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popularSTAND fanzine @vivarovers
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Right, that’s it. We’re absolutely done with Arsenal fans whining about losing a Cup Final to a really good side like it’s some kind of personal affront.
So, you want a ‘banter era thread’? Oh we’ll give you a ‘banter era thread’
Turn off Arsenal Fans TV, mute Piers Morgan, put down your homemade laminated A4 #WengerOut signs and settle in for a history lesson.
This is Doncaster Rovers, 1997-98 - the most batshit League club there has ever been and ever will be
First a bit of scene-setting, so we start in 1993 when this man, Ken Richardson, takes over the club. And duly appoints his daughter and niece as directors… on a three person board.
Prior to taking over at Rovers Richardson was owner at non-league Bridlington Town. Look up Bridlington's history and you’ll see they were reformed in 1994. Guess who’s fault that is?
Yep, good old Uncle Ken, who moved the original Bridlington Town to Doncaster with him in 1993. They lasted just one season of 130 mile round trips for home games before unsurprisingly folding.
Anyway, back to Rovers and in 1994 Ken advertises the club's Belle Vue ground for sale in national broadsheets… despite the fact that he doesn’t own the ground.
The actual owners are the council. And unsurprisingly they’re not best pleased.
1995 and the Main Stand at Belle Vue mysteriously ‘catches’ fire. It is undoubtedly arson, but who on earth could possibly be behind it?
August 1996; Rovers manager Sammy Chung turns up for the first game of the season, only to discover one hour before kick-off that he isn’t actually Rovers manager anymore.
No, instead Uncle Ken has appointed Kerry Dixon in his place, who takes over from Chung instantly; managing the opening game, before Chung has even had time to clear his desk.
1997; General Manager Mark Weaver organises a Rovers Roadshow in a local pub. A chance for players to meet the fans… except Weaver forgot to tell the fans.
Seven turn up.
Summer 1997; rather than build on the foundations of a promising season Ken Richardson elects to cut costs and gets rid of Rovers four best players Paul Birch, John Schofield, Colin Cramb and Darren Moore.
By the way, think the crest on Darren’s shirt looks odd? Well Rovers had planned to put the town’s borough crest on that kit, and had 2,000 shirts made… before checking with the council. Still pissed off at the whole selling of their ground thing; they object.
So replacement shirts were hurriedly sought, with a club official drawing a rough sketch of Rovers’ Viking crest for the manufacturers. And they only went and fucking used it!
So this is where we’re at as we start the true ‘banter era’ of 1997-98 by shipping thirteen goals in our first two home games, and only managing this in reply.
Forest put so many goals past Rovers in the League Cup that the local news had to speed up the footage to fit them all in their highlights round-up.
August 1997. Three games in. Kerry Dixon unhappy at ‘influence’ in his team selections from Richardson, is sacked as a cost-cutting measure.
Most owners would rebuff such claims from a manager. Not Uncle Ken, who promptly takes his place in the dugout at Rochdale for Rovers next game. We lose. Again.
September 1997. Under their second actual manager of the season - Colin Richardson (no relation) Rovers get their first point in a 1-1 draw at Mansfield.
To shore up the defence Richardson C. signs the 'experienced' Andy Thorpe. He’s so experienced he’s been out the league five years and looked this fucking old 12 years earlier. He lasts two games.
October 1997 - for a must win match against Brighton, General Manager Mark Weaver signs a new goalkeeper… from the Stockport Sunday League. Yes, seriously. Take a bow David Smith.
Rovers also field Rod Thornley, signed from ninth tier Warrington. Not only do they lose the match 3-1, they are reported to the FA for fielding a weakened team.
Thornley and Smith are never seen at Belle Vue again. And neither is Uncle Ken - advised by the police to leave at half-time for his own safety, he does so and never returns again.
October 1997 - Prince Moncrieffe scores Rovers fifth and sixth goals of the season in a draw with Hartlepool - cue the most pun-saturated highlights you’ve ever seen.
October 1997 - Rovers appoint their 3rd manager of the season - popular youth team boss Dave Cowling. He resigns after two games when Richardson calls him from home to tell him the side he should pick.
November 1997 - Danny Bergara becomes Rovers 4th manager of the season, and he has some rallying words for his new charges...
(Incidentally, I urge you to listen closely to that last clip where you can hear one of the Rovers players confusedly asking ‘What, fight them on the beaches?’)
Bergara’s main tactic involves switching player numbers round to confuse the opposition. Though it's certainly confusing, it doesn’t quite pay off as hoped.
November 1997 - We still haven’t won a game by the way.
November 1997 - so desperate are Rovers fans to be rid of Richardson that we openly court the investment of Anton Johnson. Here’s a pic of the shy, introverted Essex nightclub owner
Johnson had previous. In the mid-1980s he’d almost taken Southend United to the brink, stooping so low as to raid the supporters’ loan fund for £70,00 they never got back.
He was duly banned from football for life by the FA, yet here he was again… as our fucking safe option. He eventually got bored of waiting for Richardson to sell up and invested in Scarborough instead. They were non-league in a year.
December 1997 - Bergara steps down as manager to focus on coaching. Luckily Mark Weaver knows just the man to replace him; Mark Weaver - appointing himself manager.
Weaver’s only prior experience in football was as manager of the Stockport club lottery. Yet despite this, and looking like the man they’d get to play Quentin Tarantino in a Crimestoppers reconstruction, he was Rovers gaffer.
