Rotherham United: No Longer the Same Club?

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Image available under Creative Commons © Ingy the Wingy

Yesterday, Steve Evans took over as manager at Rotherham United. Lifelong Millers’ fan David Rawson here provides his reaction.

It’s probably three-quarters of a mile, if that. It just feels further.

The red paint on the wooden gates at the back of Millmoor’s Tivoli End has faded a little now. In places, it’s flaked off, exposing grey undercoat and the wood beneath. The same goes for the narrow doors, behind which the old turnstiles stand silent. There’s a silence as you walk across the forecourt towards the main road, the quietness of abandonment, of a place out of time, condemned to the past.

Turn right, walk for a minute. The road takes on a shallow slope here towards the natural basin formed by the river Don’s flow over the centuries. And at the bottom of that slope you can see it, a thing of elegant curves and glass, almost beautiful, slightly out of place. A glance over the shoulder reveals a last glimpse of asbestos roofs and floodlight pylons, sentries guarding a ceremony taking place elsewhere. Then a deep breath and a walk down the hill, towards the imminent future.

The walk is not unburdened. There is a weight: of fragments of memory and shared experience, of the individual hopes and fears of thousands of people, yielded up to make something crucial of something fundamentally unimportant. There is a weight: of soaring joys, asphyxiating lows, of chances missed, opportunities all-too-infrequently seized. There is a weight: of identity, that indefinable quality that drew together individuals over the years to the place a few hundred yards down the road, and an almost incalculable distance away.

It’s inherent in supporting a football team that you impress the qualities that you value onto the club you follow. The special magic of football is that it allows for the embodiment of every noble virtue (it’s rare for supporters to overlay ignoble qualities onto their club, though football easily encompasses these, too), creating a shared sense of collective self as strongly understood as it is impossible to reduce to simple definition.

But let’s try. Standing in the shadows of the home end at Millmoor, straining to hear the echoes of a century’s cheers and cries, you can sense something of it.

We’ve never been flash or brash – (actually, we have, twice – once when we appointed Tommy Docherty as manager and promptly got relegated and once when Anton Johnson oversaw an extravagant lifestyle that club – and, it turned out, he – could ill afford and we nearly ceased to exist). Generally, any successes have been earned by honest hard work and graft, by taking cast off, under-rated or local players, improving them and making them greater as a team than the sum of their collective parts. We’ve accepted our place as a club for whom success is a welcome stranger rather than a familiar house guest.

At our best, we’re the team that’s made the most of what we’ve got. Millmoor was never the Nou Camp, but it could gleam in the sunlight of the first fixture of the season and its pitch could often stand comparison with any in the country. Players would arrive from reserve teams and find the form of their careers. Youth team players would come into the side and prosper, before leaving for better careers elsewhere.

At our worst, we’ve overreached and fallen flat. Relegation from the Championship with one of the smallest wage budgets ever seen in that league, nearly ruined us and cost us our ground and much of our dignity and respect. But we battled through the deduction of 27 points in two seasons, the loss of our manager and the entire coaching staff just as we seemed to be on the brink of something tangible and overcame the crippling disappointment of a play-off final defeat, to be in the promotion hunt going into the final straight of last season.

And then everything changed.

Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe what we saw in the wake of a complete capitulation against Chesterfield (‘Live on Sky Sports!’) was the first glimpse of what we’d become. Ronnie Moore, his face taut with despair and frustration, lashed out at his players and was dismissed. Andy Liddell (hailed by the chairman, Tony Stewart, for his intelligence, his hard work, his commitment) took over temporarily, overseeing no real improvement, before being dismissed from the club on Andy Scott’s appointment.

Scott, praised by Stewart for his hard work, his energy and his intelligence, oversaw a complete overhaul of the back-room staff, with people who’d been with – and stuck with – the club through its financial woes, culled almost overnight and replaced by an array of ‘player development officers’ and other curiously corporate sounding names.

Amid much talk of competitive wage budgets and ambition, Scott turned over a vast number of players over the summer and during the season using the loan system, but delivered only mid table form. Despite the chairman’s disbelief at the “illogic” of the situation, Scott was dismissed, almost a year after Moore’s departure.

The hunt for a new manager began again. The names linked to the job were credible, impressive even. Lee Clark was spotted in the stand at Don Valley. So was Brian Laws. Robins applied for his old job. Phil Brown threw his hat in the ring. Rumours linked Sean O’Driscoll and even Mick McCarthy. The chairman spoke of the quality of the applicants and how the draw of the new stadium had yielded some surprising names.

And at the fringes of the betting, in surprisingly persistent rumours, the name of Steve Evans.

