JUST a few minutes after saying he wouldn’t cry, he broke down.
Paul Warne was addressing his players on the day Rotherham United’s promotion from League One had been made official.
It had been a season full of emotion and this was a speech packed with the same courage, commitment and searing honesty that had characterised the Millers’ charge to the Championship.
The manager laid himself bare before his men, just as they had done for him from pre-season to the coronavirus close of the campaign in March.
“Enjoy it,” he urged the faces on the screen during an online conference call on the evening of Tuesday June 9. “There are many dark days in your life. There aren’t that many absolutely amazing ones.
“My only regret as your manager is that I can’t play you all. We always try to pick the team to win. I appreciate what you’ve all done this year.
“I appreciate the way you’ve taken not playing. Some players have managed to play so well because they’ve been pushed so hard by those below them. Thanks with all my heart for what you’ve done this year.
“You came here as footballers and you will leave as family. You’ve been brilliant.”
A vote of third-tier sides had seen Rotherham’s season end after 35 of their scheduled 44 matches. Health fears and clubs’ financial concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic meant the season couldn’t continue and Rotherham’s second place in the standings saw them go up.
As Warne talked to his players, maybe he was thinking about Jamie’s Lindsay’s lung-busting contribution in the 3-0 win at Gillingham, Matt Crooks’ two-goal salvo in the Portman Road destruction of Ipswich Town in East Anglia and the Richard Wood tackle that signalled Peterborough United’s surrender at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Maybe he was thinking about match-winner Michael Smith’s 97th-minute, high-stepping run to the corner flag at Shrewsbury Town, Dan Barlaser’s sublime silkiness and decisive free-kick versus Blackpool, the Crooks-inspired slaughter of Oxford United and the New York team demolition job that left poor old Ipswich powerless and pointless again.
“You’ve all played a part,” he told them. “I know that’s a cheesy thing to say but you have. Even the lads who have hardly kicked a ball for us, you’ve been part of the club, part of the dressing room and part of the training ground on a daily basis.”
He was definitely thinking about assistant manager Richie Barker, coach Matt Hamshaw and the rest of his backroom team.
“The staff are like family to me,” he said. “You are blessed to have these staff looking after you here. You’re never going to be more prepared, you’re never going to be fitter.
“That’s not down to me. I take no credit for that. The staff are always trying to make you the best version of yourself. You’re a really close group. Maybe I can take a bit of credit for that.
“Without your team ethic this year I don’t think you would have achieved what you have achieved. That means more to me than anything.”
Warne had completed a whirlwind couple of hours of press duties before driving home to Tickhill and settling into the meeting that really mattered to him that night.
As he talked, he had no idea a recording of his message would eventually be made public and be held up on social media as an example of humanity and leadership. This was about private praise and heart, not PR and headlines.
His nine-minute communication singled out a few while leaving out nobody. As always, there were touches of humour. “If I can keep you, I will,” he said to the loan contingent. “According to all your agents, I can’t.”
A landmark day took on added meaning as it was the first anniversary of the death of his dad, Russell.
“I haven’t cried for ages and I’m not intending to tonight, “ said Warne, although it was clear how much the date mattered to him.
He wasn’t the only Miller to lose a loved one in 2019/20 and he was thinking about Barker, Crooks, Barlaser, Adam Thompson, Ben Wiles and the families of several supporters when he said: “Emotionally, this season has been absolutely brutal for loads of us.”
Promotion was only hours old but, after the Millers had climbed back to the second tier 14 months after relegation, the challenge of the Championship was already being laid on the table.
“Next year we go into a division that a few of you on the screen have played in before,” the boss said.
“The Shauny Macs and Woodys of this world are crucial because they get the league and understand what it takes. A few of you are younger and have definitely improved for the experience of two years ago.
Crooks was in the manager’s on-screen eyeline. “You finished the season as a Championship player, Mate,” the manager said. “You’ve had an unbelievable year and should kick on.”
Maybe Warne was thinking about his midfielder and a February Friday night at Lincoln City. The Millers, the 1-0 victory, the six-point lead at the top of the table, the sold-out away end, the cathedral, the songs that sounded like hymns, the prayers of Crooks answered when the player headed the winner in honour of his tragically-taken best pal, Jordan Sinnott.
The call to arms had begun: “We go into next season with the Wilesys of this world having Championship experience behind them. You should not fear the Championship next year.
“I will hammer home to you all the time about how hard we will train and play and how hard we will be to play against.
“We have to address the season with a massive smile on our face. We have to attack it with a real positivity that we’re going to have a right go at it.”
He saluted Wood, the skipper who smashed 100 opponents and won a 1,000 headers, the keeper of the fitness book and also of sanity at the Roundwood training complex.
