• ITEN Staff

Q&A: John Coyle on Rovers History, Lockdown and Old Favourites

As football authorities continue to debate how and when the sport will return for clubs at our level, we speak to a fellow Doncaster Rovers fan and writer - club historian John Coyle - to get his thoughts on the issue of resuming, find out how he has been getting through lockdown and get some insight into his role as the best resource on 140 years of club history.

ITEN: Thanks for speaking with us today John. How did your role as the go-to historian for all things Doncaster Rovers come about?


John: I’ve always been fascinated by history. I did my degree in History and Politics and then some years later took an MA in Sports History. My dissertation was on the growth of the Football League and Rugby League, so focusing on Rovers was a logical step for me.


I’ve written for the programme and fanzines for many years and I started again in 2016 because I thought it was important that we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of 1946-47, when Rovers won Division Three (North) with a then-record points tally. My role has kind of expanded from that.


The 140th anniversary celebrations last year gave me an opportunity to go through all the club’s records which now appear on the Official Website. I suppose I’m unusual amongst historians in that I’m a bit of a spreadsheet geek. I have two databases – one with a record of every player who has played for Rovers in the Football League or Conference, one with details of every competitive game we’ve played – so, if you have a question about Rovers’ history, I can probably answer it quite quickly!


It has now been over two months since we saw any live football in this country. How have you been filling the void during lockdown?


Funnily enough, I’ve been extremely busy. I’ve taken the opportunity to go through my records and see what I can improve. There are a lot of newspapers now available online, particularly for the time before the Second World War, so I’ve been using those to answer some questions I have had for a while. I am doing the “Rover of the Day” feature for the club’s Official Site, which means that the club has some daily content – it also means I have some good player biographies.


I’m also getting some queries from people who are contacting the club about relatives who may have played for Rovers. Some are dead ends but recently a query from a woman about a relative who played in the 1920s led to the discovery that four brothers, the Bromages, played for Rovers, either side of World War One. I also managed to unearth some photos of ancestors she’d never seen before. It’s immensely satisfying when you can do that.


On the other hand, I’m really missing football and live sport generally. I’m a huge cricket fan and it’s really sad on a lovely day like the day I’m saying this not to be sitting watching cricket with a glass of beer in my hand!


Everyone seems to have a position on what the best route forward is for the EFL through this period. How would you prefer to see the League One season settled?


When we stopped playing, I was very hopeful that the season could be completed on the field, but now I think that’s impossible. You’d be asking clubs to spend a lot of money staging matches, as well as paying for stuff like testing players and staff, with no income coming through the turnstiles. Ideally, you’d restart when it was safe to allow crowds in, but that could be many months away, and very large numbers of players will be out of contract at the end of next month.


I’d actually just base the table on the first League meeting between each club – so in effect it would be a 22-game season. That doesn’t seem to have been considered. Weighted PPG is perhaps the next best option, but clubs must accept that there will be winners and losers from this. Unless some consensus emerges, I can see the whole season being voided.


Do you think Rovers will come through the pandemic okay? Are there any big changes you expect to see from this in terms of how the club operate in future?


Because Rovers are a well-run club and we don’t try to live beyond our means I think we’ll come through this better than a lot of other clubs. However, unless we can start next season in front of crowds, the outlook will be very bleak for every club below the Premier League.

This is actually an opportunity for football as a whole to take a look at itself and how the money within the game is distributed – look at issues like a Salary Cap and get rid of things like parachute payments that distort competition. Will that opportunity be taken? The squabbling over how we sort out League One says to me it won’t.


You’ve been keenly involved in ventures like the Rovers140 pop-up Hub recently. How has the experience of bringing the history of the club to a new audience been?


It was a lot of fun. We had one session in particular where the topic was “Memories of Belle Vue” that was well attended and there were some great stories. It’s very important to capture the memories of football people, whether they be players, officials or fans and it’s something that could be done a lot better. Football tends to be extremely focused on the here and now, but all its clubs and leagues have wonderful histories and a wealth of interesting stories. I’d like the opportunity to do something like we did at the Hub more regularly, with a lot more people involved.


Who would you say are your favourite players throughout your time supporting Rovers?


I’ve been a Rovers fan for 50 years, so I’ve seen a lot of players. My first hero was Peter Kitchen, and when people say “never meet your heroes” Peter is an exception. I’ve met him many times and he’s an absolute gentleman. I also did some work on his biography. Since then the Snodin brothers, Alan Little, Colin Douglas, Brian Stock, Rob Jones and of course James Coppinger.


Finally, what are you looking forward to most about football returning, once life is back to normal?


Meeting up with the people I see at the games again, and the whole matchday experience. I’m even quite looking forward to the 200-mile round trip for a home game. I’m not one of those people who is at a loss in the close season – I have plenty of other interests – but you always know during the summer break that in August football will be back and you can look forward to it. At the moment, who knows when we’ll have football and Rovers back? It’s a very odd situation.


We'd like to thank John for speaking with us today and we'd urge everyone to check out his contributions to the Official Doncaster Rovers website. You can also find John on Twitter at his account - @JohnLeslieCoyl1. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more Q&As with some of our regular contributors!