At first, the link seemed to arise from nothing more than a series of interviews in which Evans was noticeably positive about the club (and especially its chairman). But then the local press started picking up the story and, just before the Easter weekend, respected local journalist Les Payne told us that his understanding was that Evans was Tony Stewart’s favoured candidate. On Monday morning, it was confirmed.

Hollowness. A strange feeling, empty of strong emotion, but profound nonetheless. The clothes of expected outrage (‘the man’s a convicted criminal’, ‘he’s graceless, lacking in dignity, not our sort of man, surely’) didn’t quite fit.

The dislocated feeling wasn’t, it turned out, a reaction to Evans, as such, but something wider, deeper, less easily identifiable. It was this: my club had become the sort of club that would appoint a man like Evans to be its manager. Before now, the idea of it was just unthinkable, literally unbelievable. Whatever his qualities as a football manager, the club that lived within the perimeters of Millmoor, would not have entertained the appointment. I knew that club. I knew what it stood for.

This club was different. This club demanded success. This club boasted of the resources it would throw behind the new man, as if the millions of pounds of written off debt were no longer a matter of concern. This club would overlook everything about Evans’ past except the record of lower league success. This club repented of nothing, regretted still less. This club was a more ruthless, unforgiving place, that spoke in terms of delivery and implementation, that had just signed its third three year managerial contract in two years.

In that moment, I thought again of the old gates through which you exited Millmoor. In my imaginings before, I’d assumed it was me walking away from the old ground, out and away towards the future.

But this time, it felt different.

I suddenly realised that I’d had it wrong, that the club that lived in that old stadium had turned its back on me. That club, and all that it represented, was dead and receding into the past.

I was to be left to stumble towards a future just down the road, but suddenly without any assurance of what I might find when I got there. And part of me wonders whether I should move at all, or stand still in the shadow cast by that empty, abandoned stand and remember. Part of me wonders whether that even that short distance from here to there is ultimately bridgeable.

David can be followed in twitter at @davidrawson

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36 Comments on "Rotherham United: No Longer the Same Club?"

  1. Michael Wood says:

    A superbly encapsulated view of a single moment at at single club that sums up the experiences of thousands of supporters at many, many clubs. Seldom has a piece been so accurate.

    • Paul H says:

      Sorry David but I don’t quite get it…..

      I think some of the sentiments and emotions you convey encapsulate my memories and feelings of growing up supporting the Millers since the 1970′s, but at the same time, what exactly has the new regime done yet that is so heinous…

      Tony Stewart took a very brave decision to remove the club from the malignent situation it faced with the Booth landlords at Millmoor and shows some ambition to change the club from one that essentially rarely delivered.
      I do have to say that I echo your sentiments. There has never been a greater sporting feelling or spectacle than seeing the Millers in full flight, the 80-81 season for example. Towner, almost touching distance from me, racing down the wing as I sat on the wall in the Millmoor Lane corner. Millmoor is my football home, but how often have we had those moments of madness in the last 35 years That I’ve been a supporter?
      That’s a rhetorical question of course. I for one would like to see some more heroes, worthy of donning the red and white. Steve Evans has come in and I feel excited in a way I haven’t for a long time. He was done for tax fraud to boost Boston up the leagues and gain promotion. As far as I am awre from surfing the net, not for any significant material gain for himself but to boost the club coffers. He has been tried and convicted by a court in this country. Why do we need to continue to judge him?
      Let’s dare to dream of becoming a club that can climb the leagues again like in the days of Towner, Moore, Forrest and Stancliffe. We don’t have to let go of the past to embrace the future.

  2. unitedite says:

    An absolutely superb piece of writing. A brilliant encapsulation of despair. I only hope that somehow it has a happy ending.

  3. Andy Simcox says:

    I thought a lot yesterday about writing a piece summarising my thoughts too. But you’ve put it perfectly David. I could not do any better. This is exactly how it feels. Hollow is right. You know in your soul that it is more than the appointment. It’s the erosion. Thanks for taking the time to get it down.

  4. BB-Dagger says:

    A well written piece, I have every sympathy with you now that evans is your new manager, I give it 2 years at most before he jumps ship with more brown envelopes in his pocket, I have a lot of respect for Rotherham and its supporters, I just hope this appointment will not mean the end of your club in the long term.

  5. Ed says:

    This superb. Heart wrenching, and superb.

  6. Caz says:

    This great article puts into words how I am feeling too

  7. Kev Simmonds says:

    37 years a Miller, I have the same feeling. I haven’t been since before Xmas, my lad was mascot that day and it felt good, but since then, nothing, the same hollowness you describe. I should be happy about the future Millers-wise, but I’m not, and your piece sums it up perfectly. I’ve gone back to Rugby League recently and had a great night watching my team on Saturday. I did this before, 20 years ago, and the Millers won me back, can they do it again?

