Rod Gilmour of The Hockey Paper speaks to Doncaster men’s player coach Matt Gibson on Conference North hopes and remembering his brother Andy
Doncaster men have been in the National League every year bar one. Relegated in the 2012/13 season after a play-off defeat at Cambridge, Matt Gibson was in the team in his last year at school.
Fast forward a decade and Gibson didn’t want to be playing, let alone in charge of a team going out of the National league for a second time. On the final day of last season, Doncaster men stayed up as a National League side as results went their way.
He says: “There is plenty of pressure but it is super important for Doncaster to remain in the National League for as long as possible.”
This season, Doncaster lie third heading into the final game before the outdoor break, sitting one point behind leaders Timperley and Lindum. Gibson says: “We are a better team than what the table showed last season but now we are nearer where we want to be.”
Gibson has been with the club all his life. “It’s a second home,” he adds. “I spend most of my life here. I can’t really articulate why I love it so much. Maybe because of the people as Doncaster is a community of giving back.
“We aren’t a place that relies on universities, internationals and being in a glamorous location. We rely on the people. And I am now one of those players to pay it back to the people.”
Gibson’s parents are still avid touchline supporters, his godfather is a former chairman, while Matt’s brother, Andy, is there in spirit at every home match.
Andy sadly died in a car crash in September 2021 and, nearly two years on, ‘The Andy Gibson Stand’ was opened by the club this season.
A cohort of volunteers, led by Kirk Bellerby, who Andy and Matt had both played with, saw through the vision of providing the Doncaster ‘ultras’ with a shelter and stand in Andy’s name.
Materials were sourced from parents of juniors and a ‘Ground Force job’ was put into motion ahead of the September opening. “Kirk had an idea of essentially covering our roof on the steps,” says Matt. “It sprung up and he rang myself and Dad and said he would really like to put Andy’s name up there. I don’t think it was planned from our end and it just snowballed.
“There’s never been protection of the elements and it makes the pitch a load better now. Andy would always come back home and watch and his name is now up there. It’s exactly where people gravitated to watch hockey and he always liked to stand on the top step.
“I just want people who didn't know Andy to ask about the name and what he did.”
A pre-season festival in Andy’s memory was also held when teams from Marlow, York, Ben Rhydding and Loughborough University, where Andy was women’s programme coach, gathered on an emotional weekend.
Matt recalls of the day: “The clubs donated money out of their pocket and put it into the charity pot. Andy was very much playing hockey to be serious but also to make good friends.”
The Andy Gibson Foundation was set up last year with the aim of helping young people gain opportunities in hockey. The foundation has delivered hockey into primary schools in Doncaster and Hull and are working with England Hockey coach Brett Holland to run Level 2 coaching sessions at Doncaster HC.
The foundation, who will buy 10 courses with Holland delivering the classes, wants to hear from anyone in the country as to why they want to do a Level 2.
Andy’s mantra of “You don’t know what you don’t know” came to the fore during one recent primary school competition where the Andy Gibson Cup saw Doncaster’s Owston Park Primary win two age groups. A certain Barry Middleton was educated there, not that the current young pupils from Years 3-6 knew his name until it was mentioned.
The hockey taster sessions saw some pupils - the school doesn’t teach hockey on the curriculum anymore - come up to the Foundation coaches at the end to say: “This is really cool, thanks for giving me the opportunity.”
“They might not be the next Barry Middleton, but they might reach the third team at uni, play hockey there and carry on the sport,” added Matt.
Back on the senior path, Matt, 29, says his side have come far in a short space of time since last season. They have amassed more points in nine games than the entirety of the 2022/23 campaign.
After being outclassed 6-2 by Timperley last time out, Gibson is hoping for some early Christmas cheer this weekend before the indoor season.
“The focus is to go into Christmas without a sour taste,” he adds.
Sunday: Doncaster v Brooklands Manchester University 2, 2pm