Conversations with Glen Wilson (Doncaster)
Here, in the second piece posted in our evolving Conversations series, Glen Wilson of that gold-standard webzine Viva Rovers tells us where he thinks it went wrong for Doncaster this season and talks about his thoughts in regards to the state of football in South Yorkshire and the way things are going in the Football League blogosphere. A further post is planned with Ian Rands, chief hack over at A United View, and we’d welcome all types to get in touch and start a conversation about their clubs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LL: So, I suppose that a good place to start would be to ask what your thoughts are on the 2010-11 season. Perhaps it’s because expectations were raised through the permanent capture of Billy Sharp, or the continued presence of James Coppinger and Brian Stock, but from the outside it looked like it was a real damp squib of a year for Doncaster. Would that be about right or am I being a little negative?
GW: Obviously it was something of a disappointing season, as all the signs were that the squad was stronger than that which had finished 12th the previous season. On that basis and the fact that in late November Rovers were knocking around seventh place it was certainly a damp squib, so no you’re not being negative. However, the swathe of injuries suffered after Christmas – with as many as 14 first team players unavailable in February – would test any Championship side, let alone one of Rovers’ limited means. The resulting upheaval to the starting line-up led to a horrible few months across the second half of the season, which brought just three wins post-Christmas. That said, retaining Championship status is ultimately the main aim and any season that sees us achieve that is a plus. Hopefully it will have brought a bit of realism to those Rovers fans who’ve only known success and were starting to cast envious glances Blackpool’s way.
LL: To me, it seemed as though Donny benefited from momentum for a sustained period, but that it perhaps fell away when Sean O’Driscoll was linked to Burnley last season. Or is that just another of my deluded ramblings?
Either way, who were the key injuries? I recall that Stock was out for much of 2009-10 and it was another quiet year for him again this season gone; what’s the story there?
GW: O’Driscoll was linked with Burnley in January 2010 and we still went on to finish 12th, carrying that momentum into the recent campaign. Sheffield United’s open flirtation with O’Driscoll for their vacant manager’s position in December was irritating and upsetting, but I don’t think it can be taken as a factor leading to the poor second half of the season. The assumption that he could be cherry-picked simply because United had a bigger stadium, and some sepia tinged pictures of them winning trophies in their club offices showed a misplaced arrogance and, in my opinion, a complacency which would contribute to their ultimate relegation.
Injury-wise take your pick; every single member of the squad missed at least a month. Rovers’ style of play relies on smooth passing; the familiarity of who’s playing with you is key, so that we’ve not managed to field the same XI for more than a couple of consecutive games all season means it’s difficult for the players to perform in the manor they’ve become accustomed to. Players like Martin Woods and James Chambers have barely made it on the field. Stock missed quite a lot of the season and has had his problems with back and ankle, but as key as he’s been for us, he’s not necessarily the biggest loss to the side. Top scorer Billy Sharp only played two thirds of the games, so it’s fair to say had he remained fit the season would not have been half as bad.
It’s in defence where we have suffered most though, with each member of the back-line having a sustained period on the sidelines. Every time we thought we’d found a solution, that player went on to get injured: Mustapha Dumbuya, James O’Connor, Joseph Mills and Shelton Martis each looked to have solved the problem only to get injured themselves. There’s only so many times you can slap yourself in the face before the comedy potential of the situation begins to wear thin.
LL: Love the sepia comment Glen. Yes, such a succession of loan signings and temporary fixes are always likely to lead to trouble. What next, though? Will the summer provide adequate time to get the squad’s health in order, or are these injury problems likely to rear their head again do you think? Does Sean O’Driscoll have the patience to see it right?
And on the south Yorkshire rivalry, do you take any pride in the demise of Sheffield’s two clubs? I suppose that Barnsley will be your main rivals next season, then?
GW: Hopefully the summer will provide time for some players to return to full fitness, as well as for reflection. So for instance, the club now knows it will be without Stock until around November, and can look for appropriate cover. Hopefully we’ll see Chambers and Woods next season too. I think the injury problems will come up again, but probably not to the same extent. I think Sean O’Driscoll has more patience than others in this respect; in his two managerial stints – Bournemouth and here – he’s swum against the tide, albeit in differing circumstances, and I think he enjoys the pressure of this sort of challenge rather than something that’s falsely created by hype and media interest at a higher profile side.
