With Rovers enduring something of a dip in form lately it seems apt to hark back to a more enjoyable time for the club as we continue John Coyle‘s excellent series on Doncaster Rovers’ managers, which was first published in the match programme over a decade ago. We’re up to the fourth manager in the series, Jackie Bestall, as League football returns following the Second World War with a bang.
After the departure of Fred Emery in 1940, Rovers “managed” without a manager for five years while wartime matches were played. However, with the possibility of normal League football resuming in 1945-46, the club appointed Bill Marsden as the new manager. Marsden, a former Sheffield Wednesday and England half-back, combined his duties with running a pub in Sheffield. He appointed Jackie Bestall as his deputy, and when in March 1946 the Rovers directors decided they wanted a full-time manager, it was Bestall who got the job.
Jackie Bestall had a fine pedigree as a footballer. Born in Beighton in June 1900 he had spent twelve years with Grimsby Town after a spell with Rotherham United. He was Town’s captain when they won the Division Two title in 1933-34 and he helped keep them in the top flight until 1938 when he retired to become Birmingham City’s chief scout. A small (5 feet 5 inches), skilful inside forward, Bestall won an England cap against Northern Ireland at Goodison Park in 1935.
Marsden and Bestall had recruited some fine players towards the end of the War, signing the likes of Archie Ferguson, Paul Todd, Bert Tindill, Clarrie Jordan and Jackie Thompson. Nevertheless, Bestall could not have quite anticipated what was to come as Rovers stormed to the top of Division Three (North) in 1946-47, winning the title with a then record 72 points. The following season was to be a sobering one for Bestall and the Rovers. The club could not afford to make new signings and the Championship team appeared out of its depth in Division Two. As the season progressed, Bestall signed the likes of Alf Calverley, Walter Bennett and his former Grimsby team-mate, Jack Hodgson. In order to balance the books, though, Jordan was sold to Sheffield Wednesday. Despite improved results in the latter part of the season, Bestall’s remodelled side was unable to avoid relegation.
1948-49 saw major changes to the playing staff, and Bestall made some shrewd signings, including Syd Goodfellow, Ken Reeve and George Antonio. He also brought Bert Tindill back into the side, and the young winger responded by scoring some vital goals. In October 1948 a record crowd at Belle Vue, 37,099, saw Bestall’s team fight out a 0-0 draw, thus ending the 100% record of eventual champions Hull City. Rovers went on to finish third in a Division Three (North), where only the champions were promoted.
In April 1949 Rovers announced that the Northern Ireland international Peter Doherty would be joining the club as player-manager for the 1949-50 season. This effectively meant the sack for the popular Bestall, although the club softened the blow by paying up the remainder of his contract and allowing him to stay in his club house. Ironically, it was Bestall who had initially persuaded the board to make an approach for Doherty, then playing for Huddersfield Town. The players, who were sorry to see their much liked and respected manager leaving the club, presented Bestall with an engraved barometer as a token of their esteem.
Jackie Bestall was soon back in work when he was appointed manager of Second Division Blackburn Rovers in June 1949. He remained at Ewood Park for almost four years, during which time the “other Rovers” reached an FA Cup semi-final. He left in May 1953 and later managed non-League Nelson before returning to Belle Vue as chief scout in 1958. He was also destined for another spell in Belle Vue’s very own “Hot Seat.”
JACKIE BESTALL’S RECORD
First match: 31st August 1946 v Rochdale (home) won 2-1..
Last match: 7th May 1949 v Stockport County (away) lost 1-5.
Football League Record.
Played 126, Won 62, Drew 27, Lost 37, Winning percentage: 42.9%.
by John Coyle
© John Coyle, 2002. This article is copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.