Doncaster or Ipswich who are bigger?

JOHN Ryan's assertion that Doncaster Rovers were potentially a bigger club than Ipswich Town raised some eyebrows in East Anglia, and no doubt beyond. Here Derek Davis examines the Rovers' chairman's belief.

JOHN Ryan's assertion that Doncaster Rovers were potentially a bigger club than Ipswich Town raised some eyebrows in East Anglia, and no doubt beyond. Here Derek Davis examines the Rovers' chairman's belief.

THERE is little doubt that chairman John Ryan is understandably proud of his Doncaster Rovers but he was getting a bit carried away when he said: “Although this may sound ridiculous to some people, we are potentially a bigger club than Ipswich.”

He is right - it does sound ridiculous. To start with, his manager Dave Penney is not one of the many who have been approached by the Blues about their current vacancy so there was no choice to be made.

It may be understandable that Penney may have chosen to stay with the club who have never played in the top level of English football because they are on an upward climb, while some regard Town as being on a slippery slope.

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No doubt he is looking to move out of the dilapidated Belle Vue ground, that now glories in the name Earth Stadium to keep their sponsors happy, and move to a new community stadium, complete with athletics track.

Like Ipswich, the ground will not belong to the club and so will never be a target for carpetbaggers but nor can it ever be regarded as a financial asset.

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If Rovers, who are priced at 9-2, do win promotion to the Championship then there is a chance they may occasionally fill the 15,000-capacity ground that they will share with the more-successful Doncaster Belles women's football team and rugby league side, the Lakers.

Town will hope for a full house of almost 30,000 for local derbies against Norwich, Southend and Colchester United and maintain their average of nearly 25,000 achieved in the dismal season just gone.

Given that Doncaster have never played in the top division, and only had a brief stint in the old Second Division in the 1950s, it is understandable that the clubs have only ever met five times.

Ipswich drew both away games in the league 1-1 but won both home matches, 5-1 and 2-0 in Division Two.

Rovers did get the better of a Joe Royle side nearly two years ago at Belle Vue when they dumped Town out of the League Cup 2-0.

Although Rovers did do even better this season just gone by beating Aston Villa and Manchester City and taking Arsenal to penalties before succumbing in the quarter-finals, they have never troubled the engravers when it comes to the big cups.

Ipswich can boast to be the very best after winning the league title under Alf Ramsey, while Bobby Robson brought home the FA Cup and UEFA Cup to sleepy Suffolk.

In the South Yorkshire town, the open top bus was wheeled out for promotion from Division Three, the FA Conference play-off finals, when they beat Dagenham to return to the league in 2003, and the FA Trophy. There was also the South Yorkshire Electricity Cup this season.

The Blues fans that enjoyed watching Kevin Horlock will probably not be too envious of Rovers fans who will be cheering on the left-footed midfielder next season, after he enjoyed a loan spell in the first half of this year at Doncaster.

Other players who have donned both shirts include Tony Kinsella, Ian Atkins, John Moncur, Neil Woods, Chris Swailes and Jermaine Wright.

Not names to trip off the tongue, and Blues fans go all misty-eyed at the memory of England captain Mick Mills, internationals like Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil, Kevin Beattie, John Wark and more recently Kieron Dyer and Richard Wright. Darren Bent may have moved on but it won't be long before he joins the list and of the current crop Owen Garvan, Shane Supple and Chris Casement look likely to win full international honours in the green of their respective nations.

Rovers boast Alan Blayney as their newest cap for Northern Ireland and, in the past, such household names as Harry Gregg, Brian Deane, Peter Doherty, Kit Lowler and the legendary, in Doncaster, Alick Jeffrey. Gregg was the Irish keeper who survived the Munich air disaster with Manchester United, while Doherty went on to manage Rovers and Deane won his England caps while with Middlesbrough.

But Rovers' most famous player by a mile was a no-nonsense centre-half who once said: “I was never a fancy player but I could stop those b........s that were.” He also used to say: “Ay up me flower.”

The player in question was comedian Charlie Williams, who turned the tables on the racists with his un-PC act in the working men's clubs and on television, after packing in playing following 171 appearances.

He may have been an even bigger joker than Ryan, whose ego ran away with him in Rovers' promotion season. Ryan insisted on going on as a substitute, just so he could say he had played for Rovers, and appeared for a few minutes at the end of a Conference game with the result, and a play-off place assured.

In fairness to Ryan, his devotion to Doncaster cannot be questioned and he has campaigned hard to get the stadium built, has poured money in, with not much chance of a return, to ensure they got back into the league and have progressed.

It was not that many years ago that Rovers were in the footballing wilderness and in serious financial plight and suffering scandal that saw its former chairman Ken Richardson jailed for trying to burn down the main stand. Like the Town directors, Ryan and his board have ambitions for the club and that is to see them at least back in the Championship after 50 years, while Town want a Premiership return after a four-year absence.

But the evidence is that Doncaster are not a bigger club than Ipswich, and are not likely to be. Of course, it is not inconceivable that they can overtake Town if Rovers get it right over the next two or three years.

Now that would raise a lot more eyebrows among Ipswich Town fans and, for the Donny supporters, make them laugh louder than any Charlie Williams gag.

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