Doncaster Rovers: Only one club was punished by the disciplinary panel's verdict - and it wasn't Bolton Wanderers

A prominent figure at Doncaster Rovers threw out a rhetorical question in a chat a few weeks ago.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 1:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 12:30 pm
University of Bolton Stadium

"What have we done wrong?"

He was referring of course to the match that was unilaterally cancelled by Bolton Wanderers, as well as the protracted wait for a judgement on the issue, which was meandering towards a seemingly inevitable outcome.

That inevitability became certainty on Thursday when Rovers were told they must play the fixture.

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And now the 'what have we done wrong' question only grows in significance.

In July, the fixture list presented Rovers with a trip to Bolton on August 20.

On the afternoon of August 19, that fixture was cancelled by the opposition without warning or consultation.

By then, Rovers had completed much of their preparation work for the game, both on the training pitch and in the meeting rooms.

Boss Darren Moore had carried out his pre-match media briefing. It was afterwards that he was informed the game was off, after a member of the club's media team spotted Bolton's statement about the cancellation on Twitter.

Rovers had fully prepared for the game only for those preparations to go to waste. Not because of inclement weather – always frustrating but a fact of the game – but because the opposition had taken the unilateral decision to declare the game would not be played on August 20.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, it was never a decision Bolton were permitted to make – the answer to the question of what Wanderers did wrong and something the club admitted to in front of the disciplinary panel.

What have Rovers done wrong? Nothing.

Yet, with the decision of the independent disciplinary panel handed power by the EFL, they were dealt a punishment of sorts - one that will have bigger ramifications for them than that handed down to Bolton.

A club that has since seen two fixtures postponed for typically acceptable reasons of a waterlogged pitch and international call-ups has been told to fit in a third match alongside those in League One's ever-busy schedule.

So when Bolton cancelled the August 20 fixture, they did not simply inconvenience Rovers, they delivered a significant impact to their season.

Not something that can be shrugged off as 'just a fact of the game'

No one is foolish enough to suggest that Bolton were happy to call off the match. The reasoning - citing concerns over welfare of young players in accordance with Premier League academy guidelines - was just.

And the situation they were in at the time was dire and the genuine fear their club may cease to exist was something Rovers fans in particular can have sympathy with.

All that being said, they were still not permitted to cancel the game with Rovers. Regulation 31 says so.

Their punishment for an act which they were not permitted to carry out amounts to a £25,000 fine. Two wins and a draw in the group stage of the much-maligned Leasing.com Trophy next season will take care of that.

A three point deduction has been suspended for 18 months, as has half of a £50,000 fine.

Those suspensions will be brought into play should Bolton break non-fulfilment of fixture regulations again – a situation that has little or no chance of occurring unless new owners Football Ventures turn out to be villains in disguise.

It would have been somewhat understandable from a Rovers perspective had the route been taken to come down hard on Bolton. Being ordered to play would have been a little more palatable if there was a feeling the direction of discipline had focused on punishing Bolton for cancelling in the first place.

But a £25,000 fine is no punishment or deterrent at all for what is now a financially-sound football club with a sizeable and strong fanbase.

It was a decision which the EFL themselves - for want of a softer word - evaded when they passed responsibility to an independent panel.

That may have been wise, given they were facing two of their members with wildly different views on how the situation should be resolved.

But it has meant that a resolution has been reached on this very particular issue that ultimately lets down one of its members and lets another off lightly - nevermind setting a very dangerous precedent that could have serious ramifications in the future.

It is unsurprising therefore that the EFL have swiftly moved to appeal against the outcome of the hearing. They must be seen to be strong on the interests of their members as a collective - and the independent panel's ruling is far from strong.

So now, the wait for an official conclusion meanders on.

All the while the question will still be asked - what have Rovers done wrong? And the answer remains the same.