Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all Nick Clegg’s fault. OK, not Doncaster Rovers propping up the League One table, nor the abject season of awfulness that’s caused it, but the weird atmosphere of division among supporters watching on.
In 2010 Clegg was the poster boy for the reasoned middle ground, the thoughtful take, as he shook up politics with his revolutionary tactic of talking sense in televised debates. ‘I agree with Nick’ became a meme. It was on t-shirts. Maybe we didn’t need to be pigeon-holed off to the right or the left, perhaps we could treat our world as a flexible spectrum of reason. I even voted for the sod.
He didn’t win that election of course, for the same reason that he was free to talk such sense, because he was the leader of the Liberal Democrats. We kind of saw that coming. But what I, and surely many others, hadn’t foreseen was him jumping into a coalition with the Conservatives and backpedaling on key promises like Wile E Coyote trying to get back on a clifftop. How could any of us trust nuance again, after a betrayal like that?
And so now we inhabit a world where everything gets the Marmite treatment; you either love it or hate it, you’re for it or against it. Everything is simplified to a black and white contrast; a worrying state that allows even the most contrary of nonsense to be presented as ‘balance’. And as a local consequence we have this situation within the Rovers support where you’re either ‘board out’ or ‘board in’, and if you’re the latter you must possess the levels of perpetual perkiness normally only reserved for children’s cartoons about anthropomorphic airplanes.
Thing is, no-one, no matter how upbeat, or how half-full they perceive their glasses (rose-tints optional), is enjoying this season. It’s dire. Saved from being the worst in living memory only by virtue of 1997-98’s soap opera level evilness. So faced with this, it shouldn’t be beyond the realms of credibility to be ‘board in’ whilst also questioning some of their practises and decisions.
The current leadership at Doncaster Rovers are passionate about this club, about its place in the community, and its future. Of course that should be a staple requirement of any board, but we all know football is littered with examples of owners who are zero for three in those criteria. So I’m thankful for this, but as I said in a previous issue, just because we’re not being asset stripped or having our Main Stand set alight doesn’t mean we should cruise along in contentment. On the field we’ve had a disastrous 12 months, and those running the club need to be held to account for that. Not by means of a witch hunt, nor dodgy banners, but certainly by not shying away from legitimate questions and being frank in self assessment.
How exactly do we establish the kind of continuity and identity that prevents such a collapse as we’ve seen in the last year? That’s the first key question. Because yes, we’ve had a lot of injuries, and it’s been hard to plan ahead in a pandemic, but we’re not the only club facing these issues. The turnover of players we saw in the summer – and ahead of the 2019-20 season – meant on field continuity was near impossible, and with no guiding light off the pitch in this regard we’re basically Etch-a-Sketching a living; steadily drawing something new and then shaking it all up and starting afresh each time a manager leaves. That’s not a recipe for success. In a world where players and managers hanging about for more than two seasons is a novelty, we need to find a club framework to slot managers and players into, because the time to build one around the people we appoint or sign will never exist.
A Director of Football has been suggested by many, but throughout the sport that’s hardly a defined position; it’s a title with a world of possibilities. What’s key for Doncaster Rovers is that such a role (be it in this name or another) exists as a bridging role between football and board, and it does so in the form of someone who works for the club and with the manager, rather than the other way round. Sure Lee Carsley’s mentoring may work great for Gary McSheffrey, but ultimately it gives the rest of us nothing in the long term.
Next up, why are we suffering so significantly with player injuries; specifically when it comes to their recovery? Already an area of concern, this was given greater prominence in January when Jon Taylor tweeted his frustrations at undergoing a third operation on his ankle, with complaints about player welfare, something duly echoed by ex-Rover Niall Mason who criticised the ‘same physio’ in reply. Having gone the whole season without Fejiri Okenabirhie, and barely having seen Taylor or Cameron John, the club needs to be seen to be addressing this issue that seems now to have gone beyond the realms of misfortune and hard luck.
And then, how do we get fans excited again, and prevent a feeling of malaise creeping in? Of course an easy answer here is start winning games, but beyond that? Well the easier and more accessible you make getting into the ground in the first place certainly helps. The season ticket prices announced just before we went to print are a good step in this direction; cheaper and easier to understand, with less caveats and categorisations. Hopefully we’ll see other aspects, such as the piss-poor offering and service at food kiosks, follow suit. Because yes it’s a hard time for the service industry, and getting committed staff at a once a fortnight gig isn’t easy, but if other clubs are overcoming these challenges, why aren’t we?
Relegation is a facet of supporting your home town club. It happens. And I can live with it, as I’m sure many other supporters can, so long as we look like we’re not rolling over and accepting it. That’s as true off the field as it is on it. And in both areas, actions speak louder than words. I’ve no doubt that the board have Rovers best interests at heart, but if you want to quash the weird divisive infighting among our support, and bring back a more rational circa 2010 Cleggish middle ground, we really need to see it.
by Glen Wilson
This article is the editorial from issue 107 of popular STAND fanzine, which reached subscribers on 1 March 2022. We have a few spare copies of this issue available, which you can order via our back issue page.