Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1968/69 Part Three
In this brand new series, Rovers fan Ray Jest takes us back in time to relive classic seasons from the archives. First up, Ray tackles a memorable 1968-69 campaign which began with the club in the old Fourth Division, managed by George Raynor and still boasting the legendary Alick Jeffrey amongst the ranks.
Check out Part Two of this series, published last week, then read on to continue our journey through November and a big change at the club.
The following Friday brought Rovers the opportunity to once again put a disastrous defeat behind them.
Entertaining bottom of the league Bradford Park Avenue on Friday 18th October to an evening game at Belle Vue, Rovers – in front of 11,000 fans – set about their task to some aplomb as Johnson rose high to head home a corner from the left in only the 9th minute.
A goal in front and the fans roaring them on, Rovers should have taken the game by the scruff of the neck; instead they fell back into their shell and allowed Bradford to come more and more into the game.
Just on half time, Bradford’s Keith Cockburn stunned the crowd with a fierce drive from an acute angle near the corner flag to equalise for the away team.
Half time arrived with the score at 1-1 and Rovers were slow handclapped off the Belle Vue pitch.
The second half proved no better as the scruffy play continued, the fans growing more and more impatient with Rovers sloppy play.
Then with just 10 minutes left on the clock a period of home pressure ended with Flowers shooting home through a crowded goalmouth to put Rovers back in front, and before Bradford could recover a neat move put in Usher who finished with a smart header into the net.
Rovers were 3-1 up and at last the fans had something to cheer, but the loudest cheer was saved until almost the last minute when Jeffrey, picking up the ball on the edge of the area, did a little shimmy and almost broke the back of the net with a powerful shot.
Doncaster had completed a 4-1 home win but anyone thinking that it had been easy was only kidding themselves and Rovers would have to play a lot better than this if they were to mount a serious promotion challenge.
Tide Turns Against Northern Rivals
Halifax Town were Rovers next opponents and a trip to The Shay on Saturday 26th October, home of their West Yorkshire rivals, would be a real test of character.
Halifax themselves were pushing for a promotion spot and were just a couple of places behind Rovers in the league.
Alan Ball (Sr., father of World Cup winning midfielder Alan Jr.), the Halifax manager, detailed Jeff Lee to marshal Doncaster’s Rod Johnson who he saw as Rovers’ main threat and he did it so well that Johnson was rarely seen all afternoon.
Halifax went ahead after just 6 minutes when Shawcross powered home a close range shot and although Jeffrey equalised with his 11th goal of the season, Halifax scored two goals in two minutes through McCarthy and Mason to put the home team in control.
Late on in the second half McCarthy added a fourth for Town to condemn Rovers to their heaviest defeat of the season.
Rovers just held on to fourth spot in the table, but their fans had many questions to ask as they trooped their way back over to South Yorkshire.
With fifteen games gone, questions regarding Rovers’ ability to push on for promotion were beginning to raise their heads and on Saturday 2nd November their next opponents at Belle Vue, Lincoln City, would raise them even more.
Lincoln were just below Rovers in the league, two points adrift. It was a game both teams would be desperate to win although you would not have guessed that from the performance that Rovers put in.
Doncaster a few weeks ago had attracted a gate of 11,000, now against a team that could almost be classed as a local derby could only get 5,497 and that included a sizeable amount of Lincoln fans.
Those that stayed away must have been glad they did so as Rovers turned out another dismal performance against one of their promotion rivals.
Rovers were oh so lucky to go in level at the break as Lincoln missed several first half chances.
But on 68 minutes Lincoln broke the deadlock with a strange goal. A misdirected back pass from Robertson stuck on the muddy goal line and the first to seize the opportunity was Kearns of Lincoln who rushed in to poke the ball home.
Rovers never adapted to the heavy conditions and it was Lincoln who once more got on the scoresheet.
A run by Lewis created the chance and Smith blasted the ball home, but only after his first effort had been stopped on the line.
Rovers once again hung on to fourth spot but only by the grace of the weather as games were postponed and other teams failed to take the opportunity by similarly dropping crucial points.
George Raynor Departs
Rovers were on a roll again, but it was a roll of defeats. The visit of Swansea to Belle Vue on Wednesday 6th November was in many people’s minds the chance to halt this disastrous run.
There was an attendance of 6,916 on hand to see another dismal display.
Although Rovers managed to end their losing sequence, they could still only manage a point in a dismal 0-0 draw.
One shining light was little Tommy Aiken, a last-minute substitute for Brian Usher. Floating up and down the wing, the little Irishman was a breath of fresh air compared to the fodder dished out by his team-mates. Time and again he had the ball and time after time he created openings and chances for his errant strike force, but all to no avail.
That was the first half, but in the second half for some reason he was totally ignored and had very little chance to shine.
Once again the slow handclap reverberate around Belle Vue from Rovers ever frustrated fans.
News broke that Rovers manager George Raynor had decided to step down from his post. Raynor’s wife Phyllis said of the 61-year-old George, “He is not leaving Doncaster all together and he will never leave football. I reckon he will still go to matches when he’s in his wheelchair.”
George Raynor began his football career at Wombwell near Barnsley about 40 years ago.
He had an amazing soccer journey that took him to the likes of Juventus of Turin, and Lazio of Rome.
George scorned and defied all the odds in 1948 to lead the Swedish international team to a Gold Medal in the Olympics and he took the Swedish team to the World Cup Final 10 years later, the first Englishman to do so.
George left his job as a holiday camp store manager just over a year ago to become Rovers’ 11th team boss in 12 years. His open, attacking football had lured back Rovers fans in their thousands and despite their recent slump they still stand in 4th spot in the league.
