Doncaster might not be in the greatest shape on the pitch at the moment, but they’re looking pretty good off it.
And that's because of a pioneering health and fitness scheme by the name of Fit Rovers. Free Press reporter DARREN BURKE signed up and is having a ball
It is a drizzly, chilly September night and I’m jogging around the pitch in the semi-dusk inside a near deserted Keepmoat Stadium.
Beads of sweat are dripping off my forehead and my legs are straining and aching as my plodding steps echo around the silent arena.
Although it might sound like an evening of hell, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My face might not suggest it, but I’m loving this run and although its hurting right this very minute, by the time I’m sitting down tea later on, I’ll be happier, healthier and in the best shape I’ve been in in years.
Welcome to Fit Rovers, a new initiative which is helping to transform the lives of dozens of men from 30+ inside the home of Doncaster Rovers.
The project began in January and has already seen scores of blokes come together on Thursday nights to take part in fun, fitness activities, learn about healthy eating and socialise - and what’s more, the whole eight week programme is totally free. What’s not to like?
No matter what size, age or shape, the course is tailored to suit all.
The programme is the brainchild of Club Doncaster Foundation co-ordinators Nick Gillott and Scott Copeland who were involved in a similar project at Rovers’ South Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley and are now helping to transform the lives of Doncaster’s fellas too.
Said Nick: “It has really taken off. The support we’ve received has been fantastic and it is amazing watching people turn their lives around and rediscovering their love of keeping in shape again. It is satisfying to see the successes.”
I’m now pleased to count myself among those successes.
Desk bound and putting on the pounds with all the wrong foods, I’d become far too lazy, rooted to the sofa and stuffing down junk food at night.
But that’s all changed in just over two months.
I’ve lost more than a stone, seen my waist size shrink by more than 10cm and started playing football regularly again.
Furthermore, I’ve rediscovered my love of biking, pulled on my running shoes once again and also convinced my 71-year-old dad to sign up too. He’s also seen the weight slide off and his clothes get baggier too.
And so taken is my 13-year-old son with my new more svelte appearance, that he’s taken to joining me on marathon bike rides around Doncaster.
I’m feeling re-energised, rejuvenated and putting my bad habits behind me. And it feels great.
Funded by Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group, the two hour sessions begin with participants enjoying a game of pool or table tennis - sometimes with former Rovers players such as Tim Ryan and Jan Budtz - and also include classroom based workshop sessions to learn about lifestyle choices andhealthy eating.
Then it is a case of putting it all into practice with circuit classes, boxercise, walking football and more in and around the stadium.
Said Scott: “Word of mouth has helped every course fill up and we’ve got loads of people wanting to get involved.”
And that extends to players such as Matty Blair and John Marquis and boss Darren Ferguson who have also offered their support - while course participants are rewarded with Rovers related goodies, discounts and match tickets.
Added Scott: “It isn’t just about the eight week programme - its about keeping going afterwards - and we have a follow-on group called Fit Rovers Vets for people who have done the course to keep up what they have learned.
“There’s something for all ages - we’ve had people from 27 to 74.
“Everything is tailored to suit - people can do things at their own pace without pressure.”
Unlike big fitness and weight-loss chains that charge you for public weigh-ins, information at Fit Rovers is completely confidential meaning you can keep a track of exactly how you’re doing on a one-to-one basis.
Added Nick: “People come for different reasons - some want to be more active, some want to lose weight while for others it is the social aspect.
Such is the success of that there are now plans to create a women’s group in the New Year and the upcoming men’s course is already full.
Said Nick: “It is never too late to make changes to the way you live.”
I might be pushing 45 with dodgy knees , but each week I can pretend I’m partnering Alfie May upfront and get myself in shape. For more information contact Nick Gillott or Scott Copleand at email@example.com or on 01302 764663.
The men involved in Fit Rovers have so far lost an incredible 50 stone between them.
One man who has contributed heavily to that loss is Darren Greaves, who has shed an astonishing 3st 10lb since the beginning of his journey.
Darren has maintained the lifestyle changes encouraged by the team and continues to exercise regularly at the follow on group, Fit Rovers Vets.
“I could not have done this without Fit Rovers,” he said. “I was stuck in a bit of rut to be honest, just sat on the sofa each night with very little motivation. The guys at Fit Rovers could not have done more to support me through my journey and it really is down to their motivation and advice that I’m where I am now; I’ve lost three and a half stone and I’m now in the best shape I have been for the last 15 years, it’s incredible.”
Darren has seen his waist shrink by 14cm - and Scott is understandably proud.
He said: “Darren has achieved results that I’m sure he could have only dream about before attending Fit Rovers. It gives us all satisfaction to see the transformation he has made and how he has used the course to trigger such results.”
“Fit Rovers is not a magic wand, and results are by no means guaranteed and on behalf of everyone at Fit Rovers I would like to congratulate Darren on his results, it is nothing more than he deserves for his attitude and commitment.”