• Adam Stubbings

Getting Ready for the Great Doncaster Rovers Reset

I haven’t written much on this website for a few weeks now. Part of this is down to the fact that I’ve gone back to work following the end of the latest national lockdown, but the rest of it is down to the sheer disdain that has grown from watching Doncaster Rovers play over the closing weeks of the 2020/21 season.

Now, I never want to feel that way about my club. Rovers have played a major role in my life since I was a small child, and with the many great highs have been some pretty dire lows. I still keep coming back, as do thousands of supporters who have seen far more than I have over many decades, and there is no doubt that I will be back next season when hopefully that means being able to sit in the South Stand once again and cheer on the boys in red and white.

However, the dozens of hours spent watching from the sofa this season have grown tiring. As of today, Wednesday 21st April 2021, I have sat down to watch 47 Rovers matches in this campaign, and will likely do so for the majority of the few remaining league games left, but it just isn’t the same. There is no sound of the crowd singing, no chance to chat to familiar faces about the goings on, nor share a drink with family and friends before taking to the stands.

It is soulless, monotonous even. Log on, pour a drink, sit and shout at the screen knowing the players can’t hear you. Turn it off at full time and go about the rest of your day. It’s not the viewing experience any of us surely wants, and I’m at my wit’s end with the limited relationship I am forced to have with football thanks to this wretched pandemic which has taken so much from us beyond anything to do with football.

Burned out, or fading away?

What made this forced compromise a little easier to stomach was the way in which the team competed for around half of this season. There have been some excellent displays in amongst it all, from early wins at Charlton (in front of fans!) and Portsmouth to thrashings of Ipswich and Bristol Rovers, plus that incredible last-minute equaliser from James Coppinger against Hull. So long as the lads are giving it their all for us absent fans, you can’t ask for much more.

But then Darren Moore upped and left, and the team fell to pieces. Andy Butler hasn’t been able to get them going despite his best efforts, and the season has disintegrated. What makes it worse is that several players have clearly given up before 46 games have been seen through. Sitting through games over the past month or so has been a grating experience, particularly when you see individuals clearly playing for the name on the back of their shirt rather than the badge on the front.

The recent 4-1 home defeat to struggling Wigan was a truly embarrassing display of integrity from some of those donning that shirt. I don’t wish to name names, nor do I want to tarnish everyone with the same brush, but it is now abundantly clear that some are not trying their professional best, that they have an eye on their next move and are not interested in doing right by the supporters who have helped to keep them in employment during this global crisis.

Criticism of short-term signings not being invested in the cause, rumours (unconfirmed by this writer so take with a pinch of salt) that certain members of the squad don’t wish to play and risk injury ahead of a transfer - none of it does the club any good, and so in turn hurts the fans just as much. Whilst we'd all like to see promotions and success, most fans will accept whatever outcome so long as they can feel assured that the maximum effort has been put in on the pitch, and that simply isn’t the case at Doncaster Rovers right now.

What next?

As players’ heads turn to their next contract, so to must the heads of those running the club turn to the future. This week, Gavin Baldwin and his team will whittle down a swathe of applicants for the manager’s job to a clutch of candidates invited to interview. In a few weeks’ time we will know the identity of the person tasked with starting a new era for Doncaster Rovers, and let’s just hope the board select somebody who is willing to go all-in and commit to getting this team on the right track.

It will not be a quick and easy task, but the new manager should have something of a blank canvas with which to work. There is only a couple of coaching staff members currently at the club, and the majority of players in the squad are either loanees or players out of contract next month. That means a chance for the next Rovers boss to bring in a squad of people that they choose, building a team in their own image and hopefully bringing a fresh feel to proceedings on Lakeside.

Aside from perhaps the summer of 2012 when the abhorrent “experiment” ended and Dean Saunders built a whole new side, this is likely the biggest challenge any manager at Doncaster Rovers has faced since Ian Snodin returned in 1998 to pick up the pieces of the club’s relegation from the Football League. It should be an intriguing, maybe even exciting time, particularly as fans should be able to return to the Keepmoat Stadium after well over a year away to see the new era begin.

Until then…

We are still a few weeks away from this great reset beginning, however. There are five league games to go before Rovers are put out of their misery and can consign this disappointing season to the history books. As far as this writer and IntoTheEmptyNet.com is concerned, it is time to take a step back and focus on other things for just a little while.

I have put many, many hours into writing about and discussing the club this season. I choose to do it, I enjoy doing it and I hope enough supporters reading enjoy hearing my thoughts and analyses on the matches and events surrounding the Rovers to make it worthwhile. However, as much as I do love the club and will absolutely be back in the summer when things start moving towards the start of the 2021/22 season, I’m going to put something other than football first for a change.

The fact is that the sport is not justifying its place in my day-to-day at present, which is a sad thing to admit. Without the live experience, or a team fighting for the common cause on our behalf, football is a shell of itself at present, and that is without even touching on the disgraceful European Super League controversy dominating the news this week.

Our small but dedicated ITEN team of two hope to bring some exciting new things to our coverage next season, particularly providing we can finally get back to attending live games, and we will still be active on social media too, but for now this is my last word on the “pandemic season” at Doncaster Rovers and a heartfelt adieu.

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