Tony Stewart: How the Rotherham United chairman is coping with the lockdown

Tony Stewart: How the Rotherham United chairman is coping with the lockdown

By Paul Davis | 18/05/2020

Tony Stewart: How the Rotherham United chairman is coping with the lockdown
Tony Stewart

 

IN a flash of brilliant red, a luxury 4x4 cruised past me on Corporation Street.

Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart was making his way to work.

Part of his ASD Lighting business on Barbot Hall Industrial Estate has remained open during the coronavirus lockdown and is delivering crucial services to workers on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Stewart is paying regular visits to his office. The rest of the time he’s doing what we all are: pining for the Millers and filling his days as best he can.

“I miss football,” he says. “Weekends are totally different. I’m like any fan: I spend all week looking forward to the Saturday game.

“Weekends now just seem like Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Every day seems the same when you’re semi-isolated.

“I guess most people’s homes will be like show houses now and their cars will be gleaming and glistening. There’s no doubt that the B&Qs of this world will have been busy.

“Probably the only things you can really do are the garden, home improvements and housework. Like many others, that’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself busy. The house is spotless.”

Spotting his car reminds me to ring him the next day. Rotherham’s owner has put his dusters to one side and is speaking to me from his home in leafy Moorgate.

He sounds cheerful and I can almost picture the golf shirt and twinkling, tanned face and hear the birds singing in his immaculate garden.

It’s very early in May as we chat and the EFL have yet to make their announcement — which came this week — that no more matches will be played in Leagues One and Two this season.

The chairman has been taking his mind off football’s troubles by focusing on his business. Most ASD workers are furloughed — as are the majority of Millers staff — but key teams have been established to support the NHS.

“I don’t think I’ve missed a day,” he says. “I’ll be there this afternoon.”

ASD are doing work for Plymouth Hospital, West Suffolk Hospital, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS trust and several smaller hospitals where their expertise is required on Covid-19 wards and in staff-accommodation areas.

They’re also helping the rail industry’s efforts to transport key workers, turning round some orders within 48 hours when health concerns demand an urgent response, and continuing some of their core operation in local-authority street-lighting.

“There is a need and a desire for manufacturing,” Stewart says. “Hopefully when we reach whatever the new normal is we can have people coming back to work, not just on the ASD front but on the football front.

“It’s not normal times. It can be novel at first but being at home so much can get a bit boring. You need a bit of excitement and drive in your life.”

AESSEAL New York Stadium is being used, at the Army’s request, for Covid-19 testing and the man who built the Millers’ home isn’t completely without his football fix.

“I have regular meetings with (manager) Paul Warne,” he says. “He’ll come and see me three times a week to give me updates on the football side of the business.

“The players are keeping fit during isolation and doing their training. That’s been policed by Paul and his staff. They’re making sure that when the whistle finally goes for the big kick-off again — whenever that may be — the players are ready to go.”

As well as being a dab hand with the Cif and Cillit Bang, he’s also been busying himself with maintenance jobs in the grounds of his property.

Stewart’s garden is kept as well as any hole on his home course and he can’t wait to be walking the fairways at Rotherham Golf Club in Thrybergh again.

“I’m missing playing golf,” he says. “I’ve always kept myself fit. Because of all the housework, I don’t think I’ve lost a lot of fitness. But when you’re at home a lot you tend to eat more.

“I used to play three or four times a week and I liked to get out early in the morning. I miss playing and meeting people.”

Stewart is good at meeting people, at organising, planning, bringing a community together.

His value to the town has never been better highlighted than by the stability of his club at a time when the financial damage of coronavirus is threatening the existence of so many others.

He’s a wealthy, successful man who has never lost sight of the working-class values that saw him climb the ladder in the first place.

So impressed was I by how his new car shone in the spring sun that I ask him which company he’d chosen to valet it.

It turns out he’d cleaned it on his own drive himself. With a couple of sponges he’d queued for, two metres apart, at Halfords.



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