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The Conference Years: Dover Athletic

21 May 2014

Remembering where we once were.

Having dropped out of the Football League the previous May, Doncaster Rovers were just pleased to be in existence come August 1998.

The town of Doncaster still had a football club which fortunately had neither folded or been relegated any further.

It was to be a long way back for Rovers, typified when they were handed their opening fixture; away at Dover Athletic.

Newly appointed player manager Ian Snodin cobbled a team together to travel to The Crabble and even had to pick one player up at a service station on the way.

Scott Daniels 34th minute strike was enough for the hosts to overcome Rovers 1-0, but the visitors – who lined up as follows: Andy Woods, Simon Shaw, Kevin McIntyre, Lee Warren, Mark Hume, Colin Sutherland, Mark Bradley, Shaun Goodwin, Tommy Wright, Dino Maamria, Scott Maxfield – took a moral victory back to South Yorkshire.

Athletic visited a struggling Rovers a week before Christmas and were in cruise control after 27 minutes when striker Joff Vansittart notched a stunning 24 minute hat-trick.

Snodin’s men, bottom of the table heading in to the festive period, responded to serve up a cracker. Glenn Kirkwood pulled a goal back before the break to start the ball rolling, before Penney and Maamria levelled for 3-3.

The entertainment on show would have appeased the 2,119 inside Belle Vue that afternoon, had it stopped there.

It didn’t though and Mark Hynes’ goal for Athletic saw them re-take the lead.

John Budden’s own goal less than 120 seconds later gave Rovers a glimmer, though, before Kirkwood – who had opened Rovers’ scoring – ended proceedings in the 84th minute with his second and Rovers fifth!

Both sides scrambled to mid-table safety and would meet again the following year, where the sides nicked a win apiece.

First was the turn of Rovers, who managed to peg back Vansittart’s opener at The Crabble and profit through McInryre, Hume and Penney goals.

Less than 2,000 watched the return in which Neil Le Bihan scored the only goal of a 1-0 win and summed up how Rovers’ season was petering out.

An improving Rovers side couldn’t find a way past the Kent outfit during the 2000/01 season under Steve Wignall and the spoils were shared in 1-1 draws on both occasions.

Dover dropped out of the Conference as they finished bottom of the table after the 01/02 season and Rovers compounded their misery with two comfortable doubles; 2-1 and 1-0 wins home and away respectively.

Athletic’s decline, which ultimately saw them end up in the Isthmian League Division One, was due largely to financial problems.

They have recovered admirably since their drop to the eighth tier of English football though and, after achieving back to back promotions under Andy Hessenthaler, finally left the regionalised divisions a fortnight ago after beating 1-0 Ebbsfleet in the Conference South play-off final thus ensuring that Conference football will return to The Crabble next season for the first time in 12 years.

*Rovers skipper Shaun Goodwin leads out Rovers at The Crabble on 15th August 1998. Although Rovers lost 1-0 on the day, it was the start of a new era for the club and highlighted defiance in the face of adversity*

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