From Rotherham to Rochdale via Bury ... The Advertiser's Paul Davis samples an away day as a Millers supporter

From Rotherham to Rochdale via Bury ... The Advertiser's Paul Davis samples an away day as a Millers supporter

By Paul Davis | 08/03/2020

From Rotherham to Rochdale via Bury ... The Advertiser's Paul Davis samples an away day as a Millers supporter
Millers fans at Rochdale

 

WE gather before kick-off. Hope and hot-dogs, old and young, men and women, tattoos and top two, bound by the answer to the question many of us singing.

"Who's that team we call United, who's that team we all adore?"

Nearly 1,700 of us have descended on Rochdale for the latest ride on the Rotherham United promotion merry-go-round.

Ten games to go, the Millers in second, the pressure mounting, every kick counting. It's too late to hop off even if we wanted to. We've been there from the start in August and we'll be there to May's bitter or sweet end.

As kick-off approaches, the noise begins in earnest. Usual songs and familiar refrains. The teams are warming up, the Millers will be in white and red, you can't hear the home fans. The ground belongs to Rotherham.

The hot-dogs have been eaten but the hope is still there. Dan Barlaser is missing but it's only one defeat in 15, Michael Ihiekwe is out but we have League One's best away record.

Go on, Millers.

************

Proceedings start hours earlier in the Bridge Inn in Rotherham where four coaches are pulling up before 10am. It's early but never too early for beer on a matchday. There are already empty glasses aplenty on the pub's tables.

The organisation has military precision and is led by the lady of the lists, Marie. If it isn't on Marie's list, it isn't happening.

We're off. More alcohol will be available at a pre-arranged stop-off point but, for now, the only things being consumed are a copy or two of the Advertiser. There's a football card and a sign saying 'Pork pies £1.50'. The banter, the babble, it's all good. I lose on the card and pass on the pork pies.

Kick-off is even closer and the Rotherham players come over to applaud the massed travelling support before heading back to the dressing room for last-minute instructions.

Millers together ... me and my boy, Tom

Captain Richard Wood is at the front, so are Adam Thompson and Chiedozie Ogbene. Chieo looks like a modern-day footballer: sleek, lithe, white socks pulled above his knees. Woody is old school: socks down, yet-to-heal cuts and studmarks criss-crossing his shins. He looks like a cross between Alf Tupper and Nobby Stiles.

The pitch is a state; sand everywhere. This isn't AESSEAL New York Stadium but it doesn't matter. We win more games away from home.

The first whistle blows and the volume down one side of Spotland is exciting, thrilling, communal.

It's not long before Millers followers are enquiring of Dale supporters: "Is this a library? Is this a library?"

************

"Thank you for coming. We love you."

The Bridge Inn coaches have just broken their journey by parking up at Bury FC and Rotherham fans are negotiating the cobbled backstreets around Gigg Lane in search of the Stanley Club and Rose and Crown pub.

They're trying to help businesses hit hard by the demise of the Shakers and also raise money for the phoenix club arising from the wreckage, AFC Bury.

The gesture means a lot and an ageing woman, stood with her bloke and wearing a blue-and-white Bury hat, shouts the greeting as a gang of Millers head inside the Stanley Club.

Rotherham followers in the Stanley Club

There's a warm welcome, a BBC film crew, a bucket collection, chatter, cheap beer. For a couple of hours the Stanley is happy and heaving again.

Bearing in mind what will follow later in the afternoon, my £7 bill for a lager and two ciders is the result of the day.

A middle-aged Rotherham fan is terrified to go before the camera but she then speaks with uplifting, heartfelt eloquence about the need for lower-league sides to stick together and how communities are so much stronger when they have a club at their heart.

The nearby chip shop is raided and red shirts return with blue plastic forks and white trays of steaming fare.

They eat up, they drink up, with new friendships firmly forged. After three pints in Bury now for three points in Rochdale.

************

Suddenly, it starts to unravel.

The Millers are a goal down in the 36th minute of a game they need to win.

"Sh*t ground, no fans," is how the away supporters respond.

At least Sheffield Wednesday are losing 3-0.

At half-time, there's concern. Rotherham are still behind and they're not playing well.

The toilets are a grimy carpet of water, urine and dirt, and too many people are in there with cigarettes. The nicotine trails attack my throat, already strained by too much singing and shouting, and the fog is thicker than the one about to envelop the Rotherham defence.

Rochdale score again. And then again. This isn't in the script. A fan just behind me tells me, everybody, nobody, the world, the team, the rest of League One it's all 'f*cking w*nk'.

Then, below and to our left, the ultimate indignity: fighting breaks out between Millers fans and abuse is directed at the players.

The vast, vast majority hate it. "You're an embarrassment," sing the many who can handle their beer and frustration better than those shameful few.

At the final whistle, Wood, now bearing even more weals on those battle-scarred legs, takes the perpetrators to task.

The centre-half exchanges words with them while all the time making sure he's clapping the 99 per cent who share his anger.

Later, midfielder Matt Crooks, in the week his best pal, Jordan Sinnott, was laid to rest after a violence-related incident, tweets the most telling and pointed comment.

'Shout, scream, swear, do whatever you like, but please stop fighting at grounds when things aren’t going our way. You never know what’s going to happen. Thanks.'

The few aren't the kind of Millers fans I am sharing a Bridge Inn experience with, aren't the type of supporter who'd shown such humanity and generosity in the Stanley Club, aren't the sort of follower who will just suck up defeat and hurt on the way home.

Sh*t game, sh*t end.

************

We stream out on to the streets, holding up cars, our red and white a little less vivid. Back on the coach, it's quieter now.

There's no footy card on the subdued return journey, just murmured inquests up and down the seats and a collection for the driver.

A combination of beer and my company proves deadly

In football terms, it's a bad day. Injuries are biting, there's a dip in form when the Millers can least afford it and maybe the axis of power in the race for automatic promotion has shifted slightly way from them.

But on an afternoon when much may seem to have changed some things haven't.

Rotherham are still in the top two. Pork pies are still £1.50.

There is still time for a grim irony.

Our coach departs in near-silence. As it eases its way into the heavy traffic, it goes past Spotland Library.



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