SO’D Off – Why the Doncaster Rovers Board are Wrong to let Sean O’Driscoll Go

“Ultimately, when it comes to [Doncaster Rovers] I’d rather be relegated to League One than lose Sean O’Driscoll as manager”. They were my words. I tweeted them and everything. Just four days ago. It’s easy to trot out soundbites on Twitter and not be accountable for them, hell, I could go back now and delete it if I wanted. But the thing is, these words were, and indeed are, unequivocally true. Sean O’Driscoll has gone, and I genuinely am shocked, numb, despondent and angry. This news has hit me much harder than relegation from the Championship would do.

What hurts most is how this era of Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly has come to an end. A succinct statement on the club’s official website, as brief as a death notice in the back of a broadsheet only with arguably less sentiment;

“It is with regret that the shareholders of Doncaster Rovers FC have taken the decision based on the long run of poor results, that Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly have been relinquished of their duties. They felt that action needed to be taken to address the current position. They would like to thank Sean and Richard for all their work during the five years at the club including winning at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley. Dean Saunders will take charge of the game on Saturday against Crystal Palace.”

There may be a press conference still to come, but that is it, some of the most joyous years of watching Rovers, featuring the best football I’ll ever see at my home town club, curtailed in 88 words.

Now, there will be many, who look in from the outside a bit surprised at O’Driscoll’s departure, but will find a column reading LDDLLLDLDDDLLLLLDLL and that will satisfy their curiosity as to why he and Richard O’Kelly have gone. They being the aforementioned “long run of poor results” that is Rovers record from their last nineteen league games. It is, even allowing for injuries that have robbed much of O’Driscoll’s key players in that time frame, pretty dismal, but what are our ‘shareholders’ really expecting? Do they expect to be hurtling toward the play-offs? There is much more background to consider here, much more perspective needed.

Has it not occurred to the shareholders that of the key reasons why Rovers have endured such a “long run of poor results” is because they are, frankly, punching above their weight? Rovers have been in existence for 132 years; they have spent just fifteen seasons in the dizzy heights of the second tier. Only one spell at this level had lasted longer than the current one, and in Peter Doherty’s day there were greater attendances (for their was bugger all else to do and no football on the box in the 1950s) and no such thing as parachute payments. It may be a long run of poor results, but its being put together in a division I never expected to watch my club participate in.

Sean O’Driscoll, with Richard O’Kelly, for they are a team, lifted this club to heights I never dreamed of seeing them play at, whilst playing the sort of football I had long been led to believe was only performed in exotic foreign climbs, like Barcelona, Amsterdam and Swansea, not within a Sheffield United through-ball of the chimney at Pegler’s castings. In getting rid of the pair, ‘the shareholders’ have not simply disposed of a manager, they’ve gotten shut of an entire ethos and approach. Any man coming in now, will have to completely change the players’ approach to football. Is that really healthy when we’re up against it? The players have been recruited to the system, one with the long-term in mind, you can’t just ditch forward-thinking because you want more wins now.

On his first day as manager at Doncaster Sean O’Driscoll went out and signed Brian Stock from the depths of Preston’s squad and set out to build a team and a system around him. The players that have been brought in since, have been brought in to fit that system. They have been brought in because they have intelligence and adeptness of mind to adjust and play for the greater good of the collective rather than the individual. Who else would have brought the best out of Jamie Coppinger? Who else would have spotted the potential in Mustapha Dumbuya, who had been turned away from more London clubs than So Solid Crew? Who else would have kept John Oster away from wine, women and fire arms long enough to keep him at the top of his game?

Take just this one small excerpt from this brilliant interview given by Sean O’Driscoll to the Goalfood fanzine;  “We never do passing drills in training. We try to give people options on the ball and the thing I’m trying to coach is for the player to pick the right option, which is what the better players do. I get scouting reports which say ‘he gives the ball away too much’ but I’m trying to train the scouts to ask ‘was it the right ball to play?’ Football’s about giving the ball away – but was it the right pass at the right time? Sometimes I’m more concerned about that than I am about whether or not he completed the pass. I can’t buy someone for a million quid but I want to get someone in who can see options and can take the right one. I’m in a market where I can afford a player because he’s cheap but I have to know that I can develop him because he has the raw materials I can work with. Right pass, right time – that’s two out of three and I can work on the rest.” Who else is going to think like that?

