Summing up what exactly has been happening at Rovers this summer is a tough job, but someone has to do it. Earlier this week our editor, Glen Wilson, had a bash for When Saturday Comes magazine‘s website.
On Thursday 17 July ‘Doncaster Rovers’ trended on Twitter. A significant PR triumph for our third tier football club, that is, so long as you didn’t look too closely at the content. ‘The Doncaster Rovers can go die’ is fairly typical of the tweets sending Rovers viral as the proposed takeover by former chairman John Ryan and pop-star Louis Tomlinson collapsed. As Gabriel Agbonlahor can testify, hell hath no fury like a Directioner scorned.
Proposed at the start of June, the takeover by the ‘Tomlinson-Ryan Trust’ – or ‘John Direction’ as it was dubbed by the fanzine’s Tony Greenhall – was initially delayed over image rights, presumably Louis’ rather than Rovers’, unless there is a trend among kids to have Jamie McCombe’s face on their pencil cases. However, despite that set-back the takeover, we were told, remained on course for Football League ratification, due to be secured on 18 July.
In the meantime John Direction set about marketing ‘Louis’ Big Idea’; a Crowdfunder project to ‘help get Doncaster in the Premier League’ in which fans could pledge money in return for merchandise. However, with pledge options including £250 to ‘grab a selfie with Louis before the game’, the scheme appeared more greatly reliant on fans of One Direction than those of Doncaster Rovers.
Ultimately, the project received only 514 pledges, and despite an initial injection of £500,000 from Ryan and Tomlinson themselves, it fell £1.25million short of its target £2m figure. Funding a professional football club on the pocket money of teenage girls alone, it transpires, is not all that viable.
When it became abundantly clear the Crowdfunding project would fall short, a statement appeared on the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust’s Facebook page. ‘The Crowdfunder project has failed to reach the target as set out under the terms of the funding arrangements. As a result… John Ryan is unable to meet the requirements of the Football League Fit and Proper Test.’
Bizarrely, within hours of this statement both Ryan and Tomlinson were distancing themselves from it. On BBC Radio Sheffield Ryan labeled it ‘a complete fabrication’ which had ‘been put out by somebody wanting to cause trouble’. Tomlinson meanwhile took to Twitter: ‘I was explicitly told that the deal to buy the club was not dependent on the money raised by Crowdfunding. Unfortunately I was misled.’
Ryan quickly shifted blame onto the Football League, who he claimed denied the takeover as he did not have ‘cleared funds of £5m’. Though Ryan called the decision a ‘scandal’ given his long involvement with Rovers, when sentiment is removed you can’t really fault the League questioning a deal tabled on the back of the Trust’s speculated finance.
Last year Ryan unsuccessfully tried to bring the big on promises, short on substance consortium ‘Sequentia Capital’ into the club. Each attempted takeover may embody Ryan’s ambition and heart-over-head fanaticism for this hometown club, but they have delivered only splits among the fan-base and unnecessary disruption to the on-field preparations of Paul Dickov.
Ryan was prominent in, and rightly lauded for, dragging Rovers from the Conference to the second tier, but latterly his own ambition has begun to strip away the gloss from that achievement. If he is, as he told Radio Sheffield, now ‘done with football’, then for his sake as much as Rovers’ that is probably for the best.