Doncaster Rovers versus Leeds United is not a proper derby game. You won’t read many previews today which downplay this fixture, especially in their opening sentence, there are papers to be sold after all. But this point I feel needs to be articulated, particularly given an increasing number of our supporters who seem to regard a side 40 miles away, which we’ve faced just twenty-three times previously, as some kind of auld enemy. One play-off final does not a rivalry make. Don’t people realise that true rivalries take decades of ingrained irrational hatred?
Even the official Rovers club website was at it the other season. “Arguably our biggest rivals” they called ‘em. Aye, with an emphasis on arguably. A proper derby rivalry is born of years of unfounded revulsion, a grudge formed on tenuous historical grounds or close proximity; geographically and competitively. And at the very least, these feelings should be requited. In that respect Leeds are barely a Mansfield or a Lincoln. Being a Rotherham or a Scunthorpe? A distant dream.
We have not yet learned to hate Leeds. Not properly. How could we? Whilst everyone else was forming their dislike of Don Revie’s big white machine, we were pottering around the league’s lesser climbs. When they were restaging the Normandy landings with Chelsea at Old Trafford, we were putting our feet up after a rare third-tier finish. Whilst Norman Hunter and Franny Lee were appalling Barry Davies at the Baseball Ground, we were busy preparing for upcoming fixtures against Newport County and Workington.
For more than half a century we merrily trod very different paths, that was until fate slung us together in League One; an unlikely union. In the sitcom existence that is Leeds’ 21st century exile from the top flight, we are not their rival. No – we are their room-mate, their beat partner. The contrasting opposite inexplicably placed into the close confines of the central character with hilarious consequences. We’re the Mel Gibson to their Danny Glover. The Don Warrington to their Leonard Rossiter.
Of course there was much delight when Rovers defeated Leeds in the League One play-off final, but that was the joy of upsetting the status quo rather than getting one over on a rival. That victory was much more a two fingered salute to Martin “hopefully they’ll enjoy their day out” Keown and Garth “you look at Leeds, their history and their fan-base and you have to fancy them” Crooks than it was to our opponents. Sadly for Garth Crooks, whilst Leeds’ may have had an extra 20,000 fans and sepia tinged photos of John Charles and Peter Lorimer in their boardroom, none of these valued extras had taken it upon themselves to mark James Hayter from Brian Stock’s 47th minute corner, and so we did enjoy our day thanks very much Martin. More to the point, we ruined Ken Bates’ big day out, and if you can’t take pleasure in that then you’re one of two things; a robot, or Ken Bates.
For many other clubs a dislike of that mob from Elland Road stems from a perceived sense of self-entitlement evident within Leeds’ support. Yes there is arrogance amongst them – you get a Harvey Nics on Briggate and suddenly you feel you should be rubbing shoulders with more illustrious company than TheLikesOfDoncaster – but we can’t cite that. This after all is Yorkshire; arrogance is on a par with thrift in the constituent elements of The Land u’t’ Gods. So we don’t hate Leeds, they are not our rivals and this is no more a derby than Dagenham & Redbridge v Tottenham, but we do so dearly want to beat them, perhaps more than any other club. The reason why can be expressed in just two words; “Donny Whites”.
On television the other season, during their Carling Cup third round tie, the Leeds crowd taunted Manchester United fans by chanting “We support our local club”. In the previous round of the competition those self-same supporters had serenaded the Keepmoat with a chorus “You’re just a town full of Leeds fans”. It didn’t go unnoticed. As football fans we’re trained in spotting such hypocrisy, it comes from a lifetime of watching players kiss the club badge before buggering off for better money.
There is a large percentage of the population of our town who take great pride in supporting the big club from the neighbouring county. Everyone knows a Leeds fan. Like a Londoners proximity to a rat, in Doncaster you’re never more than eight feet from someone humming Marching on Together. “Shit ground, no fans” they’ll chant, the irony that their council tax paid for the empty seat they’ve chosen to eschew lost on them. Why gloat in your own desertion?
From the sixties through to the present day the ‘Donny Whites’ have trod a familiar path. When the going gets tough, the tough bugger off up the M1 in search of gold; they’re Yorkshire football’s forty-niners. Whilst we traipsed round football’s nether regions, slid down rain-lashed grassbanks at Wigan, stood in a hailstorm at Southport, and pretended to get excited about a seaside trip to Morecambe they were off gate-crashing the neighbour’s party. Lauding it up in a glamorous world of sock-ties, forays into Europe, cosmopolitan Cantona, and Peter Ridsdale’s tropical fish.
Long into the 1990s this migration north persisted, led by Doncastrians who preferred to spend their midweek nights watching a side pitch themselves against AC Milan rather than Leigh RMI. The crazy bastards. Parochial as we Yorkshire folk are, we don’t care for deserters from the casue in these parts. That’s why rivalries with Mansfield and Nottingham Forest persist, even amongst supporters born long after the Miners’ Strikes in which they were formed. Football fans don’t do forgetting.
So that’s where this game sits. This afternoon is not a derby, nor it is a rivalry, we don’t all hate Leeds scum to the tune of Tom Hark. Instead this is about our town and those who shrugged it off. Today is us versus that annoying bloke at work, that pillock down the pub, that knobhead on the train, and that’s why we will always want to get one over on them.