JOE Newell was banging his fist in excitement against the window at Rotherham United’s training ground.
The winger was inside with a few first-team pals watching the reserves in action through the glass. Outside, Ben Wiles had just fired home a worldie.
“Wilesy, you beauty,” shouted Newell in his distinctive Brummie accent that autumn afternoon a year ago. “Get in there.
“I’m telling yer,” he told no-one in particular. “That lad is going to be a Rotherham legend.”
Newell is no longer with the Millers, having departed for Hibs in the summer. Wiles, then a promising teenager, is now a 20-year-old becoming ever more established in manager Paul Warne’s senior starting 11.
Wiles was a kid from Swinton who, when his family moved, became a boy from Rawmarsh. Despite his promise and the prospect of stardom, he remains a boy from Rawmarsh.
A legend in the making leading nothing like a legend’s lifestyle.
He still lives with his parents, spends his evenings playing on his PlayStation with his pals and his idea of a wild night out is a quick walk to the nearby Trades for a soft drink.
“PS4. My mates are all on it so we play online,” the midfielder says “FIFA and CoD. When there are three or four of us on it, it’s a good night.
“I love living at home. My family are so supportive. I’d be lost if I went elsewhere. I’d probably be at the training ground all the time!”
We’re chatting in the Roundwood canteen when coach Matt Hamshaw, once a resident of Sharpfield Avenue and a former pro, wanders by.
“Ben Wiles, the second best player to come out of Rawmarsh,” he grins. “Make that the headline.”
Hamshaw, then a development coach and now part of Warne’s first-team staff, spotted the talent when the youngster joined the Millers at the age of nine and has been Wiles’ mentor ever since.
“Hammy’s taught me, had a quiet word here and there, pulled me to one side and told me what I need to do and what I need to work on,” the player says.
“It was very important for me to get to the stage of being able to take on information. When you’re in the youth team, you don’t really want to hear someone getting on to you.
“You don’t realise that they’re just trying to make you better. Coming through the youth ranks is not an easy task. You have your ups and downs. I’d think at the time: ‘Why is he pulling me aside again?’
“Looking back, he was on my side. He believed in me and thought I was worth bothering about.”
After a breakthrough season in the Championship last season when he mixed starts with substitute appearances, Wiles, under contract until 2022, has become a fixture in the Millers’ League One line-up this term.
“My goal this year was to be a regular starter,” he says. “I didn’t want to be seen as just a young pro. I’m maturing. I want to get through as many games as I can.
“I set short-term goals for me to accomplish. I don’t think too far into the future. I want to do things now that will give me a better chance of good things later on.”
He is grounded by his upbringing: primary school at Kilnhurst, comprehensive at Rawmarsh; football in the street, for school, for club; good standards handed down by his parents; a bond with supporters forged by playing for his home-town side.
“I’ve pretty much always been a midfielder,” he says. “I just like anywhere that requires a lot of running. I played on the wing a bit when I was younger. The running has always been there. It’s just natural. I’ve always enjoyed making a nuisance of myself.
“I did my schoolwork but I was passionate about being a footballer. I feel very privileged to be in the position I’m in.
“I feel the support of the fans. You go to take a corner and you can hear them all shouting you. I think they like to see a young Rotherham lad doing well.”
His grandad on his mother’s side, Eddie Colquhoun, used to play for Sheffield United and Scotland. “I’m very close to him,” Wiles says. “The football comes from him. He used to come and watch me and my brother, Alex, with my dad when I was younger.
“My dad’s originally from Hartlepool and used to play rugby union. He tried to get me into that. I didn’t really want to do it because at the time it was tag and I just wanted to smash someone! Tag wasn’t for me!”
Home is shared with mum Fiona, a health visitor, dad Ian, a steelworks mechanic, Alex, 22, who plays for Tadcaster, oldest brother Aaron, 24, a local-league player with Swinton and Monkwood, and his 11 year-old twin sisters, Molly and Maisie.
“It’s a big house,” Wiles smiles. “Molly and Maisie have just gone to ‘big’ school. They like their brother being a professional footballer. Some of their friends give them questions for me to answer.
“Our Alex was with Rotherham for a while. Some people say he is a better player than me.”
