Fans' return brings sense of normality to Keepmoat Stadium - colour report, reaction and pictures
In the end, Doncaster RLFC strolled to victory against perennial strugglers West Wales Raiders.
But the real winners were the loyal and hardy band of Dons supporters who, after 14 long months, finally returned to the Keepmoat Stadium to watch their boys in blue and gold.
It may only have been a small crowd – around 700 or so, young and old, families and friends, were dotted around one section of the East Stand in socially-distanced bubbles.
But their presence and impressive noise had a massively uplifting impact on everyone inside the stadium on Sunday.
If we’ve learned one thing over the last year, sport is nothing without fans.
Before the game groups of excited schoolchildren joyfully played tag on the pitch, while outside there were queues, happy faces and anticipation – a tangible sense of excitement and relief among fans that they were finally back at their second home.
When Doncaster’s players entered the field shortly before 2.30pm the brilliant cheer that greeted them felt like an outpouring of emotion.
Dons chief executive Carl Hall said it gave him goosebumps.
For the players, who barely had a run out last year and started this season behind-closed-doors, it must have been quite the adrenaline rush.
For the hard-working stadium staff it will have given them great satisfaction.
And for club officials and members of the media, who have become accustomed to watching sport in soulless, empty stadiums, it was music to their ears.
Forget the fake crowd noise. Now it was for real again. The first big hit of the game. The first try. The first ironic cheer.
When jet-heeled winger Tom Halliday left his man for dead in the second half and spectacularly dove over the try line it produced arguably the loudest cheer of the day.
We’re not back to normal yet, still no smell of hot dogs or Bovril, but this felt very close to normal.
On the pitch Dons didn’t start off great but finished in style. A comfortable win. One for the fans.
What Dons staff and players said...
Carl Hall (chief executive)
“It was fantastic to see so many people back, everyone followed the rules and helped us put on the game safely.
“I had goosebumps at the reception from fans when the lads walked out the tunnel.
“The players and coaching staff all commented on how much they enjoyed it more with people in the ground backing them, and hopefully we repaid them a bit for their backing with the good win.
“After a challenging year for everyone we can now really see light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’d also like to thank all the staff down at the Keepmoat Stadium for their exceptional efforts to ensure the game could go ahead, a lot of planning went into making it happen and they have dealt brilliantly with everything.”
Richard Horne (head coach)
“It’s great to have them back and some normality in the game – I’m looking forward to it continuing now for the rest of the season.
“When things aren’t going for you they can rally the lads, they created some atmosphere as we got going and thank you to everyone who came and got behind the lads.”
Matty Beharrell (scrum half)
“It was really good. I was excited to play in front of them again, it’s been a long time coming. You get that buzz. It’s good to have the fans back.
“It really helps us. We like playing in front of fans and we like to entertain. That’s why we play the game.
“We were all excited to be back playing in front of the fans and hopefully now we’re getting back to a bit more normality.”