Yesterday, this website led with an article entitled ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ and top of the three reasons given was John Ryan’s public backing of Sean O’Driscoll. In his column for the Doncaster Free Press Ryan wrote; “For the people shouting for the manager’s head, I ask you the questions who would you replace him with? Who is better? I can’t think of any manager that is better equipped for the job, and those clubs who sack managers willy nilly end up relegated. The board and I are not going down that path. You only have to look at our neighbours Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday – need I say more?” Within 24 hours Rovers and their board had gone down that path. As U-turns go it is a combine harvester on a country lane; big, clumsy, and awkward.

What are the board playing at? I’ve been contacted by a vast amount of Rovers fans thus far today and am yet to find a single person in favour of this move. How can we trust those who run the club if they are willing to go back on their word so swiftly? Hopefully this afternoon’s press conference will provide a few answers, because at current this looks like the latest in a number of episodes in clumsy mismanagement from behind the scenes.

First up was the short-sighted restructuring of matchday ticket prices, which have certainly contributed (alongside league position admittedly) to diminished crowds at the Keepmoat. And then in August we had the “Fund a loan striker” campaign in the wake of the injuries suffered in the first week of the season. With Billy Sharp, Ryan Mason and James Hayter all struck down the club wanted fans to dig deep and donate money to the club to fund a replacement. Off the back of the worst injury crisis the club had ever known, this was our contingency. Our plan B involved wealthy men asking less than wealthy supporters for more money. The fans did raise some cash, probably enough for a week’s wages, two at best. And yet now a month later we are able to bring in a new manager and place another on ‘gardening leave’. Who’s paying for O’Driscoll and O’Kelly? Who is paying for Dean Saunders? Can those who donated blindly have their money back?

What is notable about this for me is the club statement that proclaims this the decision of ‘the shareholders’. Now, unless I am drastically mistaken, the Viking Supporters Co-operative holds shares in the club. Was it as a body, or the Chairman of the group Gareth Thomas consulted in this move? Was it even asked for feed back? If it was, what was given. Surely the VSC could see that the majority of fans felt this was the wrong move to make. It begs the question what is the VSC and why is it there? Increasingly it appears to serve as the club’s go-to begging bowl and little else. Now I apologise to any committee members of the VSC if I am wide of the mark, but this is increasingly how the organisation appears on the outside.

So, to the reasons likely to be given for Sean O’Driscoll’s departure. What on earth will they be? There will be some folk who attempt to justify this by saying “Ah, well, it’s a results business”, but when wasn’t it? I’m 28, my football memory only goes back to the back end of the 80s, was the middle of that decade just a carefree jolly on the field. Did folk, having lurked in the Park Hotel for one more pint, wander into Belle Vue just after kick-off and ask the score to be greeted with “No idea, anyway who cares, its just a game isn’t it”? Bellows of “How long’s left ref?” met with “I’ve no idea, we’re playing until Ian Nimmo gets called in for his tea”.

No, football has always been a results business, in so much as the better your results, the higher you will climb up the leagues and the more revenue you will likely take. Sean O’Driscoll got results. He got this club the results to get into the second tier. He got the results to keep us in this division for the second longest spell in the club’s 132 year history, and he was surely best placed out of anyone to get the results to keep this Championship spell running.

“We felt Sean had taken us as far as he could” is another line you are likely to read on messageboards and probably hear in this afternoon’s press conference. It is another empty statement, only true now, in retrospect, when he no longer has the opportunity to take us further. Surely, maintaining second tier status was the sole aim and expectation to lie ahead of Sean O’Driscoll, after all only Peter Doherty in the 1950s had managed to do that longer than he. We may not have been edging upwards, but we were not heading down. This is the second most successful period in the club’s history, in a time when, with the influx of money for those dropping out of the top flight, it is much harder to be achieved. Every season spent in the second tier, regardless of position, the club was being taken further.

“He’d lost the dressing room”. You’ll probably hear that too. Again, another empty statement of football rhetoric, which usually means quite the opposite, ie, some overpaid premadonna has stopped listening to the manager. Only one manager in the history of football has ever lost a dressing room and that was Michael Caine in Escape to Victory, when his fell through the bath into a tunnel. And he still came out with the support of the players. Look at the tweets from Milan Lalkovic and Billy Sharp, both ‘shocked’, look at the recent interview from Jamie Coppinger (who had played under Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson and Kenny Dalglish) saying Sean O’Driscoll is the best manager he’s ever worked with. There was nothing but respect there.

So there you go, this club of ours has shown the door, unceremoniously, to statistically the second best manager it ever had, and in my opinion by far and away the best. That on it’s own would be bad enough. But to do say, just a day after publicly backing him in the local newspaper, and two days of saying we were not a club who looked to the short-term, just completely undermines the club’s current board. Is Dean Saunders really better in the long-term than the approach of Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly? And more pertinently, how are we supposed to trust the board now?