  8. Mark says:

    Perfectly summed up again David. Everything was set up to give us such a promising future, but what US is there? New Ground, new Manager (against all morals), New team (with very little of the team ethic that we know and love), new backroom staff (again, the loyalty these people showed us through the tough times and it gets thrown in their faces), throwing money around like we are a rich club, despite writing off millions that we owe to local businesses.

    It isnt OUR club that has a bright future, it is a NEW club and a new business, the only thing that makes us any different to the MK Dons is that we have kept the club name and location, everything else is nothing do with the club that we know and love!

    But then we are only a number, we dont have a voice, for every one of us that doesnt move to NYS, a new fan will do and we will be forgotten about.

  9. BigladonOS says:

    David.

    Although I understyand what you are saying I have to say that at some point in the future you will be the one who turns their back on the club. That time will come when you are no more.

    The club you love will continue to grace the lives of the new fans and supporters of Rotheham United and they will know very little of the history you speak of because their history will be starting from the first game thay go to, Steve Evens may well be in charge of the team on their first visit to the football club, who knows? But one thing is for sure. From the day they get the RUFC bug untill the day they die they will only remember the things they themselves have shared with RUFC and not what you or I feel about the club.

    The past is the past and it is best left there. it is now time for the future and in this future it seems as though 2nd best is not wanted or desired by the man who is leading us in to that shiny brand new stadium with his eyes set on bigger and better things for the club as a whole.

    The future is bright, the future is Steve Evens and the New York Stadium.

    UTM

  10. Spencer Rose says:

    A very enjoyable read…. from a Dagenham & Redbridge supporter. …. I do feel for you guys!
    We have had enough of Steve Evans to last a life time, whilst he was at Boston United back in 2001

  11. Mick the Miller says:

    Bang on David, You have described so eloquently my feelings at the minute. It seems to be unthinkable that on the eve of my club, which has been through 2 administrations in 6 years, moving into a fantastic and I mean FANTASTIC new stadium, that as a fan, I feel so, so low.

  12. Auntie Merge (D&R) says:

    What a brilliantly written piece. I had a lot of time for your club and supporters since that day we took away your dreams at Wembley – your supporters were fantastic and generous when they congratulated us after, and I’ve wanted you to do well since. Until this week. As you so rightly say, it is the fact your club thinks Ev@ns is suitable seems a betrayal for what it stands in itself. I will continue to wish you the fans the best – I hope you can come through this unscathed. Your club however is another matter and I wouldn’t be suprised to see the club back in administration or worse within 3 years.

  13. sixpence says:

    Such a good article – so accurate – so sad – such an indictment of the way the game we love is going!

  14. Fairfax says:

    And from a Boston fan, who had to take far more pain than any D & R supporter, whatever they may think, all I can say is that nobody lasts forever. He will come and despoil, drag your good name through the dust, and go on his way. At the end you will pull together in a rejuvenated feeling of strength and rise again. Maybe then the gap between fond memories and the glass palace of the future will not feel so wide. I truly hope that it is so.

  15. Steve says:

    He is a selfish.. Arrogant man. Look where that famous family club called Boston united are now! I just hope for Rotherham fans he doesn’t do the same to your club with his selfish ideas!

  16. Gulls Fan says:

    Until 10.30 this morning I was absolutely convinced that my club would never employ Steve Evans or anyone sharing his characteristics.

    With a brilliantly emotive piece of writing you’ve now cast doubt into my mind.

    It isn’t enough to look at our clubs’ history to understand who we are: instead we have to look at our ambition and what moral price we are willing to pay to reach those goals.

  17. Kerry Andrew says:

    Lovely piece. Beautifully tragic!

  18. Dave Herriott says:

    I have been a supporter of Grimsby Town for 65 years and what a tale of woah you have told we at Grimsby even find ourselves in a worse positition now unbelieveably a non league outfit and with a tight council who could and should help to finance a new stadium and I wish Rotherham well in thier new Stadium. But oh the appointment of the fat Scottish foulmouthed thug that Evans is makes my blood curdle I will never forget his loud foulmouthed rant in front of a family stand at Blundell Park a few years ago whilst managing Boston resulted in him being ejected from the ground whilst the match was still being played by Police so if you RUFC Supporters take your children to home games get your directors to supply ear defenders at the turnstiles best of luck for next season
    Dave Herriott

  19. Leigh Extence says:

    You seem to have summed up all that is Evans… and this from a Torquay United fan who has had a fill of the man for many years. He’s insincere, underhand and brutish, but…

    …you haven’t had the pleasure of finding out what his sidekick Paul Raynor is like. Now there is a man who will bring disgrace upon your club.