Talk turns to his PlayStation again. “CoD,” he mentions. “Call of Duty,” I reply in a pathetic 53-year-old attempt to show I know what he’s talking about and immediately wish I hadn’t. He says nothing but the sympathy in his blue eyes tells me I haven’t impressed him.
“I just chill out. I play on PS4 quite a lot with my brothers,” he reveals. “I’m quite a simple man away from football. I’ll nip to the local with my brother to watch a game.
“We go to the Trades, which is two minutes from mine. It’s near Thorogate. It’s a working men’s club so there are a lot of older folk in there. It’s proper quiet. There are no distractions and no-one comes up to you. It’s peaceful.
“We watch the Monday-night Sky football because it’s better than being at home. No, I don’t allow myself a beer. I’m not a big drinker. If I do go out, I’ll take the car and not drink at all.”
He may drive a sleek Audi but there are few trappings of flash about him.
I ask if he has a girlfriend and find it sweet when he includes her surname. “Libby Tomlinson,” he says. “We’ve been together for about three years. We went to the same school but we didn’t really speak to each other. Eventually, I texted her. We got talking, met up and the rest is history.”
By now we’ve decamped to new surroundings. Warne and his mob - Hamshaw, assistant manager Richie Barker and goalkeeping coach Mike Pollitt - had pulled up at the table next to us with plates of chicken stew.
“Use my office if you want,” the boss suggests. “It’s going to embarrassing if we’re listening while he says loads of great things about us. Eh, Wilesy?”
Soon we’re sitting at Warne’s desk. The figure across from me is compact and muscular. He’s quite serious but at the same time quick to laugh.
There’s a light covering of whiskers across his face that he’d insist was stubble and I’d call bum-fluff.
He shows an unwitting yet telling glimpse of manners and respect as we enter the manager’s domain. “Are you going to take the gaffer’s chair?” I enquire. “No, I’d best not,” he says and parks himself and his casual black Nike gear into the seat next to it.
With mentor Matt Hamshaw
Wiles’ first-team emergence has been fast and it was always likely to be. Newell is far from his only admirer and his potential had been on everyone’s lips long before his league debut at Brentford on Championship opening day last season.
“I’d had a good pre-season and was on the bench. Buzzing,” he recalls. “Then I came on. Even more buzzing! It was a shame we got beat 5-1.
“It felt really good. The ball came to me, I took it down and played a simple pass. I thought: ‘Do you know what? I can handle this.’
“The longer the game went on, the more my confidence grew. After that, I got a lot of good feedback from the fans and the players.
“I got a run of starts around the turn of the year — seven or eight, I think — beginning with Bristol City away. That’s when the manager started to give me my chance. I played at Manchester City in the FA Cup in the next game and was keeping the shirt.
“I believe I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and can get the best out of myself. I’ve got a drive, I want to succeed. I want to keep getting in the squad. I like people liking me as a player. I like people talking about me.
“I’m confident in my ability — the fundamentals of football are running, tackling and communicating and I think I can do all of those things. I think I am a good overall pro.
“I’m a massive critic of myself as well, though. I always question ‘Am I good enough?’, especially when I make a mistake.”
With Warne safely out of earshot, he opens up about his manager.
“Me and the gaffer get on really well,” he says. “He’s a very nice geezer. He looks after all his players and makes us feel as one. The squad is one big family. Everyone talks to everyone. We’re a homely group and we all get on. We all back each other.
“We have a great relationship. I think he sees me as a mature player.”
One day the Millers will lose Wiles, but that day is not yet.
“I haven’t really got a main goal,” he says. “I’m more of a man in the moment. My head is screwed on right. I’m quite a chilled-out person when it comes to things like that.
“It’s a dream, obviously, to eventually play in the Premier League, but at the moment I’m totally focused on Rotherham and will do my best in every single game.
“A lot of grit and hard work comes before I could ever think about the Premier League.”
For now, it’s about learning and League One, about Hamshaw and Warne, about him repaying the debt of gratitude he feels he owes both men.
His Millers call of duty.
Best player played with: Darren Potter. Technically, with both feet he was a joke. He had such composure on the ball. He was someone I looked up to when he was here because he’d pull me aside and tell me straight. We sat on the grass once for half an hour and talked about my contract and where I wanted to be. He gave me his advice. I think he’s played a part in me maturing as a player. I respect him massively.
Best opponent: Kevin de Bruyne. He came on for Manchester City in the FA Cup tie at their place last season. Being in front of him felt mad. It was a surreal opportunity. To say we got beat 7-0, I had an all-right game.
