Regime Change: What Watsons Departure Means for Rovers
Last week Doncaster Rovers announced that Andrew Watson and Sarah Flower were stepping down from their positions on the club’s Board of Directors, bringing to an end the 14-year tenure of the Watson family as part of the club’s ownership structure.
The news came out of the blue to many Rovers fans – and punctured the bubble created around an hour before by Grant McCann’s Hull receiving a humiliating 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Wigan in the Championship – but was less of a shock to the higher-ups at Rovers and the Viking Supporters’ Co-operative, as the family’s withdrawal from active involvement in the club had reportedly been in the works for some time.
Whatever the circumstances, the departure of the Watson family is a sad one as they have contributed so, so much over their time at the helm, and questions will inevitably come over the near future of Doncaster Rovers and indeed the long-term plan for sustainability in the league.
A Legacy Secured
Dick Watson came on board as a Director and financial backer in 2006, alongside business partner Terry Bramall as the duo that came to be known in the early years as the “Keepmoat Two”, working alongside popular Chairman John Ryan to play a crucial role in pushing Rovers on to new heights, facilitating a long period of success on and off the field. During their tenure the club rose to the Championship, completed the move into a new stadium bearing the name of their Keepmoat construction company, and moved forward as a club in numerous ways across over a decade of progress.
Dick’s children ably took up the mantle when their father sadly passed away three years ago, and have been a great credit to Doncaster Rovers throughout. That Andrew and Sarah continued to provide funding through this trying pandemic instead of stepping away earlier in the year as intended is also a sign of how much they care about Doncaster Rovers and in maintaining their ambassadorial duties have secured the legacy of their father in the annals of the club’s history.
Andrew Watson stated in the press release announcing their departure that the pressure of combining being a fan with taking over from their father had been difficult, and this is understandable. Nobody around Doncaster will begrudge the family taking this decision now, although it does raise plenty of questions about what comes next in the landscape of Doncaster Rovers and the club’s future ownership and financial situation, especially as many had come to believe that Andrew was being set-up to lead things at some stage in the future, even before the death of the elder Mr. Watson.
The Partial Unknown
Andrew was made Vice Chairman of the club in 2016 as part of the succession plan being put in place by his father and Terry Bramall, with the Doncaster Free Press even dubbing him “the man who could be king”. His presence began to increase around the day-to-day activities at Doncaster Rovers but the sudden passing of Dick Watson changed the course of any succession and now the club is perhaps back to looking more short-term about such matters.
Mr. Bramall reaffirmed his commitment to the club in the wake of the Watson family’s announcement last week – not that that commitment should be questioned at all anyway as the continued funding of the club has undoubtedly kept Rovers going for several years now since John Ryan’s ignominious departure – which is reassuring, and there is certainly no need for immediate alarm by the looks of things. Indeed, many close to the situation have an expectation of “business as usual” as far as financial solidity goes, taking out the obvious challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it is unclear if Mr. Bramall intends to simply cover the funding previously provided by the Watsons in addition to his own contributions going forward, or if there will be a move to seek new investment once everything in the world settles down again. Should he be expected to put even more millions into the club when he already provides a significant amount, as the Watson family did until recently? Is it simply a fact that the club will have to cut its cloth accordingly from now on?
No Cause for Alarm
Fans are right to ask questions but the group of people who have been tasked with running Doncaster Rovers and Club Doncaster over the past number of years have earned the confidence and trust of all those with the club close to their heart. Gavin Baldwin has been a brilliant Chief Executive and David Blunt an able Chairman. On the playing side, the last three managerial appointments have all been worthwhile and Rovers sit stable in League One for a fourth straight season ahead.
Baldwin and Blunt have, along with Terry Bramall, taken on an equal amount of the shareholding left by the Watson family but it is Mr. Bramall who is now the primary financial contributor by the looks of things. The club has been touting a gradual move to self-sustainability through the Club Doncaster model and, if not for the pandemic, it seemed that goal was not far off being reality. Perhaps it will be again in the not-too-distant future, but realistically there are no clubs completely self-reliant as a going operation at the level Rovers aspire to be in the pyramid.
The prospect of new investment being mooted is an understandable one, but the pitfalls are evident in the multitude of cautionary tales up and down the EFL and below. Look at what happened to Leyton Orient, to Bolton, to Wigan just this past month, and the potential catastrophe is plain to see. Doncaster Rovers are in good hands still, it’s just that one of those pairs of hands has now elected to step away.
Change may be on its way before long, but for now there is no reason to believe that the united voices preaching that all is well are wrong.