Doncaster Rovers v Bristol City
Keepmoat Stadium / FA Cup 3rd Round / 3rd January 2015
When we were out in Copenhagen, during the summer before last, my co-traveller Tom asked me one morning why I looked so stunned. My face was so shock-ridden because clearly the previous night’s drinking had made me have a very peculiar dream. Basically, Doncaster Rovers football club had hired me to show One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson – who had made the headlines in the real world that week by recently signing for the club and playing for their reserves – the sights of Doncaster. This really was a bad move by the club in my dream considering I had never set foot in Doncaster and Louis was born and bred there. Anyway, for some reason I took Louis to Lidl in the evening and as we drank cans in there, there were screaming girls trying to batter the doors down – I assumed they were One Direction fan girls and not fans of Lost Boyos. I did awake very confused shortly after the Lidl part. Anyway, 18 months after my imaginary trip to Doncaster in my slumber, I can now say that I’ve visited the place and after my trip to Donny this weekend, I feel suitably prepared to show any members of One Direction, or any other band/singers for that matter, the sights and pubs of Doncaster should my services be required.
2015 was now upon us and it was time for my first game of the New Year. I should have really been at Tranmere Rovers watching the Swans win 2- 6 in the cup, but having been to Tranmere already this season, I felt one trip to Prenton Park was enough for this season. Instead I found myself on a Saturday morning train to Doncaster for an FA Cup Third Round fixture.
Doncaster Rovers v Bristol City is hardly a cup tie to get the pulse racing, but the tie was made more attractive by the £10 matchday tickets and the fact it was another new ground towards completing my ’92’. When I informed tax-dodging student Gibbo that his ticket would cost a mere £5 he was also sold on a trip into South Yorkshire; although he was slightly less enthralled by my decision to catch the 9.20am train to Doncaster.
The train journey was pleasant enough as we headed from Manchester to Sheffield, but we did notice a sudden change in the landscape between Sheffield and our destination.
“It looks like scorched Earth!” said Gibbo.
“Are we heading towards Mordor?” I queried.
Let’s just say it was a far from idyllic and welcoming environment to greet you into South Yorkshire. Then, when we thought it couldn’t get any uglier, we suddenly found our train heading through a huge quarry. Lovely.
Once we did arrive in Doncaster, it seemed that they were putting an end to the Christmas period by dismantling the large Christmas tree in the train station foyer with baubles rolling across the floor. It was time to go and explore the town.
As we walked out into the street, me and Gibbo both looked at each other and we both clearly thought that we had arrived in a bit of a dive. However, it turned out we had jumped the gun a bit and as we wandered the streets properly we decided that the town was rather alright actually. A hungry Gibbo wanted food so we sort out a Wetherspoons and on typing ‘Wetherspoons Doncaster’ into Google on my phone, I was surprised to see that the town had 3 Wetherspoons! And all fairly near each other too. I tweeted this amazing fact only to be met by people tweeting back saying how their town/city also had 3 or more Spoons. It’s not a competition folks!
We eventually plumped for the Gate House Wetherspoons, which we found located just past a pillared gateway onto Priory Walk. Gibbo contented himself with a cup of tea and steak and kidney pudding, whilst I enjoyed my first pint(s) of the day. We were soon joined by Tony Greenall – a Doncaster Rovers fan who had tweeted me some pub recommendations the day before. Coincidentally, Tony happened to be at the bar the same time as me so he introduced himself to me and being the accommodating chap that I am, I invited him to join us. The three of us chatted about non-league football grounds and Doncaster Rovers and their history of colourful owners, before we decided to head off to the next pub stop in Donny.
The Cask Corner. I heard of it before my trip and its legendary status as a bar. When I announced on Twitter that I was heading to Doncaster, many people tweeted saying I had to visit Cask Corner. So, when I found myself outside this much reputed bar, I was little surprised to say the least. With its reputation for real ale and fine lagers, I expected to find a traditional-looking pub – this place was from traditional. From the outside it looked like an old music shop, but in terms of quirkiness, I’m not sure I’ll visit a pub that trumps in that department: a tie rack hung from the ceiling alongside a chainsaw-wielding skeleton and a golf club bag; vinyls and sheet music covered some of the walls; a giant dartboard graced one wall; and, rather chillingly, a coffin was leaning against one of the walls – ‘punk’ was how I described the place. We all opted for different varieties of beer with me coming away from the bar with a pint of Isle of Arran lager (beautiful stuff). The bar really is wonderful, it was just a shame really that we had arrived around midday and we were the only punters in there.
We opted to continue our pub crawl through Donny with Tony serving as a superb tour guide with his extensive knowledge of the town – particularly in the pub department. As he led us up High Street with its plentiful options of pubs, he described each one to us, before I decided I wanted to go in The Goose just because it had a golden goose perched upon its sign. Not too much to report in the Goose with it being a rather tidy Wetherspoons-style pub, but all was tidy enough.
