8 Legends have been short-listed by the Black Bank over a period spanning 12 years, however only one can feature on the Legends Banner (more on the Black Bank website). DRSG Committee member Lee Croft takes a closer look at each candidate and what they achieved whilst at Doncaster Rovers:
Charles Williams 1948-59
Along with Roy Brown of Stoke City, Williams was one of the first black players to play English Football after the war. He was born a Yorkshire man, lived a Yorkshire man, sounded like a Yorkshire man, but just happened to be black. During the war he played football for the Upton colliery team before being signed for Doncaster Rovers, as a natural Centre Back he would go on to make over 170 appearances for the club. He only managed to score once for the Rovers, but with that goal coming against Barnsley (the town where he was born and grew up) it made him a hit on the Belle Vue terraces. After leaving football Williams would go onto become a great comedian and one of the first black comedians to enjoy mainstream success. His routine often found himself making jokes at his own expense and misfortune, but his time at Doncaster Rovers is not to be laughed at. Williams was a cult-hero and legend to many.
Peter Doherty 1948-53
Doherty signed for the Rovers originally as a player-manager in April 1949 for a fee of £8000 from Huddersfield. Even club historian Tony Bluff describes the moment as a “momentous announcement”. He was often a man who would lead from the front and made it clear when he fired Rovers into the lead in their first game under his stewardship against Bradford City at Valley Parade. That would be a sign of things to come as he finished the season with 27 goals in 35 games and guided the Rovers to the Third Division North Championship; earning the Rovers promotion to the Second Division where they would stay for 8 years. For the next couple of seasons Doherty would feature (when not injured) before slowly hanging up his boots in 1953 and becoming manager full time. His record at the Rovers as player was most impressive with 55 goals in a 103 games. His legend status amongst fans would only be cemented further by the success the club continued to enjoy with him as manager, keeping the club in the 2nd Division for 8 years.
Len Graham 1949-58
Until recently Len Graham was the most internationally capped player whilst at the Rovers with his 14 caps for Northern Ireland during this 9 year period. This was beaten recently by none other than Dean Furman. What Deano can’t take away however, is Graham’s incredible record for the club as he went on to join the ‘Club 300’. Graham signed under Doherty’s reign and when Doherty was called upon to manage the Northern Ireland side, Graham would become a regular for the national team as well. Following Doherty’s resignation and the club’s relegation to the Third Division in 1958, Len Graham left the Rovers and joined Torquay. However he would only make 20 more appearances before going back to Northern Ireland. Graham was an iconic figure for the club in the 50s, an ever present in Doherty’s team and considered one of the greats at DRFC.
Kit Lawlor 1950-54
Like Graham before him, Lawlor was recruited on one of Doherty’s regular trips to Ireland in pre-season tours where the squad often came back larger. Lawlor would become a regular feature in the Rovers line-up throughout his 5 seasons; he notched up 128 league appearances and chipped in with 46 goals. One of his greatest games for the club came at Anfield in August 1954 in the opening game of the season where the Rovers fought gallantly against Liverpool, twice Lawlor put the Rovers in front, with 6 minutes remaining and the Rovers leading 2-1 it would be heartbreak for Lawlor and co and Tony Rowley scored twice to give himself a hatrick, give Liverpool the 3 points and steal the limelight from underneath Lawlor’s feet. It may have been a surprise for many Rovers fans when Lawlor left the club in December to head back for Ireland, however the gap was soon filled as the space left by Lawlor was soon snapped up by 15 year old Alick Jeffrey.
Brian Makepeace 1951-61
It’s a rarity in football for a captain to be a full-back, but Brian Makepeace was the exception. Signing for the club at just 20 years old, local boy Brian would soon rise to lead his home-town club, playing over 350 games for the Rovers throughout Division 2 and the fall into Division 3 from 1958. He is one of the few outfield players to have played so many games for the club without scoring a single league goal. Makepeace’s legacy however reaches far beyond his own era as in 2006 the final ever game to be played on the turf of Belle Vue was Makepeace’s testimonial featuring a fans XI playing against a DRFC XI.
Harry Gregg 1952-57
The ‘Hero of Munich’ is well known to Manchester United fans, one of the key performers under Matt Busby and survivor and rescuer of many during the Munich air disaster. But what isn’t as well documented is Gregg’s career prior to becoming a Busby babe. As with many players during the period, Gregg was recruited by Doherty and comes from across the Irish Sea. Originally an understudy for Hardwick, Gregg would force his way into the first team and in 1954 made a breakthrough to the Northern Ireland national side (in which Doherty was a manager). It is said that Doherty had first seen Gregg play when he was 14 in 1946, and not long after being made manager of the club Doherty made it one of his ambitions to get him to sign. It was also one of Doherty’s last acts of manager to sanction the transfer of Gregg to Manchester United for £23,000. The highest fee ever paid for a goal-keeper at the time. Looking back, you could say we were robbed!
Ron Walker 1952-61
An interesting selection, there is no doubt that during his time with the club Walker became popular and well-remembered, but things didn’t get off to the best starts for him. In his first season he scored 4 goals in his 21 appearances, sadly however in all 4 games Rovers failed to win and only managed a draw in 1. He would have to wait until his 3 goals the following season would follow the same stat as the Rovers drew 2-2 three times against Everton, Oldham and Stoke. He would have to wait until the 26th March 1956 before finally scoring in a game where the Rovers won, which was a 2-1 home win against West Ham United. Alick Jeffrey scoring the other (who else?). Staying with the club throughout the fall from the second to the fourth division and Walker would see himself top goal scorer in both relegation seasons (although only scoring 9, it wasn’t that an impressive feat). When Walker finally left the club in 1961 with nearly 300 league and cup appearances under his belt, it signalled the end of an era for Doncaster Rovers, along with Makepeace he was one of the last stalwarts of the 50s to leave the club. A great servant and a true legend.
Alick Jeffrey 1954-57 & 1963-68
There is perhaps little I can add to the Jeffrey story that isn’t already common knowledge. Even on his first game Alick stole the headlines as he became the youngest player to have played for the Rovers. He quickly became a scorer of some magnificent goals and had the world at his feet. There was no doubt Jeffrey would be a great of the game, it is rumoured that Doherty convincing the teenage to join the Rovers over Matt Busby’s Manchester United set a rift between the two managers that took some time to heal. But Busy did get his man in the end when Jeffrey agreed to sign for the Manchester outfit in 1956, only to break his leg playing for the England Under 23 team. Looking back Jeffrey had no regrets: If I hadn’t had broken my leg, I would have been on that plane [in Munich]. He would go on to sustain another leg break before finally making his comeback (with Skegness Town) and finally returned to the Rovers in the 60’s where he went on to play over 200 games for the club in all competitions in his second stint, scoring over a 100 goals. Many have looked back on Jeffrey as someone who could have been the greatest footballer of his generation. Whether he will be voted as the greatest legend of this era, is yet to be decided.