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Eerie atmosphere at Doncaster's old Belle Vue - Carl Marston's Travels with Town

PUBLISHED: 09:02 13 September 2019

Then-Ipswich Town boss, Joe Royle, looks on from the cramped away dug-out at Belle Vue as his side crashes out of the Carling Cup at Doncaster, in 2004. Picture: WARREN PAGE

Then-Ipswich Town boss, Joe Royle, looks on from the cramped away dug-out at Belle Vue as his side crashes out of the Carling Cup at Doncaster, in 2004. Picture: WARREN PAGE

Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds over the last 30 years, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he recalls Doncaster's old Belle Vue

Ricky Ravenhill celebrates scoring the opening goal for Doncaster, in their Carling Cup success over Town, 15 years ago. Picture: WARREN PAGERicky Ravenhill celebrates scoring the opening goal for Doncaster, in their Carling Cup success over Town, 15 years ago. Picture: WARREN PAGE

I will use any old excuse for a trip down memory lane to recall past trips to Doncaster Rovers' old ground, at Belle Vue.

Of course Ipswich Town will be entertaining Doncaster Rovers at Portman Road tomorrow afternoon, a club who have played at the plush Keepmoat Stadium since 2007.

But for the previous 84 years, Rovers played their home games at Belle Vue, renowned for its extra big playing surface, and in later times for the odd pitch invasion and the occasional fire in the main stand.

Town actually only visited Belle Vue on three occasions, chiefly because Rovers were predominantly a third tier or fourth tier club until their more recent stays in the Championship.

Doncaster Rovers take an early lead against Town, at the old Belle Vue ground in September, 2004. Picture: WARREN PAGEDoncaster Rovers take an early lead against Town, at the old Belle Vue ground in September, 2004. Picture: WARREN PAGE

There were a couple of visits in the 1950s, for old English Division Two fixtures (second tier), which both ended in 1-1 draws.

I was not around then, but I do recall Town's third and last jaunt to Belle Vue, for a midweek Carling Cup tie in September, 2004. Joe Royle's side went down 2-0 that night, so ensuring that Ipswich never won a game at the Belle Vue!

And there is another loose Ipswich connection, that I will never forget - the afternoon that ex-Town striker Neil Gregory scored a goal (in the colours of Colchester United) on the final day of the 1997-98 season to beat already-condemned Doncaster Rovers (relegated out of the Football League) sparking a pitch invasion in the process.

Gregory's goal, and the various pitch invasions that afternoon (there were two of them) meant I was late phoning over my copy to the old Green 'Un newspaper.

Neil Gregory, celebrating a goal for Ipswich Town, went on to score for Colchester United in an incident-packed final day of the 1997-98 season at Doncaster's Belle VueNeil Gregory, celebrating a goal for Ipswich Town, went on to score for Colchester United in an incident-packed final day of the 1997-98 season at Doncaster's Belle Vue

Yes, it was that serious!

The low-down

- Ground: Belle Vue (1922 to 2006)

Former Doncaster Rovers boss, Dave Penney, who plotted the downfall of Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup at Belle Vue in 2004Former Doncaster Rovers boss, Dave Penney, who plotted the downfall of Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup at Belle Vue in 2004

- Club: Doncaster Rovers (founded in 1879)

- Town's first visit: 1-1 away draw on March 19, 1955

- Town's last visit (to Belle Vue): 2-0 away defeat on September 21, 2004

- Town's overall record at Belle Vue: P3 W0 D2 L1.

- Town's overall record at Doncaster Rovers (Belle Vue & Keepmoat Stadium): P9 W4 D3 L2

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Quirky facts

Belle Vue boasted the biggest football pitch in the UK, 110 yards long and 72 yards wide, so there was plenty of scope for both sets of wingers to have a field day.

A less happy claim to fame was then-chairman Ken Richardson's involvement in a fire in the main stand in 1995, for which he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson.

In later years, the press box amounted to little more than a desk, while the stadium was tired and rundown, a sad sight.

Curiously, though, I liked it.

Town's visit

September 21, 2004: Doncaster 2 Ipswich Town 0.

Town bowed out of the Carling Cup after conceding a goal at the start of each half, in this second round tie, having seen off Brentford 2-0 in the previous round.

It was a night to forget for Joe Royle's Championship side, although an early cup exit probably helped in their quest for promotion. Town eventually finished third behind Sunderland Wigan, losing in the play-off semi-finals to West Ham.

Back at Belle Vue, a sixth minute goal by Ricky Ravenhill was doubled by a 46th minute strike from Jermaine McSporran to seal victory for Dave Penney's League One Doncaster.

Carl's experience

Neil Gregory had only completed his move from Ipswich, along the A12 to Colchester, just over a month before a trip to Doncaster for an incident-packed last game of the regular season.

Front-runner Gregory had come up through youth ranks at Portman Road, signing his first professional contract in February, 1992. He went on to play 45 league games for Town, although 27 of these were as a substitute.

But he proved a big hit when completing a loan switch to Colchester, in January, 1998, making the move permanent for a then-U's club record fee of £50,000 at the end of March.

Seven goals were bagged, the last in the eerie surroundings of Belle Vue on May 2, 1998.

It was the day when Rovers' 75-year stay in the Football League officially came to an end - they only mustered 20 points all season - and two pitch invasions delayed matters, one of them after Gregory had netted a 56th minute winner in a 1-0 victory.

It felt like a wake, the death of a proud club. Fortunately, Rovers lived to fight another day.

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