And he only went and won his first fucking game in charge too. In our 25th match of the season, Rovers finally won. Beating Chester 2-1 in front of a crowd of just 846.
December 1998 - Leyton Orient 8-0 Doncaster Rovers - and it would’ve been more had Orient not taken off their strikers with 15 minutes left out of sympathy/pity.
You’re probably wondering what sort of player was featuring for Rovers in this season. Martin McDonald’s career trajectory gives you something of an idea… too does that of Gary Finley; who’s mobility led to fans nicknaming him ‘the human oil tanker’.
January 1998 - Prince Moncrieffe (seen here having come straight from a shift as a Mark-Morrison-alike) scores his final goal of the season, yet still finishes as top scorer. It’s his seventh goal.
February 1998 - Rovers only away win of the season as we somehow beat a good Peterborough side 1-0. New winger Padi Wilson looks promising…
February 1998 - Padi Wilson is imprisoned for three months for driving whilst disqualified.
February 1998 - A fucked-up-clubs love-in at Brighton for the second ever Fans United, where the PA plays a number of fire-related songs in tribute to Rovers’ absent ‘benefactor’.
Yep, by this point Ken Richardson - our own chairman - had been charged with ‘conspiracy to commit arson’ for that 1995 Main Stand fire. It’d be another year ‘til the trial.
February 1998 - On the subject of Ken, he was back at Belle Vue for the Torquay home game. Well, sort of. Someone had hung an effigy of him on the car-park entrance.
Here’s what the ground looked like then by the way. Six years those bins were like that. We were so far gone no-one could be arsed to pick them up.
March 1998 - just 739 people turn up to watch Rovers home draw with Barnet. Yes, of course we lost.
March 1998 - the club’s remaining coaching staff (both of them) are laid off; given £75 each and told to go on their way. Training is now voluntary - players are just turning up for matches. Bergara soldiers on as our only coach.
March 1998 - Cardiff City 7-1 Doncaster Rovers.
Given an absolute shoeing by the league’s 89th best team.
By this point the club has just seven full-time professional players. Yes, seven. On transfer deadline day Mark Weaver makes that eight...
by signing himself on.
March 1998 - The youth team is disbanded, and the majority of the players pushed straight into the first team for the remaining eight games of the season.
Imagine if we hadn't trapped them in the ground.
April 1998 - If Rovers don’t beat Hull they’re out the league, so in one last desperate plea for the FA to take notice, the fans stage a number of protests; including former Big Flame frontman Alan Brown chaining himself to a goalpost.
Whilst Alan is tied to the Town End posts, other fans - led by Matt (in the white hat) and Tisso (sat next to him) - move onto the pitch and take up residency in the centre-spot.
Incredibly, in time added on for for the removal of an 80s post-punk vocalist from the goal-frame, Adie Mike scores to give Rovers their fourth and final win of the season.
April 1997 - Still all (well, something) to play for then as we head to the next game at Chester, here’s captain Lee Warren rousing the troops on the bus there.
2-1 down at half-time. Mark Weaver takes over the motivation, by encouraging his team to avoid relegation now… and get relegated next week instead…
It finished 2-1.
Rovers are relegated from the Football League, with four games still to play.
April 1997 - Swansea City away. It’s never a good sign for any lower league club when Uri Geller turns up in your dressing room is it?
May 1998 - On the final day, expecting the final whistle to signal the death of the club, Rovers fans carry a ceremonial coffin to the ground and lay flowers and wreaths at the Town End.
Once the match does get away it’s interspersed with protest after protest, until eventually Mark Weaver finally fucks off out the ground, never to be seen again.
Final day defeat to Colchester means Rovers have recorded the most losses ever in a single Football League season.
July 1998 - In the close season, Rovers are thankfully taken over by a new consortium, but not before we have the madness of two different Rovers sides - one under each ownership - playing pre-season friendlies.
January 1999 - Now former benefcator Ken Richardson finally goes on trial for the fire in the Belle Vue Main Stand. It transpires he had hired an ex SAS man to torch the stand…
...only for said SAS man to leave his mobile phone at the scene, but not before he’d left a message on Ken’s answer machine saying ‘Job’s done’. Doesn’t look good for Ken.
March 1999 - Ken Richardson is jailed for four years for paying an ex SAS man £10,000 to burn down Rovers stand. Thus the madness sort of ends. would be 2003 before Rovers finally returned to the Football League, though we had some pretty awful lows in our Conference years too.
So yeah, Arsenal fans, Piers Morgan et al.. until your chairman is torching your ground and actually killing your club, whilst you’re losing every week, and you’ve only 7 players - who don’t train - managed by a lottery-seller.. forgive me if I don’t go in for your ere of banter!
There was more to this season; including a fan climbing into the dugout at Rochdale, and supporters having paint chucked over their cars by the chairman’s ‘associates’. You can take in the long read on it here…
Couple of belated credits; photo on first tweet is by the ever excellent @HOMESofFOOTBALL; footage largely taken from the Channel 5 documentary 'They Think It's All Rovers' and Yorkshire TV's 'Trading Places' documentary, both of which aired in 1998.
Both of those documentaries can be found on our YouTube channel. They Think It's All Rovers on the 1990s playlist, and Trading Places on a four part playlist of its own:…
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