With many dubbing Paul Dickov’s current role at Doncaster Rovers as the ‘safest job in football’, Lee Croft looks back on what other managers have had to do before being shown their P45.
IAN SNODIN 1998-2000
When Snodin came in the off season of 1998, he was gifted what was probably an impossible task of managing Doncaster Rovers. With just 4 registered players and uncertainties over the conference granting us the right to play in the 5th tier, Snodin would have to work very hard to bring some stability to the club.
The shock reality of how far we had really fallen was epitomised on the first day of the season away at Dover. Picking players up on the motorway, running out in 2 year old kits showcasing the sponsors of the company of the man who almost broke the club, 2 fans pitch invading in outrage and a 6 hour trip back after a 1-0 loss. The theme would continue. Just 1 win in the first 10 and a double dip relegation looked to be on the horizon. Somehow Snodin turned it around and steered us into 16th position. A poor return in hindsight but given the nature of the job and the situation at hand, it was fantastic we somehow didn’t end up relegated. The fans also got their day in the sun as Snodin guided the team to winning the Endsleigh Challenge trophy after a 3-0 win (4-0 on aggregate) at Belle Vue against Farnborough.
The following season would mirror the same result in the Challenge Trophy, but in April 2000, with Rovers ‘enjoying’ mid-table mediocrity, the axe was wielded and Rovers favourite son was sent packing.
Sacking tip: Avoid relegation and achieve mid-table mediocrity.
STEVE WIGNALL 2000-2002
When Wignall arrived the ambition was clear, get Doncaster Rovers into the football league. However, with only one spot available for the winner of the league it was always going to be a difficult task for Wignall.
His first season was not much more impressive than that previous. Rovers finished 9th and a somewhat distant 28 points behind 1st place Rushden and Diamonds. Although, things were not all happy smiles at the club anymore. Chairman John Ryan and his side kick Peter Wetzel were entering a political war with the council over a new ground and as a result Ryan and Wetzel resigned and the funding of the club was in doubt.
That being said, Wignall still managed to improve his squad by bringing in Justin Jackson, an accomplished striker who had scored nearly 50 goals in his last 2 seasons (the last with league winners Rushden). Sadly however, it wasn’t to be and in January 2002 Wignall was relieved of his duties. The official statement gave the reason of financial constraints and the word from the club pointed to Ryan and Wetzel no longer funding the club. On the pitch Wignall had failed to deliver as well, sitting in 10th pace and 15 points behind the current leaders Boston.
Sacking tip: Failure to get an accomplished striker playing, failure to mount a promotion push.
DAVE PENNEY 2002-2006
Penney continued the trend of being the third manager in succession to have played for the club. For Penney however it was much more a recent player and was at first player-manager. However as he neared the end of his playing days it became a full time role.
Given the financial constraints on the club that lead to sacking Wignall and giving Penney the job in the first place, you could say that he came into a job without as much pressure. Yet Penney managed the impossible as he got the club promoted back into league after 5 years, and despite being favourites for relegation he lead the team to a second promotion as Rovers won Division Three. His Third full season in charge wasn’t as eventful as Rovers achieved a solid finish in League One.
The next season would fail to see an improvement, however reaching the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup proved to be a highlight and papered over the cracks showing in what was beginning to become a predictable and boring game from the Rovers. When Michael McIndoe left in the off season in 2006, many questions loomed over where we would go from there. John Ryan could obviously see what was happening too, and a few games into the 2006/07 season he made the choice to let Penney go.
Sacking tip: Achieve 2 consecutive mid-table finishes in a division 2 levels higher than when you arrived.
SEAN O’DRISCOLL 2006-2011
With many fans unhappy at Penney’s departure, and rumours of Kevin Keegan being lined up as the next manager. The words on Rovers fans mouths were “Sean O Who?” when O’Driscoll was named manager in 2006.
In his 5 year reign he would win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earn promotion to the Championship for the first time in 50 years via the play-offs and achieve the highest finish we had ever achieved in our modern era. John Ryan often quoted SOD’s beautiful passing game as the reason he brought him to Doncaster and SOD’s Rovers would showcase this astonishingly. For many fans this was the best we had played in a long time, dubbed the “Arsenal of the North” and an era described as “Total Football”, it was clear throughout that O’Driscoll was doing this on a shoestring budget.
The fairy tale wouldn’t last sadly, and a squad hit with many injuries and a poor run of form without a win stretching to 19 games (equalling a club record) saw the curtains drawn on Sean O’Driscoll’s time.
Sacking Tip: Equal a negative club record and occupy the relegation spot 7 games into the season.
BRIAN FLYNN 2012
After Saunders left for Wolves, and Rovers occupied second in League One, Brian Flynn was promoted from scout to manager till the end of the season. Flynn wasn’t a popular candidate immediately with fans, but this probably wasn’t helped with John Ryan going on record to say that we had some fantastic applicants for the role and some of them of ‘premier league calibre’.
Flynn however did steer the ship well, slightly improving the home form, and continuing the fantastic away form. After a late winner from Kyle Bennet against Shewsbury, Doncaster would take top spot and would stay there for the most of the games remaining. An incredible run of form from Bournemouth saw them finally overtake us with a game to go and earn promotion before us (as the only two teams that could overtake them – Rovers and Brentford – played each other in the final game). However Flynn would get the last laugh as Rovers won the league in the final minute of the season. Trotta would miss a ‘promotion penalty’ and 18 seconds later Paynter would roll the ball across the goalmouth for James Coppinger to slot home and earn us the league title.
Despite guiding Rovers to our first national title in Tier 3 (given it was North/South last time we won), there was still rumours around regarding whether Flynn would be given the role for our return to the Championship. Flynn would put an end to these rumours by announcing he would step aside and take up a role in player development and scouting. Whilst he wasn’t strictly sacked, for many fans it seems obvious that he stepped down to save the embarrassment of not being offered the role despite being promotion.
Sacking Tip: Achieve the promotion by winning League One for the first time in the club’s history.
It seems at Doncaster Rovers, just about anything is possible to earn you the boot. From starting a season badly, to taking the club 2 divisions higher and enjoying mid table mediocrity. Heck, even winning the league can see you given the boot (at least from the manager’s office to the scouts cupboard).
Co-incidentally, the only manager from this era not in this list is the only manager to get us relegated. Yes, Dean Saunders. Despite taking Rovers down in cruel fashion and chirping out the same excuse “I manage a team that has a losing mentality – it’s my job to turn that around” he somehow was given the all clear to keep his job and rebuild for League One before jumping ship to Wolves.
And on that note, it seems from the evidence given that the only thing you can do to not lose your job at DRFC, is get relegated. Like Saunders, Dickov oversaw the Rovers relegation from the Championship in 2014. So perhaps, Dickov does know what he is doing this season; he is just doing what he can to keep his job!