It’s probably apt that the last words go to the man himself. In the aforementioned Goalfood interview Sean O’Driscoll summed up what is wrong with the way manager are appointed and retained; “I was 22 before I came into the game and I’d been in work so maybe that’s why my approach is different. I wouldn’t say it’s analytical I think it’s just common sense… The average tenure of a job is less than 18 months. You’re trying to put something together which is long term and all that really matters is trying to win the next game so f**k everything else, managers just need to win the next game. Then you win the next game and you’re supposedly a better manager for it, then you win the next one after that and all of a sudden you’re going to jump ship because someone else wants you. The whole thing is cyclical.”

There is no-one who deserves to be just another cog in that cyclical approach to the game less than Sean O’Driscoll. I truly hope he is given time and backing in another job soon, because there is quite simply no other man in football management thinking like he’s thinking, and the game is poorer for it.

There is a club press conference scheduled for 2pm. Liam Holden of The Free Press’ should be tweeting updates from it. Follow him @liamhodenDFP

About glen wilson

Former schoolboy, Glen Wilson writes on football and travel and has been editor of the award-winning popular STAND fanzine since before the award.


18 thoughts on “SO’D Off – Why the Doncaster Rovers Board are Wrong to let Sean O’Driscoll Go

  1. Superb. I’m a Southend fan, and one of the very few things our chairman has done that I’m proud of was giving Steve Tilson a new contract when we were in a massive rut, something like 15 games without a win, in the championship.

    Ultimately we parted terms with Tilly two divisions lower, but I’m still delighted that he was given the chance to maintain what he himself had achieved. It seems to me that is the least Sean O’Driscoll deserved.


    Posted by Thomas Leftley (@TomLeftley) | September 23, 2011, 1:21 pm
  2. Pob Lwc!!
    My favourite Saunders quote:
    “We had 15 shots – 7 on target and 7 off target”

    That’s the kind of post match rubbish yo can expect from now on!!

    Posted by blogdroed (@blogdroed) | September 23, 2011, 1:26 pm
  3. Superb blog. Echoes my sentiments exactly.

    “There is quite simply no other man in football management thinking like he’s thinking, and the game is poorer for it”

    Posted by Mike | September 23, 2011, 3:13 pm
  4. Very, very well said, Glen.

    No need to say more than that.

    Posted by MikeyMike | September 23, 2011, 3:18 pm
    • In 42 years of supporting (Jesus,that makes me feel old) DRFC through mainly thin and thinner, I have to say this sacking leaves me very puzzled.

      SOD would have to have been Ali fucking Bongo to forge a winning team with the players he’s had available for most of 2011. Now, just as,(allegedly), some of our Championship standard injured players are on the verge of returning, he’s given the boot.

      I don’t know how a Dean Saunders team plays, but he’s sure to want some new players who will suit his style. We’ve no cash so all we can do is sell somebody to raIse funds. Erm, Bye Bye Billy in January?

      I spent fucking years trudging all over England watching Rovers get beat and if you’d told me when SOD took over I’d get to see us PLAY at Wembley, and WIN at Wembley, and BEAT The Former Champions Of Europe, Leeds Utd to get into the Championship, I’d have laughed in your face. (Oh and never mind being amongst 70,000 folk at The Millenium Stadium watching us actually WIN a cup).

      And don’t let anyone ever forget the type of football we played under SOD. I seriously doubt we’ll ever play such sweet,fluent football again.

      I say Bad decison, I say Bad form from the Board, but at least we can start planning early for life in Division 1. I hope I’m wrong. I really do.

      Posted by Dave Sharman | September 23, 2011, 4:37 pm
  5. To your quote regarding the VSC Glen yes, you are very wide of the mark. If this is how the VSC is perceived by some, then we obviously need to address that, put the VSC Directors were never consulted regarding SOD and the club must be refering to the majority shareholders.

    Posted by Robert Williams | September 23, 2011, 4:14 pm
    • Cheers Rob… If it were only me who perceived it this way then I’d not have raised it, but I’m aware others do unfortunatelt share the same view of the VSC. I raised a similar point in the fanzine editorial, and did invite the VSC to respond in the next issue. That medium is still open to you and the VSC should they want it. Deadline is the 22nd October.

