Football: Snodins savouring sibling revelry

Doncaster Rovers' FA Cup fortunes are in the hands of two brothers who have known the good times at Belle Vue and beyond
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The Independent Online
SUBSTITUTIONS CAN be a tricky business, with the ego of the player hauled off often more bruised than any shin or shoulder. When the protagonists are brothers, as well as being player-manager and coach respectively, sparks can fly.

Ian and Glynn Snodin are not exactly a footballing Cane and Abel, or even a latterday Jack and Bobby. They did, however, have what Glynn, the coaching half of the duo, describes as "a bit of a falling-out" during Doncaster Rovers' recent FA Cup match at Southend United.

As befits a story of sibling revelry, which has brought the brothers back to their first love after careers spent mainly at the highest level, the situation was doubly unusual. Not only were Doncaster, the Football Conference's bottom club, on their way to a rare win that would earn Saturday's second-round home tie against Rushden & Diamonds, but Ian's complaint was that he was being told to stay on.

Glynn, who at 38 is three years Ian's senior, explained. "At half-time we thought it would be him coming off because he's been playing with an injury. But Southend were coming back into it so I decided we needed his experience. Our strikers had worked hard and one was looking tired. But when the number came up and it wasn't Ian's he didn't like it. I was 100 yards away in the directors' box and could hear every word he said!"

In fact, the brothers' relationship has remained close since they played together as teenagers for Doncaster during Billy Bremner's first spell as manager nearly two decades ago. Ian, who represented England Under- 21s while still at Belle Vue, gained a championship medal with Everton and would have won a senior cap in 1989 but for typical ill luck with injury. Glynn served Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday with distinction.

Last season, when Doncaster made the Third Division relegation place their own from the start, the Snodins were at Scarborough. Glynn was on the backroom staff but Ian played in a poignant match against his old club. "We won 4-0 and I felt really sorry for the Rovers fans. They were shouting: `Go on Ian, let a goal in. Help us a bit'."

The chance to do exactly that came late in the close season. The new owners of the debt-stricken club brought Ian in - he still lived in the town - and he promptly went back for Glynn. "I wanted him here because he's an exceptional coach," Ian said. "He can boss me around in training because I'm also a player, and I'm happy to do whatever he tells me to. I leave all the substitutions to him on match days too. If I can't trust Glynn, I can't trust anybody."

It was like coming home to a vandalised slum. Doncaster's rusting, rotting ground needed thousands of pounds' worth of work just to get a safety certificate. There were no goalposts and no balls, no kit or practice facilities. And, with the Conference kick-off only a fortnight away, Ian inherited a squad of five.

Most players available on free transfers had been picked up, so he had to improvise. "I watched a lad called Kevin McIntyre play for Tranmere reserves on the Wednesday before our opening match at Dover. On the Friday I took him on loan. We picked him up at Watford Gap. I saw someone who looked like a footballer and told him to get on the bus."

The brothers' return, allied to the end of the despised regime of Ken Richardson, fired the public imagination. Before Doncaster's first home game, against Southport, the police came to the dressing-room to warn Ian that kick-off would be delayed due to the numbers queuing outside.

"Normally a manager would be unhappy about his preparations being disrupted. I was made up because it showed we had the people behind us. They had gates of 700-odd last season and only got 3,500 for the final game because people thought there would be no more Doncaster Rovers. We're averaging that figure in non-League, which is fantastic."

The support is all the more impressive in view of the disappointing results. To Glynn, the first eight Conference fixtures were "like the pre-season friendlies we never had", but the performance at Southend was indicative of the way the side are beginning to gel. Ian agrees: "To see a team we built from scratch beat a League club on their own ground was an incredible feeling."

Among the disparate talents thrown together are a Tunisian, a Spaniard and a veteran Scot. Steve Nicol, 37 next week, has three FA Cup winners' medals, one from the European Cup, four championship gongs, 27 caps and a Footballer of the Year trophy (as well as the biggest feet in football, size 14). His commitment, according to the manager, has been total. "Steve's miles ahead in the supporters' player of the year rankings. He won more or less everything at Liverpool but, when we were celebrating at Southend, he was leading the singing."

If Nicol thought his days of playing to full houses were over, the meeting of opposites with Rushden & Diamonds may prove him wrong. "They're the Manchester United of the Conference," said Ian Snodin. "They're miles ahead of everyone in terms of resources. We can't compete with them financially, but we will compete with them as a team."

Glynn is equally determined to bridge the gap, knowing a lucrative third- round tie could make the difference in the push for safety that has become their priority: "The challenge here is massive but they couldn't have got two better people to take it on because we're passionate about Doncaster Rovers.

"The fans want success straight away and we do too, though we need to stabilise and survive this season before we can think about getting back into the League. But we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. We'll get there."