In a time when money plays a more significant role in the modern game, sportsmanship is often pushed under the carpet as teams strive for a result that will financially benefit them in the long run. With a greater demand placed on results, enforced by boards operating teams more like companies than sports organizations, getting a win often supersedes fair play. But at Doncaster things appear to be different who demonstrated this past weekend in their opening game of the new season against Bury that fair play and sportsmanship is still very much alive and kicking.
The match itself was a thrilling encounter with both teams creating fine chances at either end but failing to break the deadlock. In a fine example of how good the Football League One is, both sides looked confident of their seasons ahead and ready to convert their preseason form into a good start to the new campaign. Doncaster, bossed by former Manchester City and Scotland striker Paul Dickov were on the attack from the off with Harry Forrester testing Chris Walton in the Bury goal early on. Bury replied with a fine effort on goal after some good running by Danny Mayor set up Leon Clarke for a low drive from outside of the area. Over the next seventy minutes both sides created further chances with Bury taking more of them but were denied by a combination of some fine goalkeeping by Thorsten Stuckmann and the woodwork. So with the game winding down towards the full-time whistle, it looked like both teams were settling for a point. That was until a bizarre moment that was triggered by an injury to a Bury defender with only a few minutes left to play.
In standard procedure, the ball was put out of play to allow the injured player to receive treatment. When he had recovered and gotten back to his feet, Doncaster sub Nathan Tyson took a quick throw in to Harry Forrester who in sporting fashion volleyed the ball back towards the Bury goalkeeper. However due to the connection with the ball and the positioning of the goalkeeper the ball ended up sailing over Walton’s head and into an empty net. What came next was confusion with the Bury players running to the referee and to Forrester to protest at the goal. The referee, Eddie Ilderton strangely allowed the goal as it fit within the laws of the game as technically Doncaster had given the ball back to Bury as required. Arguably the throw in itself was illegal given that it was thrown down rather than across but to pull it back on that would add further confusion to the situation. Bury manager David Flitcroft appeared angered by the decision and the fact that he looked destined to finish the game with no points.
That was until Doncaster boss Dickov intervened and instructed his players to allow Bury to score unchallenged. It was a fantastic gesture by the young manager who felt it was the right thing to do given the bizarre nature of the goal his team had scored. From the restart Leon Clarke gentle ran the ball unchallenged towards the Doncaster goal with a couple of the Doncaster players joking with him along the way. Clarke entered the box, went past the goalkeeper and scored to draw the match. After the match, Bury boss Flitcrioft praised his opposite number for the sporting gesture and for allowing Clarke to score. For Clarke the whole game was a surreal experience after being denied three times by the woodwork and then scoring an unchallenged goal right at the death. For Dickov he explained that it was the right thing to do given the way the game had gone and that the officials had put them in a difficult spot because they hadn’t ruled out the goal in the first place. Given the way that both sides performed in the match, its hard to say that sharing the points wasnt a fair result with both teams now able to focus on their next matches in their attempt to win promotion from League One.