LFW Awaydays – Doncaster, Keepmoat Stadium
Thursday, 31st Mar 2011 00:26 by LFW Awaydays
Another hop up the East Coast Mainline took the Northern R’s to Doncaster prior to the international break for some winning themed fun in the sun.
On the pitch
Doncaster used to be a coal town. Hundreds of millions of tonnes of the black gold formed a bedrock under the place which sat conveniently on river and rail links to the steel producing heartlands of Scunthorpe, Sheffield and Rotherham. Day in and day out the men of the town would dip below ground and literally dig their living out of the ground.
‘Donny’, as the locals know it, has done a better job than many such places in Britain of reinventing itself in recent times. It’s location on the M1, A1, and East Coast Mainline together with sea links 40 minutes up the road in Hull and an airport laughably named after a legend more often associated with Nottingham just around the corner means there will always be something and somebody wanting to do business here. The towering, shiny steel structures to the right of the railway line as you arrive from the south are a clear statement that it’s not doing too badly, certainly when compared to other towns we visit during the season and considering the borough council has consistently shown itself to be one of the country’s most incompetent and corrupt.
Don’t worry, you haven’t stumbled across some old geography coursework of mine from back in the days when I would spend my days in a Scunthorpe secondary school that was on fire most of the time, I’m getting to the football analogy I promise.
Doncaster Rovers have summed the town up pretty well in recent times. Their former Belle Vue ground was every bit as rough and ready as the coal mines that surrounded it, and for years they scraped together their own grimy existence in the lower leagues enjoying occasional cup runs to sugar the pill – in true QPR style, we fell victim to an upset here in 1985 that older Rovers fans still remember and recount. Rovers even had a dodgy chairman who tried to burn the main stand down for insurance money to mirror the town’s councillors who were caught fiddling expenses and taking bribes from developers in the 1990s. Now in their shiny, if rather dull, Keepmoat Stadium Doncaster have been dubbed the Arsenal of the north for their slick, attractive, passing football and admirable ethos on the game.
But there wasn’t much evidence of that on show in our recent trip. Let’s dispense with legal protocol and get the mitigation out of the way first – Doncaster have injuries, lots and lots of them. Their squad was so thin a month before our visit that they pleaded with the league to call their game at Norwich off on humanitarian grounds. Be they brittle or cursed with bad luck, the Doncaster players would probably have stayed healthier this season had they actually declared war on the other 23 Championship teams and turned up each week armed to the teeth for a blood thirsty fight to the death.
There is no such thing as a ‘one man team’ in this division whatever Steve Claridge may try to tell you between masturbation sessions, but Billy Sharp (see Grant Holt at Norwich, Scott Sinclair at Swansea, Danny Graham at Watford) was missing for Rovers in this game and his replacement Frank Moussa didn’t appear to really understand the object of the game, or many of the rules. Their remaining fit striker James Hayeter, once a QPR transfer target, won the player of the month award earlier this season but that form has long since slipped away and he was the definition of anonymous here.
Nevertheless it was a surprise, and a disappointment, to see that with the injuries has come what could be described as a more pragmatic (or lazy) approach to the game from Rovers. Be it deliberate, or an accidental consequence of their trough in form and lack of confidence, they have become just another one of those Championship sides that isn’t a shameless Coventry style long ball outfit, but certainly isn’t that easy on the eye either. “What about last season when we strung 37 passes together and you couldn’t get near us,” said one crusty old codger on the walk back to torn afterwards. Indeed, whatever happened to that side?
Action of some sort, presumably
Here Doncaster spent most of their afternoon making Fitz Hall look quite good, which is probably their biggest achievement of the season to date, and lost 1-0 to a QPR side also missing their talisman – Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan was ill, or bereaved, or sulking, or sitting at home after being kicked off the team bus, or nursing the after effects of a fight with Ishmael Miller – depending on which rumour mill you visited for your half time gossip. QPR without him were limp, basking in the afternoon sunshine like a team that thinks their job for the season is 98 per cent done. It is, but that’s a dangerous attitude to allow to manifest with eight games left.
A game this dire deserved a scoreless outcome really, but Hall’s powerful defensive display and a neat and tidy goal from Hogan Ephraim just after half time proved to be just enough difference between the sides to squeeze Rangers home.
