Farewell to Rotherham United's Ben Wiles. He knew it, the players knew it, some fans didn't know it enough ... he was bloody good

He went from boy to man with the Millers.
Ben Wiles wins the Bramall Lane derby for Rotherham United against Sheffield UnitedBen Wiles wins the Bramall Lane derby for Rotherham United against Sheffield United
Ben Wiles wins the Bramall Lane derby for Rotherham United against Sheffield United

BRAMALL Lane had been bursting at the seams only half an hour earlier but now it stood silent and empty.

Sitting in the South Stand to the right of the away end where Rotherham United fans had packed together to witness an autumn night of history were just the derby hero and I.

The lights were going out at the stadium as we chatted but were coming back on in Ben Wiles' career.

The midfielder had hit the target in last season's sold-out contest to give the Millers a 1-0 win and their first victory on Sheffield United soil in 42 years.

His unrest over a summer move to Burnley failing to happen was easing, his stuttering form was fading and we were seeing the real Wilesy again. Nobody knew then it would turn out to be his final Rotherham goal.

The Rawmarsh-raised 24-year-old last week joined rival Championship side Huddersfield Town, ending his long association with the club he'd joined when he was eight.

There were 15 years, 193 senior appearances, 17 goals and an untold number of special contributions from a player his old manager, Paul Warne, describes as one of the very best midfielders in the second tier.

“I’m confident in my ability,” said the player as his name began to adorn the team sheet with increasing regularity. “I’ve got a drive, I want to succeed. I like people liking me as a player, I like people talking about me.”

And talked about he was. Remember the ‘Gazza’ goal in the home romp over Bolton Wanderers, the match-settling double at the University of Bolton Stadium, the stunner that did for Ipswich Town in East Anglia and the perfect strike against Sutton United that lit up Wembley?

He won two League One promotions, Papa Johns Trophy silverware, played his part last term in the second-tier survival push and captained his home-town team.

His rise was rapid and so was his pace. Wiles was fast; one of the fastest men at the club. One year in testing Semi Ajayi was the only player with a sharper top speed, in another season only Chiedozie Ogbene beat him. 

Also, he was mobile and thrillingly direct, with twinkling feet that could take him on 50-yard dances through defences. To go with the goals was the same figure in assists.

Yet maybe he suffered a little for being a local lad rather than a marquee signing. A minority of fans, sometimes, were quicker to criticise and slower to laud the contribution of one of their own.

Just four games after Rotherham had planted their flag at the Lane came the awful sight of the player being stretchered off at New York on Boxing Day with an ankle injury that cost him virtually the rest of the campaign.

He was fit by the beginning of this season and started the first three games yet the Burnley affair had stirred something in him and a move in this transfer window was always a possibility. He hadn't been quite the same performer under new boss Matt Taylor that he had been for Warne and one sensed his mind and heart had wandered away from New York.

It was the right time for a parting of the ways. Wiles had served his time, the fee was appropriately substantial. Club and player had done well for each other.

I knew of him before I'd ever set eyes on him. The word was, someone exceptional was coming through the youth ranks where Matt Hamshaw, who went on to become his first-team coach, was a fatherly figure who knew when to be hard and when to go soft.

Wiles wasn't arrogant, just assured; not conceited, just very comfortable in how good he was. He knew his own mind and had some inner steel about him - appropriate for someone with a famous Blade, Eddie Colquhoun, for a grandad.

He had his poor games, and a criticism that could be justifiably levelled was that he was still prone to making the mistakes he did as a teenager by trying too much in the wrong areas. Yet his teammates knew they were in the presence of someone with the capacity to be superior. Whether they’d come from League Two and were on the way up or from the Premier League and were on the way down, they all said the same thing: young Ben was the most naturally-gifted player at the club.

Also in his armoury was the desire to improve, to be the best he could be. “I always ask myself if I’m good enough,” he said. “Especially when I make a mistake.”

No-one had to tell him when he had and he could be a bit feisty if they did. “Yeah, I get the ‘monk’ on,” he smiled.

His best year came in the 2021/22 promotion season when his 53 outings brought ten goals. He was simply too energetic, too clever, too thrusting for the third tier and it was a travesty he didn't make the PFA Team of the Year. There was no better midfielder of his type throughout that campaign.

He loved his coffee, loved talking cars, loved a laugh, was a popular, respected figure in the dressing room and took to interviews as easily as he did football.

He'd sought advice from his great pal, Richard Wood, before jumping into media duties and handled himself in much the same manner as the former Millers skipper by sharing the person, not just the player. It wasn't all about corners and free-kicks with Wilesy and the press pack liked him as much as his teammates did.

His upbringing was in a good, close family and you could tell. Wickersley is his home now but for a long time it was with mum Fiona, a health visitor, dad Ian, a steelworks mechanic, older brothers Alex and Aaron and younger twin sisters Molly and Maisie.

“Just write ‘boring Ben Wiles’,” he used to say when we talked about his lack of drinking, his devotion to his craft and his love of staying in for an evening of online gaming with the mates he'd had since school.

Joe Newell knew.  Five years ago, the old Millers winger was suddenly raising his voice as he watched a certain prospect crash home a long-range 'worldie' for the reserves. “Wilesy, you beauty,” he shouted. “I'm telling yer, that lad is going to be a legend here.”

The League One season, Wembley, the countless games affected by class and conviction. More than anything, the Lane …

Newell might not have been totally right. But he wasn't far off.