LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Doncaster Rovers

Donny defend Ryan’s legacy at the Keepmoat Stadium

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Rescued by Britain’s oldest professional footballer, Doncaster Rovers went from the depths of non-league football in a decrepit ground to mid-table Championship clashes with Leicester, Crystal Palace and QPR in a new-build multi-sport arena. While the Keepmoat Stadium has hosted League One football for much of the post-Ryan era, Donny have at least discovered stability.

The man behind the Rovers’ return, former owner/chairman John Ryan, was on the terraces watching his beloved Doncaster during their last brush with the big boys, in the 1950s.

It was Ryan, then nearly 53, who ran out in a Doncaster shirt for what would be club’s last fixture in the regular season as a non-league side in 2003 – but that all-important promotion was only achieved after two heart-stopping play-off ties, settled on penalties and by a golden goal respectively.

Ryan resigned in 2013 and though Doncaster even slipped down to League Two thereafter, the Championship came within touching distance in 2019.

Keepmoat Stadium/Paul Martin

Founded in 1879, Donny had occasional early seasons in the Football League, none better than their debut one of 1901-02 when they finished seventh in a strong Second Division behind WBA, Middlesbrough and Preston North End.

Dropping back to the Midland League in 1903, Doncaster returned to the Second Division in 1904, then were admitted to the Third Division North in 1923. During this time, the club also changed pitches, moving from the Intake Ground to Bennetthorpe in 1920 then, two years later, to its home for 94 years, Belle Vue.

Rovers maintained a steady presence in the third tier before promotion in 1950 led to an eight-season stint in the Second Division. First under player-manager Peter Doherty then with Harry Gregg between the sticks, manager and goalkeeper for Northern Ireland’s heroic World Cup campaign of 1958, Doncaster battled against top-class sides such Everton, Blackburn and Liverpool.

By the time Gregg left in December 1957, Manchester United paying a world record fee for a goalkeeper, Donny were struggling. A few weeks later, Gregg was salvaging bodies from the Munich Air Disaster – and Rovers were on a long losing streak.

Keepmoat Stadium/Paul Martin

Rovers spent the next 40 years between the third and fourth flights, while Belle Vue slowly rusted. Barely improved since 1938, it capacity was severely reduced due to safety concerns by the time Ken Richardson took over the club in the early 1990s.

Intent on a new stadium but running out of money, his club stuck in the league’s lowest rung, Richardson hired someone to torch the rickety ground for insurance fraud. He and his potential arsonist were later sent to prison.

Three years later, in 1998, Donny dropped out of the Football League. The road back involved five years in the wilderness – bookended by a new stadium and five seasons in the Championship.

Behind it all was John Ryan, a boyhood fan and moneyed cosmetician, appointed as chairman by the Westferry Consortium after the Richardson fiasco. Barely able to raise eleven players for the first Conference game in 1998-99, Ryan gradually steered a long sunk ship into calmer waters, gaining a place in the play-offs the first season of their introduction, 2002-03. Behind the scenes, his promise to fans of a new stadium was slowly being realised.

Keepmoat Stadium/Paul Martin

First facing Chester in the semi-final, Doncaster, with the 44-goal strike partnership of Paul Barnes and Gregg Blundell, came through on penalties. Twice leading Dagenham & Redbridge in the final at Stoke, Donny eventually settled the tie and regained league status thanks to a golden goal from Francis Tierney, whose career at Liverpool had been stymied by injury.

With Tierney and Blundell still potent, and ex-Donny midfielder Dave Penney as manager, Rovers sailed through League Two at the first attempt, going up as champions.

After credible campaigns in League One, and a penalty defeat to Arsenal in the League Cup quarter-final, Penney bowed out. It was Sean O’Driscoll who would lead Rovers out in their new, £20-million stadium, the Keepmoat, on New Year’s Day 2007.

A year or so later, the former Irish international was taking his Donny team to Wembley, in front of 75,000 for the League One play-off final. A hat-trick from James Coppinger, an inspired signing from the Penney era, in the semi had set up the Yorkshire showdown with Leeds, settled on a single goal from James Hayter.

Keepmoat Stadium/Paul Martin

In five years, Rovers had gone from Conference to Championship. Motivational management from O’Driscoll kept Doncaster mid-table for two seasons before the gulf in class and finance proved too wide. His replacement, Dean Saunders, got Rovers back up in 2013, achieved thanks to the utterly improbable climax to the final game at fellow challengers Brentford. After a 95th-minute penalty cannoned off the Doncaster crossbar, James Coppinger chased upfield to slot away the only goal of the match – one that decided promotion.

During another uphill struggle of a season in the Championship, John Ryan bowed out before a derby game at Barnsley in November 2013. Relegated in 2014, then again in 2016, Rovers kept faith with manager Darren Ferguson – and veteran midfielder Coppinger, now sailing past 500 appearances in a red-and-white shirt.

