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  • Writer's pictureThe Rail Holiday Maker

No Red Carpet at Rotherham


Millmoor, March 2024

Having recently revisted what is now a ghost ground, this is my love letter to Millmoor, spiritual home of Rotherham United. Outside of my home and school, this honest, traditional football ground, surrounded by a typically South Yorkshire industrial landscape, was the place I spent most time between the late-1970s and early 2000s. I’ll begin with someone else’s words though, which still rankle today, printed word-for-word as they appeared in the Independent newspaper letters page in the early 1990s.


‘Sir: Last Saturday, my brother and I, two middle-aged professional men, travelled to Rotherham to support Newcastle United in the FA Cup. On arrival at the ground we took our places at the end of the Tivoli stand allocated to Newcastle supporters. The Tivoli stand, like the rest of the crowd accommodation at Millmoor, is primitive and dilapidated; a dark shed with terracing running down to the touchline. Three-quarters of the stand was allocated to Rotherham supporters and they were separated from the away fans by a line of police officers.

As the time for the kick-off approached, both sets of supporters became more aggressive in the chants that they hurled at each other. Despite the fact that much of the behaviour was provocative and threatening and conducted in the face of the police, no attempts were made by them to remove any of the offenders.

As 3 o'clock drew nearer, there was a strong likelihood that matters would get out of hand. We moved into the corner of the stand furthest removed from the Rotherham supporters. I was not aware of the exact moment when the Rotherham supporters lunged through the police line. Instead, a sudden roar was followed by a crush of bodies that flung me forward and up against the barrier separating the terraces from the pitch.

I found myself staring into the face of a steward who was screaming at people not to push. However, we faced the prospect of being overrun by several hundred supporters apparently bent upon inflicting harm upon anyone in their way. The press of bodies behind me increased and I was unable to breathe or move my arms.

Just as panic was about to take hold, the pressure eased slightly and I managed to throw myself sideways and grasp the railings to my right. A police officer then helped me over and on to the safety of the track. We were escorted to the other side of the ground to the stand allocated to the bulk of the Newcastle fans. As we walked past the main stand I looked in amazement at a man in his seventies as he screamed invective and waved his fist at me. What had we done to deserve this?

Once in the safety of the other stand we watched an engrossing Cup tie in relative safety. At half- time, we went in search of refreshments and toilet facilities. We found ourselves with mud oozing over the tops of our shoes as we fought to negotiate an unpaved open space towards a refreshment stall where we were expected to queue for the privilege of buying a plastic cup of Oxo served across a filthy counter which was graced by the presence of a cracked bowl containing sugar stained many shades of brown by the slops and spills of those who had gone before us.

Turning away with our appetites strangely reduced, we were confronted by a row of supporters urinating up against the concrete rear wall of the stand as young children, girls and women battled past towards the toilets. However, those relieving themselves were quickly dispersed by the flood of urine that cascaded from above as those inside the stand disposed of their pre-match pints against the corrugated iron which formed the upper wall of the back of the stand.

My brother and I left before the end, not wishing to risk being caught up in any after-match confrontations between rival fans. We will not return to Millmoor nor will we visit any other football ground where we are unable to obtain seats.

I am once again cynical about the reasons many of my fellow fans follow their clubs. Saturday at Millmoor was, for me, reminiscent of the worst experiences at football grounds in the Seventies. The adage that if you treat people like animals then they will behave like animals seemed to be borne out by my experiences in South Yorkshire.

The Taylor report does not go far enough for me. Millmoor and grounds like it should be closed forthwith before another, albeit smaller-scale, Heysel or Hillsborough occurs.

Yours sincerely,

John P

Riding Mill

Northumberland’


This was the exact moment when I realised that the game I love was a goner, sold to the middle classes. It was January 1993.


Millmoor's Tivoli End, August 1991

You see, I was there at Millmoor that day, as I was for most home games between 1978 and the late 1990s barring a couple of stints overseas, following from afar thanks to my mam sending weekly match reports from the Green ‘Un or Rotherham Advertiser. Having been to the game, I picked up the Independent newspaper the following week, read the above entitled rant and realised that the game I loved, the game as I knew it, was being taken away from the people and turned into a commodity. Sure, we had been treated like animals since the 1970s - literally penned in. There had been attempts to make us carry identity cards. And yes, we were gradually being forced to sit down and clap politely with the likes of new fan John P of Riding Mill, Northumberland and his equally middle-aged, middle-class, professional and professionally entitled mass of new football consumers. But this was the moment when I realised it now belonged to them, not us. The beginning of the end for the proletarian game.


