Errors? Yes, but Tony is still key for Millers
IT’S DIFFICULT MIXING WITH FAT CATS
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.
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.
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.