Paul Goodwin’s Doncaster Rovers column: The budget figures that show it will be no easy ride back to the Championship

Doncaster Rovers hope to consolidate in League One this season and push for the play-offs next term.
Doncaster Rovers hope to consolidate in League One this season and push for the play-offs next term.

No one said it was going to be easy.

It only seems five minutes ago that Doncaster Rovers were rubbing shoulders with the big boys in the Championship, even threatening to gatecrash the play-offs at one point.

But the club now faces an onerous task to reach those dizzy heights again.

Rovers have been quick on the draw since the turn of the year and (Walsall aside) have displayed good togetherness and spirit, something sadly lacking during the last season in League One.

However, a somewhat up and down season on the whole has only highlighted certain weaknesses not associated with genuine promotion contenders: the lack of goals, the set piece problem, and the issue of conceding late goals which even senior players admitted stemmed from a lack of experience in the squad.

This season was always about consolidating back in the third tier and the sooner Rovers do just that, by reaching the 50-point mark, the better.

The sooner, then, they can start planning for a top six push next term. That’s the aim, although it is a lot easier said than done - especially amid a changing landscape.

Figures recently published on Twitter by Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble), detailing League One playing budgets in 2015/16, only underline this change and the difficulty Doncaster now face in re-claiming Championship status.

Doncaster’s wage bill for the 2014/15 season (that ultimately forgettable mid-table finish under Paul Dickov) of £4.1 million is the figure quoted by Swiss Ramble due to the club’s accounts being abbreviated in 2015/16.

That amount ranked as the 11th highest in the division but there were no figures available for Bradford, Crewe, Oldham, Port Vale, Rochdale and Swindon.

It placed them in mid-division of the majority of clubs ranging from Scunthorpe (5.4m) down to Walsall (£3.4m).

But, notably, it was a figure dwarfed by three clubs: eventual champions Wigan Athletic (£11.9m), Sheffield United (£11.3m), who went on to finish 11th before winning the league the following year, and Millwall (£8m), who finished fourth and then won the play-offs the next season.

Spending more money, of course, is no guarantee of success but clearly there is a link.

It’s not all about money. Burton Albion went up in 2016 by spending £3.6m on wages and Shrewsbury Town have worked wonders this season operating at a similar level.

The numbers might be from two seasons ago but they also back up Darren Ferguson’s assertion that League One budgets are getting bigger and bigger.

And the eye-catching amounts only highlight what Rovers, a club unwilling to spend beyond its means, are now up against, even at this level.

When you consider that Sunderland, Hull City and/or Birmingham City could be playing in League One next season, that gulf in spending capacity is not something that is about to go away overnight either.

Rovers have an opportunity to build again this summer and really fine tune their squad.

A few of the higher earners, like Cedric Evina and Andy Williams, are unlikely to remain on the wage bill and that should give Ferguson leverage to make some much-needed additions, preferably a goalscorer, right back and a bit more experience in the middle of the park.

Rovers have a certain way of doing their business and, although it remains to be seen exactly what effect the passing of Dick Watson will have on their spending power, they are certainly not about to start signing off cheques willy-nilly to achieve their objective of returning to the Championship by 2022.

They will continue to be wily, considered and with one eye very much on the long term. Ferguson will be expected to utilize his contacts and also spot a bargain.

The budget will remain ‘competitive’ but, evidently, Rovers will have no easy ride back to the Championship.