In September 1879 , Albert Jenkins,an 18 year old fitter at Doncaster LNER Works, got together a group of men to play a game of football against The Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. After the game the players decided they would form a football club and would call themselves Doncaster Rovers. The first match under the name was played against Rawmarsh on October 3rd 1879. After this, the team played friendly matches against local clubs.
In 1885/86 they moved to their first ground having played on playing fields until then. The ground was located between Bennetthorpe and the road that is now Town Moor Avenue, behind the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. It was at this time that the club colours changed from blue to red. In June 1890 the club was invited to join the newly formed Midland Football Alliance, and entertained Loughborough on September 20th 1890 as their first game. That season they also won their first trophy. The Sheffield & Hallamshire Challenge Cup was won with a victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. The season ended with a 2nd place in the league behind Notts County Rovers.
They then applied to join the Midland League , but were unsuccessful until one of the existing teams , Sheffield United,withdrew. Their first game in the Midland League was on September 5 1891 at Wednesbury. 1898/99 brought the first Midland League title. In 1901/02 Rovers played their first season in the Football League, starting with a 3-3 draw against Port Vale. Their final position of seventh remains, to this day, the highest position ever achieved by a Rovers side. The following season ended in demotion from the league and dropped back into the Midland League. The season in the league included the 12-0 defeat by Small Heath(now Birmingham City), which is the heaviest defeat to date. After one season back in the Midland League, they rejoined the Football League Division Two for one season,finishing last with just eight points,another record.
Several years of reasonable success followed in the Midland League, until in 1923 Rovers applied to Division Three North and along with New Brighton, they were voted in. August 25 1923 saw Rovers play Wigan Borough in the first league match at Belle Vue. Just 364 days after this, Belle Vue had been opened for the opening Midland league game of the following season. The team that drew 0-0 with Wigan that day included the first Rovers "great" Tommy Keetley. Keetley scored 180 goals in 231 games over the next six seasons. 1924 saw the debut of wing half Fred Emery who went on to play 404 league games for the club, a record, and who went on to become manager. Life continued in Division Three North until 1934/35 when they finished as champions. Two seasons followed in Division Two before relegation. Then the team finished second twice in succession in Division Three North, when war broke out and stopped the league for six seasons. On their return they won the league with 72 points, a record that stood until Lincoln broke it in the 1980's. The star of the championship season was Clarrie Jordan whose 42 league goals is still a club record. Syd Bycroft would have easily beaten Fred Emery's record had it not been for the war , as he played 442 games for the club, but over 100 of them didn't count as they were part of the "war" leagues. The following season Jordan was transferred to Sheffield Wednesday and the club was relegated.
However in April 1949 Doncaster announced the £8,000 signing from Huddersfield Town that was to transform the club over the next ten years. That signing was player/manager Peter Doherty. One of his first signings was Len Graham,who went on to win 14 Northern Ireland caps. That season saw promotion back to division two with gates averaging 17,901 with Doherty top scorer with 27 goals. The period that followed was Rover's most successful in the league. Positions 11th,16th,13th,12th,18th,17th & 14th followed before relegation. Some of the mainstays of the team were Hardwick,Makepeace,Graham,Williams,Tindall,Mooney , Lawlor and in September 1954 the appearance of a young(15 years 229 days) Alick Jeffrey. In Jeffrey's second season having scored 15 goals in 13 matches and with a transfer to Matt Busby's Manchester United all prepared, disaster struck. When playing for England Under 23's against France his leg was badly broken. The injury was so bad that it was considered that his career was at an end and the insurance policy taken out was paid in full. Six years later he returned for Doncaster following a spell in Australia. He continued to play until January 1969 when he left for Lincoln. Having rejoined Doncaster in Division Two, he left a team that was to be Champions of Division Four having suffered two successive relegations. Two more seasons in Division Three were followed by spending the rest of the 1970's in Division Four, during which time Peter Kitchen was a fixture for six seasons.
The early 1980's was spent yo-yoing between divisions Three and Four under the guidance of former Leeds and Scotland captain, Billy Bremner, who left Rovers to join Leeds as manager. During his first spell at the club Rovers youth policy at the club produced quality players like Ian Snodin who played for England Under 21's whilst still with the club- Harle, Lister,Humphries and Pugh. In 1988 under the guidance of Steve Beaglehole, the youth team featuring Brevett,Rankine,Raven and Gaughan lost the FA Youth Cup Final against an Arsenal team that included the prolific Kevin Campbell.
The 1990's was a reminder that football clubs cannot survive with the influx of money,either from a rich backer or quality youth players that can be sold on. One such backer,Ken Richardson,seeing financial gain as his prime incentive spent heavily on the Rovers buying in quality players like Schofield,Moore,Lawrence,Roche and Wilcox. When he found that the council were unwilling to do business with him with regard selling the ground to him, his interest faded, and he withdrew the vital funds needed to keep the club going. The club was subject to an administration order, and the better players left in an attempt to improve the financial situation. Inevitably, the players remaining were not up to the task, and the club finished bottom of Division Four, and were relegated to the Conference League.
Having dropped into the Football Conference at the end of the 1997/98 season, a saviour was found. John Ryan , a plastic surgeon with a love for his home town club, bought the playing side of the club, with an Irish company Westferry buying the lease on the ground for £4.5 million. This brought new life to a club that was considered only days from extinction. The Snodin brothers, Ian and Glynn were recruited in an effort to get the club back into the football league, with the promise of a new ground to play in very shortly.Neville Southall, John Sheridan and Steve Nicol were among the array of vastly experienced stars that were recruited. They had a small amount of sucess ,winning the MacMillan Trophy at the end of their first season in front of over 7,000 supporters.This showed what sort of support can be achieved by this once proud club. Steve Wignall, a former player, with experience of lower league and non league management was brought in after a run of seven matches without a win led to Snodin's departure. Big money signings including recognised Conference goalscorers like Carl Alford, Paul Barnes and Justin Jackson have been made to try and regain the lost league status, and we all hope that Rovers will soon return where it belongs - in the Football League.