Paul Green says Rovers was the right club at the right time when he joined.
The 16-year-old midfielder – newly released from Sheffield Wednesday’s Academy – had just been rejected after a trial at Scunthorpe United when he arrived in Doncaster.
“I had a trial with Rovers – it was at the Deaf School opposite the race course – and I never looked back,” Green told the A League Of His Own podcast.
“The club were on the rise, the Snodin brothers had taken over and they seemed to be getting things right from first team to youth team level and it all just came at the right time.
“I actually looked my debut up to make sure I had it right before I came on the podcast. It was against Northwich Victoria and I came on as sub. I made my full debut against Hayes though and I scored in that as well.”
After breaking into the first-team at the start of the 2001-02 season, he went on to make 35 appearances the following year and helped the club earn promotion to the Football League with an all-important opener against Dagenham and Redbridge in the play-off final held at The Britannia Stadium.
“I think that was the first year that they had play-offs in the conference – we were playing at Stoke and it was the first time that I’d played at a big ground like that,” he added.
“I’d only broken into the team the year before and I was just establishing myself and playing regularly so to score that goal was a bit surreal really.
“I thought I had a good body back then so I took my top off but looking back I realise I shouldn’t have done that!”
It was the biggest match of Green’s career up to that point and it was played on the biggest stage but Green said he was too young to feel pressure at the time.
“I think I was just excited and breaking through into the professional game and going into the final, as a group we knew we had enough to win,” he explained.
“We went 2-0 up and we were cruising but when they pegged us back to 2-2 and that was probably when the nerves set in.”
At the time, play-off matches were subject to the short-lived Golden Goal rule. The rule proved generally unpopular with football fans but thanks to Francis Tierney the rule has some affection from Rovers fans.
“Looking back at it, Golden Goal is weird but it worked for us and it got us into the league,” Green laughed.
“Francis Tierney got it - what a player he was! He wasn’t the fittest and to be honest I sometimes wonder how he got up there to put it in the back of the net!
“That was a great feeling and it was brilliant to get Doncaster back in the league.
“The after party was great. The fans were out and it meant so much to everyone to get back into the league - I don’t think I had to pay for a drink that night!”
With Rovers’ league status restored after a five-year absence, the aim was to keep progressing with the second tier touted as the club’s ultimate target.
Sometimes promotion leads to a complete overhaul of the playing staff, but Rovers stuck by the core squad who had served them so well in non-league.
“The set-up was quite professional even when we were in the conference,” Green said.
“We had an inkling that a new ground was coming and I think we moved to Cantley Park that year. Getting our own training ground was probably the one thing that changed off the field. It was good to have somewhere to train all the time.
“We brought in a couple of players with league experience in but there wasn’t a lot about the team that changed and that togetherness showed again. Having the success in the conference and getting promoted through the play-offs just carried on into League Two and we didn’t do too badly that year!”
Rovers got off to an impressive start that season with a 3-1 away win against Leyton Orient on the opening day of the season.
“Orient were one of the favourites to go up and we went there and comfortably beat them. I think that just showed us what we could do in that league,” Green explained.
The goals on that day were scored – perhaps unsurprisingly – by Leo Fortune-West (2) and Gregg Blundell who developed a prolific partnership that season.
“Leo came in that season too,” Green smiled.
“He wasn’t the best in training but he used to turn up in games and do things we’d never seen him do before and it all used to come off in games.”
Another key addition that season was Scottish midfielder Michael McIndoe.
“I think McIndoe was the first player I knew to have coloured boots – and at the time I was like who is this!”
“But he was the kind of player who would create chances and score goals … we just had to give him the ball.
“It was a great signing for us and he really helped us move at the leagues.”
James Coppinger interrupted at this point to reminisce about a training ground race which took place between Fortune-West and McIndoe.
“McIndoe kept saying he was quicker so we set up the race,” Coppinger explained.
“He gave Leo a 20 meter head start saying he would pass him – I think Leo won by 30 meters!”
The characters in the squad and the team spirit and togetherness off the pitch was what Green put a lot of the team’s success down to that season. However, on the pitch Dave Penney’s side showed an impressive level of consistency throughout the campaign.
“We never really had a great run but we didn’t have a blip either and the lads were full of confidence after winning promotion from the conference,” Green said when asked at what point the players thought they might win the league.
“You always have a look where you are at Christmas time and we were doing well but we just seemed to push on from there.”
Rovers secured promotion to the third tier on April 12 with a 2-0 home win against Cambridge United and once against Green was on the scoresheet.
“I think I came off the bench early against Cambridge because McIndoe got injured. The ball got whipped in and I just got on the end of it with a bit of a diving header,” he remembered.
“Securing promotion at Belle Vue was unbelievable. I didn’t know what to do after that goal to be honest – I kept my top on that time though! I think all the lads just piled on - it was a real party atmosphere.”
Despite going on to gain more promotions in his career, that 2003/04 season was the only time Green earned a champions medal.
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