WHEN his phone rang at 9pm on a Sunday night Paul Warne sensed that something was very wrong.
Defender Adam Thompson was calling and players generally leave the boss of Rotherham United alone that late over a weekend.
The manager's feeling of foreboding was tragically justified.
"Thommo phoned me. It rang once and went off so I thought he'd not meant to get in touch," said Warne after last Saturday's 2-1 triumph at Accrington Stanley.
"I texted him and said: 'Have you rung me by mistake?' He said: 'No, Gaffer. Can we talk?'
"This is not a time when players phone their manager really. I'm thinking: 'Oh no, please not.'
"Then he told me the horrendous news that he'd lost his dad."
Thompson sat out the Accrington clash. The defender was in the squad but, only six days after the death of father Mark at the age of 57, he didn't play.
"He was broken that Sunday," Warne said. "I just said: 'Take as long as you need. If you need three weeks off take three weeks off.'
"He had Monday and Tuesday off and everyone was off on Wednesday. He came back in on Thursday and trained. He trained okay but he just looked grey, bless his heart.
"On Friday morning I said: 'Look, I can just see you're not yourself. I don't want you to make this game all for your dad's memory and then if you don't play well you'll feel you've let him down.'
"There's just too much emotion sometimes. You're overflowing with wanting to do well. Leaving him out wasn't a footballing decision, it was an emotional one."
The Millers camp is a happy, vibrant, positive one but it has been rocked by too much sorrow in this campaign.
Warne lost his own father in pre-season, assistant manager Richie Barker is still coming to terms with the recent death of younger brother Chris, Ben Wiles' nan passed away, Matt Crooks has been shattered by what happened to best pal Jordan Sinnott and Dan Barlaser is mourning two people who were close to him.
"It has been an horrendous season," Warne reflected. "It's just been bad news upon bad news this year. It's been brutal.
"I asked Thommo before the Accrington game what he wanted to do. If he didn't want to travel he didn't have to travel. If he didn't want to be in the squad he didn't have to be in the squad.
"I brought 20 players so that if he woke up on Saturday morning and didn't feel great then he didn't have to be part of things.
"We were conscious of what a lot of us have been through. We were aware that when you're on the team bus and everyone is laughing and joking you don't feel like you want to be in that environment.
"I asked him to speak to his mum, his partner and his brother."
All three of them braved the wintry weather at the Wham Stadium to share the uplifting scenes in the 57th minute when more than 1,500 away followers united with Accrington spectators in support of Thompson and his family.
The 27-year-old, clearly moved, took part in the 60 seconds of applause himself and went over to salute Rotherham fans after the final whistle.
"He was quite emotional in the 57th minute," Warne said. "I don't think the football fraternity gets the credit it deserves. Everyone was clapping. Crooksy's clapping during the game, which I've never seen a player do before.
"I hope it was a bit of sugar for Thommo and his family in horrendous times. He was sitting on the back row in the dugout and we all went and shook his hand.
"He was upset but he was kind of smiling upset. It was a lovely moment for him."
A League One victory over Accrington made it a bitter-sweet Millers afternoon. Warne's thoughts were for his player not for three more promotion points.
"Some things are more important than football," the boss said. "I'm pleased for Thommo above anybody that we managed to win."