      Posted by glen wilson | September 23, 2011, 5:26 pm
  6. I never thought for one moment that I would be so stunned with a piece of football news! We have (had) one of the finest managers outside of the Premiership & what do we do – sack him.
    I simply cannot understand the mentality of Ryan & his cronies – what do they expect of a team that has been permanently stsrved of funds?
    The quality of football seen over the past 5 years has been the finest I have seen in 50 years of enduring ‘football’ at Belle Vue & all over the country. What next?
    Today, I have seriously been considering sending my season ticket back to ‘the Shareholders & Board

    Posted by Steven Schofield | September 23, 2011, 7:18 pm
  7. Evening all. I too am just gobsmaacked by this. I would have kept SOD and ROK even if we had gone down. This is symptomatic of the ills of business everywhere: short termism. There are some real dreadful horror stories about the consequemnces of that both in the football industry and elsehwere. But there’s something odd going on here though. I simply do not believe John Ryan is mug enough to say ther supportive words he did this week, including making a massively clear contrast between the behaviours of the Rovers and the two bunches of lunatics down Sheffield way/ Yet today we’ve just gone done exactly what he said we would not do. So why? I have two theories. Neither will be spot on – but they might provoke others to explore the underlying reasons:

    1) Jon parkin was signed direct by JR and SOD/ROK threw their toys out of the pram. It’s a possibility thoiugh not a liklihood.
    2) JR was outvoted by the rest of the directors and so was forced to get rid.

    If 1) is even half way true then JR is a way bigger plank than I believe him to be. I don’t believe that theory really. But something (!) has certainlky happened

    If 2) is half way true, then then JR will be bloody steaming and the next few Board meetings would be worth avoiding!

    something has clearly happened very recently. It’s the onbly explanation. But I draw to your attention the weird subsitution of a centre half for a diminutive forward away at Cardiff 10 days ago and SOD’s recent and very untypical public criticisms of players. To me, SOD is a man under pressure. And why wouldn’t he be given the last 6 months? But I do wonder if that pressure has got something to do with what’s happened today?

    Cheers chaps


    Posted by BobG | September 23, 2011, 11:37 pm
  8. Unless something happened suddenly to drive this decision of which we are not aware, I think it’s a very poor decision and very poor form from the board. Sean O’Driscoll was by far the best manager we could have wished for, for the long term future of this club. Thank you Sean and Richard for all you have done at DRFC. I genuinely wish you the very best of success in your next roles – and there is no doubt that you will be in demand.

    To the board – I’ll still support the team and I’ll still go to matches but you can forget about me renewing my Premier Club seats. I wish the new manager well but as of today, I’m no longer proud of the way the club is run and I don’t want to associate my company with it.

    Posted by Steve | September 23, 2011, 11:41 pm
  9. While it is hard to ignore the results in 2011, I agree with most of what Glen has said. I first watched the Rovers when Peter Doherty was still playing, and when Sean got us back to the second tier, I could not have been happier.
    What annoys me the most, is the way it was done, especially after John Ryan’s comments earlier in the week. Maybe he has lost control of the Board. I would have thought, at the least, Sean would have been given the opportunity over the next two games, and if he was to be fired, it would be in a face-to-face situation.
    With Sean’s known talent of developing players, we have had some wonderful loan signings from top clubs. Will this happen now?
    I wish Sean, and Richard, all the very best for the future.

    Mick Beard, Portland, Oregon, USA

    Posted by Michael Beard | September 23, 2011, 11:41 pm
  10. Cheers all for the comments above, and glad that others of sound mind share my view and I’m not just a rambling loon.

    Since I wrote the article earlier today I have seen John Ryan interviewed on Look North and S*y Sp**ts News, and I think it’s clear that this wasn’t his decision. JR has in the past made a few foolish proclamations in the press (Destination Championship anyone?), but he wouldn’t swing on his own words this quickly. He’s too savvy a publicist for that. I believe the words delivered in the Free Press on Thursday were his own, those he’s giving today are the words he’s been pressured into speaking by the board.

    Effectively the majority decision of “the shareholders” (incidentally, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this group referenced as that, ever) has gone against the feelings of JR. The major disappointment is that these very wealthy and powerful shareholders have let JR be the one to communicate the decision. They’ve hidden behind the sanctuary offered by Ryan’s record and popularity. “You tell ’em John… they like you”.

    I had to think long and hard before deciding to go to tomorrow’s game. Do I want to hand my money over to a club which operates like that? Do I want to give my cash to a club who told us in August they were too broke for another forward and needed us to give generously, yet can now afford to pay three or more managerial staff (outgoing and incoming)? In short, liars. The answer really is no, but I think the players deserve the support, especially as they appear to be genuinely shocked and disappointed. Plus its only £15. Its £27 on Tuesday night… I’ll find it much harder to talk myself into being at that one.

