Friday, 11 June 2021

John Stones' appearance at Frickley Athletic! (2011)

Frickley Athletic 1-0 Barnsley XI
Pre-Season Friendly
Wednesday 20th July 2011


Before John Stones became an established England international and Premier League title-winning defender with Manchester City, there was a time when he was just another youngster learning his trade.

On the books at Barnsley alongside team-mates such as Danny Rose, Kurtis Turner, Rueben Noble-Lazarus (who was perceived to be the next 'big thing' by many but didn't actually feature in this match), Paul Digby, Sam Patterson and Brad Abbott, the Reds' youngsters were all in need of exposure to men's football - therefore, this pre-season game at Frickley Athletic was arranged for that very reason.

At the time, Frickley were in the Evo-Stik Premier Division (Step 3). Then-manager Peter Rinkcavage had assembled a squad with some decent experience in the shape of Danny Walsh, Michael Simpkins, James Ashmore and Stuart Ludlum to compliment some younger lads who'd been recruited that summer including former Doncaster Rovers trio Chaz Fisher, Brad Grayson and Jordan Bradshaw.

Nobody inside Westfield Lane (or the Tech5 Stadium as it was known for sponsorship reasons) on what was a muggy summer's evening probably anticipated that a future England star was appearing before their eyes - especially as Frickley won 1-0 thanks to a strike by Grayson who beat Reds 'keeper Lukas Lidakevicius with a shot from a tight angle just past the half-hour mark.

Barnsley, despite their inexperience, weren't a bad side by any means and went close to scoring on a few occasions with Rose having a shot blocked on the line by Lincoln Adams, whilst Bradshaw (appearing as a substitute for the last 20 minutes) made a point blank save to deny Rhys Oates what would have been a certain equaliser. However, it could easily have also been a much greater scoreline with Ollie Ryan squandering a number of first half opportunities, Walsh also going close just before the interval, and Jack Watts only being denied a late goal courtesy of a well-timed challenge by Jake Scott.

The match report is still available to read here on Frickley's website and although John Stones doesn't get a specific mention, he does appear in a number of the photos taken by myself that night (see below).

Whilst the central defender went on to put this night firmly behind him and eventually compete at the very highest level, his old team-mates who also featured have enjoyed more modest careers. 

Danny Rose and Paul Digby are currently playing in the Football League following a short spell together several years later at Mansfield Town, whilst midfielder Kurtis Turner recently turned out for Penistone Church in the Yorkshire Trophy following spells in America and closer to home at Stocksbridge Park Steels. Brad Abbott has just moved into the National League North with Spennymoor Town, whilst Brad Kilburn was at Parkgate during the 2020/21 season. The Lithuanian 'keeper, Lukas Lidakevicius, went on to play for East Thurrock United amongst other clubs; Sam Patterson had a spell at Altrincham a few years ago, and McCauley Shilito (what a name!) went into coaching in Barnsley's academy.

The players who appeared for Frickley were as follows: Lawrence Matthewson (Jordan Bradshaw), Gavin Smith (Chaz Fisher), James Kay, Danny Walsh, Lincoln Adams, Dean Jones (Michael Simpkins), Lee Bennett (Ben Leonard), James Ashmore (Alex Callery), Brad Grayson (Jack Watts), Ollie Ryan (Ashley Longstaff), Teo Ringrose (Mark Whitehouse).
















Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Former scholars round up (Season 2020/21)

Even though the 2020/21 season will forever be remembered for its empty stadiums and soulless atmospheres caused by the pandemic, the ex-scholars from Doncaster Rovers have still achieved plenty over the past 12 months.

Whether it be appearances at the U20 African Cup Of Nations, obtaining a UEFA 'A' License coaching qualification, playing on the opposite side of the world or scoring a goal for Canada, there have been plenty of memories created which will last a lifetime along with the goals, injuries and common trials and tribulations of a typical year in football.

Rovers' team lines up for an FA Youth Cup tie in December 2014 (Photo: Unknown).


So here is an extensive and comprehensive season round-up of the whereabouts of various scholars who at one stage were all familiar with the sights and sounds of Cantley Park (and probably also the No.57 bus) as they sought to have a career in professional football.

