Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Doncaster Rovers v Blackpool: A Home Away From Home

When the fixtures are published in the summer, Donny away is one of the first I look out for. I fell in love with Doncaster many years ago and would grab any excuse to spend a weekend there. If the Pool were playing at Doncaster/Rotherham/Sheffield, I’d book in at the Rockingham Arms Hotel and just know I’d have an epic trip. One highlight was when I found a child’s doll in the corner of my room, facing the wall. Odd, I thought. Was she in the naughty corner? I picked up the doll to turn her around…and was shocked to discover she had no features on her face. 

I rubbed my eyes (thankful – I think – that I had some). What was this I was seeing? Quite how I slept that night I’m not sure but I suspect vodka was involved. And yet somehow this experience only served to heighten my affection for Donny. That and the tinsel-decked taxis, the cracking boozers, the wonderful people and general quirkiness of the town. 

It wasn’t until years later (as I was researching a horror story and also beginning to question the lucidity of my memory) that I discovered that faceless dolls are Amish dolls. But why do they have no features on their faces?  According to Wikipedia:

A sociological study from 2007 says that the dolls are left faceless because “all are alike in the eyes of God”.  

Tonight Lee and I were making a road trip from Blackpool to Donny. We filled up with fuel, chocolate and Fruit Pastilles and set off around 4pm. Lee put me in charge of the music (huge pressure as he’s a DJ) and I selected my ‘Feeling Good’ playlist, as I suspected I’d be dumped on the hard shoulder if Buckcherry came on. We encountered some traffic around Leeds but arrived in Donny in reasonable time at around 7pm. 

There was an abundance of car parks around The Keepmoat Stadium. The attendant at Car Park 3 redirected us (as away fans) to Car Park 4. The attendant at Car Park 4 at length (after trying to make jokes with us when we just wanted to get parked up after a 3h drive) told us he couldn’t accept money, so redirected us back to Car Park 3. We sighed and ended up parking on a private car park behind a burger van (mmm). 

Having not eaten since breakfast, my nose led me straight to the burger van and I perused the menu.

‘We’ve only got chips tonight, I’m afraid.’

I looked at the burgers and hot dogs in front of me. Well THAT clearly wasn’t true, was it? It transpired that he meant he’d forgotten the chip accompaniments (gravy, curry sauce, etc.). Well that ruled out the chips then! Cheeseburger for me please. 

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(Apologies for making it appear like some sort of gruesome glove puppet in that photo).

This was Lee’s first visit to Donny’s new home (and I’m hopeless with directions) so he asked a friendly steward to direct us to the away turnstiles. 

‘They’re just round that way, Sir.’

Sir? Well isn’t THAT a remarkable way to be addressed at a football ground. How delightful to be greeted so pleasantly and with such respect. 

As we approached the turnstiles I saw a man being frisked and wondered if this was going to be a regular thing this season (I’m partial to a good frisk). We chatted with a steward as we queued and I told him how much I loved Doncaster. After a quick bag check I was waved through. 

‘Aw, don’t I get a frisk?’

Inside the ground, I conducted my pre-match rituals. The toilets were in good nick – and even had a quirky sign. 

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Now it was time to check out the refreshment kiosk, so I joined the queue. Typical! They had my favourite Chicken Balti Pukka Pies. Of course I wasn’t hungry now so settled for drinks to get us through the match (water and Diet Coke – although they did have a range of spirits and mixers as well as beer). 

There were numerous posters around the concourse that caught my eye. 

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Lee reappeared and beckoned me across to the adjacent concourse.

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There was a football shoot-out game set up here for children but, there being no children in the vicinity, we were invited to have a go ourselves. 

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We were having such a great time here already. The warmth of our hosts really was second to none and I wasn’t surprised to learn that they had won an award for it. 

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We chatted away to the staff and felt more at home than we do at Bloomfield Road. Donny’s counterparts could do worse than to have a look at what they are doing at the Keepmoat to provide an amazing positive fan experience.  

There was such a feelgood factor here tonight. There was no way we were going to lose. Everything just felt right. It felt so good that we had to nick a win, surely? 

As we took our seats behind the goal we admired the bling scoreboard in the opposite corner. It was certainly eye-catching and I couldn’t help but keep glancing at it even during the match. The sub announcements were very clear, the substitutions and injury time had sponsors, upcoming fixtures were promoted, non-contentious replays were shown, prize draws were announced (there appeared to be a competition to win a pie, which I wished I’d known about earlier). Donny are doing so much right. If I lived on the wrong side of the Pennines, I’d certainly visit the Keepmoat more often. What a lovely club. 

Blackpool dominated the first half. I was pleased that Curtis Tilt retained his place. Dropping him now might have led to longer-term damage to the player and the team. Tilt’s – and the team’s – distribution was noticeably more considered, with the ball being played on the floor to the feet of teammates. The late goal-line clearance and clean sheet will have done Tilt the world of good. Now we can all move on. 

The second half saw more pressure applied by Donny but Pool held on. Sub Armand Gnanduillet nicked a header right at the death to send the 400 visiting fans into raptures. Gosh we needed that! 

Midweek wins are worth extra points to the travelling fans, as they make the journey home much more palatable. Tonight the M62 was closed in two places and there were traffic cones everywhere but we didn’t really care – we floated and sang all the way home. We had three points and were only four points off the top of the league. That was so much better! What a difference a game makes. 

Of course now we could see that things really hadn’t been that bad, despite our desolation after Saturday’s home defeat. We must see the bigger picture and think longer-term. But it’s so great that we actually CARE about results again. This time last year if we’d lost (or won) a match I wouldn’t have even known the result – let alone given a hoot about it – unless someone happened to tell me. It’s wonderful to have that love, that passion, that emotion that makes us feel alive. Sure there will be upset and heartache along the way but by ‘eck it sure beats feeling nothing at all.

We love you Blackpool, we do (and Donny, we’re rather fond of you, too).

Our video memory of the day can be found here. It’s well worth a watch to see Lee’s reaction to the winning goal!

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