“A better captain you won’t play for,” Warne said. “He’s a brilliant conduit between me and the staff (and players).
“If I didn’t have him I’d have to phone you individually on a daily basis, which would finish me off!”
There was pride in promotion, but the boss was raising the bar higher.
“You lot as individuals have to get better,” he said. “That could be training that little bit better, being that bit more responsive to feedback, being that little bit better at handling being dropped, becoming that bit more of a team player.
“The staff have to get better. I have to get better. Whatever it takes, we all have to get better.
“It won’t be a massive change of players. We’ll bring a few in but it will be most of the faces on this screen playing again next season.
“It will be the same group, a group of which I’m hugely proud to be the manager. You’ve been a joy to be with every day.”
Warne prepared to depart, accepting his players didn’t need ‘the Gaffer’ lurking in the background when the beers and banter were flowing.
“Have a frickin’ great night,” he ordered them.
Then it happened.
“Sincerely, I love all of you,” he said, at which point he paused and faltered as the enormity of the day, the season, the achievement, sank in.
He could hardly get his words out or hold his tears in but, like his team, he kept going.
“Thanks for everything this year,” he croaked. “You’ve been an absolute joy. On behalf of my family, thanks for keeping me sane, thanks for keeping me alive and thanks for keeping me happy.”
Rotherham had won promotion with a newly-built group of players who had backed each other, played for each other, run for each other and supported each other as if their lives depended on it.
Maybe Warne was thinking about the home rout of Coventry City, the comeback in the rain at MK Dons and the last-minute winner at Accrington Stanley.
Togetherness. Teammates. Brothers. Red-and-white blood thicker than water.
“You came here as footballers and you will leave as family.”
THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE SPEECH
I WON’T hold you up long. I know this is a bit surreal, but firstly congratulations.
I know that some of you have played a massive part, some have played a smaller part - whatever the case may be - but you have all played a part. I know that is a cheesy thing to say, but you have.
Even the lads who have hardly kicked a ball for us, you have been part of the club and part of the dressing room and part of the training ground on a daily basis.
Without everybody at the club, it wouldn’t have happened, so I firstly want to thank you lot as the players really.
I can’t see many staff on here. Are the staff on here? Are they? All of them? Wow, I can’t see them!
It is easy for me to say because I have selected all of the staff to come here and they are like family to me, but you are pretty blessed with the group of staff that you have looking after you here.
You are never going to be more prepared, you are never going to be fitter and I don’t take credit for either of those things — it has nothing to do with me.
You are a really close group and I might be able to take a little bit of credit for that.
Without your team ethic this year, I don’t think that you would have achieved what you have achieved. That means more to me than anything.
Now you all know — or you might have known if you have watched my interviews recently — that is the anniversary of my father’s death today. I think emotionally — and I haven’t cried for ages and I’m not intending to — this season has been absolutely brutal for loads of us. I’m not going to go through everyone, but you all know who is on this screen who has been through a lot and it is frickin’ tough.
So enjoy the good times, for God’s sake, and enjoy them with your family tonight.
I wish I was at Thommo’s (Adam Thompson’s) house. That looks the best house to be in.
Enjoy it because there are many dark days in your life, there aren’t many absolutely amazing days and you have all played a part in this.
The only regrets I have as the manager sitting here looking at you, is that I can’t play you all. I can’t and it is an awful thing for me: that there are 22 of you sometimes fit — apart from Procs (Jamie Proctor) obviously because he loves having an operation. I know you’re on here Procs so I can say it to you — but you all want to play and it is difficult. That is the hardest part of the job for me and I hate it. I’m sorry that I can’t keep you all happy all of the time.
I would like to think that everyone listening to this knows that we always try and pick the team to win. We have to make bad decisions at times, obviously, but I appreciate what you have done this year. I appreciate the way you have taken not playing, the way that you have trained so hard to keep everyone else going.
There are certain people I’m looking at on this screen now who I know have played a bigger part than other people, but you have only been allowed to do that because you have been pushed by brilliant players below you and I think you all know that.
I think you all know that if you ever drop in your appearance or your determination levels, someone will step in and take your place and that’s what has enabled you to play so well.
So thanks sincerely with all of my heart for what you have done this year. You have come in as footballers and I think you will leave as family. I know that is cheesy, but I think you have been brilliant.
The sad thing is for me now is when I look around this screen it is like marbles. At the end of the season some of you will go and play for other greater clubs, some of you will move sideways possibly, I don’t know, but you’ll never be on the screen again with all these people.
It is pretty sad how quickly life goes by. I harp on at you all the time about how life goes like that, seasons go like that. These ten weeks haven’t gone like that. It’s like being in treacle.