Some former scholars who aren't listed may also still either be playing at some level or involved within football in some capacity or another. If so, please make me aware and I'll include the names to give an even more comprehensive round-up on the whereabouts of those who've graduated through the youth ranks.




CLASS OF '21
As has been widely reported, two scholars from the crop which have just graduated have been offered professional contracts for the 2021/22 campaign - Liam Ravenhill and Ben Bottomley.

Seven players have departed; the majority of whom are now on the lookout for new clubs including Ethan Bojang who represented Gambia at the U20 African Cup Of Nations earlier this year, Lewis Cunningham - an almost ever-present in the team during his scholarship, and the highly-versatile, hard-working engine that is Charlie Bell

Strike pair Luca Nelson who finished last season as joint-top scorer and Owan Derrett are also amongst those moving on, as is big Nottingham-based centre-back Max Jemson.

Josh Clemitson has already sorted his future and will begin an exciting new chapter in the USA at Aquinas College (Michigan) later this summer.

Ethan Bojang with his medal after the U20 AFCON (Photo: @Bojang_Ethan).




CLASS OF '20
Two players from the group which were EFL Youth Alliance (North-East Division) title-winners in their second-year are still on the books at the Keepmoat; Ben Blythe and Lirak Hasani.

Blythe made his EFL debut in the final day defeat to Peterborough United - simultaneously becoming the 262nd to feature alongside James Coppinger at DRFC. Hasani featured three times (twice in the league) before an ill-fated loan at Gateshead ended prematurely when the National League North season was scrapped. Despite his early return from the North-East, however, he was unavailable for selection due to pathetic EFL rules and regulations!

Three players from this crop spent last term at Rossington Main in the NCEL (Division One); Elliott Walker, Jack Watson and Kian Johnson. Walker's confident displays at right-back led to mooted interest from higher level teams whilst Watson got six league goals before things were declared null and void - including a superb hat-trick in a 7-2 thrashing of Harrogate Railway Athletic. Johnson kept goal in the Boxing Day clash at Armthorpe Welfare, having spent the early part of the campaign with Worksop Town for whom he was a regular at U21s level.

Mercurial midfielder Will McGowan and wide man Junior Smith are both set to fly out to the USA this summer - linking up with the Missouri Bears and Eastern Florida State College respectively.

Elsewhere Nathan Dimou returned to Australia and turned out a few times for Adelaide Comets (where he was with previously), whilst no information could be found on Norwegian striker Marius Conradi.

Elliott Walker in action in a win over Huddersfield Town during the 2019/20 season.




CLASS OF '19
Both AJ Greaves and Branden Horton spent time out on loan before returning to the Keepmoat Stadium and making their EFL debuts.

Greaves was at Gainsborough Trinity during Curtis Woodhouse's tenure and featured a handful of times prior to the second lockdown in November which led to the suspension of the Northern Premier League season. Horton started regularly at left-back for Southern Premier (Central Division) outfit Redditch United - featuring against opposing teams such as Stratford Town, Banbury United and also Hanley Town (where Ricardo Fuller was in the opposing line-up) in an FA Cup qualifying round.

Once back in South Yorkshire, Greaves made the first of 10 league appearances in a 2-1 victory at Swindon Town in January, whilst Horton was very much on the periphery of the squad before coming to the fore once Andy Butler replaced Darren Moore as manager. The first of his 11 outings was in the 3-0 reverse to Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium in March.

Arguably the most natural finisher within the youth ranks in recent times was Rieves Boocock who began last season at Cleethorpes Town though a lack of regular game-time resulted in a loan switch to Staveley Miners Welfare where he made a goalscoring start and ended up with three goals in five appearances. Boocock also re-united with his former youth team strike-partner Myron Gibbons at The Trojans whilst Cameron Foulkes, who recently obtained his UEFA 'A' coaching qualification, also arrived in the winter having previously been at Bottesford Town.

Elsewhere, Cameron Barnett (another who has previously turned out for Staveley), spent 2020/21 at Rossington Main and scored in a behind-closed-doors friendly win over Sutton Rovers in mid-April. Cameron Baldock-Smith featured a couple of times for Bourne Town in the United Counties League and nothing could be found on the whereabouts of 'keeper Dec Ogley.