Ultimately I like to see Yorkshire clubs doing well, so whilst there is a little smugness at being in a higher tier than South Yorkshire’s Big Two, there is an element of disappointment in regard to the region’s football fortunes as a whole. Less than fifteen years ago we were Yorkshire’s 13th best side, now we’re in the top five, and that’s not solely down to our rise. The demotion of Sheffield United has not changed our rivalries as they were too wrapped up in the Steel City superiority stuff to care about the rest of South Yorkshire, but Scunthorpe’s relegation does now make Barnsley our most significant local derby. Indeed it’s odd that the Doncaster / Barnsley rivalry isn’t already a big one; the roots of mutual hatred based on a close proximity and more similarities than folk seem prepared to admit are already sewn. At Oakwell in April there was a bloke in the away end toilets loudly proclaiming how backwards and disgusting the local population were … whilst simultaneously taking a piss and using both hands to send a text. I think it’s got legs.
LL: What’s your take on Keith Hill’s appointment at Barnsley, then? Do you think that his arrival, albeit on an initial one-year contract, might swing momentum in their favour?
Also, taking a look at next year’s Championship, the division appears to be a tougher prospect than it has been for a few seasons with new sides Birmingham, West Ham, Brighton and Southampton all likely to be strong in particular. Do you feel that Donny might need an injection of something or other in order to safeguard against staleness? Either way, have you got the funds?
GW: From the outside I can only speculate, but Hill’s appointment looks a good one for Barnsley; his achievements with Rochdale speak volumes. However, the manner of Mark Robins’ departure suggests that all isn’t so perfect at Oakwell. I think they’ll be as wary as Rovers are as to how strong the Championship is looking next season.
Next year’s division does look tough, and our 21st place finish last season will inevitably make us favourites for relegation. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little daunted, but if Rovers can hang on to their assets over the summer, chiefly Sharp and Coppinger, then we should first take solace from the team’s form in the first half of the season, when the current squad had us knocking around the play-offs. So the first-choice team is more than competent, but the late season injury crisis shows that the squad is in need of strengthening.
As for an ‘injection’, we’re lucky to have some well-off directors and of course chairman John Ryan so the means are there, but they’re also savvy men who won’t throw their wealth at transfers; a pragmatic approach I really like. They’ve said any new players must be free transfers, but if the perfect player comes along at a reasonable price they’ll go for it; as they did with Sharp last summer. So it’s up to O’Driscoll to find bargains who can fit the system he plays. He’s achieved it before with unwanted players like John Oster and Simon Gillett, plus taking Dumbuya from non-league, so hopefully he can replicate these successes once more. Left-back and centre-back are the key positions in which we’ve struggled to replace lost talent, so if we can find adequately rounded pegs to wedge in these holes we should be OK. Besides, recent history has taught us we do better when we’re written off anyway.
LL: Sounds like a difficult time to make any firm judgement on what’s to follow, but I’d hope that you’d be ok with a couple of well timed signings in key positions.
Finally, I just wondered what your thoughts are on the state of football league blogging right now? Viva Rovers continues to pave the way in terms of fanzine esque sites; have you got anything up your sleeve for the coming months? And are there any emerging blogs / writers that have caught your eye of late?
GW: Aye, I’m worried but think we’ll be ok.
That’s very kind of you, although I’m not sure I’d agree that Viva paves the way, but I’m happy enough that I’ve managed to keep it going independently since it was shut down by Rivals two years ago. If anything that probably gave the site much more credibility. The only problem with writing Viva Rovers is that I don’t have time to read everything else that is out there. Twitter has proved a great tool to help promote blogs and sites, but if I took the time to read everything suggested to me via that medium then I’d have been sacked from my full-time employment months ago for abusing company time.
To me, it appears that there is something of a hierarchy, certainly an emerging clique amongst blog sites, and one which favours the sites/writers looking at the game in general. I suppose that’s inevitable, given that their subject matter is more accessible to more people, but I worry that club-specific sites are often being overlooked. There are some brilliantly written one-club sites – Cod Almighty and Smog Blog – to name just two but I get the feeling their out-and-out quality is often not given the respect or acknowledgement it deserves because their content is a little more insular, and because their writers are not involved in blogger meet-ups. Perhaps I’m just being a bitter, parochial northerner, but that’s the impression I get.
For Viva, I’m not sure what’s next as I’m set to relocate in July, so the site’s longevity or format will inevitably depend on that. Assuming it does continue then I may try and build on the growing relationship between the site and some of the club’s players (again forged through twitter) to get some interviews done; something beyond the who’s your room-mate on away games, who’s the worst dressed gubbins that we’ve been fed for the last twenty years. Oh and I’ve some new t-shirt designs in the pipeline … despite the fact that after three years of selling Viva merchandise I remain my own best customer.