“Donny will get hammered tonight,” teased my chums at Swinton Comprehensive School on Monday morning, November 30, 1964.
I was 11, in the first year, and the solitary Doncaster Rovers fan among classmates and countless others in the school who were ardent Rotherham United supporters.
Admittedly, the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA County Cup (S&HCC) semi-final game, to be staged at Millmoor that evening, would definitely be a mismatch. United were a good footballing side, in the old Second Division, Rovers in the lowly fourth.
The Rotherham team had its stars, many of whom are fondly remembered even today: Madden, Bennett, Houghton, Wilcockson and Chappell to mention a few.
Doncaster, nonetheless, had one star player at least in Alick Jeffrey, and a few ‘characters’ of the game, namely Albert ‘Yogi’ Broadbent, the solid Keith Ripley and the tricky, jinking right-winger Phil Robinson.
Briefly, and according to Andrew Kirkham in The Sheffield & Hallamshire FA County Cup (2011), the cup was contested between “the five South Yorkshire clubs (six if the Rotherham County and United are considered as two separate clubs) from May 1921 and May 1993”.
Doncaster Rovers did not take part until 1926-27 and the Sheffield clubs did not participate after May 1982.
The evening match was to be my first experience of watching Doncaster Rovers play away from home.
My dad and me ventured out into the unknown and pouring rain, taking the half-hour bus ride from Warmsworth to Millmoor.
Rotherham came into the game with only one point from six games, a 3-2 home defeat to Huddersfield, 48 hours earlier, and a 6-1 away loss the previous week at Southampton. By contrast, Doncaster were fresh from Saturday’s home 4-0 thumping of promotion chasers Millwall.
On a greasy pitch, Rotherham started without star players Ian Butler, Frank Casper and Colin Clish, but Rovers featured Broadbent fresh from a hat-trick in the Millwall win.
Miraculously, to me and many of the 3, 937 watchers – made up of a good many Doncaster fans – Rovers were 2-0 up after 30 minutes and even wasted three or four good chances beforehand.
With rain avalanching off the front of the stand behind the Rotherham goal, Rovers’ Alfie Hale, playing his first game for a month, scored in the 18th and 27th minutes.
Rotherham played plenty of brilliant stuff in midfield but their finishing was ragged with little troubling Rovers keeper Ken Oxford.
Rovers looked to have the tie in their pockets at half time but what a different story after the interval! Albert Bennett reduced the arrears within three minutes and then Oxford injured his shoulder when he fell awkwardly, saving from Dave Carver.
Barry Lyons levelled matters after 63 minutes and Ken Houghton put Rotherham in front four minutes later.
With only two minutes remaining, Alex Tait chased a long ball up-field, just beat goalkeeper Gordon Morritt to it, and lobbed over his outstretched arms into the empty net. It was a great finish to a great game and thoroughly enjoyed by the small crowd.
Surprisingly, next day my chums at Swinton were remarkably quiet, but many had not even attended the game. Nonetheless, there was much nail-biting on my part until the replay was staged on Thursday April 29, 1965.
Two days earlier Rotherham had finished the 1964/65 season disappointingly in 14th place after beating Bury 1-0 away. On the same night Doncaster had beaten Tranmere 1-0 to finish ninth.
During the S&HCC semi-final replay, Rovers’ centre half and captain Keith Ripley moved himself up to centre forward 10 minutes from the end when Rotherham were deservedly leading 2-0.
He hit two great goals to put the sides level and force extra time. Unbelievably, he then got the winner from the penalty spot with just three minutes remaining.
It was an amazing transformation for the Rovers NEVER looked like scoring for 80 minutes. Harold Wilcockson held Albert Broadbent – or whoever was on the left wing – in a vice-like grip, Alfie Hale could make no headway down the middle against John Haselden, while Roger Chapman dealt safely with the few efforts which came his way.
Rotherham always looked a class above the Rovers, as they had every right to do, and strolled to a 2-0 lead with goals by Roy Massey and Barry Lyons. They had some more very near misses, with Fred Potter bringing off some glorious saves… not that anyone thought it mattered whether the Rovers lost 2-0 or 5-0!
Fans were streaming from the ground and many must have missed the thrills of those last few minutes.
The S&HCC final against First Division Sheffield United was staged, amid great anticipation in Doncaster, the following Monday evening, May 3, 1965. Nine years previously, almost to the day, Doncaster Rovers beat Sheffield United in the S&HCC. They took the trophy after a 4-0 win over the Blades.
Sheffield United had their revenge when they beat Rovers by a similar score before 11,001 spectators on that Monday night at Belle Vue.
Admittedly, it was a result about which no-one could grumble for, although the Rovers often matched Sheffield when it came to weaving pretty patterns, they failed to finish them off.
So, for anyone interested in good football this was a good match. Alick Jeffrey and Albert Broadbent worked hard but the Rovers had no-one like Gil Reece to make and score goals.
The 22-year-old Welsh winger, who played against Doncaster at Newport earlier in the year before being transferred to Sheffield United, made both first half goals and scored the two which came after the interval. Noticeable was the way he slotted into the attack and took his scoring chances well.
Throughout the game, with Alick Jeffrey strangely out of touch, Rovers lacked a general of the same calibre as the commanding Keith Kettleborough.
Keith Ripley, hero of the semi final in the previous week, was never the same attacking menace and player-manager Bill Leivers was often out of position as Rovers’ defence struggled against the fast-moving United attack.
In total Sheffield United won the S&HCC 21 times (with two shared titles)
n Sheffield Wednesday, 11 (and one shared title)
n Barnsley, 10 (and one shared title);
n Doncaster Rovers and Rotherham United, seven
n Rotherham County, one.
n Special thanks to Les Payne, Garry Bray and Graham Barnes.