Rovers missed out on the Youth Alliance title, losing on the final day at Notts County.
 



CLASS OF '18
Along with carving out a reputation as a popular co-commentator, Danny Amos earned international recognition as he was selected for a couple of Northern Ireland U21s squads - featuring in matches away to Malta and Romania, amongst others.

Domestically, he made 13 appearances in what proved to be his final year on the books at Rovers and there is no doubts that he'll soon be unveiled as a new signing somewhere.

Former youth team skipper Morgan James spent last season with AFC Mansfield in the NCEL (Premier Division), whilst playing for Sheffield FC in the division above was Cody Prior who scored this cracking goal against Runcorn Linnets in an FA Trophy qualifying tie.

Two scholars from this crop, James Morris and Lewis Scattergood, are now plying their trade on the other side of the Atlantic at Seattle Redhawks and Stetson University, respectively, whilst shot-stopper James Leverton has remained closer to home - beginning 2020/21 at Gainsborough Trinity before taking in a brief loan at Bourne Town.

Elsewhere, Matt Overton is now a regular futsal player for Loughborough University, and nothing could be found in regards to Kane Bingley (apart from Google bringing up lots of photos of Harry Kane), Keegan Townrow or Jake Fletcher.

Jordan Tucker, who also made a handful of appearances in 2017/18 - including in the FA Youth Cup, has also gone globe-trotting since his departure from DRFC. Nowadays, he plays for South West Queensland Thunder, based in the brilliantly-named Toowoomba, in Australia.

Lewis Scattergood celebrates scoring a goal in America (Photo: Stetson University).




CLASS OF '17
When Louis Jones took to the pitch for his EFL debut against Portsmouth in March, in doing so he became the first ex-academy 'keeper to feature in a league encounter since it was reformed in 2004.

The 22-year-old ultimately made 13 appearance under Andy Butler's management and registered his first clean-sheet in a 0-0 draw against Northampton Town.

Just before Christmas, Will Longbottom moved to Bradford Park Avenue from Irish Premier League side Waterford who, at one point, it seemed wanted to make 'Manager of the Month' a job title rather than an award. Longbottom was on target for the first time at BPA in a game against Boston United shortly before the National League North campaign was scrapped due to the pandemic.

Elsewhere, it was a busy year for Tyler Walker who started the campaign at Armthorpe Welfare, moved to Selby Town at Christmas - featuring for the only time in an abandoned Boxing Day tie against Harrogate Railway Athletic, before ending up at Goole AFC.

Reece Fielding was on the books at Stocksbridge Park Steels, Matt Gains (who is now a personal trainer) turned out for Thorne Colliery in the Central Midlands League, and nothing could be found on the careers of either Lloyd Henderson or Josh Barker.

Tyler Walker in arguably his favourite position during the 2020/21 season.




CLASS OF '16
No players from this crop are still on the payroll at Doncaster Rovers, but perhaps the name which will be best remembered to many is Joe Pugh.

The striker, whose younger brother is on the books at Scunthorpe, began the season at Staveley Miners Welfare before joining Knaresborough Town and bagged on his debut against Goole though the pandemic meant he never got to feature in a second league game.

Conner Williamson was also on the move as he swapped Church Street for Oxford Street - returning to Rossington Main following a stint at Armthorpe Welfare for whom ex-skipper Jordan Linley was involved with on a couple occasions as well.

Matt Parkin is another one-time scholar who can be found at Staveley nowadays, whilst Ben Greasley - best remembered for 'doing a job' on a certain Todd Cantwell during an FA Youth Cup win over Norwich City back in the day, made six appearances for Thorne Colliery in the Central Midlands League (Step 7).

Elsewhere, former left-back Michael Carberry featured prominently at Bootle AFC who have just been promoted from the North-West Counties League (Premier Division) and will now compete against the likes of Leek Town, Marine and Workington next season. He also scored this goal in a recent fixture for Canada (not the country, but just a team who play in the Liverpool Sunday League).

