In a corner of South Yorkshire, 10 May is Sir Francis Tierney Day. He won’t mean much to many who reside more than ten miles from the chimney at Peglers Works (except perhaps supporters of Crewe and to a lesser extent Notts County) but Franny Tierney will always hold a special place at Doncaster Rovers. His knighthood is not official, it was bestowed on him not by Her Majesty but by the Pop Stand, and it remains as a longing acknowledgment of him scoring THE goal in Doncaster Rovers’ history. The goal that returned the club to the Football League five long years after our status as one of the 92 had been ripped away from us through one man’s spite.
Back in May 2003, in the first ever Conference play-off final at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, Rovers had thrown a way a 2-0 lead against Dagenham & Redbridge, and so the match entered extra-time; golden goal extra-time. With ten minutes to go, as we stood at the opposite end wracked with nerves, Gregg Blundell fed Paul Barnes down the left. The veteran forward summoned pace he had no right to have at his disposal 110 minutes into a game to get onto the pass and cut the ball across goal where Tierney appeared to sweep it home. It remains the only promotion ever secured by a sudden death goal, it was for us the most golden of goals.
The picture above, taken from high up amongst the 10,000 Rovers supporters who made the trip, captures the scene around half a minute or so after Tierney’s goal. Whilst generally I dislike golden goals, their one redeeming feature is that they allow for that Hollywood sports film ending we’ve all grown-up craving. The match is over, there’s no coming back from it. The hero’s glory cannot be taken away by a clumsy foul or a misplaced pass in the following minutes, no, their finest hour has been instantly preserved, and we can, as they do in all those films, swarm on to the field and be part of the moment. Even at Brentford in 2013 we had to take a brief twenty-second hiatus from all-out bedlam whilst Michael Oliver marshalled the match to its regulation length. Golden goals don’t suffer that.
That said, like many others at the time I booed those who went on to the field. They weren’t supposed to be on there, they delayed the trophy presentation, they were spoiling it. But ever since I first saw this picture I’ve forgiven every single one of them. You need only look at the body shapes of those running on; silhouettes of pure joy as far as the eye can see. My favourite is the fella in white just in front of the right hand goal, hands on his head in pure disbelief. After five years in enforced non-league exile we had finally reclaimed what one man had seen so intent on taking away. A minute or two after this picture was taken, as the sound of a continuous roar finally started to subside, a chorus of “Are you watching Richardson?” piped up and carried across the Doncaster fans. The demon had been exorcised, it was as pure a moment as we’ll ever experience as football supporters.
As ever, thanks and acknowledgement is due to ‘Muttley’ for getting this photo to me back in the Viva Rovers days.