The Ryan King
By Wesley Grimes
I was too young to properly remember 97-98. I have vague memories of being stood in the Main Stand with my Dad while he vollied vitriol at the directors box. The whole season was a blur. However one thing sticks in my mind. As we left the ground after the Colchester game my Dad informed me that would be the last time I ever saw a game at Belle Vue. I didn’t understand and wanted to stop whatever it was that made my Dad look so despondent.
The next few years saw something amazing happen at Rovers. A voice for the club came forward when the F.A., the Council and the people of Doncaster had turned their back on this embarrassment of a club. A larger than life character who banged the Rovers drum harder than anyone, who could talk for hours about the club just as passionately as any fan and who had an insatiable appetite for success, determined to put Doncaster Rovers back in the limelight. I’m talking about John Ryan of course. Someone I have idolised my whole life as the saviour of my club. I will never forget those words my Dad said as we trudged back home. I’ve no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for John Ryan they’d have rang true.
Unfortunately my Dad never got to see Rovers back in the league, diagnosed with a Brain Tumour a few years later he missed the opportunity to see the ‘Ziggers’ as he called them return to the football league. I’m not ashamed to say I wept at Stoke when the crowd blasted out ‘Are you watching Richardson?’. It caught me again at our return at Leyton Orient as we left Brisbane Road singing ‘Rovers are back’. Its romantic, and a little silly to some, but football can give you a sense of identity and local pride (when lets face it, Doncaster didn’t have much else to be proud of). All this may not have been achieved if it wasn’t for one man’s determination to make it happen.
His launch of a ‘quid a kid’ at Belle Vue heralded a new age for the club and the start or rebuilding a new generation. Almost all of my friends who attended those games in the Conference still attend now, even if we can’t get there as much as we’d like.
I, like many, have had the occasional ‘head in hands’ moment with John Ryan; I cringed at the ‘Going4it’ campaign and took some heavy flack from my friends when he launched his ‘tides have turned’ rant about the Sheffield clubs. Johns passion, sometimes naïve ambition and often absurdity makes him a loveable character – a man who might not have completely funded our success out of his pocket, but his voice and football guided decision making certainly crafted it. Not many chairmen in English football actually genuinely love their club as much as JR did, and his love and passion seems to nourish the sense of ‘belief’ amongst the fans and the players (who all speak very highly of him) in a way no other could. He stood out from most other chairmen always wanting to go one step further by whatever means he could. The ‘Experiment’ as an example, where he perhaps felt forced into improvising with our limited resources and brought in names from levels of football we could never have dreamed of! Granted it backfired tremendously but was a risk that could have meant the club not just maintaining its Championship status but also pushing for Premiership glory, in my opinion one worth taking.
I am honoured to say we had a club being run by a supporter first, chairman second approach, a man who you would see shouting and gesturing just like I would at a poor refereeing decision. I’ve no doubt in my mind John Ryans mood would be heavily influenced by the Rovers result, just the same as my Dads would all those years ago.
There’s no denying that Rovers have become a much more professional operation since Terry Brammall and Dick Watson have come on board and I’m sure its something John Ryan will acknowledge and strive to maintain and I wouldn’t hope to take away anything from the contributions of any of our board members.
However I for one cannot wait for those outrageous expectations back, those angry rants to the press when a decision hasn’t gone our way, those long walks round the pitch while the fans sing his name and most of all, the flash of those big white teeth as he starts again at the forefront of the merry go round that is Doncaster Rovers.
Welcome back Sir John Ryan!