IT was the heady cocktail of League Two and Dagenham & Redbridge that stole an unsuspecting heart.
A young Whiston girl was watching Rotherham United from the Family Stand for the first time, taken to New York Stadium by her grandparents as a special treat.
March 9 2013, the Millers fighting for promotion as the Daggers came to town.
“They asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said I’d quite like to try going to a football match,” she recalls.
“I’d never been interested in football at all before then. We won 2-1. I can’t remember who scored our goals, but I just loved it.”
Grace Scott, just turning 13, was smitten.
Now 19, she lives in London, where she studies football business and media and, after five years as a season-ticket-holder, pines for her once-regular Millers fix.
Fate obviously follows Grace in the way she follows Rotherham. Last month it intervened and the draw for the first round of the FA Cup paired Paul Warne’s League One men with National League Maidenhead United — the team where the teenager just happens to work as a media officer in her spare time.
“I was in the club bar,” she says. “We had a youth game that day. I was sat with my boyfriend. Josh, and I was speechless when the draw was read out.
“I’d got all the cup-draw graphics ready to go on Twitter. All that needed adding were the name and badge of the team we were playing. Ten minutes before the draw, I’d put the Rotherham badge in next to Maidenhead’s just to see what it looked like.
“The tie was one of the last to be drawn and as the number of clubs went down I thought: ‘It can’t be Rotherham.’ It’s amazing to be playing them. It took me about a week to calm down.
“Because of my job at Maidenhead, I don’t go back to see Rotherham very often at all, unless it’s pre-season and it works out that Maidenhead don’t have a game.
“I’ve not seen them this season. I went to the Leicester City game in pre-season this summer when we drew 2-2. We played well. I went to the final home game of last season when we lost 2-1 to Middlesbrough.
“I do the Maidenhead Twitter feed during games and I put Rotherham’s Twitter page right next to Maidenhead’s on my laptop screen. That way I can keep up with all the Millers updates. If Rotherham have a midweek game, I pay for iFollow and watch it in the kitchen.”
With grandparents Angela and John at Wembley for the 2018 League One Play-off Final
Grace’s infatuation with the Millers led her to Wembley Stadium and the University Campus of Football Business where she is in the second year of a three-year degree course.
“I knew that I wanted to go into football,” she says. “That’s through Rotherham and loving them so much.
“I live in student accommodation just off Wembley Way, which is really cool. I can see the arch from my window. All my season-ticket cards, I’ve brought them to London with me.”
She makes the hour-plus journey to the Magpies around three times a week. “Baker Street, change there for Paddington, then get the train to Maidenhead,” she says.
“I was looking for experience and they are quite local so I got in touch with them. They’re a part-time club so most of the work there is done by volunteers. It’s a really nice area. There’s a picturesque bridge and it’s next to the River Thames.
“They’re a lovely club. They remind me a lot of Rotherham. A lot of the fans know each other and it’s a really good place to be.
“I started off just doing matchdays but it’s turned out to be two days during the week as well. It’s a 24-hour-day job pretty much. You’re always on your phone checking Twitter and stuff. It’s a big commitment, especially alongside my studies.
“I don’t get paid and I have to balance my time between Maidenhead, writing essays and completing assignments,” she says. “It’s priceless experience, though.
“I love football so I enjoy going up and down the country with them. Career-wise, it will pay off in the long run hopefully.
“When I graduate, I’d quite like to keep doing what I’m doing now as a media officer but do it full-time somewhere. That would be the dream at first. Long term, I’d love to be the chief executive of a football club.”
The Millers head to the 4,000-capacity York Road stadium in leafy Berkshire on Saturday and the former Oakwood High School and Thomas Rotherham College pupil can’t wait to reacquaint herself with her old flame.
She misses the New York familiarities she grew up with: the 100 per cent of Richard Wood in both boxes, red shirts and white sleeves, the second-half roar of the North Stand, manager Warne standing pitchside with his carton of Yorkshire Tea.
“I love Paul Warne; I absolutely adore him,” she says. “I think he is hilarious. I watch his interviews after every game. He’s always got a cup of Yorkshire Tea. In Berkshire, they don’t really know what Yorkshire Tea is.”
