It has probably not escaped your notice that Doncaster Rovers currently sit rock-bottom of the Championship table. As we watch frustrating performance after frustrating performance we often, and perhaps understandably, lose sight of the fact that these, are the good times. This is Rovers fourth consecutive season in the second tier. Large swathes of our support, myself included, never envisaged seeing us play out one. And in acknowledgement of that, the second edition of our snapshot series takes us back to when an appearance in football’s upper regions seemed furthest from Rovers grasp.
As unsettling as many of us have found Rovers change in direction this season, it remains a far cry from the 1997-98 campaign. Strangled by Ken Richardson, the club was seemingly taking in its final breaths as Colchester United arrived at Belle Vue for the final game of the season. Rovers had lost their battle against inevitable relegation to the Conference three weeks earlier, now the fight was over the continued existence of the club. Many expected this fixture on 2nd May 1998 to not only bring the curtains down on the season, but the club’s 119 year existence too.
With the Football Association having thus far ignored the noise and the pleas coming from Doncaster supporters throughout the season, Rovers fans made one last stand in an effort to be heard and taken notice of. The match against Colchester was twice held up due to pitch invasions, and the photo above depicts the start of one of those protests; a lone figure running from the Town End of the Pop Side to join his fellow supporters already sat in the centre-circle. The players, can just be made out in front of the Main Stand, as they leave the field at the referee’s instruction. The police, make no effort to halt the protester’s invasion, whilst a lone steward in a white coat can be seen striding out from the Main Stand to ask the fans to leave the field.
One of the mid-game pitch invasions that day (I cannot be certain if it was this one) swelled in numbers, as most of the Pop Side streamed onto the field, and moved toward the Colchester United supporters (at the far end of the ground in the photo). There was no animosity. The visiting supporters were there in numbers, celebrating as their club secured a play-off place, but they applauded the Rovers fans protest, before eventually the home crowd returned to the stands. At the end of the game Rovers fans en masse again piled onto the field; a rousing chant of “We’ll support you ever more” sounding out across the Belle Vue turf.
Rovers defied the odds and the expectations of much of their own support to take the field at Dover in August for their first game in the Conference. The ramshackle nature of their preparations encompassed as they picked up midfielder Kevin McIntyre from the services en route to that game, the moment he stepped on the coach being his first introduction to his new team-mates. Rovers spent much of the first half of the season in the Conference relegation zone, but a revival in January saw Doncaster take seven points off the league’s top three sides Cheltenham, Kettering and Rushden, not to mention the sentencing for ‘conspiracy to commit arson’ of former ‘benefactor’ Ken Richardson. With 16th place secured the season ended with a pitch invasion of a different sort, with almost 8,000 fans sweeping onto the field in celebration as Rovers lifted the McMillan Trophy (effectively the Conference League Cup) after victory over Farnborough at Belle Vue.
After defeating Rovers 1-0 on the final day of the 1997-98 season Colchester United went on to win the play-offs, following up semi-final victory over Barnet, with a 1-0 win over Torquay United on a Friday night at Wembley. Their upward momentum would continue and after establishing themselves firmly in the third tier, they achieved promotion to the Championship in 2006, defying the pundits to remain there for two seasons. It was the most impressive rise by a side returning from non-league. However, when the U’s were relegated in 2008 they would be replaced in the second tier by Doncaster Rovers, who would take that accolade by remaining in the Championship until this, their fourth season.
I remain keen to make Viva Rovers Snapshot a regular feature so if you have a Rovers related image you think would be suitable for inclusion please get in touch with us via email@example.com. Many thanks to ‘Muttley’ for allowing me to use this image.