PAUL Warne and his backroom team were hungrily shaking on the salt and vinegar.
It was the last night of the transfer window and they were all gathered at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The meal was the manager’s treat and it was hitting him in the pocket.
“I made a big error,” he rued. “I went to Whitby’s off the Parkway and they weren’t star-struck at all that a football manager would come in on deadline day and buy nine lots of fish and chips.
“I didn’t get any Rotherham United discount. There was none of: ‘If you could just sign this chip fork we’ll throw in a free rissole.’”
Warne didn’t mind. Will Grigg was coming and Michael Smith was staying. The boss tucked into his cod with relish.
Last Tuesday marked the end of four months of trading during which time seven players joined the Millers and five departed.
Warne was looking to build a squad capable of a third successive League One promotion under his leadership and he was keen to strengthen in all areas, particularly up front.
Early in the window, among the frontmen Rotherham tried for were Amadaou Bakayoko and Maxime Biamou who were both being released by Championship side Coventry City.
Warne thought he had former loanee Izzy Brown on a permanent deal only to be gazumped at the last minute by Preston North End while attempts to broker a loan move for another old boy, Huddersfield Town’s Danny Ward, proved to be in vain.
The Millers had a good look at St Mirren centre-half Conor McCarthy and moved on, were close to landing Adam Matthews before the right-back signed a new deal with Charlton Athletic and spoke to Middlesbrough’s Lewis Wing about a second loan spell only to find the midfielder’s sights were set on S6 rather than S60.
Stephen Humphrys had opted for big-spending Wigan Athletic over New York when he left Rochdale, West Bromwich Albion’s Callum Morton decided he’d get more game-time on loan at Fleetwood Town and Sean Maguire was a genuine possibility before Preston suddenly started playing him.
Izzy Brown. Picture: www.pnefc.net
Rotherham were spending. Midfielder Ollie Rathbone came in and immediately began to justify his £300,000 fee and winger Shane Ferguson took an instant liking to League One after six years with Championship Millwall. Goalkeeper Josh Chapman, midfielder Hakeem Odoffin, left-back Tolaji Bola and loan centre-half Rarmani all added to the numbers.
But still the hunt for a striker went on.
Grigg had long been at the top of the Millers’ wanted list and head of recruitment Rob Scott had been touching base with the Northern Ireland international’s agent for several weeks in the hope that the attacker would be allowed to leave Sunderland on loan.
Finally, the day before deadline day, that was the case and Warne made his move.
“The first contact with me and the player and the agent was on the Monday,” the boss said.
“I spoke to one of his ex-managers and also spoke to a couple of his teammates. I spoke to (Sunderland manager) Lee Johnson about it. I get on with Lee brilliantly and trust him.
“Richie (Millers number two Barker) had worked with Will before. We had really good character references. When we got the green light that he was available, we threw our hat into the ring. With Sunderland’s permission, I then had a Zoom call with him and his agent.”
Meanwhile, at New York on Tuesday last week as the 11pm deadline approached, Warne and his men continued their celebratory refuelling, knowing competition from other clubs had been seen off and the fight for Grigg was won.
“While they were filling their faces it was the quietest ten minutes of the day,” the boss grinned. “Normally, recruiters are always going ‘Have you looked at this, have you seen that?’
“No-one’s phone rang. That never happens. It was a bit spooky. It felt a little bit like we were Roman soldiers after a big battle and we were just sitting down, not speaking and eating like cavemen. It was good.”
Warne had climbed off the treadmill at the club’s Roundwood training complex at 8pm to drive to the stadium for his first face-to-face contact with Grigg who had been granted permission by Sunderland at 6.30pm to head to Rotherham to seal the deal.
“I left the stadium after I’d met Griggy at about nine.” the manager said. “It was just the paperwork left then. I like to think I do a lot of things for this club, but paperwork definitely isn’t one of them.”
Will Grigg joins the Millers
He was glad the window was about to close. It had been a long one, a stressful one, littered with raised hopes, fears of exits, false dawns and dead ends.
In the last few days, as they braced themselves for the bids for targetman Smith that Championship teams had been threatening, the Millers had warded off interest in several other of their players.
Second-tier sides were willing to pay money for midfielders Ben Wiles and Dan Barlaser, winger Kieran Sadlier had a major League One suitor and any number of clubs were keen to take young forward Josh Kayode on loan.
Earlier in the window, a fee had eventually been agreed with St Johnstone for Shaun Rooney but by then Warne had reservations about the right-back’s appetite for the move.
Negotiations with central defender Daniel O’Shaughnessy of Finnish club HJK Helsinki didn’t develop into anything more and trials for Huddersfield midfielder Matt Daly and Fulham right-back Marlon Fossey came to nothing.
Middlesbrough youngster Hayden Coulsen, who went to Ipswich Town, was a target. Everyone except Boro-bound Miller Matt Crooks seemed to end up at Ipswich.
The Millers waited and waited for Daniel Jebbison and had been forced to look elsewhere by the time Sheffield United’s teenage striker headed to Burton Albion on loan. West Ham United’s reluctance to release young midfielder Conor Coventry on loan for the season until deadline day had a welcome consequence in that it made Warne intensify his pursuit of Rathbone.
With two hours to go on Tuesday last week, no-one had bid for Smith, but now there was sudden concern. Wolverhampton Wanderers were showing late interest in Cardiff City centre-forward Kieffer Moore and the Bluebirds, known admirers of the Millers man, might have a hole to fill and money to spend.
“As long as they still had Kieffer, I knew Cardiff wouldn’t come for Smudge,” Warne said. “Why would they? They don’t need both of them.
“Around nine o’clock I got worried. I checked my phone and noticed Wolves were supposedly interested in Kieffer. I thought that might ignite something.”
Wanderers backed away and Warne was left to reflect: “Smudge is irreplaceable, he’s unique. There are only so many superlatives I can use for him.
“Had the lads come in for training after the window and seen him not there, I think it would have been a blow. It was a blow when Crooksy left. To lose Smudge as well would have been a little bit too much, truth be told.”
11pm passed and it didn’t matter that in the last few weeks frontmen Sam Cosgrove (Birmingham City), Mark Harris (Cardiff) and Tom Eaves (Hull City), for one reason or another, hadn’t ended up in South Yorkshire.
Will Grigg was coming and Michael Smith was staying.
The Millers had achieved what they’d set to in their quest for another crack at the Championship: recruited on budget and built a stronger squad full of players capable of challenging for the first 11.
“Yeah, I think it’s been a good window, Mate,” Warne said cheerily and wearily.
At New York, with the food polished off, it was time to go home.
“All my staff and the recruitment team were at the stadium,” Warne said. “They work hard behind the scenes for not a lot of praise. As the leader of them, I was more than happy to pay.”
On his way back to Tickhill, he weighed up the figures.
The cost of the fish and chips: £90.
The potential worth of Grigg’s loan: unlimited.
The value of keeping Smith: priceless.
Josh Chapman (released by Sheffield United)
Shane Ferguson (released by Millwall)
Rarmani Edmonds-Green (Huddersfield Town, loan)
Hakeem Odoffin (Hamilton Academical)
Ollie Rathbone (Rochdale)
Tolaji Bola (Arsenal)
Will Grigg (Sunderland, loan)
Clark Robertson (Portsmouth)
Matt Olosunde (Preston North End)
Trevor Clarke (Bristol Rovers)
Matt Crooks (Middlesbrough)
Curtis Tilt (Wigan Athletic, loan)