I felt angry. Angry for my club. Angry for the ground I loved, where I had spent huge parts of my life since childhood. Angry that entitled ‘middle-aged professionals’ could insult a hard-working struggling football club in a town also struggling to cope with the death of its industries, the subsequent loss of jobs that would have supported generations of Rotherham fans.


I felt angry because I was there and John P of Riding Mill, Northumberland’s version of events either betrayed a lack of understanding of football culture or deliberately bent the truth in order to conquer the moral high ground. Maybe you knew all along that you were in the wrong, John, or maybe you just didn’t care. Maybe you believed you were entitled to sit or stand in any part of any football ground without any concern for safety.


To give some context, this was an FA Cup tie, probably 3rd round, pitting the Millers against runaway Division 1 leaders Newcastle United. Kevin Keegan was in charge of the Magpies, they were buoyant and no doubt attracting new football fans from places like Riding Mill, Northumberland. For such a big game for Rotherham, why on earth would part of the Tivoli, our kop, be allocated to away fans? Or had they managed to get hold of our tickets?


Millmoor Lane, directing the visiting fans to the Railway End (hint hint, John!)

I entered the ground about 15 minutes before kick-off, as usual. It was busy, with fans coming out of the woodwork for the big game and, for sure, some coming especially for the whiff of a bit of trouble. There was a line of ticker tape cordoning off part of the terrace and a row of police officers. Unusual, I thought, but took up my usual spot with my mates in the middle of the Tivoli – our kop - behind the goal. When the teams came out, it became clear from the chants and taunts that there were Newcastle fans in our stand behind the flimsy tape and the equally flimsy line of cops. There was a surge towards the imposters and the away fans thankfully ran onto the pitch to safety. Clearly, Newcastle fans (for whatever reason) had obtained tickets for our end. I do agree with John P on one matter, that there should have been ejections – anyone causing a safety problem having purchased a ticket for the wrong end of the ground, including middle-aged professionals from Riding chuffing Mill, Northumberland, should have been led out of the ground at that point.


As it happens poor John and his brother-in-law, or whatever his companion was, as frankly I’m bored of re-reading his victim prose, were led to the already full away end, where they witnessed lower-division catering rather than prawn sandwiches and paddled in rivers of Geordie urine. Yes, not Rotherham excrement; liquids randomly dispersed from Newcastle organs. Let’s face it, you can’t blame Rotherham United for away fans pissing everywhere. As the Half-Man Half-Biscuit song states, that would be like the blaming the council for dogs shitting on the pavements. Actually, John P probably complains about that too. But John, it’s not the council that’s shitting on the pavements, it’s the…….oh, never mind, I can’t be arsed.


I’m glad Millmoor wasn’t ‘closed forthwith’. It has long since closed, but I’m glad I had a bit longer there. You see, John, Millmoor and I go back a long way. When my dad stopped playing the game, despite being naturally drawn towards Sheffield Wednesday he decided to take his lad to the local club. I think he figured that there would be less trouble at the little local ground, this being the late-70s with hooliganism in full swing. Plus, Uncle Billy was a Rotherham fan and we’d be going to the games with Billy and their Richard. Uncle Billy wasn’t related to us; he was dad’s boss at the steelworks, a life-long friend and mentor. It’s a working class thing, John.


On match day we’d park dad’s Ford Cortina, or whatever his current banger was, then walk the underpasses under the roundabout, emerging on Masborough Street, approaching the ground. The crowd would build, as would the excitement and anticipation the closer you got to the towering floodlights and the stadium. I still felt those same feelings 30 years later, after a couple of pints in town then a Saturday afternoon on the Tivoli with my pals. Do you understand any of this, John P?


We began in the Main Stand, a wooden structure that was eventually torn down in the noughties as the Millers progressed and had to improve the ground. My first games were Tranmere and Port Vale (both wins), then the testimonial of Trevor Womble. Yes, Womble, that was his real name and he was a great servant to Rotherham. So much so that Red Rum appeared at half-time and Bobby Charlton scored a screamer from outside the box for the ‘All Stars’ team. I’m not making this up, John! Your fellow Geordie, the great Bobby Charlton.


