Back in 1998, during Rovers’ first season in non-league the matchday programme was put together by a group of very committed supporters, and an excellent job they did of it too. Among these men was long-serving popular STAND contributor John Coyle, with one of his contributions a series looking at the men who had managed the club from its return to the Football League in 1923 to the then present day. John has very kindly let us reproduce this series here on the popular STAND website, which we will do so chronologically over the coming weeks, leading us to begin with Dick Ray.
Following Rovers’ election to Division Three (North) of the Football League in May 1923, the Directors looked to appoint a new manager. Since March 1922, the role of Secretary-Manager had been held by Arthur Porter, who had steered the team to a very successful season in 1922-23. However, Porter had decided to step down due to poor health, and in any case, he was largely an administrative figure. Rovers wanted someone with experience at the sharp end of League football- so they chose 47-year-old Dick Ray.
A native of Staffordshire, Ray had played at full-back for a number of Football League clubs including Burslem Port Vale, Manchester City, Stockport County, Chesterfield and Leeds City. In 1919, he had been appointed interim manager of the newly formed Leeds United club and thereafter he had been in charge of United’s reserve side. The move to Doncaster was a logical step up for an ambitious football manager.
Ray was given money by the board in order to strengthen Porter’s team that had finished runners-up in the Midland League in 1922-23. Everyone knew 1923-24 would be tough for Rovers, and a start that saw them win only one of the first eight games showed just how hard things could be. Ray’s decision to move one of his new signings, Tom Keetley, to centre forward paid dividends, as did his signing of inside forward Billy Poyntz from his old club, Leeds. Rovers ended up 1923-24 a respectable 9th, with Keetley and Poyntz notching 31 League goals between them.
Ray’s Rovers did not make the anticipated progress in 1924-25, but the manager revealed himself as a shrewd operator in the transfer market. Having sold the highly promising Sam Cowan and Bob Benzie to Manchester City in January 1925, he snapped up Jack Lambert, later to be a star at Arsenal, from Leeds United. He also acquired Tom Keetley’s three brothers, Harold, Joe and Frank, and obtained the services of that fine pair of fullbacks, Joe Bowman and Jack Buckley. The highlight of the 1924-25 season was a decent FA Cup run, where Rovers managed a rare win over neighbours Rotherham County (3-2 at Millmoor) before succumbing to Norwich City in what would now be the Third Round Proper.
Ray’s best season at Belle Vue was to be his last. In 1926-27 Rovers finished 8th in Division Three (North) with Tom Keetley hitting 36 goals at a ratio of a goal a game. He scored four in a 7-0 demolition of Barrow in the final game of the season. That was to be Dick Ray’s swansong, as in June 1927 the Leeds United manager’s job fell vacant and he returned to Elland Road. He had done a sound job at Belle Vue, despite often having to sell star players like Cowan. Ray was Leeds manager for almost eight years, during which time they finished runners-up in Division Two on two occasions. In 1935, he resigned as Leeds boss and later he had three rather unrewarding years in charge of Bradford City. Dick Ray died in Leeds in December 1952, aged 76.
DICK RAY’S RECORD
First match: August 1923 v Wigan Borough (home) Drew 0-0.
Last match: 7th May 1927 v Barrow (home) Won 7-0.
Football League Record.
Played 363, Won 122, Drew 103, Lost 138, Winning percentage: 33.6%.
by John Coyle
© John Coyle, 2002. This article is copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.