ITEN's Doncaster Rovers Team of the Decade
Drama and intrigue have become staples of supporting Doncaster Rovers. It can’t be said that following the club for the past 20 years has been anything resembling boring. Whilst the first decade of the 21st century saw a meteoric rise from the ashes, the last one was much more of a rollercoaster with three relegations and two promotions.
Dozens of players came through the doors of the Keepmoat Stadium in that time – many just in the ill-fated 2011/12 season alone – along with seven managers, whilst one player cemented his status as an all-time Rovers legend. He, along with ten others who created a lasting legacy, make up our Best XI of the past ten years.
Here are those eleven players selected to our Team of the 2010s, as chosen by the Doncaster Rovers fans.
#1. NEIL SULLIVAN
71 appearances between 2010 and 2013, keeping 11 clean sheets
Former Scotland international Sullivan came to Rovers relatively late in his accomplished career, but still went on to become a club legend starring under Sean O’Driscoll. At the beginning of this decade, ‘Sully’ was still first choice despite reaching his 40th birthday, helping Rovers to their best league finish in decades finishing 12th in the Championship with a string of fine displays.
Although his best years were behind him, Sullivan left a memorable footnote by returning from a loan spell at first club Wimbledon in 2013 to play in Rovers’ League One title triumph. His last act as a professional was to get booked for putting Brentford’s Marcello Trotta off his penalty, a spot kick that subsequently cannoned back off Sullivan’s crossbar and set off a chain of events that resulted in one of the craziest finishes to a match ever.
The 43-year-old retired that summer having made 220 appearances in total since joining on loan from Leeds in 2006, more than deserving of a place in our Team of the 2010s.
#2: JAMES O’CONNOR
92 appearances between 2010 and 2012, scoring 3 goals
Another member of Sean O’Driscoll’s legendary side, O’Connor was still a key member of the squad when the decade began despite enjoying his best successes with Rovers prior. A versatile defender most adept at right back, O’Connor was one of the most reliable and talented players to don the red and white hoops in years, comfortable going forward and technically sound on the ball.
He scored the side’s first goal of the 2010-11 campaign after helping Rovers to a top half Championship finish the previous season and remained a staunch regular in O’Driscoll’s team, before continuing to feature under Dean Saunders during the “Experiment” in 2011-12. O’Connor moved to Derby upon Rovers’ relegation proving his pedigree at that level further.
#3: GEORGE FRIEND
64 appearances between 2010 and 2012, scoring 1 goal
One of the most likeable figures of the past ten years, left back George Friend joined from Wolves in the summer of 2010 to replace Gareth Roberts, who he narrowly beat to this position in the vote. Friend featured at centre half as well as full back and had some tricky times in the hoops but showed his class and was named captain during his second season at the club.
Known as “Gorgeous George” for his looks as well as “Gentleman George” due to his welcoming personality, the aptly named Friend was active in the community work the club prides itself on and was a model professional throughout his two years at the club. His only goal for Rovers was a decisive one, turning home a last-minute corner to earn a 2-2 draw at Watford in one of his first games after signing.
Friend was sold to Middlesbrough for a six-figure fee in 2012, another casualty of the team’s relegation, where he remains today as Boro’s club captain.
#5: ROB JONES
78 appearances between 2012 and 2016, scoring 11 goals
Perhaps the greatest leader in the club’s modern history, “Corporal” Rob Jones spearheaded the triumphant League One winning side in 2012-13 as the team captain and, for the second half of the campaign, manager Brian Flynn’s right-hand man. Jones displayed fierce ability to dominate opposing strikers and contributed an impressive 8 goals from centre half to boot that year, proving a vital pick-up from Sheffield Wednesday by Dean Saunders.
Jones stayed for a couple more years but injuries curtailed his playing time significantly, which is a huge shame. His presence alone was a benefit to the squad though, and when Paul Dickov was dismissed early in the 2015-16 season, Jones stepped in as caretaker manager. Unfortunately, he left the club soon after Darren Ferguson arrived to replace him but he is a legendary figure among Rovers fans for his heroics in that memorable 2012-13 season alone.
#6: ANDY BUTLER
222 appearances between 2014 and 2019, scoring 17 goals
The only Doncaster-born player to feature in the Team of the Decade, local hero Andy Butler stepped into the void left by Jones as the new defensive leader under Darren Ferguson, consistently defying the naysayers who suggested he was past his prime. Playing virtually every game throughout his five seasons at the club, Butler made up for his lack of guile and pace with top-drawer tackling ability, physicality and leadership.
‘Butts’ played a pivotal part in Rovers’ 2017 promotion from League Two after winning back his place in the team, then became a leading light in Grant McCann’s blood-and-thunder side that reached last season’s Play-Offs. He signed off in style with a towering header to take the Semi Final at Charlton to Extra Time, a fine way to mark his last appearance for his hometown club.
#8: BRIAN STOCK
75 appearances between 2010 and 2012, scoring 3 goals
Brian Stock is the definition of a cultured midfielder, a player ahead of his time. Another star of Sean O’Driscoll’s famous Championship side, Stock remained an important player at Rovers into this decade. Pulling the strings with a tremendous passing range and vision beyond most of his contemporaries, Stock is a candidate for the club’s all-time Best XI nevermind just the 2010s.
The Winchester-born midfielder remained a key member of the team during the early part of this decade and was capped by Wales at international level. He notably scored a 90th minute winner in a game played below freezing against Middlesbrough, whilst his final goal in the hoops came in a 2-1 win away at Peterborough in what proved to be the last game untouched by the ‘Experiment’.
Stock left in 2012 to join Burnley before seeing out his playing career closer to home at Havant & Waterlooville.