My dad then moved us to the opposite stand on Millmoor Lane. I remember the pain of being ousted from the FA Cup by an admittedly superb non-league Altrincham side. Then came the good times, a nouveau-riche Havana smoking wide-boy chairman in a sheepskin coat with bags of money (or so he told us!). The 3rd Division championship season of 1980/81 was incredible. We had quality throughout the team, a world-class winger (Tony Towner) and a blond adonis Roy of the Rovers (Ronnie Moore) banging goals in left, right and centre. Oh, and Rod Fern, a massively underrated terrier-like finisher with a comb-over. We had Cossack riders at half-time. UEFA European Footballer of the Year Allan Simonsen came with Charlton Athletic and was dispatched by the reds. The final game, where the championship was sealed, was glorious. Dad wasn’t able to go, so I went with the next-door-neighbour. I asked whether I could go on, but no, we were just about the only people not on the pitch at the end. What a season! Paid for with money our chairman didn’t have……


Dad moved us to the ‘Uncovered Seating’ between that stand and the Railway End (that’s the end where you away fans belong, John P……not our Tivoli kop!). It was probably cheaper. Then dad decided it was time his lad stood at games on ‘terracing running to the touchline’. We took up a sparse spot under the floodlight on Millmoor Lane. It’s from there that I saw the Emlyn Hughes period in Division 2, almost glory, then eventual relegation. And John Barnes scoring for Watford from the half-way line. And our cut-throat Caledonian midfielder Gerry Gow get a yellow card, then a red within the first two minutes of a home game against Derby County. Booked twice in two minutes, John!


Then dad and I went into the Tivoli for a few lean years, after which we took up a spot with all the moaners on the terrace under the Main Stand. And, frankly, at that time, the moaners had little to moan about! Promotion from the fourth division, high-flying in the 3rd, the likes of Bobby Williamson and a young Shaun Goater providing the hits. But they still moaned. Probably screamed invective and shook their 70 year old fists, John.


A recent view from dad's spot on the Tivoli (there's even got a line of ticker tape for you, John!)

The terrace was eventually replaced by seats and so it was the Tivoli kop from there on in, either in the top right corner with dad (where you felt entitled to stand that day!) or in the middle of everything with my mates, often switching between both positions to have the best of both worlds. It was from these vantage points in a ‘primitive and dilapidated dark shed’ that I celebrated the 4th Division championship, thrilled at our giant killing efforts against Everton, agonised as we lost the promotion play-offs on pens and (to put all of this into perspective) left the ground traumatised after seeing my favourite player John Buckley almost killed by a freak head collision. In a game of football. As I said, perspective.


These are just snapshots of one life, John P. I’m just one Rotherham fan, but true fans of other clubs will understand what I’m banging on about. I don’t know you. If you are with us still you’ll certainly be an ‘ex-professional’ elderly man and I wish you no harm, just as I would have wished you no harm on that day you stood on OUR kop in my dad’s favourite spot with your dodgy ticket for the wrong end of the ground.


Millmoor, 1991

Millmoor was closed in 2008, The Millers moving to Don Valley athletics track. I tried to follow them there but it didn’t work for me. I had moved away, had a young family, and just didn’t get the buzz. I think the New York Stadium is superb for Rotherham, closer to the town centre than Millmoor, but when I go there I feel like I’m watching something that isn’t quite mine any more. My heart is still at Millmoor with a cup of Bovril and a cracked bowl. Not everything in life needs to be perfect, John. In fact, there is beauty in things that aren’t perfect.


I’ve since found peace, homeliness and grass roots passion in non-league football, but I’m grateful that Wickersley Youth FC is now staging games at Millmoor. I grew up in Wickersley, so it feels lovely to be back in the Tivoli End watching lads and lasses playing on that pitch. For sure it’s a ghost ground, a strange eerie place and parts of it are unsafe, but just to have that view again is glory for me. John P, if you are still with us, come down and join me. I’ll buy you a bacon butty before the game (no cracked bowls, hygiene rating very good) and a pint or two after the game. In 1993 it finished Rotherham 1 Newcastle 1. You won the replay, of course. No hard feelings, eh?


Wickersley Youth U16 playing at Millmoor, March 2024

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