Sean O’Driscoll could have been a Premiership manager this time last year had Burnley been able to agree compensation with Doncaster’s toothy chairman John Ryan. As injuries have mounted, results have fallen away and a promising start to the season has given way to a campaign that can only be looked on as a small backward step at most he has cut an increasingly grumpy figure, particularly in post match interviews that he never really enjoyed anyway. Here’s hoping one of football’s genuine good guys, and likeable teams, rediscover all the things that made them that during the summer break.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Opposition performance 5/10 >>> Referee performance 5/10
In the stand
Who’d be a football steward? Well, me actually, if circumstances dictated. I can think of worse things to do with a Saturday afternoon if I was, for instance, a student looking for part time work or somebody struggling to make ends meet looking for a second income. Turn up, don yellow coat, take home five pounds and hour for an afternoon spent standing around and watching a football match the people around you have paid £28 to get in to see. Of course they tell me you’re not meant to watch the game, you’re meant to watch the crowd, but then I don’t suppose I’m meant to sit at my desk at work booking travel arrangements for the Northern R’s trip to Cardiff but I do. I can admit this now, I’ve resigned, although they probably always suspected as much. I think I’d be one of those stewards you see standing in the corner between the stands watching the match unfold and wondering if I’d ever seen a player have less effect on a game than John Oster did in this one. Literally the first time I realised he was playing was when he was substituted in the second half.
The regulars from ‘The Vagrant’ take in the news that the R’s are now nine points clear
But football stewards don’t think like that. They like to seek out a confrontation. Is that 300 pissed up football fans standing up I see? I know, they think, I’ll go up there and try and make them sit down. Will this work? No, of course not, it will simply create a situation where 300 drunk people who hadn’t even noticed you were there now hate you and are quickly surmising your general appearance looking for some sort of feature (big tits, overhanging belly, ginger hair, general ugliness) to joke and sing about. So whereas before you had 300 people standing up watching the game, now you have 300 people standing up and abusing you. Every week that happens. Every week. Why haven’t they realised this happens and adapted their behaviour accordingly? There has never been a species in the history of the known universe that has evolved as ridiculously slowly as the football steward. I imagine a couple of them at the Last Supper mooching up to a group of the disciples and asking them to take their seats – “get a proper job, get a proper job” retorted Bartholomew. Or something.
Anyway the point I was making is that it seems far from sensible people looking to make a couple of extra quid, football stewards are in fact power crazy, downtrodden members of society who stalk the streets scowling at passersby for six days a week waiting for the moment that they can don their yellow jacket (or orange supervisor version if they’re especially prone to being a twat) and exert their influence in a variety of needless ways.
Even by football steward standards though, removing a beach ball from the grasp of an infant in front of a baying crowd of football fans and inflatable owners really takes some beating. I’d like to reason with the action and say perhaps Doncaster feared another Liverpool style beach ball incident should the giant novelty football/electric guitar/rather limp looking shark/child’s rubber ring/overly green crocodile blow onto the pitch but to be honest I think the guy that took it was probably just one of life’s genuine arseholes. It was the beach ball and the shark that got confiscated I believe, lethal in the wrong hands.
The inflatables formed a key part of a party atmosphere in the stand behind the goal. Too much drink probably had lots to do with it, but then people were drunk at Middlesbrough but the mood there was very different to here. From “we might actually do this” at the Riverside where goals were celebrated like Champions League winning moments we quickly seem to have resorted to an attitude of; “ahh it’s in the bag this” – which to be fair it really should be. I was collared by Northern Steve at full time for a general jump around and hysterical laughter fit. I think he may believe we’re there already bless him.
But Northern Steve’s assertion, delivered through the medium of dance and laughter, that this means we’re already promoted sparks confusion.
The ground? Functional. I once stood on the terrace behind the goal at Belle Vue watching a particularly raucous FA Cup tie between Rovers and Scunthorpe and went home covered in eggs that had been thrown over the back of the stand and splattered all over us as they came through the wire fence so I’m more inclined to be kind to the Keepmoat than other new grounds as there wasn’t a team in the world more in need of a new stadium than Doncaster when they built it. But by God it’s a dull place. A manmade lake to one side, a shopping outlet mall to the other, and four completely indistinguishable stands. This was my fifth visit, fourth for football and the other for Rugby League, and I still went to the wrong end of the ground when I arrived at first. Yet another venue to add to the “please God if we ever leave Loftus Road don’t build one like that” black list.
Scores >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 6/10 >>> Stadium 5/10 >>> Police and stewards 3/10
On the road
Pretty much since time began Doncaster has only ever been a place that people came across on their way to somewhere else. The Romans came through here on their way between London and York, a settlement forming only because they needed a point to cross the River Don. Consequently it found itself sitting on the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh during the 1600s and then in the 1800s the East Coast Mainline which spawned the sprawling locomotive works that now sit half used, and half arsedly advertising themselves as ‘premier office space’ next to the train station in the hope somebody may show a passing interest.
For me, having split my life so far fairly equally between Scunthorpe, Sheffield and London, that’s all it’s ever been as well; a place to change trains. It was during one of those changes, back when I was a snot nosed little kid, that I remember for the one and only time in my life actually embarrassing my father, which for a lad with a dad as incredible as mine wasn’t an experience I enjoyed particularly.