    Posted by glen wilson | September 24, 2011, 12:14 am
  11. sorry sean for chairman as treated you ur the best thing donny ad at that man ryan ehhhhhhh to faced i think we will drop down now for sure then wot will ryan do then leave i bet ur wrong ryan iv seen it all bfore . good luck sean and il allways how good you made us play dont think dean is no where and same wave lengh

    Posted by ian smith | September 24, 2011, 7:08 am
  12. if it is the season for conspiracy theories then here is mine

    we all know that there are stirrings around buying the KMS and that at least 1/3 of the KM3 is baulking at funding the team

    what if the price of stumping up the cash for the staduim was that SOD had to go and a cheaper model brought in?
    in other words a scratching of the collective backs!

    no evidence just a theory

    Posted by dave emson (bedale rover) | September 24, 2011, 7:51 am
  13. Until this week I had always had a good impression of John Ryan. That was until he was very economical with the truth on BBC Radio Sheffield Tuesday night. To suggest he had no idea a change of management was planned at that stage is nonsense.
    He has said himself that he has had Dean Saunders in mind for some considerable time (no doubt taking phone calls weekly from Saunders locally based agent). That proves he was not as committed to Sean O’Driscoll as he claimed on ‘Football Heaven.’
    The appointment of Saunders should be of great concern to fans. There will be a dramatic change in footballing style. It was clear from the comments of Saunders on radio that he has no time for the pretty passing game. The existing players are in for a shock. It won’t be pretty. In the dressing room, on the training ground nor on the pitch.
    No doubt, with Billy Sharp on his way back soon, results will pick up a little until opponents realise Donny will now play the long ball game. But, long term, this is a bad appointment.
    As so often is the case in this scenario, I shake my head at the choices people running such clubs make. Saunders is a woeful replacement for a man who is one of the best coaches in the game. O’Driscoll has does wonders for Donny and was simply unlucky to lose crucial players through injury.
    As a Wednesdayite I only hope Sean O’Driscoll is still available when Milan Mandaric finally gets shot of the fool that is Gary Megson.
    I wish Donny Rovers well. I’ve known the club since the dark days of Division 4. But I now have no time for the club chairman and hope he does the decent thing when, within 18 months, the club has to pay off Saunders.

    Posted by Vern | September 24, 2011, 1:17 pm
  14. The results were bad, but I am extremely shocked at this very poor decision. Having gone to the game yesterday, I can only say that based on the first half alone we are in serious brown stuff now! With players coming back who’s to say SOD would not have won that game yesterday!?
    Saunders may carry a name from his playing days, but he was no great player, & as a manager he only has three years conference experience, & three positions as an assistant manager, all with relegation written all over them. If the board intention was to bring this club back to its roots, then they have succeeded, because I saw conference football again for the first time since 2002-03 season.
    I am seriously disappointed in how this has been handled, it has divided the main support in the South Stand with a very severe split of what is the best action to do in supporting the players on the field.
    I worked hard & saved reliously with pride in the summer for my season ticket. One win changes nothing for me, & Saunders will remain under the microscope for the rest of this season, (a probably a long time after that) in his actions & may I saw not only results, but also important to us Rovers is performance as well.
    There were references to “Sean O’Driscolls barmy army” yesterday in the south stand. In October we are on Sky as a televised game, I think it is the right time to show OUR thanks to Sean & Richard from the supporters.
    I fear we will lose the quality players (Sharp, Stock, Oster, Woods, O’Connor, Coppinger) in January or next summer, followed by good young players (Spurr, Woods, Bennett, Mustafa) very cheaply now. Getting very poor quality long ball donkeys in return! An example was up front yesterday in Parkin, with the predictable long ball to him & Palace knew it everytime. Strange how we looked better when he went off isn’t it?
    With regard to my season ticket, I won’t get a full refund for all the remaining games because I enquired on Friday when the “decision” was made. Having been a season ticket holder for a number of years now, the club & I mean those on the Commercial department & particularly the board “Why should I give up my money that I work hard & save for in order to watch a conference manager destroy my team, after the years under Dave Penney & the dynamic duo (SOD & ROK) there has been a team built with care & loving attention!”
    As others better than myself have said, a very sad day & we will all pay a very heavy price in both the short term this year in relegation, leading to our demise as we slip back to the conference again, whilst the two wealthy board members sneak out the back door as the cowards they are! Like many of us, I believe JR will be left in the near future a broken man about how the whole thing like a pack of cards all collapsed!


    Posted by Chris Bryan | September 25, 2011, 10:50 am
  15. All I’m gonna say is what the hell was the chairman of Doncaster Rovers thinking, Shaun ‘O’ Driscoll had got the vikings from the conference to the championship it might have taken him 10 yrs to do it, but he bloody did and good on him

    Posted by Victoria Marsh | December 4, 2011, 11:55 am

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