The dad and lad duo ... Rotherham United midfielder Ollie Rathbone opens up about the influence of father and ex-pro Mick on his career

The dad and lad duo ... Rotherham United midfielder Ollie Rathbone opens up about the influence of father and ex-pro Mick on his career

By Paul Davis | 02/08/2022

The dad and lad duo ... Rotherham United midfielder Ollie Rathbone opens up about the influence of father and ex-pro Mick on his career
Father and son on Rotherham United signing day

OLLIE Rathbone loves his dad even though he’s a bit on the tight side.

We’ll get to that in due course.

Mick Rathbone has been a big influence on the career of his son whose sparkling promotion form in the last campaign is a major reason why Rotherham United are a Championship side in the one that begins this weekend.

Rathbone Senior was a pro himself for many years before becoming a highly-respected physio at a variety of clubs including Premier League Everton.

He’s been there, done it, suffered it, savoured it and watches out for his boy.

“I’m very, very fortunate to have him as my dad because he’s been in the game all his life and understands the pressure that you can put on yourself,” midfielder Ollie says.

“The only thing he’s bothered about is that I enjoy my football, enjoy my life. He always says to me: ‘Look, Oliver, I don’t care if you work in Starbucks or play for Manchester United, I just want you to be happy and a good person.’

“He texts me before every match. If I have a stinker he just won’t mention it. He just asks if I tried my best and when I tell him I did he says there’s nothing more I can do.”

Mick was famed for his stamina in his players days and Ollie, aged 25, has followed in his non-stop footsteps.

Rathbone the Younger’s energy lit up Rotherham’s 2021/22 push for the second tier in his first season at AESSEAL New York Stadium and skipper Richard Wood describes him as the club’s hardest trainer.

“My dad was a full-back and ridiculously fit; everyone said he was the fittest man they’d ever seen,” Ollie says. “I wouldn’t say I’m naturally ridiculously fit. I think it just comes from pure enthusiasm.

Ollie and girlfriend Sofie

“I’m always really tired after a game. It takes a lot out of me. But when I’m on the pitch I don’t feel it. It’s not a chore for me to run. I feel incentivised to do it.

“I think it’s because I really want to win. I want to get the best out of myself, I want to get on the ball, I want to run around.”

So combative was he in the Millers’ cause that he finished second in the League One tackle rankings, his figure of 114 bettered only by George Dobson’s 123 for Charlton Athletic.

His 63-year-old father is the author of two acclaimed autobiographies: 2011’s The Smell of Football, focusing on the struggles of being an insecure player, and last year’s The Smell of Football 2, charting the highs, lows, sackings and success of life in the treatment room since hanging up his boots.

“He made me pay for a copy of the latest one,” Ollie protests. “I can’t believe it. Fifteen quid it cost me!”

The Rathbones are a close-knit bunch. The Millers man has a place in the Ribble Valley near his parents’ Blackburn home, elder sister Lucy lives with husband Craig just up the road and he also sees plenty of older sister Charlotte who, with hubby Robbie, divides her time between Lancashire and London.

“Despite what I’m like on the pitch, I’m very laid-back off it,” Ollie says. “I do know how to put my feet up on the settee.

“I hang out with my girlfriend, Sofie, and friends, see family, go out for food. You won’t catch me going for a game of golf on a day off.”

Mick travelled with his son to New York on last August’s signing day but can’t get to the stadium on many matchdays because of his physio’s role with League Two Salford City.

“He watches my clips on (computer scouting platform) Wyscout,” Ollie says. “He likes to kind of act like he’s not that interested but he always gives little things away. He’ll say on a Sunday morning ‘You played well yesterday’ and I’m like ‘How do you know?’”

It’s different for Julie, wife of Mick and mum of the former Manchester United trainee. “She’s an absolute diamond,” her son says. “She drove me to Manchester four times a week from 11 to 16 when I was training there.

“She comes to all Rotherham’s home games now even though it’s nearly a two-hour drive.”

After leaving the youth ranks at Old Trafford, Ollie spent five years with Rochdale and was turning more and more heads by the time the Millers got in first and paid decent money to bring him to South Yorkshire.

Family affair … The Rathbone clan at the wedding of Ollie’s sister, Lucy

“I joined Rochdale when I was 19 and for the first two-and-a-half years I probably wasn’t physically developed enough to make a move anywhere else,” he says.

“I played a lot of football but I don’t think I really ‘impacted’ games back then. I had good legs in the middle of the park but I wasn’t a star man.

“I got to the age of 21 or 22 and put a real focus on the physical side of my game. I almost ‘forgot’ the ball for six to 12 months and worked on my speed and strength.

“I was a late developer. I filled into my body a little bit. My last two seasons at Rochdale, I felt like a good player. That’s when I came into my own and started affecting games and getting a bit more attention.”

It hasn’t taken him anywhere near as long to make his mark with the Millers.

“My first season couldn’t have gone much better,” he says. “We won promotions and the Papa John’s Trophy and I didn’t expect to play as many games as I did. I’ll always be grateful to the manager for trusting me so many times. I love it here.”

After the sweat of pre-season, the real stuff kicks off for Rotherham on Saturday at home to Swansea City.

“I know I’m ready for Championship football,” he says. “I’m so up for the challenge of proving myself at that level and helping the team. I’ll give it everything I have.”

Father Mick will approve of that attitude.

Rathbone Junior didn’t really mind shelling out £15, by the way.

He knows he owes his dad a much larger debt of gratitude.

 

*************************

 

ROTHERHAM United coach Richie Barker worked alongside Mick Rathbone for a spell in the England junior ranks and describes him as the funniest person he knows.

That humour shines through in the two books the former Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers footballer turned physio has written even when he’s going into searing detail about the tough times in his 45-year career.

Son Ollie says: “You get a lot of football autobiographies — the ones of Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, for example — and they’re all about amazing success.

“With his first book my dad wanted to do the other side of football, which probably more people can relate to. It’s the darker side of the game and the struggles he had with his performance anxiety.

“In the new book the focus is on how he feels about getting older in an industry that is getting younger and more technological. It’s very funny but also very poignant.”

The Smell of Football was nominated for the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year while the recent The Smell of Football 2 has received rave reviews and has sold so well that it has already had to be reprinted.

Putting the tomes together was a labour of love for Mick who has been a physio at more than ten pro clubs.

“Everything is written longhand on an A3 pad from WHSmith, then he gets my mum to type it up,” Ollie says.

“I used to go upstairs when I was younger — about nine — and think ‘Where’s my dad?’ and he’d just be, like, on his bed with his pad. 

“He’s a very intelligent guy. He might have been a doctor if he hadn’t become a footballer. He writes his story really well.”

Throughout football Mick is known as ‘Baz’, a nickname he acquired after leaving Birmingham — where his experiences as a young player breaking into the first team were so miserable he came close to quitting — and moving to Blackburn.

“There was an actor called Basil Rathbone who played the character of Sherlock Holmes in films,” Ollie says. “My dad walked into the Blackburn dressing room and the manager said: ‘This is Mick Rathbone, we’re going to call him Baz’.

“It was a seminal moment in his life. He wanted a fresh start and suddenly he wasn’t Micky Rathbone anymore, he was Baz. It changed everything for him.”

The Smell of Football can be bought on Amazon for £16.87 while signed copies of the follow-up, priced £14.99 plus £2.99 post and packing, are available here: https://www.thesmelloffootball2.co.uk

I have both (yep, like Ollie, I also paid!) and they’re among the best sports books I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favour. Get them.