A kick up the Noughties

TWO months from tonight, we’ll all be getting ready to welcome a new decade. Already, the reviews of the Noughties are starting to seep out (in summary: Bush, Blair, Cowell, Leona, Boris, David Brent, Am I Bovvered?, Peep Show, John and Edward, Obama, Coldplay – possibly in that order). For Doncaster Rovers and Blackpool, the Noughties have turned out very nice indeed.

The two sides met in the Championship in the nice modern surrounds of the Keepmoat Stadium this afternoon, fought out a thoroughly entertaining 3-3 draw and showed enough about them to suggest they won’t suffer a downturn in fortunes for a while yet. At the start of the Noughties, both clubs were a long way from paradise.

Doncaster started the 2000s with a 0-0 draw at Scarborough in the Conference. I suspect even those who were there have probably forgotten it. Rovers were, under the chairmanship of John Ryan, trying to rebuild after a calamitous few years, which culminated in possibly the only relegation in recent history even more embarrassing than Derby County’s.

You don’t remember Doncaster’s relegation from the Football League in 1998? Let me remind you. They went down with 20 points, 15 adrift of safety, and with a goal difference of minus 83. In the process, they used 45 players, lost 0-5 at home to Peterborough, 0-8 at Leyton Orient and 1-7 at Cardiff – as well as 0-8 at home to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup.

One of those 45 players was a chap called David Smith, who made his one and only Football League appearance in a match against Brighton, chiefly on account of being a neighbour of Doncaster boss Mark Weaver, who had previously been Stockport County’s commercial manager.

The following year, Doncaster’s former owner-chairman Ken Richardson was starting a four-year jail sentence for conspiracy to commit arson, after the main stand had almost burned down in 1995.

Ryan, a Doncaster lad who made his millions in the cosmetic surgery industry, had a big job transforming Rovers. And yet last week, they almost won at Newcastle.

“I think games like this make you realise how far we have come with this club in such a short time – the last 11 years have simply flown by – and that we have arrived when we can take teams like Newcastle head on for the first 60 minutes on their own ground,” he wrote in his programme notes for today’s game.

Blackpool might feel the same way – especially as they actually did beat Newcastle last month. They started the 2000s only one division below where they are now. But Bloomfield Road was falling to bits, and the team would soon drop down into what was once Division Four. They hadn’t been in the top two divisions since 1978.

Today, they’re on the fringes of the Championship play-off race, playing attractive football, and even the ground is looking a bit smarter.

Blackpool’s recent history has been sprinkled with success – and I should know, because it would appear that I’m part of it. You see, at the time of writing, I am referenced on the club’s Wikipedia page. No, I’m not sure why either. But I am. Look.

BlackpoolWiki

While I’m immensely flattered that anyone should think my rambling blog entries are worthy of quoting, I can’t help feel there are other journalists, who watch Blackpool far more often than I do, whose words are more worthy of celebration.

I am thinking of Steve Canavan. If you haven’t read Canavan’s match reports in the Blackpool Gazette, you really should. They’re astonishing flights of surreal wonder (and they’re all online as well, so you’ve really no excuse).

Here, for instance, is how he opened his report on Blackpool’s goalless draw with Derby in August:

WORLD records are fascinating.

Some people, for reasons known only to themselves and their carers, must sit around in rooms for days on end thinking of surreal stuff they can attempt.

Thus we have records for such things as most T-shirts worn at one time (David Alexander, who managed 121 – it then took 30 minutes and four blokes with scissors to cut him out) and world’s longest eyebrow (Leonard Traenkenschuh, of Washington, who memorably said of his impressive three and a half inch eye-hairs: “I didn’t set out to do it, I just have fertile brows”).

Derby also has a record-breaking claim to fame. The world’s biggest ever bowl of popcorn was prepared at UCI cinema at the city’s Meteor Centre in 1991.

It took the cinema staff three days to complete the record, starting on August 23 and finishing on August 26.

Well done Derby, you must be proud.

Had Nigel Clough sat down to eat the said bowl of popcorn he would have felt sick, but not as queasy as he might have had he lost this game.

The man is quite clearly wasted in local newspapers.

We’ll have to wait until Monday’s Gazette comes out to discover how Canavan opens his report on today’s 3-3 draw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a reference to the Pink tribute singer who entertained the crowd before the game and at half-time.

Clad in a remarkable skin tight silvery-purple number, her left breast covered only by a red star, ‘Pink’ (or maybe ‘Pinkish’) was actually Donna Moore, a former estate agent from Doncaster. She’s gone to great lengths to look like Pink – she’s even had the same tattoos done – and sings like Pink, too. However, Donna gave the game away by being far too cheerful. A little more truculence would make the impression far more convincing, love.

She didn’t get to see her home-town team win, although they dominated the opening 20 minutes, and deservedly led through Martin Woods’ well-take fifth-minute goal.

But Blackpool equalised in the 21st minute, when Ian Evatt’s goalbound header from a David Vaughan corner squirmed through keeper Neil Sullivan’s grasp. After the match, Blackpool officials said that Brett Ormerod should be credited with the goal, as he got a touch to Evatt’s header. Either way, it knocked the stuffing out of Donny for a good 10 to 15 minutes.

Billy Sharp, on loan at the Keepmoat from Sheffield United, missed a couple of good chances before restoring Rovers’ lead 12 seconds after the break.

But then came Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Blackpool have borrowed the teenager from Arsenal, and he looks useful. He was only playing because Scottish midfielder Charlie Adam was suspended – but with just over an hour gone, Emmanuel-Thomas weaved past three Doncaster defenders before stroking the ball into the far corner.

Ben Burgess then fired Blackpool 3-2 up with a belter from 25 yards. But just as those of us who had to file reports bang on the full-time whistle for Sunday papers were preparing to hit the send button, Sharp struck again.

I doubt Canavan will refer to us panicking journalists in his match report, though – as he’s already done it once this season, when covering Blackpool’s last-gasp 4-3 Carling Cup defeat at Stoke:

It was quite entertaining watching all the journalists who have to send stories the moment the final whistle blows, having to frantically rewrite their copy time and time again as every new goal went in at the Britannia Stadium.

One hack in particular, wearing a cardigan and glasses and seated at the far end of the press box, looked as if he might combust at any given moment.

Ah well, at least I wasn’t wearing a cardigan or glasses.

Blackpool’s players felt Sharp’s late equaliser was offside, but manager Ian Holloway didn’t protest. Afterwards he argued, very convincingly, that there are worse things going on in the world than debatable offside decisions.

And in any case, even if Blackpool as a team felt hard done by, it’s a minor blip in a very good period for the club. In the circumstances, a sense of perspective is no bad thing.

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