THREE times a year, Steve Coakley knows he’ll be tossing and turning in the early hours.
Normally, Rotherham United’s commercial director is a happy husband, a doting dad to two lovely young daughters and has little trouble nodding off.
But on the eve of the Millers’ kit launches things are very different.
“It’s always my most nervous time of the year,” he says. “You’re wondering how fans are going to react. You are always going to get a percentage of people who don’t like it. That’s the nature of the beast.”
Not this year. The red-and-white home shirt was warmly received in June while the approval rating soared even higher when the white, pinstriped alternate jersey was unveiled three weeks ago.
“When it came as a sample, we all thought: ‘God, that looks amazing.’,” Coakley says.
The satisfaction of fans now is his reward for decisions taken well over six months ago.
“We have to sign off the kits in October,” he says. “It’s a long time to wait.
“We have a process we go through which involves several members of staff, the players, the kit room, (chief operating officer) Paul Douglas from a regulatory perspective, myself from commercial, Dawn (Birks) from retail.
“We have to try to make sure the kit ticks all boxes. It’s all right us coming up with a design we think will sell brilliantly but if, for example, the collar is uncomfortable for the players or the sleeves are so baggy defenders can grab on to them and stop Richard Wood getting up at the back post at a corner, then that’s no good.
“We have to take everything into consideration. There are a lot of moving pieces and it’s quite an intricate process really.
“If you can come up with something that the majority of people like, then you’ve done well really.”
As much as supporters love the second shirt, they may well be seeing less of the away colours than they have become used to in previous seasons.
“The beauty about that this year is that we’ve managed to get to a financial level with Embark that’s enabled us to have the same main shirt sponsor across all three kits,” Coakley says.
“It gives us the flexibility that, for next season at least, we can wear red away from home. Before, we had contractual obligations and had to wear an away kit for every away game.
“The support from Phil Smith at Embark means we can wear red on our travels if it doesn’t clash with the home team’s kit. We haven’t been able to do that for years.”
Steve Coakley and family
Embark are one of the country’s biggest financial-services providers, have offices in nine locations including London and Smith is their chief executive officer. He also happens to hail from good old Kimberworth and be a huge Millers fan.
“It is brilliant to be able to see a single sponsor’s name on all three kits on what I think are the best combination of kit designs we have had in my lifetime as a fan for the last 40-plus years,” he says.
“In football terms, United are a small club, but in terms of innovation, community engagement, and team endeavour they are giants. That’s why I sponsor (Millers chairman) Tony Stewart, and in some ways the town as a result.”
Coakley, meanwhile, is an old hand at the kit lark. When he re-joined the club in 2013 after a spell at Sheffield United, Parkgate Retail World were the main shirt sponsors while Sports Identity were emblazoned on the away top.
He knows this year he’s earned his peaceful slumber: “If you can come up with something that the majority like, you’ve done well. I’m pleased to say both shirts have had a really good reception.”
The white one, which had originally been earmarked as the third strip until the Millers realised how good it was, sold in its hundreds in the first few days after it went on sale on July 9.
The kits are made by sports-clothing giant Puma who decide on their future ‘look’ and then give Rotherham a selection of styles to choose from.
Embark's Phil Smith with the new home shirt
Coakley says: “Sometimes you see on social media that a supporter has designed a shirt and everyone goes: ‘Cor, that’s a great bit of kit.’
“But if you took that to Puma and asked if they could make it they wouldn’t be able to do it within the production process. It’s not as easy as just getting a pen and paper and drawing a kit. Puma have their brand identity. Nike have theirs. Adidas have theirs. You can’t tell Adidas not to have three stripes or ask Nike to lose that tick.
“Puma change their theme from season to season. We work from there and try to personalise it as much as we can. You can look to tweak it where you can. This season, for example, with the home kit we’ve done sublimation into the fabric.
“We try to make the collar a little bit different each year and see what else we can do. At the end of the day, it’s going to be predominantly a red shirt with white sleeves, it’s going to have a sponsor logo on it, a club logo and also a manufacturer’s logo. There is only so much you can do to make it sufficiently different to the previous year.”
Er, sorry. Sublimation into the fabric?
The home shirt has ‘the Millers’ in text actually in the fabric,” Coakley grins. “It makes it a little bit more expensive but it personalises it and takes away the risk that it could be too similar to any other team’s kit.
“Puma came up with the suggestion about the sublimation. We had a look at the design and thought it was lovely. It’s subtle and it’s classy. I don’t think there is any better representation of the Millers than something classy.
“With the away kit, we wanted to do the same: we wanted to do something classy. We always look back at different kits and see which ones people really liked.
“It’s a bit like the yellow and light blue kit a couple of seasons ago. That was very much a Marmite kit. Some people loved it, some people hated it. Some people called it the ‘Refresher’ kit. That was kind of a nod back to a fans’ favourite from before.
“We can’t just remake that because Puma will have their brand guidelines for this season. We have to do a version of it.
“This time, we looked back to the 1990s and came up with a pinstriped top that was predominantly white with a bit of red and black in it.”
The commercial director is a very dapper man, Whether he’s sporting club blazer and tie or stylish slipover and open neck, he never looks less than immaculate and I joke that I might need a photograph of him in the kit to illustrate this article.
“It does help when you’ve got Icky (centre-half Michael Ihiekwe) modelling it,” he laughs. “It might look a bit different if you’ve got a picture of me in it. Icky does wear it well!”
One supporter delighted at the prospect of donning any of this year’s shirts is the man whose company’s name is proudly embedded on them all.
“I have to say that I enjoy wearing the kit with my brand on it, and kidding myself that I am back at Kimby Comp scoring goals and waiting to be scouted!” Smith says,
Even happier is Coakley who is back to being dead to the world until the alarm wakes him.
Until this week, that is. The new third kit is due to be launched any day now!
THE MILLERS AND PUMA
ROTHERHAM United are approaching their tenth anniversary with kit suppliers Puma.
The Millers are committed to them until 2023 and are delighted to continue the partnership.
Commercial director Steve Coakley says: “Puma have been brilliant this year with us. They’ve been brilliant with us every year. We’ve been with them for nine years now.
“I know everyone has an appetite to change kit manufacturer but there’s no point doing it just for the sake of it.
“Puma are a good brand, it’s very good quality and we get great support from them. They always support the training ground with loads of bits and bobs.
“It’s a good commercial deal for us. If we were to change kit manufacturer, we would jeopardise all of that. And for what?
“It’s still going to be a predominantly red top with white sleeves.
“We’re really happy with Puma. They’ve been great with us and hopefully they’ll continue to be great with us for three more seasons.”