ROTHERHAM United’s influence on football in Poland is still going strong — a quarter of a century after a team was formed there in the Millers’ image.
Football fan Pete Jalowiczor grew up near Millmoor but moved to his parents’ homeland 1,500 miles away, married, and worked as a translator.
And if you cannot get to Rotherham United, create a bit of Rotherham in Poland...
Pete, now 56 and back living in Masbrough, was supported by the club in setting up Threevills Millers FC — AKA the Polish Millers — in Istebna in 1996.
“In 1993, I had got married and went to live in the village where my mum and dad were from,” said Pete.
“It was a place I knew very well, but completely different to Rotherham, of course, both in terms of size and culture.
“The nearest English equivalent I can think of is Castleton. Coming from a town to a village I became bored. Things had to be done.
“I knew a few locals who were interested in English football; mainly the top-flight clubs. Before I left Rotherham, I had had great contacts with the Millers commercial manager Dave Nicholls. We started meeting up on a regular basis.
“There was a lot of interest in this fact, having contacts with an English club, even though it wasn’t Manchester United!
“Dave offered us a regular place in the match programme and this lasted for seven years.”
From the initial supporters club set-up, there came the idea of forming a five-a-side team. But there was no proper pitch in the village on which to play. The very first first-team photograph shows the type of rough terrain they had to put up with in Istebna, which is in the Beskids highlands near the Czech and Slovak borders.
A handful of friendlies were arranged against sides that local businesses had put together. The results were outstanding... the Polish Millers even scored 16 against one side.
“We decided to travel outside the village,” said Pete. “We hired a coach and travelled to various Polish non-league sides.
“We were not outclassed. In fact, we won most of the games! This was the time that I started to think about registering the club in the Polish Football League. Otherwise, we risked losing the squad.
“This wasn’t so easy as it seemed. The Polish FA let us play the first season away in the basement league. All matches were wins apart from two draws.
“The second season would have to be on our home ground. This meant having discussions with the local council to provide funds for doing this.
“When we were instantly promoted from the basement league, another requirement of the Polish FA was that we now had juniors.
“So now we needed coaching staff. Our board convinced the village council to provide funds to pay the coaches of the teams. Rotherham United sent multiple sets of strips over, and we had a feature in the match programme.”
The Polish Millers grew to attract crowds of nearly 2,000 as they climbed to the higher divisions. They even developed players good enough for the Poland under-18 squad.
“There are several highlights over the 25 years,” said Pete, who has one daughter, Kasia (21), a languages student at the University of Sheffield.
“One of my proudest moments is the team playing KS Ruch Chorzow, the 14-times Polish champions, and finalists in one of the European cups. It happened in front of a delegation from Rotherham, and the 3-3 draw was just amazing.”
When the club celebrated 20 years, Pete was invited back to Poland to mark the milestone. The club had weathered a difficult era which had seen many sides fold.
Pete was presented with an award by former international Zbigniew Boniek, chairman of the Polish FA. And former RUFC player Krzystof Chorazy — then chairman of the Polish Millers — was recognised for helping the club through tough times.
Pete said: “I was there for the first five years and there were many others who deserve the praise for keeping things going in the following years, as many other clubs fell by the wayside.”
New clubs branched off from the Polish Millers in 2011 and 2013, with the original club dissolving in 2017. A ladies team plays in the Polish fourth tier.
Pete, who is on the committees of the Rotherham Anglo-Polish Association and Mexborough and Swinton Astronomical Society, tends to visit Poland once a year.
“I have other connections apart from football, with family and friends,” he said. “I am always very warmly received at the visitor centre for a cup of coffee. During the conversation, the Millers always come up. How are Rotherham United?
“You might think that things had moved on from the Millers in Istebna. But in essence, I always insist that the Millers nickname will always remain because this is how this football came about. That is how many of the clubs, wherever they may be, have their identity.
“The two remaining clubs and the two football pitches over in the village in Poland are a legacy of Polish Millers.
“I never thought that such a legacy would result from just a supporters club. I don’t think that any of my colleagues did.” He added: “It is unique. I have never heard of another club in Poland that has been founded on a similar basis.
“The Millers strips that were sent over in the 90s were great. None of the smaller local league clubs had anything like it, in terms of quality.
“It has given Polish football a blend of English characteristics. The layout of the Millers colours even matches the layout of the men’s highland dress... red waistcoat jacket, white shirt and white trousers! It’s a perfect match.”