Best Millers mate: Joe Mattock, definitely. I had really good relationships with Jon Taylor, Joe Newell and Pottsy but football is a short career and players don’t always stay at one club for long. Me and Matty Palmer last year were quite close. He’s gone off to Bradford City on loan now. Joe has taken me under his wing. Now I’m as clueless as he is!
Best friend away from the Millers: I don’t have one in particular. I have a few. They’re mainly old schoolmates and there’s one other who I used to play football with. They’re all really good pals.
Roommate: I don’t really have one this season. I get spread around. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest! Last year, I used to room with Matty. I’ve roomed with Coops (Jake Cooper) a couple of times. I’ve been with Icky (Michael Ihiekwe) once and on my own once. It’s Coops when he travels.
Funniest teammate: Baz (Mattock) is hilarious because he is so clueless with everything. He’s funny without meaning to be. I get on very well with Carlton Morris as well. He’s a very funny geezer.
Messiest teammate: Yep, that’s Baz again. He’ll come in in a morning and say ‘Where are my trainers?’ and they’ll be at the other side of the room in a corner hidden away. No-one ever knows how they got there.
Best trainer: I’d like to put myself down for that one. I give my all in training. I’ll go for Tree (Matt Crooks). He runs his absolute socks off.
Best-dressed teammate: Carlton has got some nice gear. So has Blazer (Dan Barlaser). Expensive stuff. I have the odd bit of expensive gear but they have more.
Longest in the shower: Freddie (Ladapo). He loves a long, hot stay in there!
Best moment in football: The goal against Bolton earlier this season.
Worst moment: Everton away in the Carabao Cup in 2018. I was brought off at half-time and I was quite upset with myself. I missed a couple of tackles. Everton were coming through the midfield and our management wanted someone stronger in there. I was still a kid.
Best quality: I’ll say my personality. I think I can get on well with most people. I’m straight with people.
Worst fault: Not taking criticism well. If someone tells me I’ve been ‘cr*p, I’ll sit there with the face on.
Other sports: My friends from school would tell you I’m not bad at most sports. Football and cricket were my two main ones when I was younger. I played men’s cricket at 16 for Upper Haugh —literally two minutes from where I live. I enjoy golf. I play the odd game. I’m not that good at it, though.
Ideal night out: I can’t give a proper answer to that because I don’t go out much. Just put ‘boring Ben Wiles’.
Ideal night in: After playing on my PS4, I’ll sometimes stick a film on after that. I like anything with a good storyline. War films, you can’t beat them. I love action-packed films. Hobbs & Shaw, the new one that has just come out — I like that.
If you weren’t a footballer, what would you be? A car mechanic, I think. Me and my dad are into cars. Mine is quite nice. It does a job for me. Me and my dad talk about cars a lot.
THE GOALS ... AND THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Tranmere Rovers, home, 1-1 draw, Aug 31 2019
“In front of the kop, my first goal in senior football. As a midfielder, it’s not in my mind to think: ‘I’m going to score today.’ It might be in the minds of the strikers and wingers.
“I was in the right position. The ball got whipped in, hit my leg and bounced in a good position. I just thought: ‘I’m going to hook my foot round this.’
“The ball ended up in the top of the net. It was a really good feeling.”
Bolton Wanderers, home, 6-1 win, Sep 14 2019
“We were 1-0 down and I was getting a lot of joy down the right. When I got the ball, a Bolton player came towards me and I thought: ‘He’s getting a bit tight to me.’
“I flicked it over his head and my next touch took me away from another opponent. A bit of composure and then I just whipped it into the bottom corner with my left foot. I’m right-footed but I work on my left a lot in training.”
Burton Albion, away, 1-0 win, Aug 17 2019
“I was close to my first goal at Burton. I shot and the ball hit the post then went in off their keeper. I was given the goal on Twitter before it had to be retracted.
“Chuffing hell, the stats people were harsh ... they decided it was an own goal.
“I was a bit disappointed, but most important was the win because it was a tough game away from home.”
2017/18 League One:
Two games (both EFL Trophy)
23 games (20 Championship, one FA Cup,
two Carabao Cup)
2019/20, League One:
18 games (14 League One, two
Carabao Cup, two EFL Trophy)
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