Posh Berkshire is a long way from industrial New York and the visit of Dagenham a long time ago. That first game, that perfect storm, has been filed away somewhere in her mind where fondness blurs reality.
Kari Arnason sent off just before the hour mark, Dagenham ahead through the ensuing penalty, a Claude Davis equaliser soon after, heartache eight minutes from time.
The Millers didn’t win 2-1 that day, they lost. But defeat matters little when you’re 13 and falling in love for the first time.
Other iconic moments are much clearer: spot-kick hero Joe Newell’s 102nd-minute home knee-slide against Doncaster Rovers, the away- end tumult at Glanford Park when Newell struck a minute after coming on as a play-off semi-final substitute, Richard Wood’s two-goal magic in the final.
“My favourite player was always Joe Newell,” Grace says. “Obviously, he’s not there anymore. His name has always been on the back of all my shirts.
“I loved everything about him. On the pitch he had his good days and his bad days, but I can remember when he scored the penalty winner against Doncaster.
“I was at Scunthorpe as well for the play-offs and he scored there too. I went crazy. I wore my ‘Joe Newell’ shirt that day.
“Of the current players, I like Richard Wood the most. My classroom at uni virtually looks out on to the Wembley pitch and I can remember what he did there in 2018. I’ve met him. He’s a great guy, really down to earth.”
Grandparents Angela and John, who live at Moorgate, still have New York season tickets, but mum and dad Ella and Alan have no interest in football and neither, it seems, does younger sister Sophie.
“She’s 15 now,” Grace says. “I took her to a game a year after I started going when we played Crewe Alexandra. We won 4-2 and she fell asleep!
“I’ve always gone with my grandma and grandad. Our seats were in the Family Stand. I went to away games when I could. It depended on my grandparents and travel and tickets. We did all the local ones and some others.
“I did Millwall away and QPR away last year because I was already in London. QPR was brilliant. I dragged Josh, who is a Lincoln City fan, along to that and we won 2-1. We were in the away end. I loved that night. It was crazy when the winner went in.”
Grace and her favourite Millers player, Richard Wood
There was no doubting her allegiance in those games but, finally, the question she knows has been coming: who does she want to win on Saturday?
“I’ve been asked that a lot,” she giggles, “I’d like a replay. The dream would be to come to New York with Maidenhead. Who would I like to win the replay? Do you know what, I’ll go with my heart and say Rotherham.
“But I think it would mean more to Maidenhead.
“They’re only a small club and it would mean more to their fans, so I’d also be happy with a Maidenhead win. My prediction for Saturday is 2-2.”
Grandma Angela and Grandad John will be at the game. “Straightaway, they were on to me asking about tickets,” Grace smiles.
Meanwhile, their granddaughter made a quick trip back to Rotherham last week and the birthday girl of 2013 has a present of her own to hand out at York Road tomorrow.
Carefully wrapped and awaiting Warne’s arrival, a box of Yorkshire Tea.
BEST MILLERS MOMENT
“I’d have to say the 3-3 draw against Derby County when Neil Warnock came in as manager towards the end of the 2015/16 season and kept us in the Championship.
“We were 3-0 down with only a few minutes to go and came back to equalise in stoppage time. New York Stadium just erupted. That was amazing.
“I remember being so angry and disappointed when we were losing 3-0. It was one of those moments when you don’t like football for a minute.
“It was a crazy last ten minutes. I was so buzzing when Leon Best scored the third goal.”
“It’s a big day for Maidenhead. Last year we had Portsmouth at home in the first round and lost 4-0. The Rotherham fans will be up for it. It’s a new ground for them. I think it will be a good day.
“I don’t think it will sell out at our end. We usually get about 1,800 on a regular Saturday. We should get more than that but maybe not enough to fill the ground.
“We are a very physical team. Alan Devonshire is the manager and he means business. He loves players to go in for tackles.
“I wouldn’t have said this at the start of the season, but the player to watch out for is Josh Kelly. He’s really young, just 20, and an attacker.
“He scored the two goals in the replay against Wealdstone that got us the Rotherham tie. Then he scored an absolute worldie in a 1-1 draw with Fylde last week. He scored with an overhead kick.”