When I arrived at the Keepmoat Stadium at midday on Saturday 25th May, there was a buzz in the air. Children were already taking advantage of the ‘family fun day’ activities around the ground and the car parks were filling up rapidly. As I made my way round to our East Stand entrance with my wife and six-week-old daughter, we bumped into former Doncaster Rovers chairman, John Ryan and his wife, who admired the Rovers’ merchandise that we had covered our baby in. You could tell this was going to be a day to remember.
We were lucky enough to have tickets for the VIP area and credit to the team in there as they fed and watered us brilliantly, with welcome drinks on arrival and a lovely pie meal that went down well with the 300+ guests in the room. Compere Pete Emmett was back, doing a great job of warming up the crowd before some of the Doncaster and Leeds legends made their way into the lounge. These included former Rovers players, Jason Price, Paul Heffernan, Brian Stock and Paul Green and ex Leeds men, Danny Mills, Ian Harte, Noel Whelan, Darren Huckerby and Michael Brown. This was just a flying visit before the match and you had to be quick to get a photo, but after unashamedly using my young baby as bait, I got the snaps I was after. Although, Mills did tell me there was still time to make her a Leeds fan. We’ll see Danny, we’ll see.
Soon after it was match-time. We made our way to our seats in the ground and could see instantly that the West Stand on the opposite side of the ground was packed, which is hardly surprising at just £5 a ticket. As the players lined-up before kick-off, it was clear to the eye that the Doncaster legends looked trimmer and fitter. Would that be enough though against some of the great Premier League players of the 90s and early 00s? Donny would have to play well once again to win, that’s for sure.
In the opening minutes both sides looked cagey, with former England right-back Mills making a mistake which nearly let Doncaster in. Luckily for him this wasn’t the World Cup.
Heffernan shot wide on 6 mins for Rovers, but Leeds were coming back into the game and following neat play from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Paul Green’s shot was saved by Andy Warrington seven minutes later.
Hasselbaink rolled back the years on 18 mins with a mazy run that was thwarted by a last ditch tackle by Steve Foster, from which the ball went straight down the other end, as Donny fundraiser, Bobby Ziyaei, hit the crossbar with a wonder strike from 25 yards.
After 28 minutes, Doncaster found the breakthrough. A cutting through-ball from midfielder Brian Stock sent Paul Heffernan through on goal, where a thumping left-foot finish was fired into the roof of the net.
Leeds looked to bounce straight back and a Rod Wallace shot almost levelled the scores, only to be saved by the oncoming keeper Warrington.
In the 39th minute, Rovers extended their lead. A 20 yard shot from Brian Stock came back off the post, straight into the path of Heffernan, who tucked away the rebound. 2-0 to Doncaster at half time.
As the teams came out for the second half, wholesale changes were made by both sides. Notably, Darren Huckerby and Noel Whelan coming on to bolster United’s forward line and Paul Green – who went off for Leeds in the first half – coming on for Doncaster. Following spells at both clubs throughout his career, Green had the honour of playing for each side during the match. Or as compere Pete Emmett pointed out afterwards, ”Green saw Rovers leading at the break and decided to jump ship to the winning team.” Haha!
The substitutions for the whites made an instant impact, and the three-pronged attack of Hasselbaink, Whelan and Huckerby combined for Whelan to pull a goal back on 46 mins.
However, the comeback lasted only 12 minutes before Doncaster restored their two-goal cushion. A cross from fundraiser, Sid Jones, was volleyed home by James Hayter; who still looked as sharp as he did 11 years ago to the day, when he scored Rovers’ only goal in the famous League One play-off final victory over Leeds.
Doncaster now kicked on and made it 4-1 on 62 minutes, Hayter providing the assist this time for Paul Green to place his shot into the bottom right corner. As the only player on the pitch who is still playing professionally, Green was now running the show.
Big name of the day, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, was taken off on 70 mins to a standing ovation from the 2500 strong crowd.
On 75, Huckerby had a shot well saved by Doncaster’s keeper, which in turn started a counter-attack for Rovers, ending with a Hayter strike hitting the bar and bouncing out off the line.
Just thirty seconds later though, Heffernan was on hand to complete his hat-trick, with an expert finish into the right-hand corner.
James Hayter grabbed his second goal in the 83rd minute. A Karel Poborsky-esque scooped finish over the Leeds keeper made the scoreline 6-1 to Donny. The home side were really showboating now.
Leeds clawed one back through the tireless Gary McSheffrey on 86 mins, his persistence paying off with a bobbling finish under the keeper.
Michael Brown continued his playing reputation as a wind-up merchant throughout the match, with little niggling fouls everywhere on the pitch. Saying afterwards that’s all he’d wanted to do was stick one on his former Leeds team-mate Paul Green, which he did. All in good humour of course.
There was still some drama left in the final few minutes, as McSheffrey was brought down on 87 to earn Leeds a penalty. The legends stepped aside to let fundraiser Alex Sanderson step up for his big moment. Unfortunately for him it was another fundraiser who stole the limelight, Doncaster keeper Andrew Harriman saving brilliantly to his left.
In the 90th minute, Rovers scored the final goal of the game. James Hayter laying on for Connor Steele to become the only fundraiser to score on the day.
Final Score: Doncaster Rovers 7-2 Leeds United.
Post match back in the VIP area, the party was just getting started. Some of the players came back in to enjoy a beer or two with the fans. On stage, Pete Emmett announced the man of the match for both sides and the legends shirts were auctioned off. I’m told that the day itself raised over £49,000 for the charity. A fantastic amount.
On a personal level, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. Martin and the rest of the Evestrust team should be very pleased with how it went. A superbly organised event for a fantastic cause. The whole of Doncaster is proud of you guys!
My Man Of The Match Picks
Legends – Paul Green: Playing for both sides showed just how fit Green still is as a footballer. He was the central figure for both Leeds and Doncaster in each half and could surely still play League football for a few more years yet, even if he is 35. His professional side Crewe Alexandra are lucky to have him.
Fundraisers – Bobby Ziyaei: Doncaster’s best player in the first half and he’s not even an ex-footballer! Everything went through him in centre-midfield and he forged a good partnership with Brian Stock. Well done!
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