Tears, more tears, a promotion and a pandemic ... the story of Rotherham United in 2020

Tears, more tears, a promotion and a pandemic ... the story of Rotherham United in 2020

By Paul Davis | 31/12/2020

Tears, more tears, a promotion and a pandemic ... the story of Rotherham United in 2020
Richie Barker breaks down at Oxford



CORONAVIRUS? Isn’t that a thing in China where a few people are wearing masks? Not to worry. No way will it take hold over here.

Business as usual for Rotherham United in the push for League One promotion as most of us are blissfully unaware a pandemic is brewing.

Business anything other than usual for midfielder Matt Crooks as he tragically loses best friend Jordan Sinnott.

It forces him out of the Peterborough United match on the morning of the game.

Two weeks earlier, he’d given one of the all-time great individual performances in one of the all-time great Millers team performances in the 3-1 destruction of the division’s best footballing side, Oxford United.

Rotherham fans at the Kassam Stadium sing for assistant boss Richie Barker after the heartbreaking death of his younger brother, Chris. Barker, for whom tears are as rare as a dugout appearance without shorts, sobs in front of the supporters.

Crooks, despite being in bits, plays against Ipswich three days after losing his pal and honours the memory of ‘Sinn’ with the courage and quality of his performance.

It’s an emotional month.

Quote: “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my best friend cry.” Manager Warne feels for his number two and former teammate, Barker

Results: Blackpool H win 2-1, Hull H (FA Cup) lose 3-2, Oxford A win 3-1, Bristol Rovers H win 3-0, Peterborough A lose 2-1, Ipswich H win 1-0.


OH, Lincoln. Lovely Lincoln.

A heaving, hollering, sold-out away end at City, Friday night under the lights, the cathedral standing guard over Sincil Bank, Dan Barlaser’s pass, Kyle Vassell’s cross and Crooks’ headed winner for Jordan. Warne’s mum, Jenny, is in the crowd. The Millers go six points clear.

At Accrington Stanley, away fans pay tribute to Adam Thompson whose dad, Mark, has just died and the centre-half is visibly moved on the bench. Rotherham follower and dad of three Andrew Wilson-Storey collapses and never recovers.

The draw in the snow at Coventry is thrilling. The Sky Blues are now top and Rotherham are second, their progress stalling slightly after two consecutive draws.

It’s an emotional month.

Quote: “I’d like to dedicate this goal to my best pal, Jordan. It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve ... er ... sorry ... I don’t know what to say.” After Barker’s tears at Oxford come Crooksy’s at Lincoln.

Results: Lincoln H win 1-0, Burton H win 3-2 , Wimbledon H draw 2-2, Accrington A win 2-1, Coventry A draw 1-1, MK Dons H draw 1-1.


CORONAVIRUS is here and football isn’t. There’s just time for one of the worst displays of the season, at lowly Rochdale, before lockdown hits and the league programme is halted.

Millers fans stop off on the way to Spotland to drink in the pubs and clubs around Gigg Lane in a show of support for the people who have Bury FC in their hearts.

Players Freddie Ladapo and Lewis Price are self-isolating after feeling unwell.

Quote: “Thank you for coming. We love you.” An old lady, standing in the terraced streets between Gigg Lane and the Stanley Club and wearing a Shakers scarf, demonstrates the bond between Bury and Rotherham supporters.

Result: Rochdale A lose 3-1.


THERE’S no sign of football returning.

Rotherham’s squad, not knowing yet whether their season will resume, are staying fit with daily runs from home and online team workouts co-ordinated by head of player performance Ross Burbeary.

Quote: “Has Chieo signed for Aston Villa and not told anybody?” Warne wonders about winger Chiedozie Ogbene’s allegiance when he appears on screen for a morning session in sky-blue and maroon pyjamas.


THE arguments and counter-arguments are really hotting up.

Coronavirus health and financial concerns — playing in empty grounds would empty clubs’ pockets — mean there is a good chance the league campaign won’t be played to its natural conclusion.

Most people seem to think that deciding the standings and awarding promotion on a points-per-game basis calculated on the matches already played is the least unfair way of settling things.

Peterborough United, who would lose out, don’t agree. They’re threatening to sue. They’re also singling out the Millers in their campaign to turn other sides away from the PPG idea.

It’s all getting a bit nasty.

Quote: We’re quite clear on this. We would prefer the season to be played to its proper end if it can be but if it can’t then it should be promotion for Rotherham based on PPG.” Millers chairman Tony Stewart has his say.


THE champagne is uncorked at AESSEAL New York Stadium. The clubs have voted and it’s official. Warne’s men are promoted.

Peterborough are sulking but not suing.

The EFL announcement comes on Tuesday June 9 — a year to the day since the boss’s dad, Russell, passed away.

That evening, Warne makes a stirring speech to his players at an online get-together.

This time, the tears don’t come from Barker or Crooks, they come from the manager.

It’s all captured by Rotherham’s media staff and goes viral on social media. A couple of weeks later, management and players celebrate with fans at an online Zoom gathering.

The squad report back for pre-season training.

It’s an emotional month.

Quote: “What, ‘ere? In mi kitchen? It’ll go all ovver. T’ Missus ‘ll kill me.” Captain Richard Wood, one of the hardest players ever to wear the red-and-white shirt, is charged with opening the bubbly during the Zoom party and is terrified of partner Jade.

Result: Promotion. One hell of an outcome when the season being declared void had once been a possibility.


THE first incoming of the summer transfer window: Mickel Miller joins from Scottish side Hamilton Academical, other deals will follow but not just yet.

