In the last edition of this fanzine I wrote about enjoying the opening games and weeks of a new season. About optimism and about how enjoying watching football should be the thing which sets the tone, not the results or what they might mean.
I meant it when I wrote it and I suppose I still do, it seems like a sensible enough sentiment. But I knew it was advice I wouldn’t adhere to myself. Whilst writing it, it felt like when you tell someone else they should only drink in moderation, or when you tell the kids not to eat too much chocolate. It felt like the right thing to say but there’s not a chance I’d actually put it into practice myself.
For me, it lasted until about the last week in August. By that point it was clear that last minute winners aren’t a sustainable way to manage your season, and the same kinds of cracks as last season were showing from beneath the wallpaper. It’s not the results – who among us can’t accept a defeat here and there? – it’s the fact that after everything we were subjected to last year, none of the things that matter seem to have changed.
There remains a general malaise about the club, an acceptance, a kind of shrug of the shoulders, it is what it is. If it happens, it happens. Let’s be honest, it’s been around the club before Gary McSheffrey, before Richie Wellens, Darren Moore even. Grant McCann got hammered for walking out, yet now that decision just seems to evidence the sense of the man.
It happens all over; I’ve worked in places or in teams where the people in charge aren’t really too fussed, for whatever reason, and it filters down quickly. Once it’s there it doesn’t go away easily. McSheffrey has gone but will anything change? I don’t know. I doubt it, but the worst part of it is I think it’s filtered down to me too now. I watch the games but it’s almost more of a habit than anything else. I’ll check in on team news because it’s what I’ve always done. Even wondering what fresh injury Jon Taylor has picked up this week has lost its mystique.
It’s not just the Rovers either really. I tune into Match of the Day every week, but I usually pack in after a couple of games (I watch it on delay mind, so I can fast forward through any ‘insight’ Jermaine Jenas has to offer – I’m sick of football, not of life).
I’m not on my own either, my dad hasn’t been to a Rovers game this season, having not renewed his season ticket for the first time in, well, ever. Certainly as long as I’ve ever known. His mate hasn’t either, and that equates to over 120 years of watching Rovers between them, gone. They both paid hundreds of pounds for season tickets they knew they’d never get to use during Covid-19, and like hundreds of others never considered a refund. They stood by the Rovers and have felt let down ever since.
The club rang him in the summer to ‘warn him’ that he had a couple of days left to renew or he’d lose his seat. He tried to explain how he felt, and why he felt he couldn’t renew, only for the voice representing the club to simply tell him “we’ll take you off the list and not bother you again then”. Thanks.
The only footballing bright spot I have left is watching my youngest play for her under 13s team. It’s different; people giving up their time for the kids, wholly invested and desperate to see everyone get a chance to fulfil their potential, all whilst having a good time and wearing a smile on their faces to boot. It’s a happy, positive place to be. Mistakes are sometimes made and some games are lost, but it doesn’t matter because everyone is pulling in the right direction, together, and from the top down.
Granted, I have an obvious bias, but I feel invested in that club and those players. I can see what it means to them all and I want them to succeed all the more because of it, in the same way I once felt about Doncaster Rovers.
The Rovers are arguably entering into their most important period in the last 30 years or so. By the time you read this Gary McSheffrey’s replacement will be in place. I hope he has some seriously experienced broad shoulders and an appetite for culture change. Anything else won’t cut it. Get this next chapter wrong and the club may find itself down at a level from which it might not recover, both on and off the pitch, and in its relationship with the fans.
My dad reassured me that I’ll end up back where I have always been with the Rovers eventually because ultimately I love football. I’m pretty sure if I do, he will too. I really hope he’s right. Above all though, I wish the club wouldn’t take people like us, like my dad, for granted. I fear that time, and goodwill, is running dangerously low.
by Rob Marshall
This article first appeared in print in issue 110 of popular STAND fanzine, published in November 2022