Dear John/Direction of the “Tomlinson Ryan Trust,”
As a lifelong Doncaster Rovers supporter, it’s an unspoken, unwritten rule that when you are about to express any opinion about the club’s ownership, you must add the caveat that you are forever grateful for the way John Ryan bought and revolutionised Doncaster Rovers back in 1998 and saved it from all its troubles I briefly touched upon in my documentary Escape from Doncatraz.
Obviously, looking back at those dark days again – and remembering a crook who tried to profit from our club to the extent of hiring a mob to burn down what was left of our old stadium – it’s easy to understand why the supporters themselves formed the Viking Supporters Cooperative from the ashes of the whole miserable episode.
Last season, you, John, decided to resign as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers right before the kick-off of our local derby over at Barnsley – which might have been good for maximum impact of publicity, if not at all helpful for team morale, but resign you did, frustrated over the refusal of co-owners Dick Watson and philanthropist Terry Bramall to agree with your accepted takeover over from the mysterious consortium known as Sequentia Capital, known only through Kevin Phelan, who, in 2000, happened to have been banned for eight years from ever being a company director.
What followed were bitter statements from you, often via your daughter’s Facebook page, taking shots at the Viking Supporters Cooperative itself for daring to question the judgement of the great John Ryan himself when he wanted to sell to Sequentia Capital. The fair-weather fans who infrequently attended games and had less knowledge of goings-on, much less critical thought, meanwhile, protested, and – as Bramall and Watson kept the club ticking over albeit below mid-table – carried banners with the words “Bramall Watson the Table” (get it?) then phoned BBC Radio Sheffield to claim the banner was snatched from them by security who also threw out the rebels including one man in a wheelchair. Listeners were shocked and appalled, and the anti-owners sentiment was boosted. There was just one problem:
At a Meet the Owners event I attended, chief executive Gavin Baldwin explained that the banner – which was paraded along the front of the stand – had to be removed, like all others that are held there, because it was obstructive and violated long-standing policy, while the fans – including the one in a wheelchair – who were supposedly kicked out had in fact already exited of the stadium before trying to get back in when the doors were closed. That’s like saying I’ve been kicked out of North America even though I haven’t even renewed my passport and can’t travel anywhere.
The owners told us that all of this was propaganda from someone designed to increase opposition to their remaining in control of the club. And I’m sure, John, you had nothing to do with that, just like you had nothing to do with the stories appearing in the press claiming the club was so very close to going into administration, with the small print adding that this could happen if you were to demand immediate full repayment of loans you’d given to the club over the years. Of course, because you care about the club, you were never actually going to make such a request and plunge the club into administration, right?
A divisive atmosphere polluted some games I attended with my dad, who’s been a supporter since 1947. At one game, the giant oversized Doncaster Rovers shirt that youngsters pull across the field before kick-off prompted one fan to wittily ask, “Who’s going to wear that one?!” to which my dad quipped, “Not John Ryan – it wouldn’t fit over his f***ing head!” Sorry, John. But if it makes you feel any better, our refusal to worship you kept us in the minority there.
At least for a little while.
Sequentia Capital faded away, as did the calls for you to return at the expense of Bramall and Watson, who reiterated that they would happily sell but only to parties who had the best interests of the club and the town at heart. Bless ‘em. Manager Paul Dickov stood right by them, and Gavin Baldwin.
I’ll be the first to admit the inexperienced manager Paul Dickov wasn’t my first choice as successor to Brian Flynn after Dean Saunders stupidly and greedily jumped to Wolverhampton Wanderers while he was worth more, only to then relegate them as well rather than seeing through the successful return to the Championship for Doncaster Rovers – making Deano, instead, now a manager with nothing more than two successive relegations on his record.
But Paul Dickov was appointed, and I got behind him, and I wanted him to succeed and prove wrong any doubts I had. He did, I think. But last summer the questions about Sequentia Capital made for a tumultuous pre-season preparation for him, and no doubt that didn’t help our chances in a Championship where we were, yet again, bookmakers’ odds-on favourites for certain relegation (we were actually relegated on nothing more than goal difference, as you know).
So this summer, John, you came back on the scene – with all the media-courting public relations savvy we’ve come to know you for, and instead of the anonymous Sequentia Capital, this time you came with someone millions of people knew: Doncaster’s own Louis Tomlinson, from the pop group One Direction. At a posh location in London, you declared your intentions to buy out Bramall and Watson and take back control of the club along with the 1D star, and just happened to also announce the newly-formed Tomlinson-Ryan Trust, which would utilise a crowdfunding project to raise the profile of Doncaster Rovers, while raising extra bonus money, too. When asked, you clarified that the takeover was not dependent on the crowdfunding reaching its target of £2,000,000.
This week, days before the Football League were to examine your takeover bid for approval, the crowdfunding campaign’s all-or-nothing target failed to be met, so not a penny was successfully raised despite pledges to the tune of three-quarters of a million pounds. Today, I learnt that the Football League rejected your takeover bid, and the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust issued a statement that this was due to the failed crowdfunding campaign meaning there were fewer funds to complete the takeover.
You then went on BBC Radio Sheffield and said that a rogue element inside the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust had actually issued that statement, which was, you told us, unauthorised and incorrect. Instead, you claimed the Football League wanted evidence you had £5,000,000 to spare on Doncaster Rovers, you showed them evidence of assets worth £5,000,000, and they rejected you because of a vendetta, a conspiracy, and a fondness for convicted criminals and oligarchs rather than the old guard of local businessmen who cared about their town’s team.
So, John, I guess we’re wrong to wonder why the crowdfunding campaign was set up in the first place if you already had all the funds needed, and certainly wrong to suggest that you wooed Louis because it would cost him little more than his image in order to raise funds through his One Direction fan base of millions of enthusiastic youngsters. It’s just all a conspiracy against the great saviour of Doncaster Rovers himself.
You even made a point of using your radio airtime to attack the “keyboard warriors” – you know, the ones who go on the forum of the Viking Supporters Cooperative you so resent for ushering in your era, printing huge banners referring to you as the man who revolutionised our club, and yet daring to insist on asking questions about groups like Sequentia Capital because they never, ever want their beloved club to be owned by another scoundrel like the one who tried to burn their club to the ground.
Well now you say you’re done with it all, because you’ve been mistreated and maligned, and it’s the second summer in a row that Paul Dickov has been in limbo. Would it really be his fault if we ended up in another relegation battle? You’d reassured him that he could get verbal agreements with top players this summer because they’d, after all, be signed with “the second-biggest budget in League One” come July 18th. Now what does he tell these players? And what about the more affordable ones? They’ve surely already been snapped up while our manager was waiting. So this whole mess has ruined yet another pre-season preparation for him – and for us – and you’re gone again. “Done,” apparently.
But I don’t want this to be one of those “Dear John” letters. I still have something to say to Louis.
Louis, if you ever intended to put any of your millions into a “pub team” from your hometown, by all means, do it anyway. Terry Bramall and Dick Watson – as even John Ryan has been forced to concede – are good guys, and would welcome the investment. And if you don’t want to part with any money, and you do another crowdfunding campaign ever again, let it keep whatever little it makes, and for goodness sake, please let it go to the Viking Supporters Cooperative – because the more membership subscriptions and funds that it has, the greater its shares in Doncaster Rovers. And at this rate, surely true fan ownership is the best hope we have, because if I’m truly “Rovers Till I Die” and we all agree that “In Rovers We Trust,” we’re prepared to trust ourselves with the thing we care so much about. And I have a feeling we’re not about to let each other down now.
Jay Baker, “keyboard warrior.”