The Failed Football Aspirations of a Pop Star

Jack Peat on the failed #Romlinson venture.

Doncaster Rovers John Ryan

Late last week news trickled through social wires that the collective mass of One Direction fanatics hadn’t managed to muster enough pocket money to support a John Ryan/ Louis Tomlinson’s takeover of Doncaster Rovers. As predictable as its demise may have been, the murky terms of their crowdfunding venture (if it failed, they couldn’t buy) highlighted the typically slack nature of football club buyouts and owners’ reticence in communicating fully with the fans. Most worryingly, there are definite signs that it was an ego-driven design.

Doncaster Rovers has had its fair share of ownership turbulence. In fact, at one point we were pretty much regarded as the standard of bad chairmanship. Main Stand ablaze, owner in the docks on insurance fraud claims and the club sinking into the murky depths of the non league after a farcical season we had become a shell of a club. It serves as a reminder that however dismayed we may be of the latest developments, the position we find ourselves in today is infinitely more preferable to the one we were in almost two decades ago.

For that we owe a debt of gratitude to the man at the ‘business end’ of the Romlinson deal, John Ryan. The modest account of his achievements documented in Ashes to Glory – contender for the Critics’ Award for the Most Self-Indulgent Documentary Ever – summarise the lows we experienced under Ken Richardson and the success we enjoyed subsequently, including promotion in the first ever Conference Play Off, promotion in our first season back in League 2 and, most spectacularly, promotion at Wembley against Leeds United with a Paint Trophy in there to boot.

But for all his achievements, John Ryan has a big weakness: publicity. This can manifest itself in a harmless record breaking appearance against Hereford United in the Conference or it can spill over in a year-long ‘Experiment’ where big name players are shipped in on short-term contracts thanks to Ryan’s acquaintance Willie McKay. When relegation followed and the board started to turn on its chairman his exit was one that only John Ryan could conceive, three minutes before a crucial derby with Barnsley with all the media attention one could hope for he left the club and went to stand where any multi-million entrepreneur that deals in cosmetic surgery belongs; in the terraces.

I didn’t buy that then and I don’t buy it now.

The Romlinson takeover failed because it was never about Doncaster Rovers; it was about John Ryan. To be called Louis Tomlinson’s business partner would have thrilled a man who has built a silicon career of fame and fortune. He knew full well that he would need a pot of cash to invest under new FA guidelines and so dressed it up in an ambitious crowdfunding project that sent publicity his way in the bucket load. Equipped with the town’s most famed prodigal son he created ‘Club 28’ which at best was an ill-conceived business model for financing a football club and at worse was his publicity addiction manifesting itself once again. With all due respect to the man who saved our club, I believe it is the latter.

In the 15 years John Ryan has been in charge of the club he has invested wisely. His business acumen probably kept more than just cobwebs swept under the dusty carpets of his Belle Vue office and he was crafty in his negotiations with the council in bringing us a new stadium. There has always been just enough cash to keep us going and, to be fair, he’s put pen to paper on some very good long-term deals.

But for every good deal the camera is never far away and for every bad deal he has always played the victim. Like his ill timed exit at Barnsley all those years ago he has once again been scuppered by some party pooper wanting to spoil the show. “I feel I’ve been made a scapegoat,” he said, “I’ve been used and abused”.

I wouldn’t be so quick to blame a governing body that has clearly sensed that something is amiss with a misleading and arguably unrelated crowdfunding scheme.

As for Tomlinson, I hope he can continue to be affiliated with the club. As Kerrang! editor James McMahon described on takeover day he brings a rather more fresh crowd than the “pensioners with tatty red and white hooped scarves” we’ve become accustomed to at the Keepmoat. But for now I will await my ‘Louis Tomlinson Selfie’ refund and watch the old guard restore calm. No doubt we’ll be seeing John Ryan again soon.

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