Crowning The Ultimate Cult Hero of Doncaster Rovers
What makes somebody a “cult hero”? In football, it is that unique mix of talent and character that marks certain players out from the rest; perhaps not the players usually most celebrated for their achievements as a professional but more for the lasting impact they leave on those who enjoyed interacting with them and seeing them play. Once you nail down the definition, you have to ask who the ultimate Cult Hero of Doncaster Rovers really is.
That’s the question we’ve been debating with Rovers fans over the past month, naming those players throughout the history of the club most deserving of the label and whittling them down from 64 until we had one winner. After a series of votes across the fanbase the choice proved clear – the “Afro Goal Machine” himself, Jason Price, is the player fans most believe deserves the accolade.
Price was a rare breed of footballer, a personality who instantly took to Rovers and became a fan favourite. In some ways, he was already a cult figure having left his mark whilst at previous clubs, notably scoring a hat trick against Rovers for Hull City in a Division Three promotion clash at the KC Stadium, and his distinctive hairstyle drew the eyes of opposition fans before he ever started terrorising their team with the ball.
Once in the hoops however, there was no looking back. The Aberdare-born forward made an immediate impact in front of goal after signing for Rovers under Dave Penney in 2006, scoring both goals on his home debut as Barnsley were beaten at Belle Vue in a fierce local derby. Scoring important goals against rivals is always an important step towards cult status for a forward (ask Billy Sharp or James Coppinger, although both truly ascended to Club Legend status eventually) but there was just so much more to JJ Price.
Whether it was his cheeky demeanour on and off the pitch, the way he would regularly involve officials or ball boys in his celebrations and japes, or his sheer willingness to compete for the team in every situation, the man who would come to be affectionately known as the “Afro Goal Machine” was a force of nature that fans loved to watch. He steadily became an integral member of new manager Sean O’Driscoll’s team operating in a front three and one night in particular cemented his place as a cult figure at the club.
A Man for the Big Occasion
The newly-christened Keepmoat Stadium needed a match to make it feel like home for Doncaster Rovers and it got just that on a fateful night in February of 2007, with Price at the centre of the action. Crewe stood between Rovers and the Football League Trophy Final and, at the end of a committed display alongside Paul Heffernan (who had netted the two goals that brought Rovers level in the tie) Price was the man who stepped up to score the winning goal late on in front of a raucous South Stand and send his side to Cardiff.
He was integral to that Final as well, playing a part in setting up Jonathan Forte’s first-minute opener and he was unfortunate not to score one himself before being stretchered off with a serious Achilles injury in the second half. Rovers went on to win the trophy of course and would not have done so without JJ. Once recovered, he played a big role in the 2007/08 promotion campaign and was the team’s joint top scorer that season, helping to achieve glory at Wembley with victory over Leeds United.
Again Rovers had Price to thank in large part for getting there. Although the emphatic 5-1 Semi-Final win over Southend is remembered for James Coppinger’s incredible hat trick, it was actually Jason Price who proved the best performer on the field that night. A bold claim perhaps, but on watching the game back it is clear to see how important the big-haired striker was to Sean O’Driscoll’s superb side. He was a constant thorn in the Shrimpers defence, claimed the opening goal and proved integral throughout.
He left the club a year later, his final Rovers goal proving memorable in itself – a goal away to Aston Villa in the FA Cup that gave the minnows hope on an ultimately unsuccessful night, but his position as a fan favourite and true cult hero was firmed up. He is still spoken of fondly now for his attitude, style and enthusiasm and he undoubtedly deserves the honour of being named the Ultimate Cult Hero of Doncaster Rovers by the fans who love him for all he brought to the club.
A Cult of Personalities
We started with 64 players – all nominated by Rovers fans – and ended up with Pricey reigning supreme, however the players he beat to win deserve a mention to. There have been a great number of characters to leave an indelible mark in the minds of those who hold the club close to their heart, spanning generations and eras of varying success. The bracket above notes the “Sweet 16” who made got through the initial round of voting, and include a number of important figures to don the hoops.
Figures like beaten finalist Andy Warrington, who in truth skirts the line between an underappreciated cult hero and a bona fide club legend. Warrington kept goal for Rovers through the bulk of the Conference years and his penalty-saving heroics in the Play-Off win over Chester played a big part in him getting within a whisker of winning this vote, whilst fellow goalkeeper Dennis Peacock got further than anyone else pre-90s for the legacy he left across two spells at the club.
A number of players from the Dave Penney era also got their due – Tim Ryan elicited cries of “Shoot!” from all corners of Belle Vue when he got on the ball, and is arguably the best example among this crop of someone who went beyond their natural capabilities to find success at Rovers, whilst Ricky Ravenhill’s tenacity took him far on and off the pitch. Both are also involved with the Rovers academy set-up to this day demonstrating the connection between player and fans in both instances.
More than any other position, strikers proved popular as well with Price the only one of four to advance past the Quarter Finals. The defeated included popular mid-90s goalscorer Colin Cramb, the bold Chris Brown who had a hand in two title-winning Rovers teams almost a decade apart, and the consummate professional Leo Fortune-West, whose goals alongside Brown (and Gregg Blundell, who Leo ousted in the last 16 here) propelled Penney’s men to the Division Three championship in 2004.
So, whether you rank them on their footballing achievements or their memorable character traits, it is well worth celebrating the cult heroes of Doncaster Rovers: players who don’t always stand out on the stats but do have a knack for leaving lasting legacies in the hearts and minds of those who take the club with them on their journey through this weird and wonderful life. So we salute JJ Price and everyone else who competed for the crown, and a big thank you to all who took the time to vote!