Released by post, promotion and Dean Saunders’ ‘special prizes’ - Billy Paynter on life at Doncaster Rovers
He played a huge role in the most dramatic of promotion wins for Doncaster Rovers but 12 months later found himself released by post.
Despite being a hero of Brentford and top scorer during the League One title win, there was little ceremony in the manner in which Billy Paynter’s time at the Keepmoat came to an end.
His release at the end of the 2013/14 season was expected. Under Paul Dickov - who took charge after Rovers sealed their return to the Championship - the striker had received little game time.
But Paynter admits, after his contribution to the club, he expected better treatment as he was shown the door.
“All I got was a letter,” he told the Free Press.
“It was a letter that said ‘following meetings with your manager…’
“I never had a meeting with the manager. I got told by letter, which was disappointing.
“Certain managers do things to your face, others prefer to hand a letter over or post it out so they don’t see your reaction.”
Paynter had made 12 appearances for Rovers that season, with only one of those being from the start.
Having netted 13 crucial goals in Rovers’ run to promotion the previous season, he felt he deserved more of an opportunity to contribute towards the bid for survival.
“I was looking forward to playing in the Championship and meeting the new manager when I came back in for pre-season,” he said.
“I had a feeling he was going to go his own way and have his own ideas.
“I wasn’t playing as much. I was a bit part player, coming off the bench for a few minutes here and there.
“I came off the bench against Leeds and scored, and I’m thinking ‘what have I got to do to get an opportunity? I’ve not done anything wrong.’
“If he said to me that I was not in his plans I’d shake his hand and go.
“But, he kept saying he wanted me involved and he was pulling me along.
“I had to tell him that I needed to get out and get some games on loan.”
He secured a loan move back to League One with Sheffield United in January.
But one of his few appearances for Rovers would ultimately scupper his chances of being involved in a memorable cup run for the Blades.
“They were doing great in the FA Cup and Nigel Clough was actually getting people fit in league games to concentrate on the cup,” the 35-year-old said.
“I played ten minutes against Stevenage when we got knocked out and it killed me.
“I was cup tied then so I was a spectator at Sheffield United in that brilliant run to the semi-finals.
“But I did feel a lot more involved being a spectator there than I did at Doncaster.”
Though his departure from Rovers did not play out in the manner he would have hoped, Paynter still holds a tremendous amount of affection for the club.
The striker was a key figure in the successful 2012/13 season both on and off the pitch. A big character, he enjoyed great popularity with supporters.
It was a swift ascent, having only arrived the previous summer from Leeds United.
“I was down in Cornwall in pre-season with Leeds,” he said. “Neil Warnock likes to go down there because he’s got a property down there.
“I got a phonecall to say go and speak to Notts County and Doncaster. The next morning I got a train. I think it was three or four trains to the different destinations.
“I met Keith Curle [Notts County boss] in Sheffield and then I spoke to Dean Saunders. I liked what I heard from Dean.
“He had a vision, spoke positively about the club and about me and how I’d fit in and his aims.
“His aim was to get back up. He wanted to get promoted. I felt, with his ambition, it was a no brainer.”
Saunders snapped up Paynter just before the start of the season as he put together a new squad to mount a promotion push.
And the former Wales international made a big impression on the forward.
“He was different to what I was used to,” he said.
“He loved the dressing room and just wanted there to be a good atmosphere in the training ground.
“On Friday’s we’d have young v old, and he’d be giving scores out of ten. He was always a ten!
“He’d come in with prizes for the best. It’d be a DVD set, say Rocky, but three of the disks would be missing!
“I know, speaking to the lads the season from the season before, that there was a racehorse at the training ground once.
“He just loved football so much that he was always involved.
“Whether that was joining in training or jumping on the lawnmower to cut the grass, he’d do it. He’d set off early to get in early.
“He loved it and wanted to join in all the time.
“With Dean and Brian [Carey, assistant] there was a nice gel and with the players as well. We were all experienced players who got on and we knew our roles.”
After the disastrous ‘Experiment’ campaign, Saunders had started pre-season with only nine senior players.
But Rovers would hit the ground running that season and remain among the leading contenders throughout the campaign.
Paynter put the success down to Saunders’ vision for how to tackle the division and the clear picture presented to the squad for how to implement it.
“We had the biggest back four in the division,” he said. “It was no-nonsense and he’d say just head it and kick it away from our box.
“Was we the prettiest footballing team? No. We didn’t really get it down and play like MK Dons would for example.
“We were direct. We had two big centre forwards in me and Browny [Chris Brown] that challenged in the air and liked to link up.
“We had good midfielders around, tricky wingers and then Humey [Iain Hume] came in on loan which added a bit more fire and energy up front.
“We were all together. We were a tight group that got on well. We had breakfast together, dinner together, we had a laugh and a joke.
“We were all leaders in a way. We were all men. We had the winning mentality.
“When it didn’t go well, we had those leaders that could say things aren’t going right, we need to buck our ideas up and the boys responded.
“It was massive. If you have a couple of defeats, it could become a habit. But if you’ve got those leaders like Jonah [Rob Jones], the captain, and things aren’t going right, he’d nip it in the bud early. The boys responded to that.”
Rovers would ultimately go on to win the League One title with Paynter netting 13 goals, enjoying productive partnerships with both Brown and Hume.
While pleased with the individual achievement, Paynter says the main goal was always promotion, which was secured in the dying seconds of the season with the remarkable breakaway goal at Brentford, for which the striker carried the ball up the pitch before squaring to James Coppinger.
“As a striker, you want to be finishing top scorer,” he said.
“It was most important in the end that the main goal was promotion, however it came.
“It was an okay goals return, into double figures. We were winning a lot of games 1-0. “It wasn’t free flowing football, it was about winning games.
“There was nothing individual about it, it was about getting results and moving onto the next one.”
Paynter now coaches in a top Premier League academy but continues to cast a keen eye on Rovers’ fortunes.
“I always look out for the results,” he said.
“They’ve got a good, positive manager in Darren Moore looking forward, so I think they’ll do well.”