Richie Wellens says Doncaster Rovers ‘just knew they were going to beat Leeds United’ in the 2008 League One play-off final at Wembley.
Wellens, now manager of Swindon Town, spoke to Not The Top 20 Podcast about his playing days and his managerial career to date.
The 38-year-old helped Rovers get into the Championship and then finish 14th in 2009 before joining Leicester City for £1m.
He returned to Doncaster in 2013 before departing shortly after the arrival of Darren Ferguson two years later.
Here is what he had to say about his first spell at the club, former manager Sean O’Driscoll and former teammate James Coppinger.
On joining Rovers in 2007 and beating Leeds at Wembley
I turned up and obviously saw the stadium and realised that the club wanted to go places.
John Ryan was a fantastic guy, he was the chairman. Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly were real football people and straight away I felt a connection with them two.
After the first season we beat Leeds at Wembley in front of 80,000.
We turned up at Wembley a couple of days before just to go and have a look at the stadium because Sean didn’t want us to turn up on the day and be surprised by it or in awe of it.
We went to have a look and Leeds were there in the opposite half. We looked across and made eye contact with a few of the Leeds players and we just knew we were going to beat them.
We’d played them twice before and they actually beat us at the Keepmoat and we beat them at Elland Road.
They had some big names but we knew in terms of the style we played that we were a better team than them.
You just have this feeling that you’re going to win.
Doncaster beating Leeds at Wembley in front of 80,000 people – it was a brilliant story.
On losing out on automatic promotion and going into the play-offs
What happened was we actually took our going out gear [to Cheltenham on the final day of the season] because we thought ‘this was a given’.
We knew that if we won Nottingham Forest couldn’t overtake us.
We went 1-0 down and Sean actually gave me a right rollicking at half time.
I was injured. I needed a double hernia but decided to try and delay it until the end of the season.
We pulled it back to 1-1 but we got beat and we didn’t go up.
I remember looking and thinking ‘I hope no one sees our going out gear’.
We came in on Monday and had a meeting. I stood up and said ‘Okay, it’s a massive disappointment but Swansea have just won promotion, they won the league at Brighton away’. I think it was at the Withdean in front of 8,000. ‘Great for them. Nottingham Forest have won promotion at the City Ground in front of 25,000’.
I said ‘fair enough, we’ve wasted an opportunity. Let’s not dwell on it. We’ve got the chance to get to Wembley and win promotion there in front of 80,000 people’.
The first leg we drew 0-0 at Southend. I was injured, I just couldn’t move. My double hernia was really taking effect.
And then I played in the return leg, I had an injection before the game. We won 5-0, James Coppinger scored a hat trick, he was outstanding on the night.
I had about five injections - one in each side, one in my buttock – just to try and get through the game at Wembley. I wasn’t missing it. I lasted 70 minutes and James Hayter scored the winner.
To play at Wembley was a brilliant experience.
On Sean O’Driscoll
The biggest compliment we can give him is that against some very big clubs we were walking out for the second half against some top players in the Championship and they were saying ‘can we not just leave this second half, just give you the three points and we can get off home so we’re not chasing shadows for 45 minutes?’
We would just pass it around teams. When myself and Matt Mills left they used the money to buy Billy Sharp and they got John Oster in, who’s a good footballer, and just continued it.
He had certain ways and systems to overload certain areas of the pitch.
But he’d also give players belief.
I used to go on the pitch knowing, I don’t care who I’m up against, I’m going to be the best player on the pitch. I’m going to play one-twos around you, I’m going to run off you, I’m going to play in front of you and as soon as you engage me I’m going to play in the spaces that you leave.
He was just really good. Richard was the same.
If you speak to Sean or listen to him he can be quite dour at times but one on one he is very engaging.
Richard O’Kelly on the other hand, his glass was always half full. He was totally the opposite and they worked brilliantly in tandem.
On James Coppinger
It doesn’t surprise me [that he’s still doing so well].
I had a bet with him three or four years ago that I’d play more games than him.
I think I’ve still got more games than him, but he’s fit. He’s lived his life right all the way through.
You look at him now and he’s probably not put an ounce of fat on.
He’s a great player. He should’ve played higher. Maybe his lack of goals stopped him from playing higher.
I look at some of the players that win promotion to the Premier League and have a little dabble in the Premier League.
It’s shocking that he hasn’t had a chance in the Premier League because technically, I think in 2008-9-10-11-12, he was a very good player.