THE League One campaign was less than half an hour old when Paul Warne realised he had to change.
Rotherham United had taken a big contingent to the North West coast on August 5 last year and the away end at Fleetwood Town was heaving as the boss began his first full season in charge.
The tears of his caretaker reign had gone, but managing the Millers, his club, his Millers...well, it was all still a bit emotional.
There had been criticism, lots of criticism, since he'd been handed the job permanently following relegation with the team he'd inherited from Alan Stubbs and Kenny Jackett.
And it hurt. It really hurt.
“We were losing 1-0 after about 20 minutes,” recalls the man who will celebrate two years in the hot-seat later this month. “I had a Rotherham fan shout at me: 'You've had a whole summer to sort it out and you're just as rubbish as you were last season.'
“I remember that cutting me like a knife and me thinking: 'Cor, what a thing to say to someone.' It killed me.
“I'm not super-sensitive, but that hit me. After that, I just knew I couldn't please everyone all the time and just decided to do what I thought was right.
Rotherham lost that day 2-0. By the end of the season, Warne had won the crowd as well as promotion.
But it wasn't always easy.
His blackest days in the second tier had been 5-0 and 5-1 defeats at Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers respectively.
However, maybe his lowest point of all in the last 24 months came at another seaside location just down the road from Fleetwood, Blackpool.
On December 9, after seven league matches without a win, on one of the coldest afternoons of the year, his team froze in the first half against the Tangerines.
“Bristol Rovers away the week before hadn't been amazing,” the manager says. “We were done 2-1 after leading. I lost Pottsy (Darren Potter) injured and Kieffer (Moore) got himself sent off and suspended.
“One of the darkest moments was when that lad (Kelvin Mellor) scored that 30-yarder before the break at Blackpool.
“I was thinking that we needed to win that game after the Bristol defeat. Obviously, people's belief in our group was dwindling.
“I remember thinking we were doing all right in the game, not great. Then the ball fell to him. I was thinking: 'If he hits this, it's going in and that sums up our luck.'
“He might hit them like that every week but, with all due respect, I don't think he does. I'm thinking: 'What have I done to the soccer gods?'”
Jonson Clarke-Harris had been handed the start he'd been craving for weeks. With the Millers 1-0 behind, the striker was hooked at the interval after an anonymous showing while centre-half Michael Ihiekwe was also sacrificed in a change of formation.
“I remember half-time pretty well,” Warne says. “We (the management) stood in the tunnel, as we always do, and agreed what we were going to say to the players.
“We said to them that we needed changes. It didn't feel like last-chance saloon but it did feel like we needed to shake the team up.
“We brought on Fordey (Anthony Forde) and Jerry (Yates) and had to bring two off. We had to bring off a defender and Jonno. One player, and I can't say who, took it a lot worse than the other. But it just felt like it was right for the team.
“We weren't screaming in their faces or anything. It was pretty calm. I needed to be calm because there was an incident in the changing room that, if I hadn't been calm, could have gone off to mesmeric levels.
“We asked them, as we always do, to play to their best and said we'd be there afterwards to shake their hands if they did that. We told them to get the ball wide and asked the front two to work their socks off.
“I had to throw a deaf one at something going off. I had to stay focused and not go on the negative of one player being upset. Bally got us out of it really.”
'Bally' was David Ball. The forward's two goals won Rotherham the match and Warne and his men never looked back.
Clarke-Harris was gone in January, promotion was sealed in a Wembley play-off final in May.
Warne, a Millers legend from his playing days, had fretted in the early days as Championship defeat followed Championship defeat that he would lose his relationship with the crowd.
One supporter's abuse at Fleetwood could have been the voice of many.
Wembley changed that.
“Because of the promotion, I think I'm a bit more comfortable in my skin,” he reflects. “It might be that I'm the manager for the next 20 years, it might be that I'm the manager of this club for the next 20 weeks, but I'm not going to lose sleep over the fact that the team won't always win. I'm not going to berate myself. I think I used to.
“Richie (Barker) is a really good coach, as is Hammy (Matt Hamshaw), as is Polly (Mike Pollitt). Those three, to me, are crucial, and Breck (club ambassador John Breckin) is a massive help to me as well.
“I know we prepare the team the right way, we put the team out the right way and we do everything for the right reason. If the team doesn't win, it doesn't mean we haven't worked our nuts off. We've worked as we did the week before when we did win.
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“I've become more comfortable with the fact that I'm not defined by whether the team win or lose. Before, I definitely was.
“This next bit isn't a negative thing ... I don't think being a football manager defines me in any way. I'm still fundamentally who I am, my own person, who happens to have 'football manager' as his job.
“A lot of people metamorphose into being a football manager and when they're not they're lost. I don't think that will ever happen to me.
“If I go on to be a great football manager for 20 years, that's great. If I go on to be a financial advisor or teacher, that's great too. I'm a lot more level-headed now.
“I can take defeat a little bit better than I could before and, realistically, I have to be able to accept some defeats this season.”
Famously, Warne would chew on his mouth during the night and eat nothing during the day after stepping up from fitness coach into the hot-seat.
“I look after myself better now,” he says. “I still train every day whereas I went through a phase of not having the energy to train.
“My missus still has a go at me that I don't eat enough, but I try to eat and not drink as much caffeine. I went through a phase - like most managers do - of being an adrenaline-rushed coffee addict.
“I can delegate now. When I first became manager, I felt I had to be everything to every person. I still have loads on, obviously, but I don't feel that everything has to have my signature on it.”
Yet one thing still grates. There's one flat black, no sugar, that he'd still like to have. League One, Fleetwood, August 5 2017, 1-0 down.
“I'd love to know who that fan was,” he says. “I'd invite him in for a coffee and ask: 'Why would you shout something like that?' What an horrendous thing to say.”
This feature appeared in last Friday's Rotherham Advertiser
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