Frozen In Time
John at The Keepmoat
Championship Football in Doncaster!!
by John Ennis
In May 2008, Doncaster Rovers made it to the Championship after beating Yorkshire rivals Leeds United 1-0. Our Football Heaven diarist and devoted Donny fan John Ennis took the trip to Wembley to see his dream come true...
Sometimes dreams do come true, and Wembley was a fitting venue for 2400 Rovers fans who saw their hopes and aspirations become reality when the mighty Doncaster Rovers beat Leeds United 1-0 in what has to the best Rovers occasion I have ever witnessed in 47 years supporting my home club.
It was a surreal sight when I stepped out of the underground station to see Wembley Way adorned with the colours and fans of Doncaster Rovers.
Rovers wave to their fans: John Ennis
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever walk along this famous stretch to see my Rovers team compete at Wembley Stadium against the mighty Leeds for a place in the Championship.
After the heartbreak at Cheltenham on the last game of the season where we missed out on automatic promotion, perhaps it had already been written that Wembley was the place where we'd win the game that takes us back to where we were 50 years ago - not a small ground holding a mere 1000-or-so Rovers fans.
The Leeds fans, as expected, far outnumbered the red and white army from Doncaster.
You had that feeling that some of them had already won the game even before kick-off. If you'd seen some of the comments from the media on websites, papers and TV before the game, you could be forgiven for thinking Leeds United were already on their way back to bigger things.
Preparation was always going to be key in such a massive game and I was confident that we had the right man in Sean O’Driscoll.
He ensured the players were ready in the correct way. His calming influence and down-to-earth message was that this was a day of work, not a day out at Wembley Stadium.
Rovers started at a cracking pace and opened up the Leeds defence on numerous occasions in the first 20 minutes with their brand of slick passing football that Leeds should have been fully prepared for.
Last ditch defending and some good goalkeeping from Ankergren stopped early goals from Rovers, and the 50,000 Leeds fans were now urging their team to get into the game with a loud deafening roar that filled the whole stadium.
Leeds finished the first half strongly but couldn’t really find that cutting edge to open up the defence and get past Sullivan who looked sharp and clinical all afternoon.
I was happy to be level at half time and felt we would come out stronger, as we usually do, hopefully starting to get the pace rolling again after Leeds had frustrated us with good possession in the last stages of the first half.
Records show that the majority of League One play-off finals have been won in the 46th minute of the game.
Again the stats proved to be correct: Rovers won a corner with only seconds of the half underway.
Brian Stock delivered a menacing cross into the penalty area which found James Hayter who had cleverly lost his marker, and he headed a thunderbolt into the back of the net right in front of the Rovers fans - sending them into wild raptures and song.
The goal looked to have shocked Leeds fans at the opposite end who sat motionless. 1-0 up and still 44 minutes to play - this was going to be a big test now as Leeds pushed on the attack with their large following urging them on in desperation for a goal.
Leeds had the majority of possession in the second half but didn’t really trouble the Rovers defence, with Mills and Hird looking more experienced than their years and clinical handling from behind them delivered by ex Leeds player Neil Sullivan who looked in charge of his area all afternoon.
The latter stages of the game were uncomfortable as the referee awarded four minutes of extra time and with Leeds having a name for scoring late on, I just hoped and prayed for the sound of the whistle in a hope that our dream would not be shattered at the last post.
Doncaster Rovers at Wembley - John Ennis
Emotions spilled as the game ended and Rovers fans went wild in delight knowing we had beaten Leeds United at Wembley - and we were going to play in the Championship, a place where John Ryan had promised we would eventually get to.
The game finished just before 5pm and we came out of the stadium at 6.30, savouring every minute of Wembley celebrations watching the players and staff of Doncaster Rovers enjoying their day - a moment not to be forgotten.
Our victory at Stoke was an unforgettable experience back in 2003 when we got back into the League; our League One Championship was fantastic when Dave Penney took us on a rollercoaster ride we will never forget; and then there was our great run in the League Cup beating Premiership teams in front of the Sky TV cameras.
A visit to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff last April was next on the bill winning the JP Trophy under Sean O’Driscoll in his first season as Manager, but the victory at Wembley beats them all - the day we eventually reached Destination Championship, a dream John Ryan has had since he took over the ailing club 10 years ago when all looked lost.
Dreams do come true if you have enough belief and determination, and our triumph at Wembley Stadium where we won our place in the Championship playing the game of football in the right way proves the point.
From SO’D to GOD
Sean O’Driscoll was the manager that John Ryan had no hesitation in giving the job to after Dave Penney left the club in 2006.
However this appointment was greeted with little enthusiasm from a section of supporters, and the early games under the stewardship of O’Driscoll and O’Kelly proved to be difficult ones for everyone.
There were a large number of goalless draws in the early games, and what appeared to be a rather negative style of football was introduced with O’Driscoll casting aside the usual 4-4-2 formation to be replaced with structures and responsibility, which became his key words.
Sean explains another performance
What we didn’t realise was that slowly and surely Sean O’Driscoll was bringing a whole new dimension and method of playing football to his new club.
With the core of players we already had he brought in the likes of Stock and Hayter who had previously played under O’Driscoll making the transformation a little easier. In came Neil Sullivan from Leeds, and then the key signing of Richie Wellens which was the final piece in his jigsaw in an effort to provide the Chairman’s dream of Championship football.
The start of this season was difficult too and some were even asking for the head of O’Driscoll during the early months as we were playing pretty football but not winning games, which according to some was due to the lack of strength and physical presence in midfield.
I too posed questions about Sean and purposely abbreviated his name to SO’D in my diary as I asked questions about his ability to take us on to that next step.
Things then changed as Sean dropped his structure of three central defenders and wing backs, and started playing a more positive approach with a 4-3-3 structure which also saw the inclusion of old die-hard Paul Green who had been given little opportunity since Sean’s arrival.
The team gelled and the rest, as they say, is history. Rovers won a string of games in the middle of the season putting us into the perfect spot to push on for promotion in the latter stages of the season.
When Sean was asked in April if he would rather win promotion in a play-off final at Wembley or go up automatically he chose Wembley, and to everyone’s delight on May 25th 2008, his wish came true.
Well done to Sean and Richard for giving us a team and style of football we can all be proud of in Doncaster!
From the start of the 2008/09 football season, football diaries like these will no longer appear on the BBC South Yorkshire website - instead, they have a new home on the 606 message boards.
As a result, this is my final piece. They always say you should go out on top, and with my team now well on top I can move on with a smile on my face and great satisfaction within.
last updated: 30/05/2008 at 12:58