Talking Sport Now & Then: Remembering when the Dons made headlines for all the wrong reasons

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Doncaster RLFC made the national headlines for all the wrong reasons 29 years ago this month.

South African-born full-back Jamie Bloem became the first player in the domestic game to be found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs several months into the club’s debut season in the top flight and was banned for two years.

Bloem never played for the club again, although he did play again prior to becoming a referee.

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He had joined the Dons at the start of the 1993-94 season and played over 30 games during their promotion-winning campaign when finishing runners-up to Workington Town

Jamie BloemJamie Bloem
Jamie Bloem

Although a regular, Bloem wasn’t one of the leading lights in Tony Fisher’s side, which included Carl Hall, that season.

It was a much different story in the opening weeks of the 1994-95 season when he tore a hole in the best of defences with his aggressive running and despite only playing ten games he finished the club’s top try-scorer with nine.

Bloem had put on a lot of muscle – something I remarked upon when I first saw him and which he put down to working with heavy weights at a local gym during the close season.

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He bagged a brace as the Dons kicked off their campaign with a stunning win away to mighty St Helens and continued to impress in subsequent games against big-name sides.

It all started to turn sour for Bloem and the Dons following a random drugs test after the return game against St Helens in early November.

The following week the Dons made the return trip to Widnes and I remember him staying on the team coach after all the players and staff had got off and he asked me what I knew about drug testing.

He told me that he had been tested and was worried that as he had been taking medication for a cold/chest infection it could affect the results.

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We discussed his concerns after which he asked me to keep the matter quiet and promised to let me know the outcome.

I was disappointed, therefore, when the story was splashed on the front page of a national newspaper.

Fortunately, I had his number and he agreed to talk to me despite being in a bad place.

Knowing what I now know about anabolic steroids, it is easy to say that I should have put two-and-two together. But performance-enhancing drugs weren’t a big problem in UK sport at that time though that quickly changed.

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Bloem’s last game for the club was against Leeds, who had been reported to be prepared to pay a six-figure sum to sign him, at Headingley.

*Like everyone with an involvement in sport I was sorry to learn of the death of Sir Bobby Charlton.

I interviewed him twice on visits to Doncaster during the days when he had his own soccer school business and I found him to be very down to earth and helpful on both occasions.

He also proved to be patient – not so some of the parents who had paid good money to have their kids coached by the former Manchester United and England star at Adwick Leisure Centre - as photographers from different local papers insisted on setting up their own lengthy shots rather than sharing the photo opportunities.

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Charlton will always be remembered for the part he played in England’s 1966 World Cup victory, but life could have turned out so differently for him had he not been so lucky in the Munich air disaster which claimed the lives of a number of his United teammates.

A lot of people outside of Manchester adopted the team in that period although I never became a United fan I did become a fan of Charlton as I saw more of him in the 60s. What impressed me about him, and it was something I always tried to emulate, was his long-range goals.

It was much harder in those days to score from long range than it is today due to the heavy grounds and balls which often felt like a pile of bricks.

*The late Ken Blood, who did so much for amateur boxing in the city and beyond, would have been proud of the former Doncaster Plant Works boxers such as Maxi Hughes and Reece Mould who have made their name on the world stage.

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But he wouldn’t be surprised at the success of some of his former amateurs, in fact he predicted it.

I recall speaking to Ken at the Hexthorpe-based club after Doncaster’s Jamie McDonnell had won the IBF world bantamweight title at the Keepmoat Stadium and in doing so he surpassed the feats of legendary Bruce Woodcock.

“Bruce was a boxing icon for people of my generation and beyond and he inspired me to get involved in boxing,” he said. “I’m sure that Jamie will have the same effect on today’s generation, in fact I’ve already seen that starting to happen with them talking about what he’s done during training nights.”

*Physio Karl Blenkin, who has quit his post with Doncaster Rovers to rejoin Super League outfit Castleford Tigers, will always have a special place in the city’s sporting history as he is the only man to work for all three of the city’s big clubs, Rovers, Doncaster RLFC and Doncaster Knights, in the role.

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I always got on with Karl and he gave me some advice on a couple of occasions, but I somehow don’t think we’ll be seeing him working back in the city any time soon.

*I have a lot of respect for former Rovers chairman John Ryan - not least for the way that he stuck by the club during their darkest days when he could easily have joined a much more fashionable club as a director - and wish him well with his new book.