Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969/70 Part One
During lockdown, Rovers fan Ray Jest has been taking us back in time to relive classic seasons from the archives. You can check out his recounting of the 1968/69 promotion campaign starting here, then read on below to see how the following season began.
In which Rovers flatter to deceive...
...Sheffield makes a welcome return -- Webber makes an unwelcome return...
...and Wilcockson departs to Wednesday
1968/69 had been one of the most successful seasons in recent history and it was with this in mind that Doncaster Rovers faced the start of the new season of 1969/1970 with great anticipation.
Keith Webber moved to Chester City, and Rovers won the battle with Lincoln for the signature of Goalkeeper John Ogston, who had been on loan at Rovers for most of the championship-winning campaign.
Tony Marsden, a 21-year old centre forward, was signed from Blackpool and goalkeeper Dave Clark joined from Newcastle. 20-year old Clarke was seen as one for the future and a valuable understudy to John Ogston.
Marsden seemed a particularly good signing having scored 50 goals in a two-season spell at former club Blackpool.
A snippet in the local paper had the news that former Rovers hero Alick Jeffrey had been given a free transfer by Lincoln.
Teething Problems Through Optimistic Summer
Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy put pen to paper to spell out his plans and his way to success, but many of the national newspapers were full of doom and gloom regarding financial matters. According to reports most of the Third & Fourth division clubs were running on shoestring budgets and barely surviving.
At the club’s annual meeting it was announced that the Rovers board were considering building a new main stand at the cost of £100,000 but questions were raised about the state of the Belle Vue car park.
Mr. Wilson said that he had been in touch with the Council for two years on the question of the car park’s maintenance.
He told shareholders at the meeting that a clause in the contract between the club and the corporation who rent the car park to the Rovers states that the responsibility for the maintenance of the car park is the Council’s.
He went on to say, “for that reason I would be loath to spend a penny of the club’s money on it.”
Councilor Staniland said that although he had only been the chairman of the committee for two months he had not seen the matter raised on any agenda for any meeting so far, but he would be prepared to look at the matter and investigate the Council’s position regarding the matter.
Mr. Wilson said that his bid to buy the ground had been made because of the frustration he felt at having his requests for action ignored. He also revealed an ambitious programme for the future including a new stand costing in the region of £100,000 to £125,000.
“For that,” he said, “we will need help. I will be asking the public and the City Fathers to aid us. I know there will be problems but in five or six years we will be at the top of the soccer world, something which can only bring good to the town.”
It was announced that there had been a loss of £18,393 the previous season but Mr. Wilson told the meeting that this was because “we kept our word about keeping the team together.”
Retiring Directors Mr. Ken Jackson and Mr. Hubert Bates were duly re-elected.
Councilor John Staniland, the new Chairman of the race committee which is responsible for the car park, said the following day that he would be prepared to meet Mr. Wilson the Rovers Chairman at the ground.
A study in the Daily Express said that almost every one of the teams in the Third and Fourth Divisions was struggling financially.
It stated that lower grade football was hanging by a slender thread and predicted that “Division Five must come.”
Whereas a considerable number of clubs had admitted to weekly losses and large overdrafts, Rovers had been very non-committal as to any financial matters at all but with gates for the past season averaging over 12,000, Rovers appeared to be in a strong position.
The club’s attendances were in fact the best in either of the two lower divisions.
Giants and Minnows Alike Greet Rovers in Pre-Season
Rovers' pre-season friendly games pitted them against Italian giants Lazio, amongst others, with the Biancocelesti running out comfortable winners at Belle Vue, although they had to wait until the 50th minute to get on the score sheet.
There was also a visit from American team Dallas Tornado in which a 1-1 draw resulted with Rabjohn grabbing the Rovers goal.
Rovers also travelled to the North East for two games, firstly playing at South Shields where they overcame their opponents 3-1 although it was Shields who shook Rovers by taking a 25th minute lead through centre forward Smith’s penalty before Rovers superior strength and skill had become too much for their adversaries, Johnson (2) and Regan securing Rovers’ victory.
Next up were Bishop Auckland. No shocks here as Rovers comfortably ran out 6-1 winners. After a goalless first half Rovers settled the game with four goals in five minutes at the start of the second period through Wilcockson, Watson, Rabjohn and Briggs. Briggs scored his second of the game in the 66th minute and Marsden completed the scoring shortly afterwards. Johnson scored a consolation goal for Auckland just before the end.
A mainly junior side scored a 2-0 win over Shildon before Rovers saw of Scottish side Queen of the South with goals from Marsden and Briggs.
Before the new season in Division Three got underway there was the little matter of the Sheffield County Cup to settle.
Rovers would play the Final from last season against Sheffield United but the week before they would play Rotherham United in this season’s semi-final.
Rovers lost both, being beaten in this year’s semi by Rotherham before losing 2-0 at Bramall Lane to Sheffield United.
A Tough Start To Life in Division Three
Despite these reversals the fans were hoping that pre-season augured well for the future as Rovers kicked off their new season on Saturday 9th August with a trip down to Plainmoor, home of Torquay United.
