By George Sanders
It is almost a decade ago that Rotherham United Football Club had no other choice but to leave Millmoor, their home ground that the club had been situated at for over 100 years. Since then the club have moved to the brand new AESSEAL New York Stadium and have even enjoyed Championship football in the town. However it was no easy journey to this success and it could quite easily have been a different story.
Turn back the time and prior to 2006, Rotherham had already sold their home ground of Millmoor to former Chairman Ken Booth in return for clearing debt, so administration was not possible for the struggling club. To come to the financial aid of the Millers, neighbours Sheffield United offered their support by paying the wages of players during their loan spells at Rotherham. Many local clubs also raised money in what was labelled as the ‘Save the Millers’ campaign.
Despite this heart-warming support and with the new takeover from Dennis Coleman and Dino Maccio, it still wasn’t enough to stop the club suffering a form of administration called Company Voluntary Arrangement. This also resulted in the club facing a ten point deduction in the subsequent season. Relegation to League Two was confirmed with three games remaining.
It’s quite hard to think of something more depressing to endure as a football supporter than the thought of losing your club, but the situation looked bleak. In March 2008 the club had again entered administration. Former Rotherham United full-back Dale Tonge believed that not even the players themselves were aware of the full damage occurring at the club. He said: “On a personal note, I struggled being a single lad with a mortgage, but lads with families struggled more which was hard to see.”
However, there was a glimmer of hope as at the end of the 07/08 season. It was revealed that local businessman Tony Stewart was to take over as Chairman. However, in order to be eligible to play in the 2008-09 season, Rotherham had to accept a 17 points deduction.
The compounding sucker punch of misery came when Rotherham United were forced to leave their native home of Millmoor after failing to come to a compromise with the grounds’ landlords. Life-long Rotherham supporter Chris Sanders describes how “upset” he was when the club left Millmoor and fondly reminisced about his experiences there: “It’s an old ground which holds lots of fond memories for me, especially growing up in my teens and into my early twenties. It felt sad to leave.”
It wasn’t just the supporters who were affected by the move. Dale Tonge explained what it was like to play at the 8,300 capacity ground, stating that it was his favourite place to play in a Millers shirt due to the hostile atmosphere that the ground created for away teams. “People assumed the changing rooms were a negative, but we made this an advantage against opponents who we knew hated the facilities.”
Rotherham were forced to play their home games in the neighbouring city of Sheffield at the Don Valley Stadium, while they tried to form a move back home. Meanwhile, local businesses in Rotherham suffered as they missed out on their usual match day trade.
The overall nature of the 25,000 seater stadium, which was primarily used for athletics events, meant that supporters were well away from the action due to a running track surrounding the football pitch. This made the atmosphere “non-existent” in the eyes of supporters. Tonge described the move as “necessary” but also contended how “It was never home” for the club. At least the club was now financially stable.
Nevertheless it wasn’t a particularly bad time on the pitch. The venue had held host to some impressive cup runs in addition to seasons involving promotion pushes. The most notable perhaps is when club legend Ronnie Moore managed his side to the League Two play-off final in 2010, where the Millers lost 3-2 against Dagenham and Redbridge at Wembley.
Chairman Tony Stewart would then reveal plans for a brand new stadium in the centre of Rotherham that was to be built on the site of some of Rotherham’s once industrial heartland, at the disused Guest and Chrimes foundry. Meanwhile on the pitch, colourful Scot Steve Evans was appointed as the first team manager.
Evans’ side won 3-0 against Burton Albion in their first competitive fixture at the new ground in front a sell-out crowd. Tonge stated that the move couldn’t have come soon enough for the Millers and the improvement in facilities were much needed. He enthused: “The positivity from all involved made it a great new experience and something special for the fans and in particular the chairman who deserved it for all the hard work and patience in seeing the process through!”
Since then, the stadium’s relatively short existence has played host to a back to back promotion campaign which made way for a return of Championship football for the Millers, perhaps highlighting just how far the club had come under new Chairman Tony Stewart. However, without Stewart’s intervention, Rotherham United’s survival tale could have had a very different ending.