'Doncaster Rovers are my life, and I miss my life so much' - Supporters on 12 months of being locked out of grounds
March 7 marks a full year since Doncaster Rovers supporters last had the opportunity to witness their team in the flesh.
The 1-0 win at MK Dons had sparked fresh optimism for a play-off push for Rovers but less than a week later, football was halted as the threat of Covid-19 grew.
It proved to be the end of the League One campaign. Seven of the 14 players who featured for Rovers at Stadium:mk would not play for the club again.
Few would have predicted on that day that Rovers would not play another competitive match for almost six months.
Even fewer would have predicted that a year on, supporters would remain locked out of grounds and do so in the knowledge they will go without seeing their side in a league game for an entire season.
To mark a year since that day in Milton Keynes, we asked members of the Free Press Rovers Fans Panel to reflect on 12 months without matchdays.
A whole year without fans at football? The longest I’ve ever gone in 21 years of life? Yeah it certainly has affected me!
With my first experiences of witnessing the mighty Rovers being at hotspots like Goole away when I was still in a pushchair, supporting my football club in person has been arguably the biggest constant in my entire life and I must admit that, at times, I’ve felt totally lost without it over the last 12 months.
The worst part for me was most definitely the months without any football at all.
Me and my Dad spent so much time lamenting how we just missed talking about Rovers, speculating about signings or listening to the Thursday press conferences together.
This was undoubtedly a unique feeling; the off-season in the summer usually at least has the distractions of a transfer window, international competitions, friendlies and seemingly inevitable recruitment of new managers in the last few years!
You’d assume that being able to watch the games on iFollow for an entire season would be enough to ease my appetite for the ‘Red and White Wizards’, but I’m afraid that - for me at least - there is so much more to following Doncaster Rovers than just football.
Not being able to see people I’ve seen every Saturday and Tuesday for as long as I can remember has been difficult to say the least.
Not only my Godfather Mick, whose duty is to provide all the essential away day snackage and has endured many miserable journeys home from Colchester and Fleetwood where not even the best 80s music can cheer me up after a 3-0 battering, but also the virtual strangers that I see every week.
Keith, who hands out sweets to the whole two rows in the West Stand whenever Rovers score - and has definitely had to bin some gone-off packets during goal droughts.
My favourite steward who I bonded with over the never-ending search for my late Grandad’s commentary headset so he could hear the goings on at the game despite being blind.
The man who arrives exactly one minute before kickoff in his motorcycle leathers and jokes that they delayed kickoff until his timely arrival.
And the fella who sits in front of us and offers some incredible insight into the League One refereeing standards - but only for the first half before he goes to watch Rovers kick towards the opposite goal!
Some of them I don’t even know their names, but I miss them dearly.
Add to this having to say farewell to James Coppinger, who has played for us since I was five-years-old, and going 365+ days without a chicken balti pie - it’s an understatement to say I have hated football without fans.
I have joked a lot this season about even being happy to go to Gillingham or Wimbledon away right now - and that says a lot!
This is because Doncaster Rovers are my life, and I miss my life so much.
I still can’t quite grasp how it’s been a year since the last time we were inside the Keepmoat and also nearly a year since the last game away at MK Dons.
It’s been a tough time for everyone this last year and for football fans it’s been much different to what we are used to.
Travelling to home and away games every week to being stuck in your living room watching the games has taken some getting used to.
Little things like grabbing a HT draw ticket after walking through the turnstiles before getting a pre match pint has been sorely missed, along with the simple buzz of walking out from the concourse to being pitch level and seeing the pitch and players.
I miss the people I sit around who I’ve gotten to know over the years of being in the same seats of the South Stand, I miss the whole routine of a Saturday or a midweek match day and I especially miss letting the match day officials know exactly what I think of them.
The absence of being at games but still following via iFollow every week has made me realise how invested I am in following the club.
Through all the triumphs and tribulations we’ve had over the years, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Those days are soon to be back and next season under Andy Butler or whoever it may be, we will be there every step of the way.
There is no hiding from how difficult the past year has been in all parts of life and the football lock out has been no different.
Football is a release valve for so many people, myself included. We all live for Saturday afternoons, win, lose, or draw, that Saturday routine which has become so normal is very important and I have no doubt the lack of live football has negatively impacted a lot of us.
Whilst watching from afar has allowed us to keep in touch with the Rovers, it simply isn’t the same. Whilst goals are still celebrated from in front of the TV, that passion, that connection, that all round buzz is missing. It isn’t possible to recreate.
Personally, I am a season ticket holder with my Dad and sitting alone in separate houses during this strange year has made me realise just how important that couple of hours at a weekend is.
Football is the most important of the least important things in life and I cannot wait to walk into a stadium and hear the roar of the crowd again.