Promoted at first attempt, and with much-travelled striker John Marquis bagging hatfuls of goals, Doncaster made the League One play-offs in 2019. Falling to a 2-1 first leg defeat at the Keepmoat, Donny surprised Charlton with a late winner to level the aggregate at The Valley. Marquis then put Rovers ahead in the tie, only for the Londoners hit one back a minute later. The striker then had his penalty saved in the shoot-out that took the Valiants to Wembley.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Home of Doncaster Rovers, Rugby League Club and Belles ladies’ football team, the lakeside Keepmoat Stadium was opened during the Christmas holidays of 2006-07. Its capacity of 15,000 has rarely been tested for football – and only reached for the April Fool’s Day visit of Leeds that prefaced the play-off clash of 2008 – but the Keepmoat is well liked by both away fan and neutral, despite its poor transport links.

Away fans occupy the Solutions & Cleaning North Stand (turnstiles 23-26, 27-30), though demand can see this allocation run over into the sideline East SMT Xtra Stand (turnstiles 1-5). The home end is the Polypipe South Stand, while both sets of fans are welcome at the Belle Vue bar in the main MechFS West Stand.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Considering £20 million was spent on the stadium, and another £10 million on the surrounding complex with any number of retail outlets and chain eateries, transport links aren’t the best.

First Group circular routes 55/56 run every 15mins (every 30mins evenings & Sun) to/from Doncaster Interchange (stop A1) near the train station to Stadium Way, journey time 15-20mins. The 56 goes to the ground, the 55 comes back into town. Similarly, circular routes 72/73 also run to/from Doncaster Interchange (stop A1), serving Lakeside Village, but take a longer way round, down Belle Vue Way. The 73 goes towards the stadium, 72 back into town.

After the game, the stop for town is diagonally opposite Car Park 2, near a cluster of fast-food outlets. Make sure you don’t jump on the 56 or 73 going in the opposite direction, out of town.

Walking to/from the stadium after dark is not recommended as you’ll have to negotiate the main road out of Doncaster.

The sat nav code for the Keepmoat Stadium is DN4 5JW. The stadium car park (£5) only contains 1,000 spaces, and getting away after the game can take up to an hour. Companies at the nearby Carr Grange Business Centre (DN4 5HY) on White Rose Way offer parking spaces for £4/vehicle and there’s a certain amount of free street parking around the lake – although it fills up fast. The Vue Doncaster cinema (DN4 7NW) has 150+ free places, for example.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (usual opening hours Mon-Wed 9am-4.30pm, Thur 9am-7pm, Fri 9am-4pm, non-match Sat 10am-1pm, match-day Sat/weekdays 9am-kick-off, match-day Sun noon-kick-off) is beside the club shop behind the home Polypipe South Stand. There are also phone (01302 762 576) and online sales, for which you first have to register an account. There are no cash sales at the turnstiles – away fans have their own match-day outlet by Academy Reception in the north-west corner of the ground.

The current pricing policy is pretty straightforward. Admission is £21 for Category B games, £22 for Category A, £17/£18 for over-65s and 18-24s. Spectators aged 12-17 are charged £8 across the board, under-11s £5.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Behind the South Stand, the club shop (usual opening hours Mon-non-match Sat 10am-4.25pm, match days/nights 10am-kick-off, then 20min after final whistle) stocks the first kit of red with thin white hoops, change strip of blue with white sleeves, and  third-choice black with the shirt numbers  covering the front in ghostly fashion, as if the Mysterons had been snooping round the Keepmoat Stadium.

Donny beanies, bobble hats and baseball caps are also available, as well as Rovers 1879 T-shirts, polo shirts like Croatia tops with the Rovers badge, and a range of knick-knacks at pocket-money prices.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

With the stadium in an out-of-town retail park, the most convenient pubs for a pre-match swiftie are near the train station/Doncaster Interchange.

The Tut ‘N’ Shive from the Greene King stable is a popular meeting place while next door, The Little Plough, has been in operation since 1934 and offers three ales, including Acorn Barnsley Bitter. Both welcome home and sensible away fans, both show TV football.

The retail park around the stadium contains predictable fast-food and chain eateries. Of them, the most suitable for match-day use is the Beefeater Lakeside by the Premier Inn, with standard beers among the long selection of thick steaks. It’s often busy with away fans.

Accessible to both sets of fans from outside the main West Stand, the match-day Belle Vue Bar opens at noon and keeps serving in swift, orderly fashion, showing TV football, until 45min after the final whistle. On draught are Carlsberg, Kingstone Press cider and Rovers’ own 1879 bitter. Look out for early-bird pie-and-pint deals (£5). Donny fans also congregate over beers outside, on Rovers Square.

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