• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #23: On Feelings and Football at Doncaster Rovers

First off, Happy New Year to every single person who counts Doncaster Rovers as their team.

2021 was not a good year. In fact, in historical terms it will have to rank as one of the worst calendar years in memory for the club - with victories, cohesion and harmony in extremely short supply for the vast majority of the 12 month period. We’ve seen a whole new squad assembled and no less than four managers attempt to steer the Rovers ship on course, so you can’t say it isn't eventful.

It has not, however, been much fun to follow the team of late. Whether it be from the forced exile of Behind Closed Doors games on iFollow, or from long journeys up and down the country that a selection of admirable souls make with regularity, the investment of time, money and emotion being put in has not seen much reward. This is the nature of sport – your chosen team is not always going to be successful, particularly in the lower leagues of English football – but you hope to enjoy the ride no matter how it ends.

Toxicity in Our Town

Personally, this has been the least enjoyable year that I’ve had supporting Rovers. That is caveated by the fact that I came into the fold one year after the departure of the Firestarter of course, but I have witnessed three relegations in the past ten years and a good dose of failure to balance out the wonderful successes that the club have experienced since the turn of the new Millennium.

I can live with a team that isn’t performing well. I don’t like it, and I wish to see improvements, but I can accept that it won’t always be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Some teams do after all struggle each season in football. However, what I cannot accept is the level to which the football team and its extensions have affected my emotional well-being and bled into other aspects of my life.

This is partially my own fault, because I choose to run a website covering the club alongside my partner and freely wade into the debate and make my voice known both inside and outside of Doncaster Rovers circles. The heated divide in the fanbase however is responsible for a lot of why I feel the way I do at the minute, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

I’m not knocking any one group or individual either. If you cut the fanbase down the middle, I don’t think it’s a case of “Board In vs Board Out”, “Young vs Old” or “Positive vs Negative”. I think it’s a case of Optimism or Pessimism winning out in each supporter, and then the dust settles thereafter with varying degrees of frustration, anger and sniping when things don’t go well on a Saturday afternoon.

I think that is ultimately down to the people running the club, because at the end of the day most football supporters simply want their team to do well and achieve the best that they can out on the pitch. All the noise surrounding it can be quietened with a few wins, which lead some of those more pessimistic voices to sound a note of optimism in the face of concrete evidence to have it – to believe.

Reality Bites

I’m not saying I don't fall into these traps myself, nor am I rising above the noise as if I am better than anybody else. I am a very emotional person and that bleeds out into my commentary on Doncaster Rovers just about every week. I once labelled myself an “eternal optimist” here on ITEN because I would tend to try and write positively, see the upside and express that opinion, even in seasons where relegation looked likely.

As 2021 wore on though, my belief waned as I saw worrying sign after worrying sign at the club. Those misgivings have been well-documented and the majority of supporters have their view one way or the other, which is fine. I realised that my optimism was tied to my faith and belief in the club to make good on its promises, and that faith had evaporated.

It doesn’t mean I won’t discover it again though, because if Gary McSheffrey finds his Midas Touch and the recruitment wrongs of the summer are rectified this month, my faith will be renewed. I’m sure it will be for many of the Rovers supporters who have lost their rag with the club over the course of a desperate six-to-nine months, because as I said, all fans want is for their team to give it their all and hopefully find some success.

I don’t think that volleying abuse at those running the club helps anything, but at the same time I don’t think that those on the other side of the fence sitting up on their high horses and shouting “wait and see!” at those with valid criticisms help either. I’m not sitting on that fence by the way, I’d say I have fallen closer to the former than the latter in recent months, whilst always trying to articulate my opinions in a firm but fair manner.

In fact, I would say that most fans – either in the stadium, on social media or on the forums – have put forward genuine critiques in that time, and yet the division and ill-feeling has only increased. These viewpoints aren’t mutually exclusive - you can see problems that need addressing in the club and also have belief that they can be fixed - without resorting to insults or abuse.

Football Matters

As I said earlier though, supporters invest an awful lot of emotion into their football team, and that is something which I feel is often forgotten in these debates. All of us are passionate about Doncaster Rovers, care about the team and its place in our lives, and want them to be successful. Most of us have our own views on how to get to that point of achieving success, and many express those views either to friends and family or to the familiar strangers here on the internet.

I put out an emotional, immediate response on Twitter three days ago when Gary McSheffrey was confirmed as the new Rovers manager. Some didn’t like this, expressing disappointment that a previously glass-half-full account like mine was now perceived to be taking shots at the club and/or manager. I don’t like being negative, but the positives have been very hard to find recently and I feel as though the concerns of a sizeable portion of the fanbase have not been adequately addressed as of yet.

One contemporary, who both of us have worked with regularly for years now, used my words in his own article about the current fan sentiment as ammunition against those expressing concern for the direction of the club, and at that point I realised that we are all in the mud as Rovers fans at the moment. If even the leading voices amongst supporters are not above the sniping, then what chance does anybody have of uniting Doncaster Rovers as a club, a fanbase and a community?

I don’t believe I am wrong to criticise the club in the way that I do, and I don’t believe anybody else is wrong for expressing that they are fed up of reading the constant negativity among fans. The only way all of this will dissipate though is if the people running the club atone for the errors of the past year and put the club back on the right track, as they did five years ago when Darren Ferguson’s revamped Reds came straight back from League Two on a platform to push on.

I very nearly deleted this website a few days ago, at the end of my tether with what being part of the online discourse has done to me for much of the past year. Instead, I hope this article has been useful to some reading as it has been for me in writing it, and I sincerely hope that in 2022 myself and everybody else who calls Doncaster Rovers their team can focus on the action on the field, instead of being forced by circumstance to get bogged down in the tedium of off-field events.

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