VIDEO + PICTURES: Protests, pitch invasions and pity - 20 years on from season which nearly destroyed Doncaster Rovers

Fans regularly protested against Ken Richardson.
Fans regularly protested against Ken Richardson.

Exactly 20 years ago this month, Doncaster Rovers kicked-off a season that would go down in the record books as the worst in history and which nearly drove the club to extinction.

It was on August 9, 1997 that Rovers began that fateful season and which ended with the club's slide into non-league oblivion amid angry protests, a string of managers and chaotic and embarrassing scenes both on and off the field.

Most Rovers fans will already be all too familiar with the sorry events of 1997-98 and the individuals who wreaked havoc during those fateful 46 games which turned the club into the laughing stock of English football.

Fans' anger was primarily directed at controversial club "benefactor" Ken Richardson and his sidekick Mark Weaver - and the pair were the brunt of angry demonstrations and campaigns by outraged supporters for the entire season.

Richardson had arrived at Doncaster in 1993 following a takeover by a mysterious company known as Dinard Trading.

Right from the off, there were stormy scenes off the field with boardroom clashes - and Richardson trying to sell off Rovers' Belle Vue ground in a national newspaper advert.

Ken Richardson - the man who nearly destroyed Doncaster Rovers.

Ken Richardson - the man who nearly destroyed Doncaster Rovers.

On the field, Rovers were doing reasonably well, so supporters seemed happy enough to ignore the off-the-field wranglings.

But all that changed in June 1995 when fire ripped through the Main Stand at Belle Vue. It was quickly established that the blaze was arson - and Richardson was eventually arrested in connection with the incident after police found he'd organised an ex-SAS man to carry out the task.

By this time, pressure was growing on Richardson to quit the club - but it would not be before the farce of the 1997-98 season that things would finally reach a head.

The season started with a run of twenty games (14 defeats and six draws) before a win at the 21st attempt against Chester City in front of the Rovers' lowest attendance ever - just 864 people saw the 2-1 victory.

Mark Weaver was Ken Richardson's sidekick and mouthpiece.

Mark Weaver was Ken Richardson's sidekick and mouthpiece.

Manager Kerry Dixon had walked away from the club after it emerged he had no say in picking the team - Richardson did that - and a succession of other bosses - Dave Cowling, Danny Bergara and Weaver himself among them - were all installed in the hotseat, not that any of them had much choice in who took to the field.

Heavy defeats, pitch invasions and protest were the norm at home and away games with "Richardson Out" banners and chants a familiar sight and sound.

A march from the Park Hotel to Belle Vue saw fans carry a coffin and a banner proclaiming "Doncaster Rovers Is Dying" to Belle Vue - but still Richardson brazenly took up his seat at games, despite increasing tensions and angry scenes.

One particularly memorable game against Brighton in October saw fans of both sides turning their ire on Richardson and Weaver - while on the field, Weaver's next door neighbour, a roly poly 'keeper by the name of David Smith and whose previous match experience had been limited to pub football, played his one and only game between the sticks!

Manager Dave Cowling only lasted a matter of days in the job after Richardson continued to pick the team.

Manager Dave Cowling only lasted a matter of days in the job after Richardson continued to pick the team.

Rovers' relegation from the Football League after 75 years was finally confirmed with a 2-1 defeat at Chester in April - but that wasn't the end of things just yet.

The last match of a terrible season which saw Rovers lose 34 games and concede a staggering 113 goals saw Rovers take on Colchester at Belle Vue in front of 3,572 fans.

Wreathes were laid, a bugler sounded the Last Post, tears were shed, a minute's silence was held - and once again, the game was interrupted by pitch invasions and protests.

During the close season, Rovers would be sold off to a new consortium, Westferry, bringing the despised Richardson era to an end.

His final downfall came in May 2000 when he was banned from football for life and jailed for four years for his part in the arson plot.

The reign was finally over and a bright new era for Rovers could finally begin.

Rovers and Brighton fans joined forces for a mass protest against the regime.

Rovers and Brighton fans joined forces for a mass protest against the regime.

The squad for the final game v Colchester.

The squad for the final game v Colchester.

Danny Bergara was also manager for part of the season.

Danny Bergara was also manager for part of the season.

Angry supporters stage another protest against Ken Richardson.

Angry supporters stage another protest against Ken Richardson.