The Verdict: ‘Family feel’ makes welcome return at Doncaster Rovers

The recent Junior Takeover Day proved to be a big hit.
The recent Junior Takeover Day proved to be a big hit.
  • Junior Takeover Day an overwhelming success
  • Peterborough special offer will reveal local community’s interest
  • Rovers must play ‘long game’ to make up for ‘missed generation’

Young Harris Khan, Paul Dickov’s shadow for the day, paused for thought. He had just been asked who he would like to manage one day.

“Arsenal,” Khan replied, dressed in Dickov’s trademark blue suit and club tie. “And Doncaster,” he quickly added.

Laughter ensued in the interview room. But Harris’s reply also served as a timely reminder about the difficulties Doncaster face when it comes to winning the affections of young football fans.

If Rovers are to divert more of Doncaster’s kids away from the Premier League powerhouses or indeed their local rivals, though, they really cannot go wrong with initiatives like their brilliant recent Junior Takeover Day. Why? Because as a club they can offer the human, personal touch - something today’s money-motivated top flight almost lacks completely.

When I first arrived in Doncaster in 2006 I was immediately struck by the family feel at Rovers. It was a welcoming, friendly, down-to-earth club, one with traditional working class values.

And the very best of those values shone through a fortnight ago when young PA-announcer Alex, arguably the star of the show, read out the teams with gusto.

Later on Harris was high-fived by Dean Furman and co after the 2-0 win over Colchester. It was delightful to watch, but don’t expect it to catch on inside the bubble that is the English Premier League.

Those 30 or so lucky kids will never forget the day they got to run Doncaster Rovers, and their families and friends will hopefully have been equally inspired by a fantastically delivered day from start to finish and help to spread the word about the good work going on behind the scenes at the Keepmoat Stadium.

But the event has to be just the start of a prolonged marketing campaign by Rovers to make the club the first port of call for the town’s young football fans. Not Arsenal. Nor anyone else for that matter. Doncaster - their local team.

One of the big selling points of last summer’s proposed takeover for Messrs Bramall and Watson was the potential for Louis Tomlinson to not only forge a connection with the young folk of Doncaster but also market the club nationally and even globally, helping to give it the sustainability that the current owners still crave.

Excuse the pun, but the One Direction star gave Rovers an X-Factor. The only danger perhaps was it had the potential to become somewhat gimmicky.

Instead Rovers must now play the long game. Tomlinson’s involvement with his hometown club has remained at arm’s length following the collapse of the takeover, which left Rovers seeking sustainability by attempting to deep-root the club firmly with its local community – hence this season’s #mylocalteam campaign.

With adult tickets available for a fiver for the visit of Peterborough on Saturday, this weekend’s attendance will reveal an awful lot about the local community’s appetite to get behind its own football club.

The reality is that the ‘missed generation’ of fans will takes years to readdress, but last month’s Junior Takeover Day was the most obvious sign yet that the club’s marketing department are ready to embrace that particular challenge.

Amid a recent backdrop of two relegations, the now infamous ’experiment’ and the divisiveness caused by two failed takeovers, Rovers arguably lost some of that ‘family feel’. And as the Premier League becomes more powerful by the season, they have their work cut out improving attendances and convincing those supporters who have recently drifted away to return on a regular basis.

Results on the pitch will always be defining. But by staying true to their family values, and offering that ‘personal touch’ at plenty more events like the JTO, Rovers will hopefully get Doncaster behind its local team – and maybe even get one over the Premier League while they’re at it.