Speed­ster has shown Millers the light

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Tony Ste­wart walked into Rother­ham in the spring of 2008, he in­her­ited a club at death’s door.

Mon­strous debts, fall­ing gates, crip­pling rents, rel­e­ga­tion from League One. He’d barely been in charge five min­utes when he was forced to sell the train­ing ground and up­root to Sh­effield’s Don Val­ley Sta­dium. And don’t for­get the ad­min­is­tra­tion and ac­com­pa­ny­ing 17-point de­duc­tion that an­chored the Millers to the foot of League Two be­fore a ball was kicked. So when Ste­wart promised to build a new ground and win pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship within five years, he re­ceived more than a few wither­ing looks.

“I re­mem­ber go­ing up to see the Foot­ball League in Pre­ston,” he re­called last year. “They were grilling me as to my lev­els of com­pe­tence, which was quite in­sult­ing. I think they thought I was some sort of char­la­tan.”

Yet here they are, a year late but in rude health. Debt-free, 21st in the Cham­pi­onship and play­ing to packed houses in the im­mac­u­late 12,000-seat New York Sta­dium. It’s been a rapid trans­for­ma­tion, but then Ste­wart has al­ways moved quickly.

Packed

Born in Sh­effield, he was a mem­ber of Rock­ing­ham Har­ri­ers and won the York­shire mile as a 15-year-old. Along­side his twin brother Terry, Ste­wart then com­peted na­tion­ally in a York­shire team skip­pered by fu­ture Olympian Adrian Met­calfe.

“I was 11 the first time I did cross coun­try and I thought I’d gone the wrong way,” said the 69-year-old, who still runs to keep fit. “There was no-one around for 300 yards, but that was just how far ahead I was!”

In busi­ness, too, Ste­wart didn’t hang around. An ap­pren­tice elec­tri­cian upon leav­ing school, he had started his own con­tract­ing busi­ness by the age of 26 and be­fore long had 25 staff on his books.

Then, fol­low­ing mar­riage to wife Joan and a move to Rother­ham, he spot­ted a gap in the mar­ket and formed ASD Light­ing, the com­pany that would even­tu­ally make him a multi-mil­lion­aire.

Now one of the top five UK light­ing com­pa­nies, Ste­wart’s busi­ness re­mains in Rother­ham and cur­rently em­ploys more than 200 towns­folk.

In fact, it was his sta­tus in the com­mu­nity that even­tu­ally per­suaded Ste­wart to step in at Mill­moor. Sick of be­ing asked to stump up dona­tions to the club, he de­cided to take mat­ters into his own hands.

“It was a £3m busi­ness and they were rat­tling cans at Mor­risons and Tesco,” he re­called. “It was a bit of a joke. I thought ‘This is not hard, I think I could do a job.’

Pride

And what a job it has been; to hell and back; to the Don Val­ley and back; to League Two and back. No longer do ri­val clubs make de­risory of­fers for Millers play­ers. No longer do top play­ers look else­where.

Con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates put Ste­wart’s fi­nan­cial in­put at £30m, yet the hope and pride his in­vest­ment has en­gen­dered is priceless. No won­der he was given the free­dom of the city in July.

“The day Tony Ste­wart walked in was the day this club was re­born,” says Millers boss Steve Evans, a con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment who has since won two pro­mo­tions.

“I go round foot­ball sta­di­ums and I see boards made of suc­hand-such and so-and-so. I don’t know what half of them do.

“Here, I see a chair­man who’s spent £35m of his own money. I see a brand new sta­dium in the cen­tre of town with no debt at­tached to it. I see lo­cal peo­ple em­ployed by the club. If he lived in Lon­don, he’d al­ready be Sir Tony Ste­wart. But he’s in York­shire, so he might have to wait a bit for that.”

Brad­ford chair­man Mark Lawn, a good friend of Ste­wart con­curs.

“I’ve known Tony since he first got in­volved with Rother­ham,” he said. “And I think it’s phe­nom­e­nal what’s he’s done. The peo­ple of the town owe him such a debt of grat­i­tude be­cause he not only saved the club, he then made it stronger than ever.”

For Ste­wart, though, he is sim­ply mak­ing good his pledge.

“There are a lot of peo­ple, and not just in foot­ball, who prom­ise things but then don’t de­liver,” he said. “But we gave the fans a vi­sion six years ago and they’ve seen it en­acted. That gives me a great deal of sat­is­fac­tion, but the dream goes on. I’d love to take it to an­other level.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

TRO­PHY TIME: A ju­bi­lant Ste­wart cel­e­brates pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship HERO: Tony Ste­wart has re­vived Rother­ham

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