New boy Conor Washington on Rotherham United, the Championship and starting out as a postman

Conor WashingtonConor Washington
Conor Washington
IT was a good striker’s goal.

There was a clever nudge on Rarmani Edmonds-Green just as the Rotherham United defender went for the ball, neat control, a quick dart and an unerring finish into the bottom corner, maybe with the help of a slight Richard Wood deflection.

Conor Washington would deny it was a foul on ‘REG’ in the build-up to his late equaliser for Charlton Athletic in a 1-1 draw at The Valley last November. He chanced his luck and got away with it.

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That clash took place in League One and the Addicks man is now a Championship player again following his summer switch to the Millers following their promotion.

“I’m really enjoying it here,” he says. “It’s brilliant to play under the gaffer. I’d heard so much about him and the coaching staff. It’s been a very warm welcome from everyone.

“The physical stuff is just starting to die down but it’s been great to get that into my legs. I’ve felt great going into the games, which is an unusual thing to say about pre-season. Hopefully it puts me in good stead for the season coming up.

“It’s the hardest pre-season I’ve ever done. Nothing comes close really. It’s not just a physical slog, it’s meant to test you mentally as well. It’s very calculated.

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“We’ve got a very good head of performance (Brent Dickinson) who is responsible for it. His remit is to up the intensity and put that into our game and he’s managing to do that.”

The 30-year-old is about to embark on his 11th campaign as a pro after starting his working life as a postman and making his way into full-time football by scoring a sackful of goals for ninth-tier St Ives Town when he was living in Cambridgeshire.

“I liked delivering the mail,” he says. “I did it for about 11 months. I missed the Christmas rush, thank God. I was January to November.

“It fitted in with my lifestyle at the time. I was a young kid. Getting up early has never really affected me. I have to do it now with the little man anyway.

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“I was finished by one or two o’clock and then it was gym and golf and obviously some football. The average age of the postmen was rather old so I was nipping round faster than anyone else and getting done nice and early.”

‘The little man’, by the way, is Max,  son of Washington and his wife who are in the process of buying a home in Thorpe Hesley.

“He’s just turned four,” the player says. “He’s going to school this year and is getting into football. He loves kicking a ball around with me. He’ll be coming to all the games and that’s really important to me.”

Family matters to him. It’s what he spoke about when he and his new teammates took turns in opening up to the group during the bonding trip to Croatia earlier this month.

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“It was about them, about my ‘why’ really — why I play and what motivates me,” he says. “I think the speeches are a great thing to do.

“It’s something I’ve not really seen at other clubs; or I have seen it and it’s almost half-hearted. I didn’t get that feeling here. It felt very genuine.”

The centre-forward is set to see plenty of action once Rotherham kick off their campaign at home to Swansea City this Saturday as injuries have ruled out fellow attackers Tom Eaves and Josh Kayode for several weeks.

Supporters will warm to the all-out effort for which the Northern Ireland international is renowned. Washington describes himself on his Twitter profile as a ‘runner of channels’.

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“I love to play on the shoulder,” he says. “I love getting in behind defenders and stretching play. Ultimately, I love scoring goals. I want to get myself in more positions to do that.”

That strike against the Millers last season capped an impressive personal display and he caught the eye again when the Addicks headed north in April and took all three points with a 1-0 victory.

“The game at New York Stadium, I got speaking to the manager after that match, then it all happened nice and quickly at the end of the season,” says the player who signed a three-year contract within a month of the Millers being promoted.

“Rotherham were aware I wasn’t getting anything at Charlton so they set their stall out to get me really early. That was important to me. I had a good chat with the gaffer and his staff on Zoom.”

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Washington was born in Chatham, Kent, and moved to Cambridgeshire as a child. He offers a strong handshake and is well-spoken and immediately personable ... a better talker than he is a singer.

“Yeah, the initiation is out of the way,” he smiles. “I did it out in Croatia. I didn’t deviate from the plan — always Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer. It’s terrible but the enthusiasm’s there which I hope gets me some bonus points.”

The enthusiasm is also there for another assault on the second tier after a two-year spell there with QPR and a shorter, less fruitful one with Sheffield United.

“I’m relishing it,” he says. “It’s a level I feel comfortable at. I’ve played more than 100 games in the Championship so it’s not something that’s alien to me.

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“It’s something I always wanted to get back to. I don’t have anything to prove, but I do want to show everybody I can be effective at this level.

“I didn’t score as many goals as I would have liked to at QPR or United. I’m a better player now than I was back then. I’m looking forward to having another crack at it.”

The new boy shares a non-league connection with manager Paul Warne who began his own playing career in minor divisions in Norfolk with Diss Town and then Wroxham.

Warne claims his lowly start made him a hungrier, more driven professional and that resonates with Washington who has gone on from St Ives to make 354 appearances and hit the target 81 times for Newport County, Peterborough United, QPR, the Blades, Hearts and Charlton as well as winning 30-plus Ireland caps.

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“Coming from non-league gives you a sense of perspective,” he says. “I’ve always said I appreciate every minute I get on the grass. Hopefully that shows in my performances.

“The gaffer has told me that he wants me to score more goals. I do a lot of my work outside the box. Even though I’m 30 I still feel like there’s a lot more to come and he’s going to help me get to that next level.”

The subject of goals sees the conversation drift back to November and that crafty push before a whiplash shot.

Actually, he doesn’t deny the dark arts were at play.

He laughs out loud when I ask him if it was a foul and then fesses up:

“Yeah, it could well have been, to be honest.”