    These two in tandem sum up all that is sour in football management.

  20. Pete Jeffries says:

    Sublime piece! Why oh why does a proper club, with proper values have to go down this road to hell? (Wealdstone & Chris Rea fan) I hope you find your way again.

  21. JertzeeAFCW says:

    I feel for you all in Rotherham. The man is utter scum and should not even be involved in football.
    He lies, bullies and is not averse to calling female employees of other clubs “cunts”.
    Remember – he won’t be with you forever, but you all will be.

  22. Brian butcher says:

    Possibly the best piece of journalisium
    I’ve ever read about football. The passion,
    feeling, emotion, words like faded pain,
    old turnstiles, asbestos, flood light pylons,
    Me I would have said centurions at each
    Corner guarding the presidiums memories
    of fans, fantastic arrival. sounds like my club
    Luton Town, except we’ve waited 70 years
    for a new ground, and still are, still hope
    Springs eternal.
    Well done…..

  23. Windlesham Don says:

    It is very rare to read an article which so precisely and eloquently articulates the feelings of the average football fan. For all those supporters who have suffered at the hands of uncaring clubs or unscrupulous owners, this is just such an article. As a Wimbledon fan of 35 years I can understand the void sensed by the author. However, as an AFC Wimbledon ‘owner’ I can also realise that there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Rotherham supporters the arrival of Evans and his odious sidekick Raynor will mean that your club joins the list of pariah clubs which other supporters love to hate. I hope his stay with you will be brief and the reputation of your club doesn’t suffer too much at his hands.

  24. Tewkesbury Addick says:

    Tremendous piece of writing, with much resonance for supporters of Charlton Athletic.

    I heard Evans on the radio the other day talking not about the club, the supporters or the football but ‘The Project’ and I thought “you guys are in real trouble”.

    Just remember, Millers – you can get back home…

  25. asongtoruin says:

    Absolutely wonderful piece, and I can’t help but feel that fans of many other clubs would feel similarly if it had been their side who had hired Evans. I hope for Rotherham’s sake that you start poorly next season and he is fired swiftly, and isn’t given the opportunity to sully the name of another club. It’s saddening to see someone declare that “Evans is the future” because if that’s the case then I don’t want to see where football is headed.

  26. Walesdagger says:

    Great article, beautifully written. I too fear for you Millers. (Another Daggers supporter who has a soft spot for your club ever since the dignified way your supporters behaved at Wembley in 2011.) What worries me is that looking at posts in the Millers’ forum, many supporters seem to have a positive view of 5t*v* E>*%s and are embracing the “notion of no one likes us we don’t care.” I think it should be “No one likes us, we don’t count.” Like my fellow Dagger Auntie Merge I can see the administrators visiting (again) in the not too distant future. With Lady Macbeth in charge, Hell is indeed Murky.

  27. Stewart says:

    Wonderful piece….. brought a tear to my eye.

    Wherever football is played, success will never be delivered by shoks and fly-by-nighters; real fans are there for the long run and take the rough with the smooth…… but even they can only bear so much.

    I hope everything turns out for the best for Rotheram and the club’s real fans.

  28. Ben says:

    Superb post, David. I hope you escape from your brush with Evans unscathed.

  29. cesimcox says:

    What abeautifully crafted piece of wring by David. It took us back to many happy memories at Millmoor, and then forward(with some apprehension to a new chapter and a new manager. I have supported Rotherham for 70yrsand this took me back to when I waited as a young lad for news to filter through from the radio (no telly then) forthe result of the Third Division North Cup Final at Chester-we won. Since then as the man from New York said “Through all the good and lean years and all the in between years ” I have followed the Millers. From the glory days af the 40′s and 50′s with goal scoring legends such as Walt Adron, and Jackie Shaw, later came Jack Mansells “total Football”when all that mattered was going forward and scoring and entertaining the fans.. Tommy Dodherty came briefly and left in relegation clouds but did one good thing =he found a gold nugget-he plucked Dave Watson from the obcurity of Notts County Reserves . There was the first League Cup Final, and epic F.A.Cup matches against Arsenal,Newcastle ,&Man Utd. But through it all I cannot remember us having a “Dirty Team” . We were a bit physical during Docherty’s last fling to avoid relegation but will our apprehension about the coming season be justified? or will we get a bad reputation like Crawley Town did? Will we still be regarded as a “Family Club?” Will we see the referee having to go over to the “Home Bench” to have a word, as we saw at the closing match at Don Valley? In spite of having a dubious C.V. our Manager has launched a charm offensive to win the fans round,and has rectified one major wrong – he has signed Sharps back in the fold . Like many millers supporters I am delighted with the new stadium and excited about the new season but as for the manager , will it be “saint or “sinner?”

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