MODERN day football might be becoming more and more detached from its working-class roots, writes Paul Goodwin.
But thanks to the Viking Supporters Co-operative, things are a little different at Doncaster Rovers.
The VSC, chaired by Reading-based Rovers fanatic Gareth Thomas, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary as the club’s direct link to the terraces.
And in true footballing rhetoric it’s been quite a rollercoaster ride!
Since its launch, the VSC has seen their team rise from the Conference to the Championship in fairy tale style.
And off the pitch things are very much on the up too, with growing numbers of Doncaster fans now congregating and conversing on their ever-popular website forum.
It’s a labour of love for former government worker Gareth, who heads up the VSC operation.
The 58-year-old has succesfully beaten stomach cancer over the last six years - but he says there’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to his one true passion in life - Doncaster Rovers.
And he’d like more and more fans to join him on the Vikings’ mission.
Gareth said: “Our primary role is to make sure the Rovers board get the feeling from the stands.
“We’re the voice of the fans.
“We’ll try and sort out any particular problems that the fans might have, and try to improve the matchday experience.
“Obviously we can’t buy a player.
“But what we can be is Rovers’ critical friend.
“And the more fans that join us, the more meaningful and representive it will be.
“When somebody joins the VSC it’s a statement of commitment to Doncaster Rovers,” he added.
“John [Ryan] tells me it’s like a barometer.
“If the Vikings are doing well then it gives John a lot of encouragement and a feeling that the fans are behind him.
“John gets on the website quite a lot himself and he’s often on at me about people who might be complaining or having a whinge on there.
“He doesn’t post on the website but he’s a frequent user.
“John’s a fan first and then a chairman - most people in Doncaster realise that already.
“And it’s a special relationship that both I and the Vikings have with John.
“My wife Karen says I spend far too much time on the phone with him!
“But the link between the VSC and the club is something of which we should all be proud.
“A lot of football directors just see fans as a bunch of chavs who turn up on Saturday afternoon and then disappear.
“But John Ryan embraces the idea of the VSC and his vision is for the club and the fans to work in harmony.
“Make no mistake, I’ve had a few ding-dongs with John along the way.
“But we’re all in it for the good of the club and it’ll often be John who comes to me and asks ‘what can we do to make things better?’
“That’s a breath of fresh air in the modern game.”
The VSC are best known for their vibrant website and messageboard - a hub of information, rumours and banter about all things Doncaster Rovers.
And it is the website that Thomas hopes will drive the VSC forward over the next ten years.
“The website was a bit archaic so we’ve recently developed the site so it’s a lot faster and user-friendly,” said Gareth.
“We want it to be a place where youngsters log into - because they’re the future of the club.
“We had over a million hits last year - that’s definitely one of the highlights of the last ten years.
“Rovers fans are information hungry - so much so they kept crashing the old site.
“In the end we had to move the site and start again, but the end result is really worth it - and it just shows the talent we have at the VSC.
“We have a great team now with lots of ideas and drive.”