Not even the Cambridge cupcakes were as sweet as that last day at Gillingham ... The Advertiser's Paul Davis takes a behind-the-scenes look at Rotherham United's promotion season
Moment of the season:
Angus MacDonald stepping on to a pitch again, as substitute at AFC Wimbledon in February, after a nine-month health-related absence. Some things are more important than football.
Memorable quote 1:
“Richie Barker says I can have his signed Alan Shearer shirt if I score 25 times.” Newcastle United fan Michael Smith was talking to the only reporter there (yes, me) after his two-goal show in a pre-season friendly at Harrogate Town and so began a side-story that would crop up regularly during the campaign.
Cambridge United. A lovely, sweet lady brought home-made cupcakes that were as lovely and sweet as she was to the press box. Apparently it was a service she provided at every U’s home match. She talked and talked and talked but we all loved her.
Player I’d be happy for my sister to date:
Ollie Rathbone. He’s just a really decent, funny, open lad.
Player my sister would like to date:
Chiedozie Ogbene. Yeah, I’d be okay with that as well.
“F*ck off Paul, every week at fans you boring f*cker. If it was a coin, he’d have reacted. He couldn’t take the heat the waster Stop with your narrative ya drongo. No chance it was a coin. BORE OFF”
I wasn’t having the best of nights on Twitter. Rotherham United had won at Crewe Alexandra but something had been thrown from the away section at an assistant referee. A coin, said the officials. Chewing gum, said some supporters, quite a few of whom didn’t appreciate my coverage of Gresty Road goings-on.
Spelling Jordi Osei-Tutu correctly all the time. Easy-peasy, to be honest. Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Michael Ihiekwe. Chiedozie Ogbene ... it wasn’t my first rodeo.
Twice calling Shane Ferguson ‘Shane Cooper’ in articles. I don’t even know a Shane Cooper.
Best media food:
Take away the awful football and the second-most-biased Twitter feed in League One and Wycombe Wanderers are a good little club. Bolognese baked gnocchi at Adams Park was a class above most offerings, beaten only by the sausage, mash and never-ending gravy at Sunderland.
Most-biased Twitter feed:
Most sensible decision:
Oxford United’s Mark Sykes backing out of a 50:50 tackle with Richard Wood at New York. The Millers captain wasn’t so much licking his lips as salivating at the prospect of how hard he was about to hit that challenge.
Rarest sight 1:
A Jamie Lindsay smile when the midfielder was injured.
Best line I wrote:
Storm Eunice had taken hold of the country when Wigan Athletic arrived at New York and the division’s top two teams fought out a 1-1 draw. I described Ollie Rathbone’s equaliser like this:
The Rotherham midfielder took long-distance aim and Ben Amos flew in vain across his goal trying to keep out a perfectly-struck 25-yarder. The Latics goalkeeper should have listened to the Met Office: ‘Don’t bother with needless journeys.’
Memorable quote 2:
“To be honest, he’s like that in every game.” Rochdale media manager Leighanne Ball was responding to my comment, “That Ollie Rathbone was rather decent”, as we packed away our laptops after a 2-2 draw in a pre-season friendly at Spotland. Three weeks later, Rathbone was a Rotherham player.
Ollie Rathbone ... always plays well
The steward at Gillingham who wouldn’t reopen the door he’d closed less than a second earlier to let me out of Priestfield Stadium when I was racing for a train. Ninety minutes and two missed connections later, I still hated him and his yellow jacket.
Most crushing lie:
“The pies and mushy peas will be coming round later.” Someone at Morecambe was delivering good news in the press boss then failing to deliver said savoury delights.
Wycombe Wanderers running out at New York. You knew what shithousery was coming and it duly did. The ball was in play for less than 40 minutes in a 0-0 draw.
Me tipping Rotherham to finish tenth when the League One journalists got together for a communal piece before the season began. In my defence, the recruitment that yielded Ollie Rathbone, Shane Ferguson, Will Grigg and Rarmani Edmonds-Green had yet to kick in. The chairman had a quiet word that wasn’t that quiet the next time he saw me.
Best Millers display:
Assistant manager Richie Barker reckons the 3-0 triumph at MK Dons in October when the Dons were harassed out of the match and had no answer to Rotherham’s free-flowing football. It was an example of a game-plan working to perfection. The 5-1 New York demolition of Sunderland a week later was even better in my eyes.
Most memorable quote 3:
“I do get the ‘monk’ on a bit if any of the staff criticise me.” Good old Yorkshire lad Ben Wiles.
Opposition managers who handled themselves well:
Lee Johnson has his critics but he didn’t hide from the beating his Sunderland side had taken at the hands of the Millers. He acknowledged his own side’s failings and Rotherham’s strengths in a fair and brutal way a few minutes after the final whistle when he was still feeling very raw.
Rookie Gary McSheffrey managed his disappointment well and spoke eloquently as he addressed his mistakes following Doncaster Rovers’ 6-0 derby demolition at the Eco Power Stadium. “I tried to match us up against a better team,” he said. “I shouldn’t have.” He also accepted tough questions without bristling.
One who didn’t:
Bolton Wanderers’ Ian Evatt looked to pick a fight with everyone and anything during and after the Millers’ 2-0 win at the UniBol Stadium. At one point he accused Rotherham of hiding the ball in their dugout. He’d also written the visitors’ team talk by declaring beforehand that his side were the best in the division.
