A pie, a penalty and pockets of perfection ... Farewell to Rotherham United winger Joe Newell

A pie, a penalty and pockets of perfection ... Farewell to Rotherham United winger Joe Newell

By Paul Davis | 16/06/2019

A pie, a penalty and pockets of perfection ... Farewell to Rotherham United winger Joe Newell
Joe Newell ... four years a Miller

THE ball went one way and the pie flew the other.

Joe Newell took the stray savoury full in the face after firing Rotherham United ahead in the League One play-off semi-final at Scunthorpe United right in front of the Millers faithful.

Fans were packed into the Glanford Park away end in May 2018 tighter than the meat in the pastry case that a supporter unwittingly let slip from his grasp during the heat of frenzied celebration.

Newell postured, hands on hips, facing the crowd, ignoring the crumbs stuck to his cheek, playing up to the pandemonium. “Super Joey Newell,” they sang in mass unison.

His sweet, left-footed strike in the 64th minute just seconds after he had entered proceedings was an upper-crust finish if ever there was one.

Super Joey Newell. Super-sub Joey Newell.

Rotherham would go on to win promotion from League One and that May 2018 day in Lincolnshire was perhaps the winger's greatest moment in his four years with the Millers which have just ended with his move to Scottish Premier League side Hibs.

He wanted a new start, tiring of being the eternal substitute, the attacker to whom manager Paul Warne would turn to change a game from the bench.

The 26-year-old had become the man of 30-minute cameos and the missing 60 bothered him.

His talent was undoubted but so was his inconsistency. When he started, he rarely cemented his place; when he came on as a sub, he often did more than enough to warrant starting. That became the recurring dilemma of the last three years of his 150-match Rotherham career.

Eventually, it got to him and, as he answered questions pitchside at Bramall Lane after the Sheffield United derby in March in his characteristic Brummie burr, there was an uncharacteristic vagueness about him.

Everything was 'maybe' and 'possibly'. He wasn't ruling out staying but, even though his contract was due to expire in the summer, he appeared in no rush to begin talks over a new deal.

Newell was a great lad and a great laugh, a latecomer to social media who quickly made his mark on Twitter.

“999, what's your emergency?” he posted last October after the Millers had been hammered at home by Swansea City but had somehow won 2-1. “Hello, I'd like to report a robbery of three gorgeous points at the New York Stadium please. Hahahaha.”

He was a popular figure and not just with teammates. Club staff really warmed to him as well, which is always a telling indicator of a player's true manner and personality.

A down-to-earth lads' lad, he'd just returned from a boys' holiday in Marbella when his move to Scotland was announced.

Journalists liked it when it was his turn for press duties, although it made the Millers' media team nervous. The attacker was never seeking to make headlines but did so anyway with his open, friendly, 'loose cannon' approach where nothing was off limits.

His sense of humour was probably the sharpest in the entire squad. “I'll take it,” he said when Richie Towell offered him 'Best-dressed Player' as the loan midfielder was answering quickfire questions for an Advertiser Q&A. “Put me down for funniest as well.”

Back to the play-offs, meanwhile, and Newell had a hunger for more than goals at Glanford Park.

“I never saw the pie until it hit me,” he grinned. “I was going to pick it up and have a big bite but I thought that might be taking things a bit far.”

Another memorable day for the forward, who cost around £100,000 when then-boss Steve Evans signed him from Peterborough United in 2015, came in front of a full house at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

“You could say it was a pressure situation!” he joked about the last-kick penalty which won the derby 2-1 against Doncaster Rovers in the 12th minute of stoppage time in February of the 2017/18 promotion push.

“I was scared! No, I was all right really. When we won the penalty, I knew it would be down to me because Bally (David Ball) was off. He would have missed anyway.”

Newell raced away and his slide was met by pitch-invading fans coming in the other direction from the North Stand. “That's how to celebrate your first ever penalty,” he said. “Straight into the arms of some 'randomer'!”

At his best, he was unplayable, blessed with the mental wile and loose-limbed guile to spot unseeable gaps and go through them with thrilling, balanced ease. He could also deliver a wicked cross and set-piece.

What he was like at defending we will never know because that kind of sweaty, dirty stuff wasn't for him.

“The League One Messi,” manager Paul Warne, perhaps only half in jest, once dubbed him. Yet even Newell will admit he didn't live up to that billing with enough regularity.

It surprised many that he chose to leave the Football League and head to Edinburgh and Hibs. Doncaster had been the name on everyone's lips and Rovers — managed by his former Peterborough teammate, Grant McCann — certainly wanted him.

McCann claims his interest cooled when he started to feel as if the player thought he would be doing Rovers “a favour” by joining them.

Old club Posh and Portsmouth, led by Kenny Jackett who was once his boss for 39 days at Rotherham, were among the other suitors.

Newell departed, in his own inimitable way, via his new favourite medium.

“So, time to say goodbye, Millers fans,” he tweeted. “It's been an unbelievable four years, but my heart just couldn't stand watching the gaffer get choked up and emotional every morning meeting for another couple of years!

“The club is in great hands from the gaffer, Hammy and Sergeant Richie to Road-runner Ross and Baldy Gambles in the medical department. It was a decision I didn't take lightly. It's just simply time for a fresh start elsewhere. Thank you for an incredible ride and I'm just gutted I didn't get Twitter earlier! Once a Miller, always a Miller.”

Just for reference, Hammy is coach Matt Hamshaw, Sergeant Richie is assistant boss Barker, Road-runner Ross is player-performance manager Burbeary and Baldy Gambles is follicly-challenged head of medical Paul.

So, like big Millers pal Jon Taylor with whom he once shared a flat on Moorgate, Newell has gone.

There's a new life north of the border, 300 miles and a five-hour-plus drive from his home in Tamworth. A fresh challenge indeed. It's McSuper Joey Newell now.

In all for Rotherham, there were 105 starts, 45 sub showings and 15 goals in three Championship seasons and one in the third tier, although he didn't hit the target at all in his final campaign.

His first term brought 38 games and five goals, including a headed winner at Leeds United, followed by 35 matches and two goals, 45 appearances and eight goals and 32 outings and a blank.

Last year there were only 18 starts in those 32 games and on only four occasions did he start and finish a match. By the end of the season, his mind was made up and the Millers' offer of a contract was refused.

Newell's time in South Yorkshire will be remembered with a mixture of fondness and frustration: what might have been, what he could have been, what he sometimes was, what at other times he wasn't.

When he was on, he was really, really on. Just like flying pies at Scunthorpe ... different gravy.

This article first appeared in the Advertiser