There was debate, differences, frustration, agreement, humour, even the odd flash of anger. But, above all, there was cordiality ... the Rotherham United Fans Forum

By Paul Davis | 20/01/2020

There was debate, differences, frustration, agreement, humour, even the odd flash of anger. But, above all, there was cordiality ... the Rotherham United Fans Forum
The Millers panel, from left, Paul Douglas, Tony Stewart, Mark Thomas, Paul Warne and Rob Scott

CHAIRMAN Tony Stewart, dapper as always in a well-cut jacket, was wearing grey.

Head of recruitment Rob Scott had opted for a shirt in light blue.

It was black for Paul Warne, Paul Douglas and Mark Thomas, a long-sleeved polo top for the manager, v-neck jumper for the chief operating officer and smart blazer for the compere.

Yet the colours bonding everyone at AESSEAL New York Stadium were red and white.

This was the fans forum and last Thursday was a good time to hold it, with Rotherham United second in the table and the first signing of January, Hakeeb Adelakun, through the door hours earlier.

Around 150 supporters were in the Gold Suite on the first floor to ask questions and respond to answers from the top table.

There was debate, differences, frustration, agreement, humour, even the odd flash of anger. But, above all, there was cordiality and a sense of togetherness. This is a good time to be a Miller.

“It is about winning,” said Stewart in his opening address at an event that kicked off at 7pm and went into extra time by not finishing until after 9.30pm.

“I do like football to be entertaining. I insist on that. I like winning. I’m a poor loser. I’m happy with the progress.”

That progress under Warne sees Rotherham in with a real shout of promotion to the Championship this season.

Reaching the Premier League is worth around £275 million, Stewart told the assembled throng, which is one very good reason why he will never give up on his dream of climbing even higher than the second tier.

The first half featured questions submitted by supporters, the second saw the microphone passed around tables where followers had gathered in groups of around eight or ten.

Hot sandwiches and alcohol were available. Foster’s was the lager but the real fizz was provided by Warne.

After a quiet opening spell, the boss soon warmed to his task, playing it for laughs now and again but never at the expense of his honesty or sincerity.

He performed a comic head-drop, slumping down in his chair, when he was posed a question about why he brought back all his players to defend corners

“It is a big deal here,” he acknowledged. “I have someone shout at me at every game about leaving someone up.”

A voice piped up from the floor and, quicker than Chiedozie Ogbene in full flight, the boss was on him: “Is it you? Are you that person who shouts?”

Later, while discussing Rotherham having the best scoring record from set-pieces in the division, he returned to his heckler: “No, not you. I don’t need to hear from you. You hate me.”

Someone else had an opinion Warne liked. “What do you do?” enquired the manager. “A surveyor? Ah yes, I can tell you’re from the upper echelons.”

A long explanation on corners came down to a short reason, by the way: “I don’t want to concede a goal.”

Warne, a natural communicator, was in his element. Unlike previous managers at forums, he’d not asked for advance warning about any questions and was happy to hide little and reveal plenty.

The Gold Suite was a fitting setting: plush, spacious, in keeping with a club with ambitions to go places and better itself.

Somewhere out there, though the large windows, was the New York pitch, but the only view from inside was the solid, inky blackness of the winter night.

There was more of that revered red and white, picking out past Millers achievements and heroes in otherwise-monochrome pictures that decorated the walls.

The chairman’s attire was in keeping with the theme, a handkerchief of vivid red protruding from his breast pocket.

Commercial director Steve Coakley was an absentee through illness, having pulled a muscle or a sickie in the build-up. Stewart, meanwhile, subbed himself at half-time, heading off for a business date he’d been unable to rearrange.

Subjects covered were many and varied, many important, some less so, ranging from team selection, stadium parking and player recruitment to empty New York units, safe standing and unsafe steps.

Very unsafe as it turned out for one fan who had suffered a mishap leaving the East Stand.

“All reyt, I’ve fallen down them missen in the past,” he admitted to the room. “Drunk.”

Those in attendance were some of the club’s hardcore, men and women who had grown up at Millmoor, endured Don Valley Stadium and embraced New York.

Ages ranged from late teens to well into retirement, with most falling into the mature category.

Less mature at one stage was Warne, returning from a call of nature brought on by too many sips from his bottled water and unable to resist doing a little spin and dance for the audience as he headed back to his seat.

“Hands up if you’re bored,” said Scott during a protracted monologue on recruitment. The manager, grinning a mischievous grin, was quick to raise his.

One supporter caught the mood, talking about how the Millers stood for what he believed in by putting a secure future before the temptation to spend with abandon in the irresponsible pursuit of unsustainable success.

“I’d rather be what we are than sell our soul,” he said to heartfelt approval.

Warne spoke of his players. “Good people. Not ridiculously good,” he smiled. “They’re not saints.”

And he pressed home the achievement of a new team this season after a summer of rebuilding following relegation from the Championship: “We’re second in the league. It’s not too bad.”

Proceedings were beginning to draw to a close. The boss, a busy man anyway and particularly so during the transfer window, had been making and taking calls on his way to the stadium and would be on his phone again on the journey home.

“You’re all getting slips of paper on the way out,” he joked. “You have to pick your team for Saturday. That way it won’t be just me getting a battering on Twitter.”

Suddenly, he became emotional. A fan had just asked how was assistant manager Richie Barker whose younger brother, Chris, had died suddenly over the New Year.

