PRIOR to the mid-noughties, the prospect of Doncaster Rovers locking horns with Leeds United in a competitive league fixture again would have seemed incredible to many.
Doncaster lad Mick Bates, part of the Super Leeds era when Don Revie’s side, led by Billy Bremner who later went on to manage both sides, were seen by many to be the best team in the land, certainly counts himself among that number.
In United’s heyday in the early 70s, Doncaster were in the Football League’s basement and it made the allure of a fortnightly visit to Elland Road for many in the West Riding – and across the Broad Acres and beyond – pretty irresistible. And thousands did.
Both teams have had further ups and downs since the Revie era, with Donny spending time in the Conference and Leeds in League 1. And despite having never beaten Leeds at the Keepmoat it was Rovers who enjoyed victory in the biggest game played between the two clubs, the 2008 play-off final at Wembley.
Bates, right, is from the Doncaster pit village of Armthorpe where Kevin Keegan was also raised, and now 66, he said: “It’s a great story for Doncaster Rovers and it is absolutely fantastic what they have done and a bit of a tragedy for Leeds. It’s extremes on both sides. The expectation on Doncaster used to be nil, but they have performed fantastically well.
“Leeds expect to be always up in the top echeleons and playing well, but in recent years, it’s been a total disaster. Hopefully they are on the road back now.
“When they play each other now, it’s a toss-up. If someone had told me 30-odd years ago that would be the case, I would have said: ‘Are you kidding? Are we in a time-warp?’ Who would have thought Doncaster Rovers would beat Leeds at Wembley? And to be fair, they deserved it.”
Bates, who joined United on the same day as close friend Eddie Gray, pictured right together, making 125 league appearances in a 13-year association with the club, says his allegiances remain firmly with Leeds, who will be roared on by a sell-out 4,100 travelling army today. Bates said: “Many supporters are still hanging on from the great days and the dads still watch and have got their sons to be Leeds United fans and they have stuck with them through thick and thin. Rovers were getting crowds of 1,500 and 2,000 at the time and you couldn’t blame people in Doncaster for going to see one of the best teams in Europe, who were just 30 miles away.
“But Rovers have got their hardcore and to be fair, they will stick with them through thick and thin. I’ve got a lot of friends who are Rovers fans, but I am a Leeds fan, that’s it!”