The alternative view from the press box ... my personal recollections of Rotherham United's Championship season

The alternative view from the press box ... my personal recollections of Rotherham United's Championship season

By Paul Davis | 13/05/2019

The alternative view from the press box ... my personal recollections of Rotherham United's Championship season
Rather chuffed to be back on the Millers beat

Personal highlight: Bolton Wanderers at home on October 20. I didn't even have to look up the date before writing that. This was me back on the Millers beat: a Rotherham boy covering Rotherham for the Rotherham paper. That's even more Rotherham than manager Paul Warne. I was proud. And I know my dad who'd died a few months earlier was watching from somewhere and feeling even prouder.

Journalistic achievement of the season: Spelling 'Ihiekwe' correctly every time I typed it following centre-half Michael's return from a loan spell at Accrington Stanley. To be honest, it didn't even test me. I'm a veteran of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe from the Steve Evans years.

Paul Warne quote 1: When he had to miss the Ryder Cup on TV because it was wife Rachel's birthday ... 'Listen, I love a day out in York and I love my missus. But, obviously, I don't love either of them as much as I do the Ryder Cup.'

What I'll miss most about the Championship: The quality of the WiFi and the press catering at most of the major clubs. There were feasts to be had at places like Stoke City (stew that never seemed to run out), Nottingham Forest (an extravaganza of hot and cold loveliness), West Bromwich Albion (lasagne fit for the Premier League) and Aston Villa (like a self-service restaurant, only better).

What I'm most looking forward to about League One: The Millers being a big deal again. Take 1,500 fans to Derby County and you're just a red-and-white sliver in a corner of the stadium. Take 1,500 to Fleetwood Town and you own the ground.

Constant companion: Jon Taylor. He sat in on virtually every interview I conducted at the Millers' Roundwood training complex, only never for very long. The winger has the attention span of a goldfish and was always gone within 30 seconds.

Heartwarming moment 1: Millers and Ipswich Town supporters chanting the length of the AESSEAL New York Stadium pitch to each other 'From me, to you' following the death of Chuckle Brother Barry. It was made even more poignant by Paul Chuckle being among the crowd and being so obviously overcome by the tribute.

Heartwarming moment 2: A similar exchange at Leeds United, only this time it was even better and sounded much louder because the rival sets of fans were so close to each other. Leeds and Rotherham supporters baited each other for a while as usual and then came together in Chuckle unity before applauding each other's efforts. Within minutes, they were back taunting each other again. Fans ... the heart and soul of the game.

Most surreal moment: Will Vaulks and Richie Towell, neither of them the quickest of Millers, breaking 80 yards in seeming slow motion during the AESSEAL New York Stadium derby against Sheffield Wednesday while play appeared to go around them in real time without an Owls player getting anywhere near them.

Fittest animal with a Rotherham connection: Vaulks' pet cockapoo. The midfielder hurls a ball for his dog to fetch on their daily walks. God knows what the poor pooch makes of things if it goes as far as it does when his owner sends a long throw into the opposition penalty area. I'm reliably informed Benji Vaulks is ranked a close second in the British canine marathon rankings.

Paul Warne quote 2: On his love of scones ... 'To be honest, if you put jam and cream on a piece of dog-dirt it's going to taste all right, innit?'

My Championship Team of the Year: This is based solely on performances against the Millers and comes in a 4-4-2 formation. GK: Jack Butland (Stoke City); RB: Max Aarons (Norwich City), CB: Kyle Bartley (West Bromwich Albion), CB: Jack O'Connell (Sheffield United), LB: Jamal Lewis (Norwich); RW: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), CM: John McGinn (Villa), CM: Emi Buendia (Norwich), LW: Daniel James (Swansea City); CF: Neal Maupay (Brentford), CF: Oli McBurnie (Swansea).

Most fouled player in the Championship: Official statistics say it was Grealish with 149. It was actually Rotherham striker Michael Smith on 2,865, only a lot of them weren't given.

Most familiar sight 1: Semi Ajayi, the only Rotherham player to start every match.

Most games ... Semi Ajayi

Most familiar sight 2: Assistant manager Richie Barker's shorts.

Dexter Blackstock moment: Injured centre-half Clark Robertson, sent up front for his own protection in the dying minutes at Bramall Lane in March when Rotherham had used all their substitutes and he went down with the hamstring trouble. Never ran, didn't score, just stood there.

