Football: That was the weekend that was

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The Independent Online
Uplifting tale of Ryan and the Rovers revival

SPARE A minute or two? Drag your eyes away from what is going on at the top of the Premiership and take a look at the Nationwide Conference table. At the bottom, to be more specific. And ask yourself this: what happened to Doncaster Rovers?

Didn't they used to be there, rock solid on the bottom rung, destined to fall like a stone from the Third Division to the UniBond League in little over 12 months of nightmare decline? Not any more. Nowadays, you need to look almost to halfway in the Conference chart to find Ian Snodin's team. Given their recent history it is a remarkable transformation.

The recovery owes much to Snodin, but something also to the new men in the boardroom, led by the businessman John Ryan, whose Cheshire-based company enjoys one of the more unusual claims to fame as the supplier of breast implants to Melinda Messenger. After the club's horrendous times under the now-jailed Ken Richardson, Ryan has provided Rovers with an uplift they scarcely thought possible.

The extent of the club's revitalised ambition can be illustrated in the unveiling of a new signing in Saturday's 4-1 defeat of now-bottom Welling United in front of almost 3,000 fans. This was not some ex-pub league no-hoper, but a 20-year-old winger dubbed the "new Ryan Giggs" in non-League circles.

Rovers paid pounds 25,000 to Garforth Town, pipping Middlesbrough and Bolton Wanderers among others, to get Andy Watson, who then scored on his debut. He may not yet feel like the new Giggs, but Rovers must feel like Manchester United.

Fans cycle 180 miles to see `home' game

HOW DID you get to the match this weekend - bus? train? car? aeroplane? Possibly even by bicycle, although probably not if your starting point was 180 miles away.

That particular obstacle, however, did not deter one group of intrepid Scunthorpe United supporters, who decided to cycle to their team's home match against Leyton Orient at Glanford Park - starting outside the opposition's ground in East London.

The journey was not simply an act of eccentricity on the part of Ian Tremayne, Chris Vaughan, Roly Roberts and Paul Rhodes. It had a worthy purpose, to raise money for cancer research. The quartet, whose ages ranged from 29 to 58, are all members of the Scunthorpe United London and South- East Supporters Club. They chose the Orient fixture in memory of John Birkett, their former chairman, who died of cancer last May. His home was just yards from Brisbane Road.

The cyclists exceeded their pounds 3,000 target by more than 50 per cent. "The club have been brilliant," Tremayne said. "All the directors made donations and we were given free tickets for the game."

Orient's chairman Barry Hearn made a contribution, too, presenting the quartet with a signed shirt, while Cambridge United allowed them to stage a collection in the Abbey Stadium's social club when the ride passed through on Friday evening.

KEY NUMBERS

5

The sequence of consecutive home defeats suffered by Aston Villa, beaten 3-0 by Chelsea yesterday.

6

The sequence of consecutive wins enjoyed by Leeds United following Saturday's defeat of Derby, their best run since the Revie era.

25

The number of failed attempts by Middlesbrough to defeat Nottingham Forest before Saturday's win at the City Ground.

I TOLD YOU SO

Another win, over Middlesbrough, and a few results falling our way will really put the pressure on those teams above us.

Nottingham Forest's manager, Ron Atkinson, describing precisely what did not happen to his side's survival chances on Saturday.

Missing... making it... and mistaken

Derek lilley

Leeds United

THE former Greenock Morton striker has been frustrated at every turn in his attempts to win a first-team place at Elland Road, slipping down the pecking order behind new signings and developing youngsters. Without a senior start in two seasons, reports suggest the 25-year-old could join Norwich this week with Leeds getting back the pounds 500,000 they paid for him on deadline day in 1997.

Robbie Stockdale

Middlesbrough

BRYAN ROBSON has been accused of failing to back the younger members of his Middlesbrough squad, but 19-year-old Stockdale looks to be the exception to the rule. The locally-born wing-back made a solitary league start last season but has recently established himself on the right side of defence at the Riverside, clocking up his 16th appearance at Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Danny Kaye

HAVING perfected his impersonation of athlete Steve Cram, Chelsea's versatile goalscorer has now added the American entertainer Danny Kaye to his repertoire although, with cutting down his legs not an option, the Norwegian striker has to pretend to be wearing stilts under his trousers.

RUMOURS

Magpies linked with Larsson raid

WITH DEADLINE DAY looming the biggest money may be splashed out by Newcastle, according to the Sunday Mirror, which believes Ruud Gullit is poised to launch an pounds 8m bid to land Celtic's prolific goalscorer, Henrik Larsson, who has 35 goals to his credit so far this season. Middlesbrough could emerge as the big spenders in the People's view, with a pounds 5.5m swoop for the West Bromwich striker Lee Hughes.

The Mirror says Liverpool will offer pounds 5m for Celtic's former Bolton centre- back Alan Stubbs, who has also been a target for Aston Villa, but the People says Gerard Houllier has missed out on Finnish striker Jari Litmanen, who has opted to leave Ajax for Barcelona. The Express reckons Houllier's sights are now on the Czech striker Vladimir Smicer, rated at pounds 5m by his French club, Lens, and also a target for Internazionale and Paris St-Germain.

The People also reports plans by Arsenal to spend pounds 8m on Leicester's Emile Heskey this summer as insurance should homesick Nicolas Anelka be tempted to return to France, but says Tottenham will pip them in the chase for Peterborough's 17-year-old winger Matthew Etherington.

The Mail on Sunday says Manchester United have a summer spending spree in mind with Alex Ferguson looking to sign three Dutchmen - the Real Madrid midfielder Clarence Seedorf, Barcelona's Ronald de Boer and the Ajax goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar - at a combined cost of pounds 30m. The Mirror says Monaco want United's current No 1, Peter Schmeichel, as replacement for the Milan- bound Fabien Barthez.

The Mail on Sunday and Express both say Juninho is eager to join Leeds United, while the News of the World claims Nottingham Forest want David Pleat to take over from Ron Atkinson as manager before next season.

SEEN AND HEARD

OLD-FASHIONED LOGIC: "We probably scored too early" - Jim Smith explains Derby County's 4-1 defeat at Leeds.

LANGUAGE COACH: "I think the chaps know the pressure is on now" - Gianluca Vialli becomes the first Italian manager to describe his players as chaps. That's what talking to Ray Wilkins does for you.

ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS: "He's not how people maybe see him - he's made a big mistake but he's over that now. I never thought he was a gamble" - The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, drools over Paolo di Canio.

Premiership Team Of The Week

RAY PARLOUR

Arsenal

PAOLO DI CANIO

West Ham United

ROBBIE STOCKDALE

Middlesbrough

HARRY KEWELL

Leeds United

KEN MONKOU

Southampton

MARK BOSNICH

Aston Villa

MARIO KONJIC

Coventry City

LEE BOWYER

Leeds United

TORE ANDRE FLO

Chelsea

ANDY TOWNSEND

Middlesbrough

IAN HARTE

Leeds United

Manager of the week: George Graham - Showed he still has the trophy- winning touch as Tottenham recapture glory days. Performance of the week: Blackburn Rovers - bouncing back to reverse their drift towards relegation.

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