#19: RICHIE WELLENS
102 appearances between 2013 and 2015, scoring 5 goals
Combative midfielder Richie Wellens teamed with Brian Stock to create a superb central tandem in the 2000s but features alongside him here solely off the strength of his second spell with Rovers, a tenure that began after Stock had left. Returning from Leicester in 2013, Wellens was a virtual ever-present throughout 2013-14 until injury ended his season early. It speaks to his contribution that Rovers failed to win another game without him and suffered an agonising relegation on the final day.
Wellens still had much of the tenacity that made him a star of the club’s prior successes despite his advancing age and added five goals during a midtable season in 2014-15. He also had the experience to marshal his team mates and worked well with Paul Keegan, forming a tough partnership with the Irishman during Paul Dickov’s time as manager.
His influence faded with the arrival of Darren Ferguson and he left for a second time early in the January 2016 transfer window with his reputation as a Rovers legend somewhat altered. Wellens is now impressing as a manager, taking Swindon Town to the top of League Two.
#26: JAMES COPPINGER
417 appearances between 2010 and 2019, scoring 50 goals and notching 79 assists
He started and ended the decade in the hoops and continues to add to his incredible legend; what more can be said about James Coppinger? The picture of consistency even throughout his 30s, ‘Copps’ has featured in 40+ games almost every season of the 2010s and with added experience his ability to turn defences inside out has only increased. The stats speak for themselves, with 50 goals – including 10 in the 2016/17 promotion campaign that he was a star player of – and 79 assists across these last ten years.
A main player in both of the club’s promotions this decade, Coppinger’s most memorable contribution was unquestionably the title-winning goal he scored in added time at Brentford in 2013. He surpassed 500 appearances for the club early in the League Two promotion campaign, marking the big one with a goal in a 5-1 rout of Morecambe, and is now past 650 games for Doncaster Rovers, a club record. The incomparable midfielder is also sixth on the all-time goalscoring list for the club too.
Now about to reach his 39th birthday and still a first team regular, Copps can’t be counted out of appearing in the Team of the 20s as well. He’s earned every honour bestowed upon him by the club and it seems there is more to come yet.
#11: DAVID COTTERILL
92 appearances between 2012 and 2014, scoring 14 goals and notching 25 assists
Welsh wizard David Cotterill is another star of the revered 2012/13 side that became Champions of League One in dramatic fashion. A stand-out signing under Dean Saunders, Cotterill was something of a throwback as a classic out-and-out winger, roaming up and down the left flank and putting crosses in relentlessly.
‘Cotts’ rebuilt his career with Rovers over a hugely productive two year spell which began in spectacular fashion. Making his debut away at Walsall, he let fly from the halfway line after spotting goalkeeper David Grof off his line and found the back of the net, going on to score 10 goals that season and register an astonishing 22 assists, a figure that propelled Rovers to the title and saw Cotterill finish as the undisputed chief creator in the league.
The winger left for Birmingham in the summer of 2014 and went on to enjoy a solid spell with the Blues before his career fizzled out amidst personal problems. No matter those issues, Cotterill will always be fondly remembered by the Rovers faithful and fully deserves a spot in this team.
#9: JOHN MARQUIS
153 appearances between 2016 and 2019, scoring 67 goals
As prolific in front of goal as he was passionate anywhere on the pitch, John Marquis became the main man in a remarkable three-year spell at the club. Signed by Darren Ferguson as a complementary striker to Andy Williams after relegation to League Two, the gangly Londoner soon eclipsed Williams (and the rest of the division’s strikers) as the lethal marksman Rovers had craved for several years.
A physical player with great movement and a knack for winding up defenders, Marquis was the perfect forward at the perfect time, firing the team to promotion with 26 goals in his first season. He was Rovers’ top scorer again with 15 the following year during a consolidating year, before stepping up a level again under Grant McCann. His work to support team mates was every bit as pivotal as his own scoring prowess, and he matched that 26 goal haul from 2016/17 at the higher level, earning a £2 million move to Portsmouth in the summer.
The sight of Marquis crying his eyes out after missing a penalty in the Play-Off shoot-out loss to Charlton last May tells the story in a moment: a man who lived and breathed every moment of his Doncaster Rovers career with intensity and goes down as one of the club’s finest ever strikers.
#10: BILLY SHARP
85 appearances between 2010 and 2012, and 2014, scoring 35 goals
The ultimate cult hero, Billy Sharp is the epitome of what a centre forward should be. The highest goalscorer of the 21st century in the EFL, Sharp has scored plenty of goals everywhere he has played and took a significant step forward in his career as a Doncaster Rovers player for two years at the start of this decade. A fox-in-the-box with lethal finishing ability, Sharp was also incredibly popular due to his affable, cheeky persona as the “Fat lad from Sheffield”.
He is the club’s record signing to this day, signed for over £1 million in 2010 after a successful loan spell, and his form over the next 18 months earned a big move to Southampton in January 2012, but he returned on loan in 2014 to his home-away-from-home. His most significant goal in the hoops came in November of 2011, just days after losing his new-born son Luey to a rare genetic condition.
Latching on to El-Hadji Diouf’s flick-on to fire an amazing volley over the keeper, Sharp dedicated the goal with a message for his son on his shirt, a moment which made national headlines. It also summed him up, a true professional and family man who left an indelible mark on this club and town.
So there you have it: 11 players who earned their way into the Doncaster Rovers Team of the 2010s off the back of your votes, proving their staying power in the hearts and minds of the fans.
Top marksmen, defenders supreme and playmakers aplenty.
By the end of the 2020s, the club will be 150 years old. The last ten years have been a rollercoaster ride for the ages, but will the next ten years deliver similar successes, or more heartbreak? We all wait with bated breath to see how it all shakes out.