No information could be found on the footballing whereabouts of Joey McCormick who actually signed professional terms with the club, though a quick internet trawl did reveal he's now working for Nestle. Former 'keeper Johnny Iveson had to give up playing due to injury and Kevin Mbuti definitely didn't play for any teams last season!!

Ben Greasley battles with Dan James in a game at Swansea City! (Photo: Unknown).




CLASS OF '15
Three players from this crop endured play-off disappointment this season.

Despite the fact Liam Mandeville scored for Chesterfield against Notts County in a Play-Off Eliminator, it wasn't enough to progress as the Spireites were beaten 3-2 - meaning they'll now spend a fourth successive year in non-league football. 

Mandeville finished 2020/21 with three goals from 35 appearances and one of his team-mates at the Technique Stadium was Jack McKay. He featured just once (as a substitute in a defeat at Torquay United) and subsequently went on loan to Airdrieonians in Scottish League One - scoring twice, including a last-gasp equaliser in a Play-Off Semi-Final tie against Cove Rangers, though they eventually missed out on promotion as they were beaten by Greenock Morton in the Final.

It was at the Excelsior Stadium that the forward linked up with his twin brother, Paul McKay, who was near enough an ever-present at centre-back and has made 60 appearances for the Diamonds over the past couple of seasons.

A notorious name in Scottish football is Scott Brown. Whilst the veteran midfielder has just left Celtic, his namesake who spent two years at Doncaster Rovers before going to Sweden is now back closer to home and spent time with Worksop Town before turning out for Pontefract Collieries in a friendly once lockdown restrictions were lifted in April.

Ex-midfielder Aron Gordon was on course for promotion at Waltham Abbey who were at the summit of the Isthmian League (South Central Division) when the season was declared null and void. Gordon has now since left The Abbots.

Elsewhere, there's yet another Staveley Miners Welfare connection through winger Matty Davies who has been at The Trojans under boss Brett Marshall for the past few years, whilst no information could be found on the whereabouts of Alex Head or Ryan Wanless

Goalkeeper Jack McLaren, who hails from the North-East, may bring the gloves out again at some point in the future having played a few games in the Northern League (albeit not last season).

The team line-up before an FA Youth Cup game! (Photo: Unknown).




CLASS OF '14
Having made close to 50 appearances at DRFC then Mitchell Lund's name will be remembered by the majority of supporters and the full-back can nowadays be found at Bradford Park Avenue.

The 24-year-old, who has just signed a one-year extension to his current deal, was a regular at the Horsfall Stadium until November when he sustained an horrific facial injury in a match against AFC Telford United which required surgery and subsequently sidelined him for the rest of the season - though, thankfully, the injury didn't destroy the shiny white teeth he'd not long since had fitted.

Mitch's twin brother, Spencer Lund, is no longer playing nor is Lewis Ferguson - though the former winger can still be found in sports stadiums quite regularly as he's nowadays part of the team which travel the country rigging up TV broadcasting equipment for various live events!

Billy Whitehouse gained continental experience playing in European Qualifying ties with The New Saints a couple of years ago, but spent last term at Buxton in the Northern Premier League.

No information could be found on Callum Myers' whereabouts in 2020/21, though he has played intermittently for Pickering Town since leaving DRFC as has striker Callum Terrell. Finding out where Jack Steadman, Ben Askins and Jake Dawson are playing nowadays has also proved elusive.

Finally, Ryan Burnyeat spent time in the USA after his scholarship with DRFC finished and is now back home in his native North-East playing locally for Prudhoe Youth Club FC.

Lewis Ferguson (left) and Mitchell Lund (right) warm up alongside a fan!




CLASS OF '13
He made 79 first team appearances at DRFC prior to spells with Port Vale and FC Halifax Town but Cleethorpes Town is where Harry Middleton spent the 2020/21 campaign.

The 26-year-old midfielder played 10 times, scoring twice, as The Owls found themselves in 15th spot in the Northern Premier League (South-East Division) by the time the second and third lockdowns put paid to any hopes of finishing the season.

Amongst the faces in Middleton's scholar group was Josh Meade and the tenacious right-back made his long-awaited return from an ACL injury, which sidelined him for over a year, as Rossington Main drew at AFC Emley in an NCEL (Division One) fixture in October.