I’ve spoken before about being a kid growing up in London, relishing the Saturday away games when my dad would take me on the train to exotic far flung destinations like Coventry and Ipswich. I’d get treated like one of the lads and it was a tremendous part of my upbringing. One thing that used to happen on those trips, that I don’t see so much now, is British Transport Police officers walking up and down the middle of the trains full of QPR fans. There would be a bit of banter back and forth as they went, and often the QPR fans would whistle the tune from Laurel and Hardy. The police didn’t seem to really mind this and I can’t ever recall seeing any trouble or problems.
One of football’s most instantly recognisable and treasured venues. Or not.
Fast forward a few years to when we were living up north and it would be my job when we go to the change at Doncaster station to rush up to the newsagent and stick my head under the shutter to see if they had any copy of the Green ‘Un left so we could peruse the rest of the results on the rattly train back to Scunthorpe. It was after one such successful mission to fetch a paper that I happened to find myself sharing the subway at the station with a band of 20 police officers who had just dealt with some unpleasantness between Hull and Leeds fans when their respective trains unfortunately arrived at the same time. It was the sort of coincidence they probably could have done without on a Saturday night, but only being a youngster I didn’t quite have the life experience to realise they weren’t to be trifled with as they mooched back to the paddy wagon and decided it might be a laugh if, from behind the safety of my Green ‘Un, I was to give the old Laurel and Hardy tune a bit of a blast.
Suddenly, bang. One of the coppers had snapped and broken away from the others to slam my tiny frame against the wall and threaten to throw me in the cells for the night. I was the straw that had broken this particularly aggressive camel’s back and although his reaction was excessive, I can’t have been more than 13 and I was less than four and a half feet tall until I was much older than that, looking back I deserved everything I got and more. For that brief moment I was one of those cocky, chavy, brattish youngsters that I hated then and despise now. It makes me cringe when I think of it.
I went and found my dad in the station buffet after the incident and once I did, mainly through shock, burst into tears. I told him what had happened, well the second part at least, and being a former police officer himself he immediately sought out the senior officer on duty to make a formal complaint. It was only after he followed this through all the formal procedures for several weeks, with my guilt over the whole thing slowly building up inside me the whole time, that a statement from the officer involved was made available to us in which he outlined in great, graphic, gut wrenching details exactly why he’d seen fit to accost me that night that my shame was revealed.
Loitering in car parks in the non-David Pleat way
Usually at this point the story teller says he could never remember his dad looking so disappointed in him, but mine was so mortified he couldn’t even bring himself to talk to me about what had happened himself. It was left to my mum to stick the letter from BTP down my miserable, lying little throat. I can’t walk through that subway even now years later without thinking about how much I let me dad down that night. He died 18 months later, without either of us ever actually talking to each other about it. So there’s a regret to carry around for the rest of my life.
You’ll notice that East Coast has scored unusually highly for cost – normally their method of extracting payment by holding you up by your ankles and shaking until all the money has fallen out attracts a mark of four or less. That’s because my friend works for the company, and he took me for free. In first class. Revenge for all those times I had to suffer their bloody replacement bus services over the years.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 10/10
In the pub
Things to like about the Tut ‘n’ Shive; it’s no more than a long goal kick away from the railway station, it’s a pub that always seems to be busy but always has a table free when you walk in, it’s welcoming to both home and away fans, you can get a round of drinks for a travelling group of eight for less than a score, you can get a “mixed grill sharing platter for two” for less than a fiver and you struggle to finish it, it has the live football on, it’s a CAMRA recognised joint and it’s a live music venue so the bar staff are used to serving drinks to a busy bar in the dark when they can’t hear what people have ordered making them super speedy and efficient on a Saturday lunch time.
It’s also a pub made entirely of wood for some reason, which reminded me of that episode of Phoenix Nights where Keith Lard the fire marshal turns up and sets fire to everything that he believes is a hazard. Channel Four has to run an extensive disclaimer and apology to Bolton fire marshal Keith Laird whenever they air that episode stating categorically that they have no proof whatsoever that he gets his sexual gratification from dogs.
Crutches that were earlier spotted being waved around in the air in celebration, put to more conventional use.
It probably hasn’t done enough to be our away pub of the year ahead of Dr Brown’s at Middlesbrough, but it’s a cracking place and one that I’ll miss if we are to end up in different divisions next season. Points off for showing the ever gripping round 29 of the Six Nations in the evening rather than the Sheffield Wednesday game, but I’m reliably informed that the international monkey wrestling has finally finished for another year now so football fans are again being welcomed back into boozers up and down the land with open arms, and the twats in barbour jackets have gone back to their smallholdings.
Scores >>> Pub 8/10 >>> Atmosphere 8/10 >>> Food 7/10 >>> Cost 9/10
Photo: Action Images
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