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Family Affair: The McCombes

7 February 2013

It looks set to be a rather exciting end to the season for the McCombe family, with brothers John and Jamie both aiming to secure promotion for their respective sides.

John and his Port Vale team-mates are currently in pole position in npower League 2 and have created a healthy gap between themselves and the chasing pack in the Play-Off places.

Meanwhile, Jamie's Doncaster Rovers are attempting to return to the npower Championship at the first time of asking, and currently occupy an automatic promotion place.

Not a bad season so far then and expectations are high that form continues and the pair can elevate themselves to a level higher come May.

"I've only managed to play against my brother once in a competitive game and I'd like to play against him again," explained 27-year-old John.

"But I'd obviously much rather him and Doncaster win promotion to the Championship - he's played there before and it would be great for him to step up again.

"My mum's cousin used to play for Sheffield Wednesday, so we've got something of a sporting family. In fact, my brother and I are both Wednesday fans and we used to have season tickets with my dad and uncle. We went pretty regularly.

"It would be good to have Port Vale, Doncaster and Sheffield Wednesday all in the same division. Jamie and I obviously don't get much of a chance to watch Wednesday any more and I've never been in the same division as my brother, so it would be fun."

John certainly seems to be having fun at the moment. For the first time since his move to Staffordshire in 2008, the Valiants are enjoying an off-field stability matched by promising performances on the field.

And the winner of the Player of the Year Award in 2010 explained that this new era could be the key to ensuring the side return to League 1, after a five-year absence.

"It has been a good season so far and as a group we're all really pleased with the way things have been going, but we know we've got another 15 or so games before the end of the season and we've just got to keep going.

"This is my fifth season at Vale and I don't think we've had a season without something or another going on [off the field]. This year has been different.

"Obviously we had the frustration of the takeover at the beginning of the season but we've come through that and having new owners has put everyone's minds at rest, meaning we can play with confidence and get on with playing football."

Not only that, but John suggests his side are better equipped to tackle the top half of the table than last season's squad.

Last time around, the Vale Park outfit narrowly missed out on the Play-Offs after a 10-point deduction and subsequent disappointing end to the campaign.

"We've probably got a better squad, to what we've had previously.

"The gaffer has managed to get a couple of new players in while those of us that have been here for a few years have probably found some form. It's just come together for us."

Meanwhile, at the Keepmoat Stadium, brother Jamie is also contemplating promotion.

Doncaster have been in and around the top three all season and, despite losing manager Dean Saunders to Wolverhampton Wanderers in January, their quest continues under former Wales boss Brian Flynn.

"Jamie is pretty happy with the way things have been going for Doncaster," John said of his older sibling.

"Losing the manager was a blow. My brother says Saunders is a good manager who has potential to go to the top, so he's not surprised he's gone, but obviously disappointed at the timing.

"They just need to keep doing what they've been doing if they can."

Jamie, 30, started his career at Scunthorpe United and joined the Rovers last summer after spells at Lincoln City, Bristol City and Huddersfield Town.

John, on the other hand, started his footballing life at Huddersfield. The duo crossed over for a year, before Jamie left and John soon followed his brother out of the exit door and joined Vale, via Hereford United and loan spells at Torquay United and Boston United.

Both play in defence, too, which means John has benefited from Jamie's experience.

"Growing up he was more of a midfielder and I was a striker. We're both quite tall so we've both ended up moving back into defence over the years. Our styles are quite similar as well, so he's always there to go through any problems or offer bits of advice.

"We speak to each other quite a lot. We talk about how our matches have gone, how we've played and who we've got coming up. He's also played at my level and in my position, so he's good to get advice from."

With such a busy Football League schedule to contend with, the McCombe family have all had to chip in and get to games.

There's always a family member in the stands, though, and John is quick to praise the role of his parents in both his and Jamie's careers.

"My mum and dad have supported us both all the way through. They go to a game every week and two when our fixtures allow, perhaps when there's a match in midweek or a Friday.

"When I was younger and playing youth football, and my brother first-team football, they split duties. My granddad always goes to games when possible, too, so our family have always done everything they can to support us.

"It's difficult to watch each other now, but there are times throughout the season, mainly in midweek, when we can watch each other play. Doncaster isn't too far from me, so it's pretty handy."

Now, with success in touching distance, the only thing on John's mind is securing automatic promotion.

Having played in League 1 already, he's desperate to show he can compete on the nation's third tier once more.

"I just want to play for as long as possible and at the highest level possible. I've spent a number of years in League 2 but I've sampled League 1 with Huddersfield and I'd like to go back and test myself.

"If we can go up then it would be a good opportunity for us all to test ourselves in that division. We've played a few teams from League 1 in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in the last year or two, including Tranmere Rovers and Walsall, and we've been more than a match for these teams.

"There are some teams in that league with big budgets, but I think if we went up, with the squad we've got, we'd give it a good go."

Depending on what happens in Doncaster, there could be a double dose of the McCombe's in League 1 next term.

The brothers would much rather be celebrating a double promotion, though.

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For all the latest news on Doncaster Rovers please click here

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