Meade boasts plenty of previous experience at a higher level, having been at Matlock Town and Buxton in the past, and Alex Peterson is somebody who spent last term elsewhere in Derbyshire - appearing for Belper Town where he scored one goal in four appearances and is named as captain on the club's website.

Evan Finnegan is a name that will be remembered by some fans as he received a first-year professional contract before moving to the USA on a football scholarship. Seven years on and the former left-back is still on the other side of the Atlantic where he is now a football coach at Keiser University!

Despite extensive searching, no information could be found regarding the current careers of Jordan Binns, Chris Whincop and Aaron Busby.

Josh Meade and Alex Peterson during the open top bus tour in April 2013.




CLASS OF '12
Of the several players to have appeared in the youth team since the academy reformed, James Husband is likely to be considered as the best 'product' and the defender now has a Play-Off winners medal amongst his possession following his exploits at Blackpool this term.

Husband, 27, began the season by receiving two red cards only a couple of weeks apart, but ended it with 36 appearances and a Wembley Stadium appearance to his name as the Seasiders beat Lincoln City in the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final to achieve promotion.

In total, Husband has made 203 appearances in the EFL to date with 64 of those being for DRFC. Some way behind him in the appearances list is Jonny Maxted who has just been released by Exeter City - for whom he played 12 games last term.

Meanwhile, Brett Lucas, who was captain when the youth team beat Exeter in the Youth Alliance Cup Final in May 2012, is nowadays skipper at Selby Town who compete in the NCEL (Division One).

Very few players can say they scored with their first ever touch in professional football but Jordan Ball is one such person who genuinely achieved just that. Scorer against Chesterfield in a Johnstone's Paint Trophy match nine years ago, the striker turned out for Heanor Town in 2020/21. 

Eddie Wilding, who was amongst this scholar group, has spent a vast part of the last decade in the USA - both playing and coaching where he's obtained a number of qualifications.

Finally, no information could be found through extensive searching on the current football careers of Jake McCormick, Liam Wakefield (who appeared at first team level), Paddy Mullen or Nathan Davison.


James Husband celebrates Blackpool's promotion to the Championship (Photo: Getty Images).




AND THE REST...
Several other ex-scholars from previous year groups are still playing or involved in football at various levels right across the world.

Brad Grayson, who has played in both Sweden and the Philippines previously, is now just up the road at Northern Premier League Division One outfit Frickley Athletic for whom he was a regular in 2020/21. 

Grayson played at the Keepmoat Stadium alongside Aaron Jones - someone who has led a nomadic lifestyle since departing DRFC; spending time in New Zealand before rocking up in Scandanavia where nowadays he turns out for Norwegian second-tier club Asker Football. 

Nick Adkins, another former team-mate of the duo - albeit for just one season, is currently an academy coach at Sky Bet Championship side Reading.

Elsewhere, some supporters might be familiar with Will Biggs who now works as a lecturer within the Club Doncaster set-up at the Keepmoat Stadium. The former youth team 'keeper was also on the coaching staff at Grantham Town last season.

Liam Nelthorpe is currently at NCEL (Division One) side North Ferriby whilst his older brother, Craig Nelthorpe - on the score-sheet just once against Northampton Town during his time at DRFC, featured with regular frequently for Belper Town prior to the second and third lockdowns.

Andrew Boyce, Valentino Sielis and Jack Muldoon were all at Cantley Park together in or around the 2007/08 campaign and all three enjoyed a solid past 12 months. Boyce made 44 appearances as Eastleigh narrowly missed out on a place in the Vanarama National League Play-Offs, whilst Muldoon scored 15 goals in Harrogate Town's first ever season in the EFL. A Cypriot international, Sielis made the switch to Busan IPark having previously played for Korean rivals Jeju United.

Meanwhile, Rob Pacey now runs his own successful football podcast whilst there are a handful of old faces still playing locally with Adam Lee switching from Armthorpe Welfare to Goole in recent months, Chaz Fisher spending 2020/21 with Barton Town, Waide Fairhurst turning out for Hallam and Will McGhie at Bessacarr in the Central Midlands League.

