FOR someone who was working as a full-time schoolteacher until he was 24, Rob Jones has forged a pretty decent career as a footballer. And he’s not finished yet.
Already established in Hibs folklore after captaining them to their only major cup success in the last 22 years – the 2007 League Cup – Jones, now 33, is on the brink of skippering two different South Yorkshire clubs up to the Championship in successive seasons.
His Doncaster Rovers side are currently two points clear at the top of League One with five games to play. As player/coach, club captain, goal-scoring centre-back and all-round cult hero, Jones has been very much at the heart of Donny’s resurgence following their relegation from England’s lucrative second tier last year. After tasting promotion as captain of Sheffield Wednesday last May, the former Hibee knows he is in prime position to repeat the feat with his current side.
“We’re in a great position with five games to go, but we’ve got a lot of hard work to do,” he said. “If anybody had offered us the chance to be five points clear of third place with five games left, we’d have snatched it with both hands, especially after the doom and gloom of last season. There’s a real buzz about the town of Doncaster just now so hopefully we can cap it off by winning promotion. I got promoted on the last day of last season with Wednesday, so I’ve got a good understanding of what people are going through at the moment.
“It would be fantastic for me personally to get promoted two years running, but it’s not about me, it’s about the football club. Doncaster had four good years in the Championship and they want to get back there as quickly as possible, because it would bring a lot of positives to the club and the area.
“We’ve got an abundance of talent at our disposal and the players work hard for each other, so we’ve got the fundamental ingredients to take us a long way. I know there’s not long left but there could be a few twists and turns yet.
“Brentford will have something to say, Sheffield United have got games in hand and I wouldn’t rule out someone coming with a late charge. But if we win our five games, we’ll be fine and we won’t need to worry about anybody else.”
Jones’ obvious leadership qualities led him to enjoy a brief spell as Doncaster’s joint-caretaker manager after Dean Saunders left to join Wolves in January and before Brian Flynn took the reins permanently.
He scored in successive games during this stint, increasing his already burgeoning hero status at the Keepmoat Stadium to the extent that supporters organised a “Rob Jones Day” for a home match against Walsall in February. Jones was humbled. “When you go to a new club, you always want the fans to take to you and I think the Doncaster fans have,” he said. “I think a supporters website organised Rob Jones Day and it just snowballed really. It was a bit surreal but it’s nice to be held in that regard. I’ve been lucky to have a special relationship with the fans at most clubs I’ve played at. I don’t play any differently to how I played at Hibs; I’m still passionate about my football and I think the fans can see that.”
With Jones and his family having returned home to their Teesside base ever since he left Hibs for Scunthorpe in 2009, he is now plotting for life after playing. There is plenty petrol left in the tank for now, but the single-minded Jones is intent on staying in football when the legs eventually decide enough is enough. To that end, he has been invigorated by the coaching gig handed to him by chairman John Ryan.
“I’m just enjoying working towards when I eventually become a manager one day,” he said. “I’ve had a massive insight into what management entails in the last three months, it’s been fantastic for me.
“I’m in earlier, finishing later, going out to watch games and concentrating a lot more on the video side of things, so the workload has increased, but I’m managing it well. I’m going through my coaching badges and then when I finally hang up the boots I want to be a coach. I don’t want to go into the media side of it; I want to be a football manager. The opportunity I’ve been given by the chairman has been absolutely fantastic. He’s been totally behind what I want to do and given me a good starting point. I love it.”