The amazing story of Rotherham United

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It's been a tough few years for Rotherham United fans.

I, like thousands of others, looked on as we matched Derby County - a team who arguably should be in the Premier League this season - only to come away with a narrow 1-0 defeat away from home. But to sum up how the fans felt, first we need to look back at their recent history.

Back to back promotions are always remarkable, regardless of any outside factors. But for Rotherham United, it was a little more remarkable than most.

On the 28th April 2001, Alan Lee would score the winning goal against Brentford to give Rotherham United a 2-1 win in front of a sold-out crowd at Millmoor and secure a back to back promotion for the club, sending them into the Championship for the first time since 1968.

In their second season in the Championship they were in contention for a play-off place up until midway through the season. That, however, was as good as it would get for the club. A slump saw them finish the season in 15th place.They survived the next campaign but were eventually relegated in the 2004/2005 season.

Money troubles soon followed that relegation. As Rotherham found themselves facing an astonishing run of 17 games without a win in League One, only a last-minute intervention by a group of local businessmen kept the club in business. A dramatic goalless draw against MK Dons on the final day of the season meant that MK Dons, and not Rotherham, would be relegated. They had survived by the skin of their teeth.

Unfortunately, it didn't get any better. The club started out with a 10 point deduction due to their financial issues. While they recovered from the deduction, their money woes forced them to sell key players in the January transfer window, and the club were soon 13 points adrift. Unsurprisingly, they were relegated.

In the 2007/08 season, things were looking up for The Millers. They had spent much of their first League Two campaign in the automatic promotion places, and it seemed as if they'd be able to climb back up to League One instantly. 

It wasn't to be. In March 2008, not long before the season's close, it was announced Rotherham United had again gone into administration. Another 10 points would be deducted and their chance of going up had vanished.

They were facing a 17 point deduction at the start of the 2008/09 season. It seemed that before the campaign had even begun, they were destined to be spending another year in League Two.

However, their problems were even greater than that. Disputes over money with the landlords led to Rotherham being ejected from Millmoor, their stadium of over 100 years.

The club were now in administration and had no ground to play at for the upcoming season. It seemed the club were about to go into liquidation and it was doubtful whether there would even be a Rotherham United by the time the season was over.

However, there was one bit of good news for the club - at the beginning of the 2008/09 season, it was announced that Tony Stewart would be the new chairman of the club, and he declared his wish that Rotherham would be playing in the Championship again - in just five seasons time.

At the time, some of the fans might have considered it unfortunate that he was simply a well-off businessman, and not an international billionaire like seems to be the trend today.

Little did they know it would turn out to be the best event in the club's history.

If you search around for Tony Stewart, you'll find precious little information on him. He may have his own company, but he doesn't have his own wikipedia page. 

Stewart is a local businessman who runs ASD lighting. He's made a fortune over the years, but it's peanuts in comparison to other chairman. It wasn't clear whether he'd be willing to invest a large chunk of his personal assets into the club to keep them afloat.

Looking back now, it's incredible to think fans ever doubted him.

No, he might not be a multi-billionaire. Speaking as a fan, I'm glad he's not. As a local businessman, he knows the club. He's been surrounded with it for years and knows it's history. He wants to turn his local team into a huge success, with far more drive than you'll ever see out of foreign billionaires who try to buy everyone they can and turn their team into an expensive toy that they can simply dump if results go against them.

However, the club's troubles weren't over. Rotherham had moved into the Don Valley Stadium, but there were two problems. The first was that it wasn't a football stadium, as it's primarily built for athletics. The second was that it wasn't even in Rotherham.

The FA were quick to pounce, and stated that if Rotherham had not moved into a ground in Rotherham by 2012 they'd be kicked out of the Football League. Hope had turned back into despair in just a few weeks.

Moving back to Millmoor was an impossibility. A new stadium was estimated to cost around £17 million. At the time, Stewart's personal wealth was estimated at just £20 million. Rotherham's future was secure for the next few years, but it seemed that it was going to be an uphill struggle to survive after that.

The club purchased the land needed for the ground in January 2010. It seemed as if Stewart had got enough money together to give the go-ahead. Things were going equally well on the pitch, as in the 2009/10 season the club reached the League Two playoff final. However it wasn't to be, as Dagenham and Redbridge would go on to win 3-2 in a thrilling contest.