We continued down High Street, edging slightly closer to the ground according to Tony, until we arrived at Salutations. The Cask Corner had raised the bar very high in regards of public houses, but I was also a big fan of this establishment too with Doncaster Rovers’ memorabilia adorning some of the walls. Once again, with real ale being on the taps, I went for something different again (yet I can’t remember what it was now).
It was now time to head towards the stadium. We headed through a large park and then down an alley which was apparently a shortcut. This sparked a debate into what this lane should be referred to as: to me, such a lane is simply an ‘alley’, but soon a debate had sparked up between Tony and Gibbo whether this was a ‘ginnel’ or a ‘snicket’. Northerners are strange folk at times.
As dog barks behind the garden fences either side of us (a ‘dog-infested alley’ as Gibbo would later describe it), we made our way down the alley/ginnel/snicket (delete as to your liking) and two minutes later the Keepmoat Stadium was in view. From where we were standing, it looked like it wasn’t placed in the most pleasant of places with a sort of wasteland leading up to it and an industrial estate surrounding it; although I am informed that there is a lake to the one side of the ground, so perhaps if we wanted pleasant views, we should have walked to the stadium from the other side.
The ground itself looked good enough if a little bit bland, but easily the most eye-catching aspect of it are the huge floodlights spawning from the roof; they certainly add more character to the place and distinguish it from other new build stadiums. Also, similar to the DW Stadium, adjacent to the Keepmoat is an athletics ground, which Tony informed us is also the home of a local non-league side (who’s name I’ve completely forgotten now) as well as the local athletics club.
After 84 years of playing at their crumbling, old Belle Vue ground, Doncaster Rovers moved to the newly built £21 million Keepmoat Stadium in 2007. The first match at the new stadium was to be a Rugby League fixture between Doncaster RLFC and Sheffield Eagles at the end of 2006, before Doncaster Rovers took to the stadium for the first time on New Year’s Day 2007 with a 3-0 victory over Huddersfield. In their first full season in the stadium, the club would have a brilliant League One campaign and eventually climb into the second tier via the play-offs. Since then the club has yo-yoed between League One and the Championship with today’s game being a cup tie against fellow League One outfit Bristol City – the club sitting at the top of League One too.
I was quite content to just pay on the turnstiles for the South Stand behind the goal, but Gibbo wanted an actually ticket for his collection, so off we went to queue for tickets at the ticket office. On seeing a queue, I moaned some more about this, although the queue did admittedly go very fast and soon we had our tickets for the West Stand, as well as a Doncaster Rovers wallchart/calendar, which they were giving away for free.
With tickets in hand and with half-hour to spare, we headed for the bar at the stadium itself. The place was quite spacious with all the usual Donny shirts, photos, scarves etc. gracing the walls. Despite a very efficient queuing system in place in the bar (something I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a league club’s bar), it was still a bit too busy for us and so instead we decided to exit and get a drink on the concourse instead.
Through the turnstiles we went and up the stairs onto the West Stand’s very spacious concourse. Tony had tickets for a different turnstile, so we met him halfway down the concourse in front of the Doncaster Rovers timeline displayed across the one wall. A quick pint was enjoyed with views out the window of the car park and the industrial estate opposite the ground.
Kick-off was now looming, so we headed down to the far side of the West Stand, where Tony had said we might find a bit of noise from the home fans; he had warned us though not to expect much noise at all. In the stands, the stadium does look predictably bland with all four stands looking almost identical and, once again, the only thing that makes the stadium slightly interesting looking are the imposing floodlights overhead.
One thing that wasn’t bland today was the Bristol City away shirt – a sickening mix of purple and green. It really was hideous. Doncaster lined up alongside them in their much more eye-pleasing red and white hoops and with 3pm upon us, we were ready for kick-off.
Predictably, I found myself rooting for the home team today, although I did find it a struggle to hold back disdain for Doncaster midfielder Richie Wellens – he was always a bit of a knob when he played against Swansea for Blackpool, Oldham, Leicester and even Doncaster for that matter. I was more pleased to see the diminutive attacker Harry Forrester out wide for Donny, a player I’ve always enjoyed watching on my travels in the Football League. In the early exchanges, it was his skill that would be the highlight, as Donny immediately took the game to table-topping City.
Forrester then provided Dean Furman with a ball that saw him go one-on-one with City goalie Frank Fielding – who I suddenly recalled got into the England squad as 3rd choice keeper at one point when he was at Blackburn – but Fielding denied him well.
Although Rovers were easily the dominant team and were playing some good football, there were few chances of note. There was one penalty shout just before the half-time whistle as a shot from Forrester seemed to be blocked with a hand in the box. Nothing given.
Half-time: Doncaster Rovers 0 – 0 Bristol City.
I had slowly made my way towards the exit as the half was in its dying seconds, so I could beat the queues for food/drink. However, everyone clearly had the same idea as me but clearly a few minutes ahead of me, as despite heading to the bar as the half-time whistle blew, the queue was already huge; the club could have really done with opening the other bar which had the shutters over it today.
