Rugby League: Sunday best for Dons: Dave Hadfield charts the remarkable upturn in Doncaster's rugby league fortunes

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The Independent Online
YORKSHIRE Television called their award-winning 1977 film about Doncaster, the world's worst rugby league team, Another Bloody Sunday. An equivalent documentary at the time for all-conquering Widnes could have been entitled Another Bloody Wembley. How times change. Nine days ago, Doncaster beat Widnes 21-6 and face another of the great clubs of the Seventies, Leeds, today on an equal footing as two of the unbeaten sides in the First Division.

The script is even more unlikely, given that Doncaster, who have rarely been free from the threat of collapse since they joined the league in 1951, suffered their closest call yet this summer with the top flight beckoning for the first time.

'I was at the meeting three weeks before the start of the season when the chairman, John Desmond, was going to close it down,' says the director Bryan Lamport. 'He had just put so much money and effort into it and wasn't getting any backing from the town.'

Desmond was persuaded to give Doncaster one more chance to show that it did want the First Division rugby league for which the club, against all odds, had qualified. Just in time, the town's council, its largest employer and its newspaper put their hands in their pockets to ensure that the Dons would start the season.

A season that had threatened to be still-born began with a scarcely believable 29-20 victory at St Helens. The club's coach, the former Great Britain coach Tony Fisher, says: 'We worked very hard during the summer - when perhaps our problems had the effect of pulling us closer together - and we're a very fit side. We've got players other clubs didn't want, but there's talent here, even if we didn't pay pounds 200,000 to get it.'

What Leeds will find at Tattersfield today is a team with huge reserves of enthusiasm and one that does the basics well. They will also find a ground that looks a little less like a building site than it did last Friday.

The question of the club's survival had been in doubt so close to D-day that only shifts of prisoners from two local jails brought it up to standard in time to qualify for a safety certificate less than an hour before kick-off against Widnes.

Even then, a steam-roller was laying tarmac outside the changing rooms as Widnes got off their bus and the lights in the snack bar dimmed every time the microwave was turned on. The press box, from which I recall a family of gypsies having to be ejected before one match in the Seventies, has now disappeared.

But these are mere details compared with the near-

miracle of Doncaster reaching and, for the moment, prospering in the First Division. Yorkshire TV are said to be considering a follow-up documentary about the best of times at Tattersfield. It's a shame that Another Very Satisfactory Sunday doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

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