After an embarrassing 5-0 defeat live on TV at the hands of local rivals Chesterfield, manager Ronnie Moore left the club by mutual consent. Andy Scott was hired, but the club's promotion hopes were over for the 2010/11 season.

The 2011/12 season went much the same, and Scott then found himself fired after a loss to Oxford United all but ended Rotherham's chances of earning a playoff spot.

His replacement was Steve Evans. Evans had come from Crawley, where he had guided them (with the help of a substantial amount of money) to the football league for the first time in their history, and up the League Two table.

His appointment was not particularly pleasing for Rotherham fans. Evans had been convicted of fraud while at his old club Boston United. He had a terrible reputation for being overly aggressive and verbally abusive to match officials (one such incident resulted in a ten match touchline ban).

Once again, it turned out to be the perfect appointment.

The 2012/13 season had the look of finally being the year for Rotherham. The New York Stadium was now ready for business. It holds just 12,021 people, but does have the option of being extended if needed. Rotherham matched their impressive new stadium with some impressive play, as despite inconsistent patches a 5 game winning streak guided Rotherham to second place. They were back in League One.

Things got better and better for the club. An incredible 16 game unbeaten run led them firmly into the League One playoff places - including a 3-0 win over Brentford, who would finish the season in second. Rotherham would take on Preston in the playoff semi final.

The first leg was at Deepdale, and would end 1-1. Despite Rotherham having the better of the game, a sensational Joe Garner strike put Preston level. Rotherham went 1-0 down in the home leg as a free kick bounced and eluded everybody, but remained calm and went on to win 3-1. They were heading to Wembley.

The build-up to the match showed the usual London bias. Leyton Orient were being billed as "The little club from the East End with the big heart." Rotherham, on the other hand, were being perceived as a team who bought success. Not one mention was made of their incredible journey, as people preferred to imply that they were somewhat of a huge club, and it was viewed as David vs Goliath when it came down to their spending.

Rotherham United had actually spent money on just two of the players in their entire squad. Alex Revell had joined for an undisclosed fee from opponents Leyton Orient (probably for around £50,000) and Lee Frecklington for £100,000. They too had built the majority of their squad by using the free transfer market effectively.

The game started poorly for Rotherham, as young winger Moses Odubajo hammered in a volley from the edge of the area to put Orient 1-0 up. Just minutes later Odubajo set up Dean Cox for a simple finish. Rotherham were 2 down at half time.

Sitting in the stands that day, I wasn't concerned one bit. Neither were the fans around me.

Rotherham scored the majority of their goals in the last 15 minutes of their games. It wasn't just a case of having impressive fitness - the players were simply matching the club.

The players, just like the club, never gave up regardless of the situation. They would carry on giving it 100% until the final whistle blew. If the club hadn't have done that, there wouldn't be a club. If the players hadn't done that last season, they wouldn't have been promoted. 

If the club hadn't scored any goals in the last 15 minutes of games, they would have dropped 22 points that they picked up, putting them outside of the playoff places.

The club's never say die attitude showed up once again. Alex Revell stabbed home one against his former club to put The Millers back in the game. 

Most people know what happened next.

Ben Pringle (free transfer) won possession back off Odubajo and played a ball forward. Agard (free transfer) challenged the defender and it dropped to Alex Revell, who controlled it on his thigh (or chest) before smashing a 35 yarder that looped over goalkeeper Jamie Jones and into the goal. In fact, it's probably better if you just watch it.

Rotherham would fall behind in the shootout too, but Adam Collin would save Orient's 4th and 5th penalty to send Rotherham back to the Championship. 

So what did Tony Stewart, the man who's taken Rotherham from near extinction to the Championship, have to say about the win?

He apologized that it took 6 years to get back there instead of the 5 that he intended. That truly says it all.

Despite the loss to Derby on the opening day, there were plenty of positives to be taken from the game - not least the fact that, at times, Rotherham were on top and deserved a point. Stewart and Evans aren't happy, however, until Rotherham reach the Premiership.

With those two at the helm, anything's possible.

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