Rovers ‘til I die – John Ryan and Doncaster Rovers

John Ryan
John Ryan

John Ryan had two childhood dreams, and neither was unique to him.

Firstly he wanted to play for his hometown team Doncaster Rovers. Secondly, he wanted to own the club.

Neither unusual ambitions for a young lad – what is very unusual indeed is that he achieved both of them.

He made his mark on the pitch – and in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest player of all time when he took the field against Hereford United in the final Nationwide Conference game of the 2003 season.

Of course, by then he had already achieved his second ambition, having taken over the club he loved at the end of the 98-99 season when he was brought in as non-executive chairman, by the Westferry Consortium.

He was already a success when he arrived, having made his money with a cosmetic surgery company.

One of his first promises to fans of the then non-league club. was that he would build a new stadium within ten years – Rovers moved to the purpose built Keepmoat in 2006.

His stated ambition was return the club to the second tier of English football – the division they played in when he watched them as a lad – again, an ambition achieved.

After five seasons in the Conference League, the club returned to the third division in after winning the 2003 Conference Play-Off final.

After just one year they were promoted again, spending

In 2005–06, Doncaster beat Manchester City and Aston Villa in the League Cup, reaching the quarter finals only to be defeated by Arsenal after extra time and penalties.

In 2006 the club moved from historic home Belle View to the £21million Keepmoat Stadium, the first league game being against Huddersfield Town on New Year’s Day.,

The hits kept on coming for Ryan – On 1 April 2007, Rovers travelled to the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff to play Bristol Rovers in the Football League Trophy final. In front of over 59,000 people, this was the first major cup final in the club’s history. The game finished 2–2, and went to extra time. In the second half of extra time a Sean Thornton corner was headed home by skipper Graeme Lee. Doncaster held on to claim their first major trophy.

Just a year later they were at Wembley to meet Leeds United in the Football League One play-off final on Sunday May 25.

A James Hayter headed goal in the 47th minute was enough to win them a place in the Championship, a division in which they have consolidated themselves.

Ryan has been a hero to Rovers fans – the success of his reign is thrown into particularly sharp relief by that of his predecessor Ken Richardson, a man who was described by police as “the type that would trample a two-year-old child to pick up a 2p bit”.

Richardson was jailed for an attempt to burn down the Rovers ground – that Ryan built them a new one encapsulates the difference between the two.

He brought hope to fans, who in 1998-99 had held a mock funeral for the club,

He must be credited as the man who brought the corpse back to life and the club and fans owe him a tremendous debt.

Whatever the reasons for his resignation, the future for Doncaster Rovers is now one full of possibilities and John Ryan is the man who made that possible.