JOHN RYAN has never been the sort of person who hides his light under a bushel.
The flamboyant former Doncaster Rovers chairman, whose smile lit up many a boardroom during his official association with the club in 15 largely glorious years at its helm, may just be a plain old fan again – for the time being at any rate.
But boy does he still have opinions.
While he is the first to admit he has enjoyed – and is enjoying – life away from the boardroom at Rovers after stepping down as chairman and director in November following an acrimonious fall-out over the future direction of the club, his passion is undiluted.
Ryan may enjoy a sumptuous lifestyle in leafy Cheshire that would be the envy of many, and also enjoys spending time at his idyllic holiday retreat in Cape Town on occasion.
But nothing stirs him quite like his beloved Rovers.
The lifelong fan, who turned 64 on Thursday, may not have been a regular at every game since stepping down, but he has been to a fair few.
When he has not been at the Keepmoat or elsewhere, rest assured Ryan – one of three majority shareholders at the club – has kept abreast of developments in games via Sky Sports News. Rovers is not a passing interest, it is his lifeblood.
Over the years, Ryan has championed “Little Old Donny” consistently and been a sort of unofficial chairperson for every small club which has had the temerity to gatecrash parties that many in the football establishment believe should be by invite only.
Given where he helped take Rovers from, Ryan, brought up in a council house in Doncaster, has rightfully lapped up dining at the same table as the likes of Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United, Sunderland, West Ham and many others.
But if he has had one gripe since Doncaster reached the second tier for the first time in half-a-century in 2008, it has been a consistent one.
If there is ever a war declared on referees, it is safe to say that Ryan has been sabre-rattling for a good few years.
On neighbouring South Yorkshire turf, Steve Evans and Nigel Clough have had cause to bemoan officialdom for a fair few months. If anyone understands it is Ryan.
He has waded into the debate on refereeing standards for several years, with the fuse lit after watching Rovers in a Championship game against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s early in 2008-09.
Bandwagon jumper he is not. In 2010-11, he labelled his side as the “Stoke of the Championship”. Nothing to do with their playing style, but everything to do with what he saw as being victims of countless refereeing injustices, akin to what Tony Pulis was experiencing in the top flight.
Having previously railed about referees costing Rovers play-off participation, Ryan’s grave fear is that his club could be relegated today because of them.
If the worst does happen at Leicester and Bolton this afternoon, do not expect Ryan to go away lightly. It is not his style.
Ryan said: “I feel sorry for our players, who have given their all. I don’t think we have been given a fair crack of the whip and it’s a warning to all small clubs.
“Wolves will be okay next year, but you fear for Brentford and Rotherham if they come up, although they don’t seem to have it great with referees in League One. Let’s hope they do in the Championship or they will get the shock of their lives!
“I have been very disappointed with the standard of refereeing this season. It’s been a whole catalogue; we don’t tend to get away with anything and our opponents seem to get away with everything.
“I feel very sorry for the club and manager and feel we should have had 15 more points. It’s really not acceptable; it would have been relegation by referee if we go down!
“We looked home and dry after the Leeds game, but since then there’s been some shocking decisions made.
“I was listening to the Millwall game on Sky Sports and Iain Dowie called the referee Fred Karno! He said that Abdoulaye Meite’s was never a sending off as Ian Holloway also did.
“It’s almost as if every week a major decision has gone against us. We have never had much luck in the Championship and it’s been particularly poor this season.
“Unless we got some sort of video evidence where managers can complain against such decisions it’s going to get worse.
“The ones that can keep up tend to make poor decisions and the ones that can’t seem to also make poor ones.
“If you are a small club in the Championship, you really get taken apart. I think the only answer is some form of video help.
“I bet Barnsley and Yeovil have similar complaints; small clubs not getting a break...
“We are a team who deserve to be in the Championship as there are worse teams than us who should be in our place. But we have had terrible luck.
“We were winning 3-1 at Charlton and then in the replay, we lost 2-0. The points we lost there could be critical.”
Angry he may have been following his late-autumn exit from the club after fellow majority shareholders Terry Bramall and Dick Watson rejected the Sequentia Capital investment offer he brought to the table, but for Ryan, a fair bit of water has gone under the bridge since that bitter parting of the ways.
So much so that Ryan feels both fellow major shareholders can say they have done their best in his absence and as to the topic of the ex-chairman returning to the club he loves one day, his answer is a cryptic one.
“I get asked all the time (by fans). You never say never, we’ll see what happens in the future,” he said.
“I don’t miss the day-to-day stuff – not really I don’t. I have plenty of other things going on in my life. It’s been a nice break and I am enjoying being back to what I always was – a fan.
“I think Terry and Dick have done a good job, to be fair, and done their best.
“I enjoying being a fan, other than the fact that we could get relegated!
“Obviously, it was a very sad occasion when I resigned. But since my resignation, I have probably enjoyed my football a lot more. Apart from the referees that is!
“When you are a chairman, there’s so much at stake, particularly in the Championship. At least, I can just go along and enjoy the game, although it still hurts when you lose.
“As a chairman of a football club, it’s not a great situation to be in, especially when you are in a relegation battle.
“Because if you get relegated, everyone blames you, even if it is not your fault.
“I did 15 years and think I achieved tremendous success, having won two titles and four promotions and only one relegation, along with winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as well.
“I also oversaw the building of a new stadium as well.
“My fifteen years were as productive a time as Doncaster Rovers have ever had.”
The John ryan Story .....
Born: May 1, 1950 in Doncaster.
1989: Joins Rovers board of directors, but leaves the club in 1994.
1998-99: Returns as chairman after Rovers’ relegation from the Football League. Purchases the club from Westferry.
1999-2013: Presides over Rovers’ most glorious era. Promoted back to the league in 2002-03 and lift Division Three title following season. Rovers move into Keepmoat Stadium in 2006-07 and win JP Trophy and are promoted to Championship in 2007-08 and again after relegation in 2012-13.