• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #20: Fan Return on the Horizon

Football supporters across the country will have paid keen attention to Monday’s government announcement laying out their “roadmap” out of the latest national lockdown, with the return of spectators to sporting events one of the key discussion points included.

Although Rovers will not be welcoming anyone back to the Keepmoat Stadium this season, there is plenty of cause for optimism that we are nearing the end to the complete shut-out of fans from football games and that is cause for great anticipation.

A Potential Play-Off Golden Ticket?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed Monday, May 17th as the date from which people would be allowed to attend sporting fixtures again under the planned easing of restrictions, ruling out any regular season games in 2020/21 taking place below the Premier League with fans in attendance. However, the EFL Play-Off Finals take place on the last weekend of May and therefore should be able to welcome limited spectators, especially if pre-planned pilots for the FA Cup and Carabao Cup Finals are given the green light in the weeks beforehand.

Doncaster Rovers remain well placed to make the end-of-season shoot-out in League One at present, meaning a limited amount of the Rovers faithful could be allowed to travel to Wembley and cheer on the team in a potential final appearance. Tickets would surely be like gold dust for those wanting to go, but a select few would get that Charlie Bucket feeling of being the first since last year to see Darren Moore’s side play in person once again.

We have all got used to the experience of watching from home by now – as unsatisfactory as it is even when the team are performing well – and so waiting a little longer will not do any more harm, but it is nice to think of potentially going to a game again within the next few months and that hope alone fosters further dreaming of how next season could be for fans, able to take their place back in the stands to cheer on the Rovers.

Party Time in August?

If the national vaccination programme continues apace and everyone can finally get a handle on ending this devastating pandemic, then this should be the last time we all sit at home in a full lockdown, unable to see our families or enjoy the comforts of freedom that we took for granted a year ago. Football plays a huge part in many of our lives, not just for the sport but for the camaraderie and togetherness fostered by gathering to cheer on our chosen heroes, and things feel a little empty without the ability to connect with them or each other.

The prospect of a summer spent gearing up for a grand return in August at the start of next season is an exciting one, especially if – as the government is projecting – most people in the country will have been fully vaccinated by then. It should mean that the grip of Covid-19 will finally have loosened and dissipated to a good degree in Britain and that should mean full or near-full stadiums are allowed again.

Imagine the opening day of next season in a packed out Keepmoat, full of people happy and grateful to be back after well over a year away, meeting people you haven’t seen or perhaps spoken to in all of that time and watching Rovers in the flesh for the first time in what will feel like a lifetime. It should make for a wonderful atmosphere and occasion and that same thing would be happening up and down the country at dozens of grounds. It would be a special day well worth commemorating.

A Send-Off for Copps?

Undoubtedly the biggest disappointment of being kept away this season is the fact that fans have missed out on seeing club legend James Coppinger play the final campaign of his incredible career. Copps appears set on sticking to his decision to retire at the end of 2020/21 and that means we have all seen the great man lace up his boots in Rovers colours for the last time. Surely though there will be a chance to give him the send-off he so richly deserves after 17 years in the hoops?

Coppinger has already had a “Testimonial Year” comprising several events after ten years at the club back in 2015, but if heads can come together to organise one more testimonial match for Copps to play in, either alongside the current squad or in a “Legends” game scenario, that would surely give everyone a chance to truly celebrate the man who has worn the #26 shirt with pride and distinction.

There appears to be an appetite for something from the man himself and if the club and various supporter groups can come together with Copps then it could lead to an excellent occasion in which fans can honour arguably the greatest player to play for the club since Alick Jeffrey. Talk of a statue or renaming a stand in Copps’ honour has already been a common topic in supporter circles in recent weeks and this would be an opportunity to get the ball rolling on a worthy celebration.