With the queues being too long, I headed back to pitch side to take some photos, whilst Tony headed out to the designated smoking area just outside the stadium itself.
Soon the second half was underway and within 5 minutes Rovers had the goal their performance so far deserved. A Forrester corner was put into the box and Northern Ireland international Luke McCullough did brilliantly to let the ball come over his shoulder, before then hooking the ball in via the far post from around the 6 yard line. A great finish.
Donny continued to be having the better of play and looked comfortable to hold onto their 1-0 lead, until the last 15 minutes. Eventually, a harmless looking long ball from City’s Luke Ayling headed towards the lanky figure of Matt Smith, who seemed to tower in the air for a few seconds before placing his header into the far corner. 1-1.
There was still time in the closing seconds of the injury time for Rovers’ Kyle Bennett to sky a brilliant chance to win it for the home team, but his wasteful finishing compounded Donny and Bristol City to a replay at Ashton Gate just over a week later. I’m sure both clubs were overjoyed to add another fixture to their fixture list after the busy Christmas period.
Full-time: Doncaster Rovers 1 – 1 Bristol City.
Back out into the cold South Yorkshire night, down the ‘dog-infested alley’ (the barks were scarier with it now a rather dark alley) and onwards back into the town centre. In the spirit of the day, we decided not revisit any pubs we had been to before and so Tony directed us towards the market area of the town.
Once again, Tony played a blinder with his pub recommendation as we headed into the chirpy Mason Arms – part traditional pub, part pleasant-looking restaurant. With many of the locals now out on the town and enjoying drinks in the bar area, we found ourselves in Mason Arms limbo, standing between bar and restaurant.
We had originally decided to head to the Railway pub located by the railway station (shockingly), but instead we found we might be pushed for time and with me and Gibbo having already purchased some Estrella Damm for the train journey home, we decided to call an end to our day in Donny. Our goodbyes were said to Tony, who had been as superb a tour guide as you could ask for; if your comic book writing career doesn’t work out (yes, Tony is having a story published in a proper comic book) then I think you should perhaps take up a career leading parties on drinking tours around Doncaster instead!
We had now left Doncaster and were at Sheffield train station when Gibbo asked “Is that Frank Sinclair?”. When I confirmed that indeed it was Frank Sinclair, former centre back of Chelsea and Leicester amongst many others, boarding our train, I had visions of his famous own goals and his controversial dropping of the shorts celebration for Chelsea. Gibbo on the other hand had much more recent memories of Frank: the week before Gibbo had been at Colwyn Bay FC and witnessed Sinclair, player/manager of Colwyn Bay, come off the bench and score for them (you can read his blog about his trip to Colwyn Bay here).
We had left Frank in peace for the majrity of our journey back to Manchester, but with more Estrella in me I decided that I had to get a trademark double thumbs up photo with such a memorable 1990s footballer. So, with the train on its final run into Manchester Piccadilly, we approached Frank in his seat near the exit and he kindly agreed for photos with us (thumbs up and all). He then even joined us for a chat by the exit doors with Gibbo querying him about various non-league matters, whilst I went for the more obvious ‘Best player you’ve ever played with?’ question (I assumed he would say Zola, but then he threw Gullit into the mix and I thought that that wasn’t a bad alternative). I just about restrained myself from asking which was his favourite of his several worldie own goals (although surely the answer would have been his 35 yarder past Ian Walker when they played together at Leicester).
We left Frank Sinclair at Piccadilly station and he seemed well up for taking his Colwyn Bay team to Boston United the next day for a clash in the Conference North. However, just 24 hours after meeting me and Gibbo, Frank Sinclair resigned as manager of the club; was it the 5-0 loss they suffered at Boston or something me and Gibbo said to him? We’ll never know.
Timehop (an app which goes through your social media accounts saying what you did on that day so many years ago to the day) also informed me too that it was on the same weekend last January that I met former QPR and Newcastle centre back Darren Peacock, when I met him at Lancaster City v Harrogate Railway Athletic. It got me thinking: which random 1990s Premier League centre back will I meet in the first week of January next year? John Scales? Phillipe Albert? Francis Benali? Who knows, but you will have to keep following my adventures to find out.
As you may have gathered, I found the Keepmoat Stadium a bit dull, but some FA Cup football, a pub crawl through a South Yorkshire town and a train ride home with Frank Sinclair and I was more than content with my day’s outing. At least next time Doncaster Rovers call asking me to take Louis Tomlinson out on the town, I now know some decent pubs to take him too – no more drinking in Lidl.
Highlights: plenty of pubs – Tony’s tour guiding was spot on, The Cask Corner, cheap ticket, a decent game for a 1-1 draw, meeting the legend that is Frank Sinclair.
Low Points: dull stadium, not much atmosphere.
See all my photos from my trip to Donny here.
And make sure to check out Gibbo’s site, Gibbo’s 92, here.