Aaron Jones pictured captaining Angelholm during his nomadic career (Photo: Unknown).




FROM THE NON-LEAGUE YEARS...
A handful of players from the days even before the academy was relaunched are also still involved within football to varying degrees.

These include Jon Maloney (who stepped down as Harrogate Town's ladies team manager just prior to the pandemic and former first team full-back Jamie Price who featured for Emley in a friendly victory over Rossington Main in April. Martin Drury has been on the coaching staff at Bradford City's academy for the past few seasons whilst Michael Rankine now works as an agent.



Tuesday, 8 June 2021

The Donny Dog scandal!

Football mascots being caught up in scandals aren't uncommon though news of Donny Dog's antics in June 2011 reverberated across the globe and brought Doncaster Rovers worldwide media attention.

One of the photos which caused so many problems... (Photo: Ross Parry).

Portrayed at the time by Tracy Chandler, she provoked fury inside the club after posing in revealing lingerie alongside the doggy costume in the Sunday Sport newspaper - but probably never expected it would result in appearances on Radio Five Live, Sky Sports News and various newspapers right around the world.

The storm erupted in the immediate aftermath of the naughty photo-shoot which was in aid of the NSPCC - a cause supported by several first team players who stripped for a special nudist calendar the previous year. She was promptly informed that her services at DRFC were no longer required and officials from the club went to collect the costume leaving Tracy apparently heartbroken, in floods of tears and claiming to have lost her best friend.

Unhappy at how she'd been treated, her complaints and campaign to be re-instated were picked up by local media outlets and subsequently the national press too.

As Thursday 9th June unfolded, Radio Five Live, Sky Sports News, Look North and numerous other platforms were queuing round the block outside her house for interviews, footage and reaction as she sought to reclaim Donny Dog!

Overnight she'd become the most famous football mascot in the world. A Facebook group petitioning for her to be immediately re-instated quickly gained over 1,000 signatures and supportive fan mail flooded in, whilst over at the Keepmoat Stadium, the club's employees faced a barrage of phone calls asking for a statement on the matter.

And another... (Photo: Ross Parry).

If things weren't surreal enough already, Sky Sports News ran with it as their top story and a live interview between Tracy and lead presenter Jim White was followed by an exclusive interview with Rovers chairman John Ryan who claimed it was all a big misunderstanding and she would get her job back.

The cameras soon panned back to the Chandler household for live reaction from the mother-of-three before Tracy's Dad, Ralph O'Neil, gave his thoughts as well in one of those awkward but absolutely comical interviews talking about pornography and the merits of the photo-shoot - complete with a dog barking away in the background!

As a delighted Tracy exclaimed: 'It's gone global and I'm back where I belong!' 

Whilst that was one take on the matter, Jim White and co-presenter Georgie Thompson questioned whether they'd really just lived through such a bewildering afternoon before White quipped: 'I feel as if I'll be sitting bolt upright in bed tonight dreaming of Donny Dog!' to hysterics from those in the studio.

Tracy eventually quit the role eight months later due to relocating to Kent - leading to another Sky Sports appearance, though news of the Donny Dog scandal was heard from Cambodia to Chile; from Australia to Antigua and it remains one of the most surreal episodes in recent times.

WATCH: How the Donny Dog scandal unfolded on Sky Sports News - PART ONE, PART TWO.








Tracy went on the warpath after the 'woof' treatment! (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Before the Sky Sports News cameras came (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Checking out the 'Mutt Cracker' photo-shoot! (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Being Donny Dog was no walk in the park for Tracy (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Serious face! (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Donny Dog (without a bone) at the Keepmoat (Photo: Doncaster Free Press).

Sunday, 6 June 2021

El Hadji Diouf's nightclub experiment!

'The Experiment'...

Two words which were synonymous with Doncaster Rovers during the ill-fated 2011/12 campaign as a group of unwanted rejects, all with the same agent, rocked up at the Keepmoat Stadium on short-term deals in a desperate bid to keep the club in the Championship. 

