Er­rors? Yes, but Tony is still key for Millers

IT’S DIF­FI­CULT MIX­ING WITH FAT CATS

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Chris Dunlavy

AS A teenager, I worked week­ends in the lo­cal Spar. Stack­ing shelves, man­ning tills, pack­ing cans of McEwan’s Ex­port into eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble ‘eight for a fiver’ bags.

My boss was a big bloke called Dave, who once chased and col­lared a shoplifter de­spite hav­ing lost half his leg in a mo­tor­bike crash.

Dave was orig­i­nally from Rother­ham and, when he wasn’t pur­su­ing miscreants or “cook­ing wi’ gas”, he was spout­ing ter­ri­ble puns and one-liners.

One of his favourite jokes came ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon. “Well,” he’d in­tone from his berth near the slushy ma­chine. “Looks like Rother­ham have lost again.”

Then he’d wait for a cus­tomer to ask how he knew, or sim­ply do it him­self. “How do I know? It’s 5 o’clock!”

The in­fer­ence be­ing, of course, that the Millers were so bad you didn’t need to be any­where near Mill­moor to know their fate.

I don’t know where Dave is now. He sold the deeds in 2002 and last I heard he was run­ning a B&B in ru­ral France. But I won­der if he ever re­vis­its his old joke – or re­alises how grimly per­ti­nent it has be­come.

Since Jan­uary 21, with the soli­tary ex­cep­tion of a draw against Black­burn, Rother­ham lit­er­ally have lost ev­ery week. Some­times twice.

Last week­end’s 5-1 hid­ing at QPR was the Millers’ 29th de­feat of the sea­son – al­ready a club record with eight games still to play. Fill those with big red Ls and Rother­ham will equal Stoke City’s 1983-84 vin­tage as sta­tis­ti­cally the worst EFL team since the in­tro­duc­tion of three points for a win.

Yet those who point the fin­ger

at chair­man Tony Stewart – and a mi­nor­ity cer­tainly have – fail to grasp the re­al­ity of run­ning a club like Rother­ham.

Obliged

The Millers’ rise from the foot of League Two to a place in the Cham­pi­onship was built on pounds and pence. Stewart’s pounds and pence.

Hav­ing saved the club and funded a new sta­dium, Stewart gave Steve Evans two top-six bud­gets to pur­chase two con­sec­u­tive pro­mo­tions. The Scot duly obliged.

Up against clubs of greater means, suc­cess could no longer be bought. For all his wealth, Stewart is no Mike Ash­ley, no Tony Xia.

No para­chute pay­ments. No TV ap­pear­ances. Even in a spank­ing new sta­dium, the Millers sold just 6,500 sea­son tick­ets last sum­mer. Pun­ters could pay dou­ble and the ex­tra in­come would serve only to cover the wages of a sin­gle player.

Sud­denly, it was Rother­ham be­ing blown out of the wa­ter, left to scav­enge on the scraps left be­hind. Sud­denly, only per­fec­tion would suf­fice.

The big boys can af­ford to make mis­takes. Aston Villa hap­pily wrote off £12m on Ross McCor­mack. New­cas­tle pay Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic £40k a week to sit on the bench. Stewart couldn’t af­ford any – and the sum­mer ap­point­ment of Alan Stubbs, an in­ex­pe­ri­enced man­ager who un­der­es­ti­mated the level and blew pre­cious funds on sub-stan­dard play­ers, was a clanger. From that point on, the Millers were sink­ing in quick­sand. Sub­se­quent months have heaped on the hu­mil­i­a­tion. The end­less de­feats, the 39-day de­fec­tion of Kenny Jack­ett, who was this week branded “a quit­ter” by Stewart. Could Stewart have cho­sen a more suit­able man­ager? Of course. But so fine was the wire Rother­ham were travers­ing that a tum­ble was al­ways in­evitable. No owner can achieve per­fec­tion ev­ery year.

Crit­i­cal

And what was the al­ter­na­tive? Use the Jan­uary win­dow to over­pay for has-beens, know­ing they were af­ter a pay day? Ask Bris­tol Rovers how that works out. Fo­cus on the acad­emy and scout­ing net­work? All very well and crit­i­cal to Rother­ham’s fu­ture but hardly a valid op­tion when you win two pro­mo­tions in as many sea­sons. Get rid of Stewart? Come on. Do you see oli­garchs queue­ing round the block to blow their for­tune on a club in the shadow of two Sh­effield gi­ants? And would you re­ally want to risk los­ing a man with Rother­ham in his blood to the kind of owner cur­rently de­stroy­ing Ley­ton Ori­ent? Stewart is the best thing to hap­pen to Rother­ham in decades, a man who trans­formed a stand­ing joke into a Cham­pi­onship club. One costly er­ror of judge­ment doesn’t change that.

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