders the Vikettes, under-dressed for the weather let alone a riot, they were despatched to walk the trophy around the collectively seething Hull end of the ground.
To this day I’ve never quite understood how the club got away with this stunt, though admittedly it really did work in terms of stoking the Belle Vue atmosphere, as I can’t recall many league games in my time with such a raucous crowd. Thankfully, Rovers responded and won 1-0 with a Michael McIndoe goal sparking a long chorus of “1-0 to the Champions”. Hull bounced back from the defeat to finish the campaign by notching a second successive promotion (thus repeating the feat achieved by Doncaster the season before), and the two clubs have not met competitively since. Until this weekend.
This week’s Viva Video then is focussed on that last meeting and though we’ve featured this clip before, I’m happy to do so again simply because it is one of my favourite clips of Rovers to be found of the net. The quality of the footage, in terms of actually being able to see McIndoe’s shot rattle in off the post, may be poor, but the noise is superb. The roar as Macca tears past the Pop Side gives me goose-pimples every time I hear it, as does the echoing “Come on You Reds”. And as the goal goes in watch the crowd as the Town End and the end of the Main Stand terrace, arguably two of the most subdued areas within the ground back then, leap as one. In all my time of going to Belle Vue, the ground rarely erupted as much as it did for this goal.
The aforementioned Trophy ‘lap of gloat’ can be seen in this second alternate video from that game, which comes from Yorkshire Television’s Soccer Night. In the middle of the last decade Yorkshire Television may not have had much sports coverage at their disposal, but they were at least proving quite innovative with the rights they did possess. Around this time their coverage of the end of the National Conference Rugby League season, a thoughtful and compelling mix of fly-on-the-wall documentary and match highlights deservedly won them an award or two, and they were to pioneer other experiments with their regional football highlights programme Soccer Night.
The 2004-05 season saw three of the region’s clubs – Rovers, Hull City and Huddersfield – newly promoted to the third tier. So rather than document their experiences themselves Yorkshire TV chucked a video camera to a group of fans at each club and subsequently screened the footage from their trips away on alternate weeks in a segment called Fan Cam.
The Huddersfield fans lost interest first, but Doncaster and Hull persevered throughout the season, and the result showed lower division football fandom for what it really is. A lot of time on coaches or trains, an equivalent time drinking and a lot of bad language. Perhaps these new approaches to limited resources could be expected from the network which televised bar-skittles amongst other things in the 1970s as part of the Fred Trueman fronted Indoor League, but it was still notably refreshing for ITV sports coverage and must have given Football League marketing execs waking nightmares.
The footage below is the Hull City Fan Cam group’s trip to Belle Vue that season, and even features a cameo from Doncaster’s own Fan Cam-era man Andy Liney as they head inside the Viking Supporters Co-operative’s social club outside Belle Vue. The pomposity of the Hull City fans documenting the fixture would grate considerably if you didn’t know what was coming next.
As with their Rugby League coverage ITV did well to intersplice the camcorder recordings with their own match footage to give a more structured narrative to the day. But, for all that was good about Yorkshire TV’s sports coverage nous at this time the clip does end with a frightful glimpse into ITV Sport future. The anchor for this Yorkshire regional football programme was the less than obvious choice of Garden of England midfielder and one-time Irishman Andy Townsend. There are many of you who would sweepingly assume that Andy Townsend wouldn’t know the first thing about lower league football in Yorkshire, and therefore many of you would be right. Don’t worry though, as you’ll see, he had a habit of steering the programme into fields that he did have a clue about, no matter how little relevance they had on such a regional programme.