Players who'd been at the club and given so much over so many seasons such as Brian Stock, Adam Lockwood, Jimmy O'Connor, Neil Sullivan, Martin Woods, John Oster and James Coppinger were simply disregarded as everything which had been built up over such a long period was ripped apart in a short space of time.

The plan was flawed on so many levels and when Sean O'Driscoll voiced concern his services were promptly disposed of, leading to Dean Saunders' arrival as 'manager' (or, as some might say, the puppet who would go along with everything).

At the time of O'Driscoll's departure, Rovers had accumulated just one point from seven games and although results very briefly improved, it wasn't long until an influx of illustrious, mostly foreign misfits brought disharmony, fights, squabbles, chaos and mayhem to the Keepmoat.

Relegation was likely to happen anyway but 'the experiment' ensured it occurred without dignity and in disgrace as the club were a laughing stock to the rest of the division!

Most of the imports would just rock up and train the day before a game but never integrate with the established players at the club; nor would they be seen until the following Friday's training session. Quite simply, Habib Beye liked Paris too much!

Some short-term arrivals did improve the side; Fabien Robert being someone who saw a move as a chance to play regularly, graft and improve. Others were decent enough personalities; Carl Ikeme and Herita Ilunga being further names who never receive any criticism with regards to morale. However, most newbies; namely El Hadji Diouf, Freddie Piquionne, Pascal Chimbonda, Habib Bamogo and Herold Goulon, were disruptive, troublesome or weren't good enough and quickly wrecked the dressing room morale as fights, fall-outs and sheer farce unfolded on a game-by-game basis.

And then there was Lamine Diatta who never actually played but was signed just because he had contacts who could get tickets for El Classico!

It was a complete shambles; a circus environment, and perhaps the worst in a long string of incidents which emphasised the huge divide that had developed between the two groups of players occurred just two days before a crucial away game on the South Coast.

Rovers had just been comprehensively trounced in two 'must win' home games - including a 3-0 reverse to Millwall where a young Harry Kane was on the score-sheet. That defeat meant the team were four points adrift of safety and fully aware they could ill-afford anymore bad results if they were to somehow achieve a miraculous escape!

Next up was a trip to Southampton who were flying high at the top of the table and now had Billy Sharp in their ranks following his departure from the Keepmoat to St Mary's during the previous transfer window.

It was a difficult enough game anyway and as was typical at the time, Rovers' squad departed for the South-Coast on the Thursday beforehand to stay overnight ahead of a training session to prepare for what were now fast-becoming 'must win' games.

Professionalism was needed but with undesirable characters such as El Hadji Diouf in the squad, behaving in a proper manner was the last thing on his mind. Despite having previous for several misdemeanours - including being out on the booze when he should have been in bed, the Senegalese forward opted to go nightclubbing in Bournemouth (where both the team and fans were staying) with relative newcomer Freddie Picquionne.

Their boozy antics were repeated the following night and somehow it was kept under wraps until a few days after the game which, of course, Southampton won 2-0.

Diouf and Picquionne's sheer lack of respect for their team-mates were astounding - and photos from one nightclub showing the pair in full party mode were eventually leaked onto fans' forums. Even more astounding was Saunders' spineless response to the matter. Having been made aware of it just hours before the next game at Crystal Palace, Saunders claimed that neither player had done anything wrong, the photos were months old (despite the evidence saying otherwise) and he just simply shirked himself of his responsibility to hand out any form of punishment.

Quite how some fans consider Diouf to be one of the best players to have ever pulled on a red and white hooped shirt is mystifying, but the incident proved that Rovers were in farcical straits and five defeats over the next six league games meant 'The Experiment' team were relegated with three games to spare. 

Despite having been previously described as 'lower than a sewer rat' by then-Leeds United manager Neil Warnock, it surprised everyone when Diouf subsequently rocked up at Elland Road that summer. 'The Experiment' was quickly consigned to the litter bin which meant Saunders was able to put together his own team (with no interfering agents) which went on to win the League One title in 2012/13 - though he departed midway through the campaign for Wolves.

However, to this day, 'The Experiment' season remains one of the most notorious and farcical chapters in Doncaster Rovers recent history!


Photos from PRIVA Nightlclub, Bournemouth, March 22nd 2012...