I know that’s an unusually long and pun free headline for a Viva Rovers piece, but there is just reason. This article is a reply to another printed earlier in the week by a freelance journalist named Jason Mellor. He is a journalist held in enough esteem to have seen his words published in most of the national newspapers, from The Independent to The Times via The Guardian. However, writing for the Fanhouse UK website a few days ago Mellor churned out probably the most ill-informed and condescending piece of journalism concerning Doncaster Rovers I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.
For those of you lucky enough to have missed this particular episode from Mr Mellor’s back catalogue you can find it here, its title; Why Sean O’Driscoll Must Leave Doncaster and Takeover Sheffield United. I give you the link so you too can sit aghast at the ignorance shown in these particular words of is. There is a chance I am doing Mellor a disservice and this article was written, as many on football websites are, to be controversial simply for the sake of being controversial and duly bring more interest, more hits and more comments. Even if that is the case for the defence it is as flimsy as the article’s reasoning
I have no time for football rhetoric and even less time for those who pedal it. Let’s be honest come-and-get-me pleas are yelled at helicopters by flood victims trapped on rooftops not issued by footballers. It’s the sort of reporting that has Chelsea labelled as a ‘crisis club’ despite being firmly in the middle of a wide open title race and that marks Roy Hodgson ‘under fire’ just six months into a difficult managerial appointment at a club in transition. There is no time for patience and reason in too much of football’s reporting, only sound-bites and jargon.
There was a time when clubs were judged solely on league position. The big clubs were, rightly, those in the top flight, but at some point that whole ethos changed. League position, even squad talent and ability are now often deemed secondary in perceived club size to the depth of your trophy cabinet, or the amount of folk in the stands. On Football Focus the day before the 2008 Play-Off Final Garth Crooks was asked who he thought would win and he proclaimed; “Well you look at Leeds United, you look at their history and their fan-base and you have to fancy them”. His ignorance to the lower leagues spoke volumes about those perceived as being expert ‘pundits’.
So, let us look at things at face value and not get swayed by the larger quantities of shiny plastic in the Bramall Lane stands or the fading sepia tinted photo of their 1898 League Champions in the trophy cabinet. Both Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield United are currently in the Championship. United sit 20th whilst Rovers are 11th. Of the last four meetings between the two clubs Rovers have won two whilst the others have been drawn. Rovers are on a stable footing and a steady rise. United’s finances are far from clear, and still trying to recover from the post Premier League management of Brian Robson.
Sure that last paragraph swings things in Rovers favour, but then on face value things are. As for how things look for Sean O’Driscoll well he has two clear options. Stay where he is, with the players who he knows and who know and appreciate his system and continue what he is doing with the support of the club’s board, fans and chairman. Or, try his hand somewhere new, where he is unlikely to be given the time to instil the sort of approach he prefers and where the supporters are perhaps unlikely to be as patient. The presence of there being more fans in the stands to cast judgement on his approach is unlikely to sway a man as intelligent as O’Driscoll.
There is the notion, and its one latched on to by Mellor, that “Sean O’Driscoll has taken Doncaster Rovers as far as he can”. Who is to say that this is the case? And besides should achievement so easily be judged on upward momentum. In the view of too many, unless you are hanging your coat up in the Premier League’s cloakroom, then you are not achieving. It is a notion which simply is not true. The current season represents only Rovers’ seventeenth at the second level for a club with a 131 year history. Only once have Rovers stayed at this level longer than their current spell, and matching the record of Pete Doherty’s side of the 1950s would be more than achievement enough.
Mellor suggests that for Sean O’Driscoll to stay it “would hint at a lack of ambition – or bottle – or both in his unwillingness to leave his Keepmoat comfort zone for a fresh, bigger challenge.” Those words are frankly an insult. It is as if Mellor is trying to goad O’Driscoll into moving to United. He’s not Marty McFly, and more to the point he deserves better than that. As displayed in his interview with the Daily Mail in September Sean O’Driscoll has no time for such football lexicon. As he said to the Mail when they asked him his ambitions; ‘”Our ambition is to win the next game.” And beyond that? “Win the next game. That’s my ambition.”’ There is more ambition to be found in helping Rovers to their best ever league finish than there can be in helping Sheffield United limp back into the top flight.
Mellor suggests that unless O’Driscoll moves now “it’s back to hopefully submitting your CV with the 30 other candidates who’re attempting to get back on the merry-go-round.” But the chance of being amongst those CV-wielding candidates is only likely to increase should he move to Bramall Lane. Listen to any episode of Radio Sheffield’s Praise or Grumble and you’ll hear the kind of support O’Driscoll is likely to find at United, where is the appeal of that over a chairman who’s effectively made up the spare bed and told him he can stay as long as he likes.
“When on this occasion that club is three times the size of the one you’re at, you owe it to yourself to give it a crack to see how far you can take it”, suggests Mellor. But surely there is more to prove in keeping a team above local rivals you are perceived to be a third the size of. At Rovers O’Driscoll is safe, he’s safe to promote the brand of football he feels sides should play, and he’s safe, for the most part, from the ridiculous and relentless prying of the media which he has little time for. The press may not like O’Driscoll’s cautious disdain for their questions, but in the face of articles like Mellor’s its easy to see why he’d rather keep himself to himself.
Sheffield United are a Championship club. Doncaster Rovers are a Championship club. Staying with the latter does not show a lack of ambition from Sean O’Driscoll, just a lot of common sense. O’Driscoll is a clever man and along with Roy Hodgson is probably the most intelligent football manager employed in the professional ranks. He has the potential to manage at a higher level and I hope for the sake of football in this country he will be given the opportunity to do so. However, despite the patronising bluster of Mellor Sheffield United do not represent that opportunity. On current form the potential for that to happen is greater at the Keepmoat Stadium than it is at Bramall Lane. Only a fool would think otherwise.