From the press box at Crewe Alexandra you can see the famous space observatory, Jodrell Bank, and the country’s best chip shop at the same time.
Unsocial media 2:
“You’re the worst journo I’ve ever seen. F*ck off literally nobody likes you and your f*cking big nose”
‘Coingate’ was rumbling away on Twitter. Because the necessary punctuation was missing, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to f*ck off literally or whether literally nobody liked me. Probably both.
Football moment of the season:
If I just say the word, ‘Georgie’, we’re all in the same place at the same time, aren’t we? Gillingham, the last day, almost the last minute. That goal. Those fans. That celebration. Those scenes. “We are going up, say we are going up.”
The media notice which players step out of the cover of the dressing room after a defeat and answer questions. Anyone can do it following a win, much harder in the heat of disappointment. Respect to Richard Wood, Michael Ihiekwe and Jamie Lindsay and particularly to Chiedozie Ogbene who did it more than anybody.
Best gesture 1:
Two-hundred Millers fans clubbing together to buy Michael Smith a signed Alan Shearer shirt when assistant boss Richie Barker refused to count Papa John’s trophy goals and the striker fell just short of the 25 target. They raised so much money that more than £2,000 was left over for Rotherham Hospice.
Best gesture 2:
Manager Paul Warne sticking 50 quid into the pot.
Rarest sight 2:
Freddie Ladapo at any match as the Millers closed in on promotion.
League One Select 11 (based on performances just against Rotherham):
4-4-2: Toby Savin (Accrington Stanley); Hayden Carter (Portsmouth), Ross Sykes (Accrington), Curtis Tilt (Wigan Athletic), Joe Jacobson (Wycombe Wanderers); Callum Lang (Wigan Athletic), Wes Hoolahan (Cambridge United), Sean Clare (Charlton Athletic), James Brophy (Cambridge); Callum Morton (Fleetwood Town), George Hirst (Portsmouth).
Things I won’t miss about League One:
All the stanchions at Portman Road. All the roundabouts on the way to MK Dons. Papa John’s Trophy group games.
Things I will miss:
Best individual display against the Millers:
Wes Hoolahan for Cambridge United at New York. I don’t remember one misplaced pass, a single fluffed cross, any heavy touch. A standing ovation from all four sides of the stadium when his long hair and short 39-year-old legs left the pitch in the 83rd minute said it all.
Most memorable quote 4:
“I just said to myself: ‘You’ve been through worse than this.’” Angus MacDonald reveals how he handled the pressure as he stepped up to take a penalty in the Papa John’s Trophy semi-final shoot-out at Hartlepool United. He scored.
Worst Millers display:
Portsmouth away. The visitors were never in it as the man who had done nothing in a Rotherham shirt the season before, George Hirst, led them a merry dance and scored the third goal in a 3-0 defeat.
Best individual display by a Miller:
Ben Wiles in the second-half rout of Sunderland. 10/10.
Ben Wiles ... The Black Cats couldn't handle him
Best gesture 3:
Chairman Tony Stewart footing the bill for the players to let off steam in Las Vegas after their promotion and Papa John’s Trophy double and paying for Paul Warne and his staff to go golfing in Portugal.
League One Select 11 (based on the overall season, excluding Rotherham players):
3-4-1-2: Michael Cooper (Plymouth Argyle); Jake Whatmough (Wigan Athletic), Ross Sykes (Accrington Stanley), Harry Darling (MK Dons); Callum Lang (Wigan), Cameron Brannagan (Oxford United), Barry Bannan (Sheffield Wednesday), James McClean (Wigan); Scott Twine (MK Dons); Cole Stockton (Morecambe), Ross Stewart (Sunderland).
Worst individual display by a Miller:
Freddie Ladapo at home to Charlton Athletic, Freddie Ladapo at Portsmouth in his next game, Freddie Ladapo at Burton Albion in the game after that. Wantaway Freddie had pretty much downed tools in April and wouldn’t be selected again.
The away end at Gillingham when Machine Gun Kelly scored.
Best team display against the Millers:
Shrewsbury Town at New York. The Shrews did a job on the home side when it was 11 v 11 and already led 1-0 when Angus MacDonald was sent off. Two more Town goals followed.
Best gesture 4:
Millers management and players chipping in to pay for Roundwood cook Carol and her husband to go to Tenerife.
Most memorable quote 5:
“The thing is, I’m not as scared of my missus as Woody is his.” Michael Smith vows that his Alan Shearer jersey will be going on show at his home after I mention to him that the skipper’s partner doesn’t allow such displays of football memorabilia at Wood Towers.
Toughest moment 1:
Seeing Paul Warne being nothing like the Paul Warne we all know in his interview after that defeat at Portsmouth during the late-season wobble that was threatening to derail the promotion push.
Toughest moment 2:
Starting my supposedly considered and reflective 1,200-word analysis of that match for the following day’s Advertiser at 1.30am in a hotel room in Portsmouth with three pints of Stella sloshing inside me after a quick nightcap in the bar with the Millers media team had turned into something a little more.
Finishing the sodding thing around 4.30am. Hic.
Most memorable quote 6:
“It’s not a bad start, like.” Georgie Kelly underplays the most memorable debut in Rotherham history.
What a great end to a great season. It was gratifying to see good people who’d worked hard get what they deserved. It was a year that will be remembered for togetherness, for teamwork, for achievement, for Gillingham, not for abuse on Twitter. Anyway, that’s it. I’ve had enough of talking to you lot for this week. Bore off, ya drongos.