There can be no denying it, today is a big day in Doncaster. After all, it’s not often that the top football team in Yorkshire is in town, and its even less often that they play Leeds United. Jokes aside, I feel its necessary to start with a frank statement; I don’t hate Leeds United. The reason for this non-hatred is that despite the geographical proximity of Leeds and Doncaster our footballing paths have rarely crossed. Leeds may be easily dislikeable, but in my supporting life they’re no Rotherham or Scunthorpe. Call me old-fashioned but two league games and a play-off final does not a rivalry make.
What dislike I have of Leeds stems as much from them as the perception of us and them. I’m too young to air a discontent at Don Revie’s Elland Road outfit and besides for each clip I have seen of mud-caked fisticuffs against Chelsea at Old Trafford and Derby at the Baseball Ground there’s the footage of them toying with Southampton in ’72. I’m also just too young for the ugliness of the 80s and that final day at Bournemouth to have registered fully, and in the 1990s and early part of the 21st century there was little to dislike about Leeds. They had Gordon Strachan shuffling in that Charity Shield own-goal, they brought us Eric Cantona (before Trevor Francis could), they had Tony Yeboah lashing in improbable goals and they made it to a European Cup semi-final, where as a team from our county, I genuinely wanted them to win.
And then things went very wrong for them and they dropped a division, and another, and whilst dropping the other they made a desperate bid to avoid inconvenience that an inevitable points deduction would bring them an went into administration. It backfired on them as the Football League then deducted fifteen points from them at the start of the following season and you could have almost, almost felt sorry for them were it not for two words. Ken Bates. The man who just wouldn’t let it lie and take the points punishment on the chin whilst local businesses got just one penny in every pound they were owed by Bates’ club. So bitter was Mr Bates, that when Rovers went there for a league game in January of 2008 the matchday programme didn’t acknowledge the points deduction and instead printed what it called “The real League table”, which showed Leeds riding high in the promotion places. All that did was make victory sweeter.
So as much as there is an arrogance to sections of Leeds United’s support, as witnessed first hand by many of us at Wembley two years ago, the direct dislike that I have of them comes not from those who follow them, or those who play for them, but for the white-bearded dark cloud of a man in their Directors Box. Bates aside, as I mentioned at the start, it’s the media perception of us and them that really irritates and annoys.
Take for example the introduction on the BBC website’s match preview; “These clubs meet for the first time since Doncaster Rovers caused an upset by pipping Leeds to promotion by beating them in the 2008 League One play-off final.” Can an play-off win really be considered an upset? You’ve played 46 games and finished within four places of each other, indeed Rovers could and should have claimed automatic promotion on the final day of the season. Would that also have been an upset? I actually remember the BBC’s Football Focus piece on the game that play-off final weekend almost word for word. Garth Crooks began with “Well if you look at Leeds’ history and their vast support you have to fancy them…” Martin Keown said of Doncaster “I hope they enjoy their day”. We did Martin, we really did. In the two league meetings that season Rovers had outplayed Leeds for a 1-0 win at Elland Road, and gone down 1-0 in an evenly matched home game. The result could only be considered an upset if you’d not witnessed the games and instead had relied on the BBC’s pre-match coverage.
There is no denying that Leeds United’s history is richer than ours. Their league titles crap on our Johnstones Paint Trophy and Minster Carpets Cup triumphs, no matter how much fun those weekends at Scarborough were. And similarly its obvious that they have a much larger fan base than ours, owing mostly to the previous statement and the late 90s migration north in search of football from the Doncastrians who prefered to spend their midweek nights watching a side pitch themselves against AC Milan rather than Leigh RMI. Crazy bastards. But as Wembley showed, trophies in the cabinet and bums on seats doesn’t necessarily win you football matches. So if you are a Leeds fan reading this, before you give your inevitable sarcastic cheer when the attendance is read out tonight do bear in mind that it is likely to be more than 10 times our average gate of a decade ago. We’re still edging upwards.
That upward momentum reached a peak on Tuesday as Rovers’ 3-1 victory over Norwich City lifted them to their highest ever league position, a dizzying fourth place in the second tier. So, as much of a draw playing a local derby against a historically established club is it is not that which makes this such a big game for Rovers fans, it is instead the fact that a win will put Rovers in second place. It may and probably will only be for less than twenty-four hours, but for a club who less than a decade ago were eighty places lower down the pyramid its reason enough to get very giddy.
Of course, despite the contrasting result of Rovers and Leeds in midweek, with United were beaten 5-2 at Barnsley, this is still set to be a close game. Though it may have deserted them on Tuesday Leeds possess a distinct resolve in the face of adversity and more often than any other side have a tendency to achieve results from losing positions. Given Rovers own tendency for a touch of nervousness when defending a lead then even if Doncaster were to seize the initiative in this game it would take a hell of a lot of goals before your average Rovers fan felt safe. Of course the one thing that is encouraging most Rovers fans at the moment is the fact that their club have reached their highest ever league position without actually playing well for a full ninety minutes. If they were to click any time soon, then tonight would be most welcome.
Rovers remain without their quartet of relatively long-term absentees; Byron Webster is still out with a foot injury, whilst full-back James Chambers and centre-back Wayne Thomas are both-ruled out with knee injuries. Leeds United fans will also probably be pleased to not have to cast eyes on James Hayter again after the last time the two met, he’s out with a hamstring problem. After an impressive showing on his full league debut on Tuesday night expect born-again footballer Mustapha Dumbuya to keep his place in the back four for this game.
Leeds United could be ready to welcome back Robert Snodgrasss and Billy Paynter after recent injuries according to the BBC website, but then what do they know? Ramon Nunez, Davide Somma and one-time Rovers loanee Ross McCormack are apparently all “vying for starting places”, which I like to think means the three of them are all trying dirty tricks on each other to try and rule the other two out. Roller skates at the top of the training ground stairs. Polonium in the changing room kettle. No holds barred as they vye for that place.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-2-2-1-1) Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, George Friend; Brian Stock, John Oster; Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Ryan Mason, Dean Shiels, Waide Fairhurst
Travelling to the Game
Leeds United have only visited the Keepmoat Stadium once, but then the majority of them probably pass it on their way to work and on the school-run each day. For the few West Yorkshire based first-time visitors Viva Rovers’ guide to the (relatively) new ground may be of assistance; you’ll find it by clicking on the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the site. On that page you’ll find directions to the ground for those travelling by car, or by public transport as well as suggested local pubs and where to pick up tickets. We’re comprehensive like that.
Viva Rovers infamous live match Twitter Feed is back in action tonight, though work commitments mean it will be produced whilst watching the game from my office. If you want to accompany your own watching of the game with our interpretation of events then follow @vivarovers on twitter, or alternatively check and refresh the Twitter Updates box on the right hand side of this page. Live commentary is available for this game via the official club website’s Rovers Player service. You do have to subscribe and pay for the service, but the commentary from the hardest working press officer in show business, Chris Mortley, should be worth the expenditure.
The match is also being covered live by BBC Radio Sheffield and possibly even BBC Radio 5Live, but we can’t confirm the latter at the moment. And lastly of course the match is being beamed live to the watching millions by Uncle Rupert on S*y S***ts. If, like us, you can’t bring yourself to pay money out for, or even watch sport on their channel directly then we recommend doing it via an online and probably not legal internet stream. Once we find a suitable one, we’ll add it on here and tweet its location too.