Warne struggled to answer for a few moments but very much appreciated the query.

The supporter had one more thing to say: “Can you please pass on our regards?”

The sentiment behind the request and the applause that followed made you proud of that red and white.

 

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

 

FANS FORUM SOUNDBITES

Finances:

Tony Stewart: “Before last season we had planned losses. The team behind me run a tight ship. We want people who want to wear the shirt. We’re not silly when we talk about paying people. We don’t buy at Harrods but we look for Harrods-type players.”

 

Michael Smith never given free-kicks:

Paul Warne: “I’m not a ‘cheat’ manager. I don’t encourage players to go down. And Smudge is the worst faller in history.”

 

Team discipline:

PW: “Discipline is kept in-house. I think we have had only one red card for violent conduct this season.

“Joe Mattock’s sending-off and three-match ban killed us. It gave us real problems at the back.

“Adam Thompson has been excellent at right-back and had been playing on the front foot. He went for the tackle against Hull City and got sent off. He’s not a dirty player. He never commits a foul in training. Nobody player wants to miss three games.”

 

Recruitment set-up:

Rob Scott: “The infrastructure is myself, Chris (Trotter) who is my chief scout and is based in the North-east, another scout based in the Midlands and another in the South. We think that works quite well.

“We tend to work hard on depth charts. We look at who is performing on a weekly basis. We also go out and watch games every Saturday and Tuesday.

“We are getting agents at the moment throwing names at us left, right and centre, not just names in the UK but abroad as well. Recruiting abroad is something we’ll look at further down the line.

“The scouting network is pretty intensive. We have various platforms we use to check up on players.

“We have a scoring system in place for players, which is a system I have brought in. We base it on their attributes in their positions and we score them on those attributes.

“I like to think with the knowledge we have in our scouting system that we know every player that is thrown at us in the UK.”

 

New York atmosphere:

PW: “I do think we have struggled with the atmosphere at home this season. I think the atmosphere is on me. When we’re winning it’s really good. I take it on my chin.

“I think the atmosphere away from home has been ‘ledg’. I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I think it has been hard here because teams have come here and frustrated us — fans, players and supporters.

“It feels a really positive environment at the moment, but I would say it hasn’t been as loud as I would like. I say it to be honest with you because you’re honest with me. I do think we’re always better when there is a big away following and our fans have something to shout at.”

 

Chances of a singing zone in the North Stand:

Paul Douglas: “We recognise that it is difficult to recreate the noise from the old Tivoli Stand at Millmoor in a seated area. We are not sure that we could move a number of season-ticket-holders without creating an uproar to create a singing section in the stadium.

“I respect the enthusiasm from the crowd on the matter but I do think we would find there would be objections from supporters who have had season tickets in these areas for a long time.”

Are Millers players too quick to get up? Could they ‘win’ more fouls?

PW: “It’s an absolute disgrace how long some opposing players stay down at New York. I don’t want my players to lay on the floor. I want them to get up and play.”

 

Difficulties in recruiting:

RS: “Finances are a big thing, whether it is players or agents who wanting too much money. It all comes down to money really. It always has done and always will do.

“Logistics is another reason. Some of these young players have families and they don’t want to relocate.

“We want the best players but we want the best players that we can afford.”

PW: “The other issue we have is with egos. Some players make demands that we’ll play them every week. I spoke to a player who was wanted by three clubs. Two clubs guaranteed to play him every week but I just won’t promise anyone that.

“We’re good payers, not stupid payers.”

 

Eyesore Guest and Chrimes building next to New York Stadium:

PD: “I can definitely say we have made progress in the last 12 months, or I can say that Tony (Stewart) has made progress.

“Unfortunately I can’t say what progress, or how quickly anything will happen. But certainly it has moved along in a very positive way in the last 12 months.”

 

Size of New York pitch:

PW: “It was a mistake on my part not to ask for it to be bigger at the start of the season. We’re an athletic side and it would have suited our style.”

 

Under-23s side:

PW: “I’d like an under-23s side but logistically and financially it’s not viable for the club.”

 

Empty New York retail units:

PD: “The one down on the far side is now very near to completion, having been let out to a company.

“Tony has always felt that these spaces are a key part of the club’s financial plan.

“There would be a large capital needed to get these empty spaces converted into bars and we are yet to be convinced on whether we can make that viable.”

 

Prospect of an additional exit path for away fans alongside New York Way:

PD: “The heat is a bit less on in this division on that front (less away supporters in League One than the Championship).

“We have had architects draw things up for us on that issue and it is something we have looked into.”

 

Season-ticket-holders ‘losing out’ on the unplayed Bury FC game:

PD: “We have had as many people saying that they understand the situation and are happy to take the (financial) hit, as the club are doing too.

“If there is a groundswell and people feel like season-ticket-holders are being taken for granted we can look at making a gesture because we certainly don’t want them feeling like that.”



Spotted something we should know about?

Call our Newsdesk on 01709 803562
Or email newsdesk@rotherhamadvertiser.co.uk
Message us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheRotherhamAdvertiser/

The fact you are here means you are interested in what goes on in your town.

We want to continue holding local authorities to account, attending court and council meetings, as well as providing breaking news, competitions and offers – but it costs money. Online advertising does not cover costs, therefore we feel the need to ask for your help in ensuring we can provide the best possible coverage, online and in our printed products.
For as little as £1, you can support the Rotherham Advertiser – and it only takes a minute.
Click here to support local news.