Most familiar sight 3: Warne's black coat. Too expensive, in his eyes, to ditch after the League One promotion season even though he bought it in a sale. He tells me it will be back next term as well, I’m afraid.

Most familiar sight 4: 30-second Tayls sat next to me.

High point 1: 321 Millers fans throwing a Wednesday-night party in the Queens Park Rangers away end as a last-minute Ajayi header brought their team a first Championship win on the road in 1,068 days.

High point 2: Suspended Vaulks flinging himself across the Loftus Road press box in a hail of ecstatic swearwords as the winner went in while he was supposed to be on radio-commentary duties. Thankfully, the mic didn't pick it up!

Low point: Wednesday's New York equaliser in the tenth minute of eight initially added on. At least my Owls-supporting brother-in-law had left early and missed it.

Abiding memory: Just how much the Millers gave in every match. Only once did I feel they let themselves down, in their demolition at Derby County when they were hit by injuries, illness, suspensions and, well, Derby. In every other game ... I'm on a Chuckle Brothers roll now  ... there was no slacking.

Classiest touch 1: The half-time cheeseboard in the Pride Park media suite.

Classiest touch 2: The way Smith killed a ball from the clouds close to the touchline against Manchester City. Why is he always close to the touchline? It even earned him applause from the home crowd at the Etihad Stadium.

Favourite figure: 6,600 — roughly the number of Rotherham fans who travelled to the Etihad for the FA Cup clash against Premier League champions Manchester City.

Paul Warne quote 3: On holding on to his cash ... 'I've got a caravan in Norfolk. Have I bought one? No, I've rented it for three days. Buy a caravan? Fricking hell, how big time do you think I am?'

Injustice of the season 1: Former Rotherham target Christian Doidge scoring a late equaliser for Bolton Wanderers at New York. The Millers had tried to sign the striker but the Trotters had offered more money. Only they never paid for him. Was he ever truly their player? Why hasn't the EFL taken any action? He eventually returned to Forest Green and that 84th-minute strike helped to send Rotherham down.

Injustice of the season 2: Any Millers game refereed by Oliver Langford. As Paul or Barry might say, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Best individual display 1: Smith at home to Nottingham Forest in April. He scored, destroyed all four of their visitors' backline at various stages and received the Advertiser's only 10/10 mark of the season for his trouble.

10/10 ... Michael Smith

Best individual display 2: Taylor v Sheffield United's Kieron Freeman at New York in November. Freeman was run ragged and was never a regular Blades starter again.

Best individual display 3: Matt Crooks' being utterly unplayable when he came on in the second half at Stoke. Scored as the Millers fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and could easily have had a hat-trick. After a less-than-healthy hotel breakfast, he made the Potters' defenders look like black puddings.

What I'll miss this summer: My Thursday 9am chats with Warne.

What Warne won't miss this summer: His Thursday 9am chats with me.

Funniest player: Joe Newell. Even funnier away from Twitter than he is on it.

Funniest without meaning to be: Joe Mattock and Taylor.

The player I'd let date my sister: Vaulks, Robertson or Zak Vyner, although not at the same time, obviously. Top, solid, decent lads. My sister would probably want to go out with Newell, who is also a top lad but neither solid or decent.

Player I never really got to know: Sean Raggett. The loan centre-half looked like he'd just come out of a horror film and his eyes suggested he wanted to go straight back there, so I never dared speak to him.

Moving moment 1: Norwich fan Warne stood alone, lost in thought, on the pitch after the Canaries match at Carrow Road, the ground where his dad, now too sick to attend football, took him to his first games as a boy.

Moving moment 2: All four sides of Bramall Lane applauding in memory of Joan Stewart after the sad passing of the wife of Rotherham chairman Tony.

Best Millers piece of year: I put together hundreds upon hundreds of articles but none were a match for Vaulks' Remembrance Day column. For the minute's silence, the Rotherham United lads link arms and I picture it's all of us going to war. Like the old Pals Brigades, mates all joining up together. In my head, it's me and my teammates doing that.

Best line I wrote: The man with the strange apostrophe in his name took advantage of the Millers' failure to clear Charlie Mulgrew's free-kick: Amari'i Bell, back post, volley, goa'l.

Paul Warne quote 4: On his left-back, Mattock ... 'He has got real football intelligence, which is very fortunate for him because he hasn't got intelligence of any other kind whatsoever.'

Signing out: Okay, I'm done. It's been some season. I have a few weeks off now so I'll leave the Millers in your hands for a while. From me, to you.

This article first appeared in the Advertiser