Why I want Doncaster Rovers to beat my team
Ah, the bright new dawn of a fresh, unsullied season, writes Duncan Harman. The optimism — often blind — that our ageing journeyman striker is going to bag twenty before Easter. That the youth team centre-half we’ve vaguely heard of will be the lion-hearted lynchpin of the defence by Christmas. The trenchant belief that, with a fair wind and an empty treatment room, we might, just might be a play-off team…
And yet for the first time since my club and I became intimately acquainted, I’m unable to feel the usual frisson of optimistic excitement. It’s not that I can’t foresee success — you can’t spend the amount of cold hard cash that we have, then fail to expect a tilt at the title. It’s more the context, the sense of embarrassment, a worry that my equilibrium has been interfered with; let me explain…
I support a Football League team that I’m not going to name (it’s not important; what’s happened to my team could just as easily happen to yours). We’ve had a degree of success in the past — we’re not complete strangers to the top division’s mid-table and the occasional blast of minor silverware — but in the great scheme of things we’re not the biggest, brightest or boldest. I’m content with that — it’s the gradual ebb and flow that underpins a following of any team beneath the elite few; a football fan defined by the failures as well as the successes.
Things began to change early last season when our apparently charismatic and fairly rich foreign owner sold the club to a group of duty-free salesmen from the Far East. Then came the big name manager, followed by the decent Premier League loanees to supplant the okay-but-not-great regulars.
Yet that was merely a warm-up to this summer. We’ve seen a constant influx of players more than capable of holding their own in a higher league — and on the wages that come with that. Huge tracts of money thrown about on transfer fees and payroll and renaming the stadium and generally acting like a drunk housewife on the first day of the January sales — all this from a club whose trip to administration in the not-too-distant past still rankles in more than a few circles.
I should of course point out that this isn’t a thinly-veiled attack on foreign ownership. I may yearn for some Utopian ideal where Supporter’s Trusts up and down the land own their respective clubs, but in the real world, board room villainy isn’t dictated by the passport of the occupants. For every Carson Yeung stinking up the place, there’ll have been dozens of home-grown shysters, braggarts, incompetents and Peter Risdale dragging their clubs towards extinction upon a gilded carpet woven from eviscerated promises.
So when it comes to their new toy, perhaps my club’s ownership have long-term sustainability in mind as well as success on the pitch — who am I to doubt that these guys didn’t spend their Bangkok slum childhoods glued to the World Service, awaiting news of Frank Worthington’s latest exploits and dreaming that “one day…?”
No, my deep sense of unease originates from the concept of football as vanity project. Unsustainable spending. Sudden and dramatic investment from oblique sources — and all of it a deliberate grab for the prestige that comes with queuing for the top table.
I’m sure that Doncaster Rovers (to pull a club arbitrarily from the Football League bonnet) are as guilty as every other club in employing the odd mercenary midfielder or harbouring boardroom desperation for that slice of Premier League avarice — but it’s on a far more natural scale than my team. I feel that we’ve taken a shortcut; like a bodybuilder on steroids we’re in danger of becoming big boys without necessarily having put in the groundwork.
So, if you support a Championship club, you can thank my team for the further erosion of parity this season. I won’t be feeling any joy should we beat Doncaster Rovers — it would be the equivalent of rooting for the school bully as he picks on a kid a few years below him. In fact, I might very quietly cheer Donny on, just for that game — at least this way my equilibrium may be restored.