One Albert Jenkins was instrumental in forming the second oldest League club in Yorkshire.
Imagine yourself in Doncaster. It’s September in the year 1879 and you overhear the following conversation: ‘Dear Mister Jenkins, may I introduce myself? I’m the Headmaster of the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and I would be delighted if you could get up a team to play our boys at football’ You are just dying to get a ‘belle vue’ of this fixture and you turn up to watch the deaf boys draw 4-4 after they were trailing 4-0 at half-time. The success of this contest led to Albert Jenkins and the rest of his team to form a proper football team by the name of Doncaster Rovers.
The Institute’s playing fields became the club’s home ground from 1885 to 1916. Prior to that era Doncaster Rovers played at open areas on Town Moor and one at Belle Vue, the latter venue not to be confused with the current ground, but located at what is now Bennetthorpe.
It was not until November 1886 that the open field at the Institute was referred to as the Intake Ground. No doubt finance restricted the quality of their first stand, for its roof blew off only a few months after completion. A new stand that had been erected for the press and team officials suffered a similar fate in a gale in 1894.
Doncaster, nicknamed the ‘Rovers’ for not entirely obscure reasons, played their first Football League match in the 1900/01 season, when they entertained Burslem Port Vale in front of just 2,000 fans. An omen, for the next decade Rovers failed to attract large crowds and subsequently their financial state has always been poor to say the least.
At the end of the 1902/3 season, finishing third from bottom, Rovers failed in their re-election bid. However, they bounced back after just one season’s absence. Alas, the club’s second appearance lasted for just one year. It was to be some years before they were to grace the Football League again. Following a dispute over player’s wages in 1915, and in common with most non-league teams, Doncaster Rovers suspended operations until the end of the First World War. In April 1919 a meeting was held at the local Cleveland Café to reform the club as a new limited company. Much to the dismay of the newly formed club, they were prevented from using the old Intake Ground because the Army were still occupying it as a depot.
A simple, large open field was found in the Belle Vue area, on the south side of Bennetthorpe, given at a two years lease. As the two-year tenancy drew to an end, Rovers were offered an undeveloped portion of land at Low Pastures. The Bennetthorpe stand was moved to this new venue, a new main stand was built and large amounts of ash were transported from the nearby coal tips to create banking and a foundation for the pitch. After one year at what was now considered to be a very fine ground, Doncaster Rovers’ bid for a re-entry into the League was successful. This ground, formally opened in August 1922 was known as Belle Vue.
Is our ground saga complete? We think probably not. Low attendances may have branded the Rovers as a poorly supported club in those days. Equally poor was the crowd’s behaviour on occasions. After the referee was attacked following a home defeat in March 1893 Rovers were ordered to play two matches at least seven miles from Doncaster. And in April 1908 the crowd attacked the opposing Worksop team after a visiting player had kicked Jones of the Rovers. So Rovers had to find another temporary home, for two matches, this time at the Park Road ground of Conisborough St.Peter’s.
These events certainly did not earn them their previous nickname, ‘The Butterscotchmen’. It was used up to the First World War, butterscotch of course being a local confectionary.
Back to 1879. Remember the first match? Albert Jenkins was so impressed by the opponent’s outfit that he adopted the colours of the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and so Doncaster Rovers played the local leagues in striking blue jerseys with a gold St Andrew’s cross.
Rovers changed to red and white to coincide with their ambition to achieve Football League status. They have remained faithful to these colours ever since, albeit in every fashionable variation imaginable.
Their first emblem was the town’s old coat of arms, granted in 1927, when Doncaster became a county borough. The debt, which many English towns owed to the royal or baronial stronghold beside which they sprang up and grew in size and prosperity, is reflected by the popularity of the castle in civic heraldry. It is, therefore, that a castellated gateway features in the shield, together with a Saxon crown. The crown is especially appropriate, inasmuch, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, Doncaster, and then part of the Manor of Hexthorp, belonged to Earl Tostig. In Henry I’s time it passed into royal hands. The royal lions, each holding in its mouth a white rose of York, support the shield. The lion also appears in the crest, holding a banner with the same castellated gateway, charged with the word Don, with the wavy lines representing the same river.
In the late Sixties the local council denied Doncaster Rovers the prolonged use of its civic icon. A competition was held and the best design selected was today’s badge, christened “the Viking”. It was designed by a group of local students and one may assume that the undaunted Scandinavian alludes to the “Rovers” suffix.