Rovers started well and with two corners in the first two minutes took the game to their opponents with fast, attacking football.
Their good work was undone though after just nine minutes when Rudge capatalised on some clever play by his team-mates to nudge the ball home from close range.
Rovers were not to be outdone though and just nine minutes later they were level.
A through ball from midfield to Watson saw him finish in fine style - it was no more than Rovers deserved.
The game continued in the same vein all the way to the break, first one team in the ascendancy then the other.
It was either team’s game as the second half got underway, but the luck was with Torquay as they once again took the lead after 63 minutes.
Torquay’s midfield general Fred laid on a superb pass for Rudge who shot on the turn only to see Ogston pull off the save of the afternoon. He was only able to parry it into the path of Cave however who gladly slotted the ball home for Torquay’s winner.
Rovers had the Man of the Match in Watson, who operated in midfield and was the Rovers player who pulled all the strings.
Despite the defeat there was a lot to be admired about the manner of their play and the fans agreed that if Rovers could continue in this form there would be more victories than defeats.
The draw for the League Cup saw Rovers pitted against Grimsby Town and on 13th August they travelled the short distance down to Blundell Park for the 1st Round tie.
Unfortunately, they would be without John Haselden who had suffered a badly twisted ankle at Torquay. Bill Barker, the Rovers Physiotherapist, said that “there is no chance of John playing on Wednesday night, although it is possible he might be fit for next Saturday."
So, Rovers travelled to Cleethorpes without one of their defensive kingpins.
Seaside Joy in League Cup
Rovers began the game in fine style and in a one-sided encounter it was Rovers who proved the superior side in all departments.
They were a yard faster to every ball, their passing was much better than their opponents and their play left little to be desired.
No wonder then that the busiest man on the field was Grimsby goalkeeper Harry Wainman, who thwarted Doncaster with some very classy saves and was not at fault for either of the Rovers goals.
With the Grimsby attack virtually nonexistent for much of the first half Robertson, Clish and Wilcockson had free rein to join in with the attack at will, and it was from one such foray upfield that Robertson scored after 19 minutes.
A corner from Usher was cleared at the expense of another corner and this time Robertson rose head and shoulders above everyone and glanced the ball home.
The wonder was that Rovers had no more to show for their powerhouse play which was due to the age-old problem of letting chances slip away.
Half time duly arrived with the score at 1-0 to the Rovers.
Rovers began the second half once more on the attack and went two goals ahead after 55 minutes, or so it seemed.
Stephen Briggs from just outside the area hit a low powerful shot goalwards and although Wainman got his finger to it he couldn’t stop it rolling over the line.
Unfortunately for him Rod Johnson, who was stood in front of two defenders, was deemed by the linesman to be offside and the goal was disallowed.
Fifteen minutes later though it was all over as a free kick from Clish found Watson, who floated the ball over Wainman and despite a valiant attempt by the defender Mobley could only help the ball over the line for an own goal.
Rovers would go into the hat for the draw for the second round of the League Cup alongside all the First and Second Division clubs.
Quote of the night was from Tony Marsden who came on for the last minute and 20 seconds of the game after an injury to Briggs: “This Doncaster training certainly makes you fit. I feel as good now as at the start of the match.”
All eyes and ears were trained as the draw for the second round was made. Rovers were rewarded with an away game at high flying Second Division outfit Blackburn Rovers.
Blackburn were lying in eight place in the second tier and pushing hard for promotion but before that, Rovers had appointments with a few Third Division teams, beginning with a game at Belle Vue against Mansfield Town.
Regan Leads the Homecoming
Rovers’ first game on home soil since promotion in front of their own fans was eagerly anticipated and on Saturday 16th August, 10,960 were in attendance to welcome them on to the pitch.
The attendance had been swelled by quite a few travelling Mansfield Town fans eager to see their team beat off the Division Three newcomers, and for a major part of the game it looked as if they might just steal a share of the points.
Mansfield played swift attacking and attractive football, but their defence was the dominant part of their display, thwarting Rovers at every turn and even when Doncaster broke through, woeful finishing by Regan let Town off the hook.
With neither side able to completely dominate the other the break arrived with scores level at 0-0.
The second half was no different with defences dominant. In particular Robertson shackled Mansfield’s main attacker Sharkey so that he never had one chance all afternoon.
Regan missed a hatful of chances and was subjected to a barrage of catcalls throughout, but he finally came good and silenced all his doubters after 80 minutes when he was on hand to pick up a deflection and hammer the ball home to give Rovers the lead.
And it was Regan again with just two minutes left who finally put the game to bed with a header from a Wilcockson cross that left Mansfield goalkeeper Brown rooted to the spot.
Rovers had gained their first points of the season, had sent their fans home happy and Regan, who had been subjected to a series of catcalls throughout, had silenced his doubters – not a bad way to kick off your new season at home.
We would like to thank Ray for his contributions 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.