Following Rovers’ formation in 1879 they played on several pitches around Doncaster. Some games were played where the old fire station is situated across the road from the racecourse. Other matches were played on Town Fields or adjacent to the racecourse itself. A few games were played at Belle Vue Gardens, the home of the rugby club and somewhere we shall come across in our story again.
In 1885 Rovers’ Committee decided they needed a more permanent base and rented a field at the rear of the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, otherwise known as the “Deaf School.” Originally called the “Deaf and Dumb Ground” this name had given way to the “Intake Ground” by 1886. There were no dressing rooms and the players changed at a nearby hostelry, either the Rockingham Arms or the Doncaster Arms.
A grandstand was erected on the Town Moor Avenue side of the ground for season 1888-89, when Rovers first competed in the FA Cup. Materials cost £31 and labour was provided by volunteers. However, because the farmer who owned the field required to graze sheep in the close season, the stand was of necessity a flimsy affair which could easily be moved. As a result, during the 1891-92 season, with Rovers in the Midland League, the stand and its replacement, were destroyed by strong winds.
In 1900 Rovers finally built dressing room accommodation on the ground and this was situated next to the grandstand on the Town Moor Avenue side of the ground. A small press box was also constructed on this side of the ground. Following Rovers’ election to the Football League in 1901 plans were put in place to add another stand and in November 1902 a modern stand, accommodating 1,000 spectators, was built on the Bennetthorpe side of the ground, opposite the old grandstand and dressing rooms. This cost £200 but proved unable to stand up to strong winds and was blown over on Christmas Day evening 1902. Eventually the stand was rebuilt at a cost of £132.
In August 1909, by which time Rovers were back in the Midland League, some photos were taken at a Fancy-Dress Carnival held on the ground. In one photo the Main Stand, on the Bennetthorpe side of the ground can be seen while young children dance around a Maypole. In the other the structures on the Town Moor Avenue side are visible in the background, from left to right, the dressing room, or shed, the press box and a rather rickety structure, possibly a survivor of the old Grandstand, known to supporters as the “Chicken Coop.” During the season duckboards were placed around the rest of the ground to save spectators from standing in mud.
The Intake’s highest attendance came on Good Friday 1902, when Division Two leaders Middlesbrough visited Doncaster. Anticipating a large crowd, the committee arranged for a temporary stand on the Bennetthorpe side and were rewarded with an attendance of 6,000. Visiting supporters commented on the small size of the ground.
Rovers ceased operations in 1916 due to the First World War and the ground was requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps as a depot. The ground fell into disrepair and the main stand was sold to a local butcher for firewood. Therefore, when Rovers reformed in 1920 there was little prospect of them playing there again. The land was eventually purchased by the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb and the site forms part of the school’s playing fields. It is quite possible to walk along Town Moor Avenue today and imagine what Rovers’ first home looked like.
JOHN COYLE (with acknowledgement to Tom Beardsley).