Chief Warne

There’s a big signing at Warne Acres in Tickhill. Red Fox Labrador puppy Chief joins the family. Warne has seen how having a pooch kept Nigel Clough sane at Burton Albion and decides on his own furry bundle of stress relief.

Quote: “John Breckin pointed this out to me. No matter what, a dog is always pleased to see you. You can’t say that about your wife.” The manager warms to the new addition.


ANGUS MacDonald, Kieran Sadlier, Wes Harding and Jamal Blackman all come through the door as Rotherham gear up for the return of football and life back in the Championship.

Jerry Yates goes to Blackpool for decent money, thanking the Millers for everything and good-naturedly berating his mum — she of the infamous ‘hoofball’ outburst — for being a Twitter witch.

Several players including Richard Wood, Kyle Vassell, Matt Crooks and Trevor Clarke are forced into Covid-19 quarantine, caught out by the sudden tightening of travel restrictions while they are taking quick trips abroad during a break from training.

Quote: “We are financially better off in the Championship with no crowds than we would be in League One playing in front of full houses.” Stewart spells out how important it is to have gone up to the second tier in these strange, unprecedented times.


FINALLY, it’s back!

Football kicks off again but there are no fans in stadiums. Season tickets, pies and pre-match beers give way to temperature checks, red zones and no atmosphere.

The first sighting of the Viking as Viktor Johansson signs in. George Hirst soon follows.

The whistle blows at Wycombe Wanderers on league opening day and 46 league matches will be crammed into the next eight months.

Rotherham look a proper Championship side in the first three matches.

Quote: “What? A wasp? Frickin’ hell, I thought I just had an itchy head.” Warne, who had been a picture of calm while it was happening, crumbles when he’s informed an insect landed on his bonce during his outdoor after-match press conference at Wycombe.

Results: Salford A (League Cup) draw 1-1 (lose 4-2 on penalties), Wycombe A win 1-0, Millwall H lose 1-0, Birmingham A draw 1-1.


IT’S a month of lows and highs.

KEY man Chiedozie Ogbene is ruled out for four months. Then Clark Robertson is as well. Then Shaun MacDonald is sidelined for three. All of them first-team regulars.

But it’s not all bad.

Quarterback Dan Barlaser returns, this time on a permanent deal. Tattooists everywhere hope for a second lockdown as one delighted supporter pledges to have the midfielder’s name inked on his genitals.

Dan Barlaser becomes a permanent Miller and brings along his parents and girlfriend to mark the occasion

Florian Jozefzoon joins on deadline day and wins a penalty as Sheffield Wednesday are demolished 3-0 at New York — the Millers’ first home league win over their derby rivals in 44 years.

An overhead drone stops play on a night when the ‘Pigs’ don’t fly.

Warne is self-isolating for 14 days after a Covid case in his family. He can’t even take Chief for a walk, although he remains keen to stay involved with work.

A weary Barker, loading up his laptop for the umpteenth time, reckons a world record is being set for the number of Zoom meetings between boss and staff in a fortnight.

Quote: “C’mon, Rotherham.” It’s the soundtrack for every match, home and away, as Stewart’s brother, Terry, urges on the Millers and becomes a familiar voice on iFollow and Sky.

Results: Huddersfield H draw 1-1, Norwich H lose 2-1, Nottingham Forest A draw 1-1, Reading A lose 3-0, Sheffield Wednesday H win 3-0, Stoke A lose 1-0.


THE injury curse strikes again as Kieran Sadlier takes up a spot in the cramped treatment room until February.

Free agent Josh Vickers is brought in as third-choice goalkeeper, with Lewis Price deciding to hang up his gloves in favour of a coaching opportunity at AFC Bournemouth.

Rotherham play poorly in the first half at Swansea City and at Queens Park Rangers and leave their response too late to matter. They play superbly in both halves against £130 million AFC Bournemouth and are unlucky not to beat the promotion favourites.

Quote: “110 per cent I meant it. I was looking for an opening, I found an opening. I’m claiming it.” Freddie Ladapo denies that his sumptuous chipped goal against Bournemouth was actually a lucky cross to the back post.

Results: Luton H lose 1-0, Preston H win 2-1, Swansea A lose 1-0, QPR A lose 3-2, Bournemouth H draw 2-2.


ROOM for one more? Joe Mattock becomes the fifth member of the long-term injured gang.

There’s the worst and the best of the Millers as they surrender at Coventry City and then show their true colours against Bristol City.

Before the brilliance against Bristol, Warne — despite a public show of confidence from Stewart — says he is feeling under pressure after taking only one point from six matches.

The Derby County game at New York is called off close to kick-off and the match at Middlesbrough is also postponed as the Rotherham camp is hit by multiple cases of coronavirus.

Ah, coronavirus. That thing from China is still here.

The EFL refuse to sanction a request for the Barnsley game to be delayed and Warne, shorn of players by Covid, is forced to name a skeleton squad.

Millers fans haven’t been able to attend a game since March.

Christmas comes and goes with New York empty and families separated.

It’s an emotional year.

Quote: “When we came into this football club, it was fractured. The manager has brought everyone together. What he has done in the last four years has been remarkable. He is the best man for the job.” Coach Matt Hamshaw is one of many members of the Warne Fan Club.

Results: Brentford H lose 2-0, Coventry A lose 3-1, Watford A lose 2-0, Bristol City H win 2-0, Blackburn H lose 2-1, Derby H postponed, Middlesbrough A postponed, Barnsley H lose 2-1.

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