Rovers Chairman Mr. Frank Wilson said “Mr. Raynor had indicated that he thought it was time to withdraw as team manager. I remember when he was appointed that he referred to the job as his swansong.
Rovers will now look to appoint a younger man with vitality and used to modern methods of training."
Raynor will remain at Rovers under an advisory capacity and Jackie Bestall will take over team matters until a new manager is appointed.
Jeffrey Earns Rovers FA Cup Boost
On Saturday 9th November Rovers were on the road once more, travelling to Roots Hall, home of Southend United. Southend had put together a run of their own lifting them to a place just below the fringe of promotion, so this would be no easy task for Rovers.
In one of his last roles in charge of the team Raynor made two changes for the game against Southend. Surprisingly, Tommy Aiken was one of the men left on the bench.
In front of the television cameras, Rovers and Southend played out a topsy-turvy and exciting first half with both teams spurning several chances. The deadlock was broken in the 42nd minute when Gary Moore headed home in style. Rabjohn chased Chambers for fully forty yards to dispossess him but only managed to give away a corner. Chambers took the corner himself and as it was cleared away it fell back at his feet, giving him chance to float the ball into the area once more where Moore glanced a fine header past Gavin in the Rovers goal.
In the second half there was no let up by either team and the end-to-end cut and thrust football continued. Again, both teams spurned several openings but then in the 78th minute, Chambers chased a long clearance downfield and from the edge of the penalty area fired a low shot past Gavin. There was no way back for Rovers who had played their part in a thoroughly entertaining game.
Although the match was televised it would only be shown on Southern television the following afternoon, with highlights as it was understood to be played on Yorkshire television on the following Wednesday. Such was the way of regional television.
The first round of the F.A. Cup had seen Rovers drawn at home to Notts County and on Saturday 16th November, despite the fans staying home in the league games, 8,318 turned out on a clear but chilly afternoon to see Rovers and County produce some exciting cup football.
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead, the best of those falling to John Regan. After some clever play by Jeffrey, the ball went to an unmarked Bob Gilfillan who slotted a pinpoint cross into the path of Regan. Regan burst through the defence and from just a couple of yards out hit his shot against the underside of the crossbar and the ball rebounded to safety.
Next it was Regan’s chance to set up Gilfillan as he cleverly beat the County defence to place a superb pass in front of Gilfillan and, with only Rose in the County goal to beat, he shot wide of the far post.
County also had chances, but half time arrived with the scores level at 0-0.
The second half began as the first half had left off, both teams playing attractive attacking football, and both spurning good chances.
With eight minutes left on the clock Rovers won a corner through Johnson. Gilfillan’s delivery landed right at the feet of Jeffrey on the edge of the penalty area and although confronted by a wall of County defenders, he managed to barge past two of them and hit a drive that was deflected by County defender Gibson into his own net.
Two minutes from time and a replay looked on the cards as Bates was left all alone just outside the area with only Gavin to beat but the Rovers keeper came right out to smother the ball and clear it to safety.
So not only had Rovers got through to the next round of the F. A. Cup but had also put their dismal run to an end.
Rovers Down Shots
In the league Rovers now faced the long journey down to the Recreation Ground and the of Aldershot F.C. on Saturday 23rd November.
Aldershot were having a very good season and were lying in second place in the table, just two points behind leaders Darlington so this promised to be another stiff task for the Rovers men.
Although there are no figures for the travelling fans it was noted that a coach load of fans from Doncaster had made the trip.
Rovers duly obliged the few travelling fans by taking a two-goal lead within the opening 22 minutes and although Aldershot battled valiantly they only had a consolation goal to show.
After 19 minutes John Haselden snapped up the ball just outside his own penalty area and carried it almost half the length of the field. As he approached the penalty area, he tried to pass the ball inside to a team mate with a clever lob, but it was blocked and rebounded to his feet so he slammed it into the net for his first goal of the season.
Three minutes later it was Regan’s turn to celebrate as he scored his third goal for the Rovers. His low drive from just inside the area looked to have been gathered by Aldershot goalkeeper Godfrey but he let the ball slip from his grasp and it rolled under him and into the net.
Haselden, Aiken and Jeffrey all went close to adding to Rovers’ lead but it was Aldershot on 41 minutes who managed to reduce the arrears when a free kick from Dawes was punched clear by Gavin but the clearance only found Walton who prodded the ball home.
The second half continued in the same vein as both teams carried the attack to their opponents.
Johnson claimed he had scored again midway through the second half as his shot came down of the underside of the crossbar, but the referee waved away his claims.
The game ended in a 2-1 victory for Rovers and moved them back into the top four. It also gave the travelling fans hope that Rovers fine football was returning and that they were back in the promotion race with a vengeance.
A Friday evening game on 29th November would be Rovers; next game against Grimsby Town at Belle Vue and watching it from the stands would be the club’s new manager Lawrie McMenemy.
McMenemy had been the Sheffield Wednesday coach and it was thought to be something of a coup to have got him.
McMenemy had been brought to Hillsborough by then manager Alan Brown from the North East where he had been Manager and Coach of the Amateur team Bishop Auckland and he had left them as champions of the Northern League.
At just 32, he was said to be the kind of young manager that Rovers had been looking for and he would take up his duties on the following Monday.
Stay tuned for Part Four of Ray's recounting of the 1968-69 season next week on ITEN. We would like to thank him for offering to help us with content during this difficult period for football and the wider world, and would be happy to field enquiries from other Rovers fans with an interest in writing about the club if they wish to join the growing ITEN community. Please get in touch with us via our website or social media pages, or else we can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.