I really appreciate your patience, I know I have been speaking to Woody (skipper Richard Wood) a lot and I know it has been frustrating for you.
I appreciate you not getting involved — or not to my knowledge — in being ‘la di da’ with other clubs and other players and milking it. I appreciate what you have done there.
I would really like to massively single out my staff. They’re ledg. They do everything they can for you.
Again, even if you don’t agree with what they’re telling you, they’re doing it for the right reasons. They are trying to make you the best versions of yourself you can be.
I think there are a few of you on this screen who are over 30 and appreciate the staff you’ve got. A lot of you in your young 20s are thinking ‘good staff come and go’. They don’t. You don’t have loads of good staff when you play. When I get off this screen, if you get the opportunity to thank any of them, please do so, because without them you’re nothing. I don’t mean that the way it sounds so I apologise, but you know that I mean.
They do everything they can to make you the best version of yourselves, and that is from everybody by the way.
I’d really like to thank the loans. I’ve been in clubs before where loan players come in and think ‘If I’m not playing, who gives a ....’ They don’t really embrace the culture at a club. I think the loan players have here, massively.
I think the loan players, especially in January, who came in did that. I appreciate a couple of you didn’t play as much as you’d like. That’s my fault but the team were doing so well.
Your injection into the place had a massive effect, so don’t underestimate what you’ve done. I really, sincerely, thank the loans.
I’m not going to go through them all individually but I hope you go on to have great careers and always think fondly of us. If I can keep you, I will, but according to all of your agents I can’t!
The other thing is, next year we go into a season where a few of you on the screen have played before, like your Shauny Macs (Shaun MacDonald) and the Woodys of this world, who are crucial because they get the league and understand what it takes.
A few of you are obviously younger and have definitely improved from the experience (in the Championship two seasons ago).
In fairness, I’ve got you right beside my eyeline here Crooksy (Matt Crooks) unfortunately. You finished the season as a Championship player. You were unbelievable, Mate. You’ve had a great season this year, but you should kick on next year, be it with me or somewhere else, whatever you choose to do.
What I mean is, we go into the league with the Wilesys and that of this world with Championship experience behind you and you should not fear the Championship next year.
I will hammer home to you all the time about how hard we will train, and play and how hard it will be against the teams we’ll be against, but we have to address the season with a massive smile on our face.
I apologise I don’t look like I’ve got a smile on my face because I haven’t slept very long and I haven’t eaten one thing today so I am a bit on edge.
We have to attack it with a real positivity that we’re going to have a right go at it.
In fairness, you were that close away from it (staying up) last time and it was probably my fault for that. I have to get better. My staff have to get better — although they are absolutely bang on — and you lot as individuals have to get better. Be it that you train a little bit harder, or you are a little bit more responsive to feedback, or a little bit better on being dropped, or a little bit better on being a team player.
Whatever it takes, we all have to get better because it won’t be a massive change of players. For you who have been here a few years, it won’t be that. We’ll bring a few in quite obviously but it will be virtually everyone you see give or take the loans.
It will be the same group and a group that I am hugely proud to be the manager of. You’re an amazing group, you’ve been a joy to be with every day and for that I sincerely thank you.
I’ll let you put the music back on and have fun because I know I’m the Fun Police and I have been told before I have no ‘promotion emotion’ but I am beyond exhausted. Before I pass on to anyone else, I sincerely want to thank Woody and you lot should as well. A better captain you won’t play for. He is a brilliant conduit between me and the staff and I reckon during this period if I didn’t have him, then I would have had to have phoned you all up individually on a daily basis, which would have finished me off.
Sincerely, you’re a very good captain and you have kept the lads sane. Worryingly, I understood that you were on the alcohol at 4pm, so I won’t ask you to speak any time soon! On behalf of all of the staff — and the owner, in fairness — Woody, thank you very much. You’ve been a great captain and you will continue to be so.
For the lads who have been injured off-season, well done for how hard you are training and thanks to Mark (physio Hoy) for dedicating his life to getting you fit.
All of that aside, have a frickin’ great night.
I will try and reach out to all of you over the next two or three days. I appreciate some of you have kindly texted me, I have got 184 texts that I have got to reply to, which I am not intending on doing in the next 10 minutes.
If you’ve reached out to me, thank you, I appreciate it, and I will get back to you. I will phone you or text you over the next couple of days.
Sincerely, I love all of you and thanks for ... thanks for ... Jesus ... thanks for all of your efforts this year ... You’ve been an absolute joy and I got to 8:30pm without crying ... so ... on behalf of my family, thanks for keeping me sane, thanks for keeping me alive and thanks for keeping me happy. I will speak to you all soon. I’m done. Thank you.