IN SURVEYS that ranked league grounds around the country, Rotherham United’s Millmoor home was consistently (and probably fairly) ranked at number 92, writes ANNA WALSH.
It was situated next to the former club owner’s scrapyard, and opposite a surprisingly luxurious sports shop called Leisureways, where I once managed to hoodwink my dad into buying me a pair of Air Max. Attached to the stadium is a pub called the Tivoli, notorious for miles around, and with regular visitors from as far afield as Nottinghamshire, drawn by the £15 entry fee and then free drinks all night (but you had to hang on to your glass. The incentive made fights less dangerous).
Millmoor was the scene of my first football match, aged 12, on May 2, 1992. Until then, my career as a football fan had consisted of putting a Liverpool scarf in the front window on Cup Final days, and editing the trophy table in all the Peak Maths textbooks in class — the green ones with Steve McMahon in his Everton days on the front — crossing out the ‘11’ under ‘League Titles’ and proudly replacing it with ’18’.
A school friend’s mum had taken pity on me, and invited me on the family outing to the last Rotherham match of the season, a grudge game against local rivals Chesterfield.
I had barely heard of any of Rotherham’s players, but now that Liverpool’s dominance had given way to the Graeme Souness years, the glory hunters had melted away, off to Rotherham or Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United.
After Italia 90, the only other Liverpool fan in my class bought an Inter Milan shirt because of Jürgen Klinsmann, and started going to Millmoor on Saturdays. Being a Liverpool fan had become a lonely pastime in darkest Rotherham.
Anyway, my friend’s mum came and picked me up, and along with my friend and her little brother, drove us into town. We stopped off at the market, and I bought some substandard sweets, which I gave away to the little brother, who, bored with the match, sporadically and inaccurately aimed own-brand jelly tots at unfortunate Chesterfield players as they bombed down the left wing.
Maybe we scored and then they scored, or maybe they scored and then we did, I can’t remember. It certainly wasn’t a vintage game in front of a crowd of 8,913. It wasn’t too far removed from dog-on-the-pitch school football, but everything was so much bigger, and so much further away. The game ended one all.
My first match was also the scene of my first pitch invasion. This was the last match of the season, and the point gained meant that Rotherham had managed to gain promotion. Because of the reorganisation of the game and the creation of the Premier League, they were making the impressive jump from the Fourth Division to the second. Needless to say, they would continue to struggle.
I’d got a little paisley notebook for Christmas a couple of years previous, and had christened it with Emlyn Hughes’ autograph at a Maltby Miners welfare do a couple of years previous. There were plenty of blank pages to be filled, though.
Undeterred, I took advantage of the proximity to the players that the en masse pitch invasion had afforded me, and set about collecting new names. Billy Mercer, Shaun Goodwin, below, (If you were to draw a picture of a typical Rotherham man in the late 80s or early 90s, you’d draw him) and a young Shaun Goater very kindly obliged, and my Sweater Shop jumper was one of many that featured on that weekend’s Goals on Sunday.
The fans’ jubilation even filtered through to the ‘And Finally’ section on Look North; the back-up three men in a bath feel-good story shelved for another slow news day.
I didn’t miraculously become a regular at Millmoor after that. Boys and music and gormlessly hanging around Meadowhall shopping centre intervened, and it was a few years until my next game, but my Rotherham United experience stayed with me.
Now I just needed to find someone who’d accompany me the 70 miles over the Pennines so I could sit on the Kop. It took nine years…
Pic: PA Images