There can’t be many people in football who are unpopular with their own fans as well as the opposition, but Rotherham United’s manager Steve Evans seems to be in that special pot. Well, perhaps John Terry. And El Hadji Diouf….and that mad Cardiff City chairman perhaps. There are many reasons why fans of Dagenham & Redbridge, Crawley Town and Boston United will never put Evans on their Christmas card list despite his relatively good managerial track record. He has, after all, taken two teams from Non-League football into the Football League, and in the case of Crawley Town, to an FA Cup game at Old Trafford where around 9,000 fans from West Sussex saw their team lose by just a single goal. Perhaps if the game was played today a Crawley win wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows or see companies offer special deals like bet365 bonus code with odds such as 20/1 on a win as they did on that day back in February 2011.
Where exactly had those 9,000 Crawley fans gone in the intervening three years is another question you may ask? Alas, the hangers-on and one wonder day fans had long gone back to watching football from their sofas despite Crawley winning back-to-back promotion. Last season, in a strange twist, Evans resigned from his post at Crawley Town just as the club were about to secure promotion to League One, and joined Rotherham United who were actually below Town in the table and ended up outside the play-off spots. Nearly two years later and the teams were due to meet for the first time at the New York Stadium in League One. Crawley were now managed by John Gregory. Yep, that John Gregory from all those years ago. What with Alan Curbishley, Ray Wilkins and now Gregory back in management, David O’Leary must be confident the phone will ring again relatively shortly. That’s something for us all to look forward to.
On the face of it, Rotherham is probably one of the last places you would expect Danny Last and I to be. After all, we are against League football (apart from the fact he supports Brighton & Hove Albion), modern stadiums (apart from the fact he supports a team who play in a modern stadium) and devout Southerners (but we do love the North). But we had paid our £22 (TWENTY TWO POUNDS!!!) for a seat in the new stadium on the outskirts of Rotherham, home of course to the Chuckle Brothers. Six days ago we were content with a trip to watch Met Police v Lewes today. Personally, I blame everyone but myself for now sitting in a stadium with nothing stronger than a overcooked pie in my hand.
It all started when I noticed that Sheffield United were at home on Sunday against Fulham. “Haven’t been there for ages” I muttered to no one in particular. “You going then?” CMF responded, in that expecting tone. “Nah. Not worth it for the day.” Five minutes later I had the whole weekend planned out and Danny booking tickets. It seemed we would be going to the ball. The question was, where would we end up on Saturday?
Back in the day when The Current Mrs Fuller was still at school, I used to travel up to Newark every weekend to see her. Dedication, as you can see. Back then she worked in Poundstretchers on a Saturday so I was left to kick my heels around the town, which isn’t exactly known for its cultural highlights. But after a bright idea of insuring myself on her car, Saturday’s became the best days ever. I’d meet her for a 12pm lunch, then bang on the dot of 1pm I’d be off, taking in a new ground every week, as long as it was less than 90 minutes away (to ensure I’d be back to pick her up from work at 6.30pm).
Quite what the situation is today I don’t know but in the space of two years I managed to visit over 40 different grounds, from Walsall to Bury, Port Vale to Grimsby Town and all the bits in between. It became a logical step to try to complete all of the 92 clubs, and on a sunny May day at Anfield in 1995 I did just that, watching an inevitable West Ham defeat. I joined the 92 club but soon got tired of its ridiculous rules about membership. According to the regulations back then, I couldn’t count my visit to St Mary’s because I’d seen Nigeria v Japan in an International Friendly, but I could count going to see a LDV Cup game watched by one man and his dog. Despite having seen Carlisle United play twice, when they dropped out of the league and returned a few years later, I was expected to revisit them. Who seriously puts ridiculous rules around watching football? Well, apart from the FA?
So I had sort of let my unofficial status of having been to all 92 lapse in recent years. But I was determined to get back on track and complete the final few. I had four to go – Newport County, Morecambe (I’d been to the old ground), Fleetwood Town and Rotherham United’s New York Stadium. And just as luck would have it that last one sits just a stone’s throw from Sheffield AND they were a home. No brainer as to where I’d be spending my Saturday then.
I’d seen the Millers at Millmoor and then a few years later when they took residence at Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium but now they were back at home even if it was in a ground that I suspected they shared with Doncaster Rovers and simply moved it down the M18 every week. You get the feeling it’s still a work in progress, with many of the exterior parts to the stadium still standing empty. With the nearest pub (Hedonism – not really the type of bar you associate with Rotherham) being a 10 minute walk away, you feel the club are missing a big trick here, as well as the complete lack of catering options outside the ground.
Danny sorted the tickets – just £22 by paying in advance (in comparison Sheffield United’s FA Cup game with Premier League Fulham was £15). Once again it makes you wonder if clubs really understand the whole opportunity cost economic theory when they moan about falling attendances. Rotherham have to compete with dozens of other clubs within an hour’s drive AND a major shopping centre. It’s hard to sell League One football as “Entertainment” and so a more sensible ticket policy needs to be adopted to encourage more people to attend. Sorry, sensible head on again….back to normal now. It’s quite an honour I suppose to have the Chuckle Brothers as your most famous fans, now appointed Honorary Club Presidents. Howard Webb, despite the various rumours that he is an undercover Man Utd fan, is actually a like-long Millers fan too.
Our arrival in New York (named, so we understand because the factory there made all the fire hydrants in New York City) with plenty of time for a decent pre-match meal. But instead we ended up trying to find a magic door to Millmoor to take a few snaps. Who needs food anyway? A swift pint, purely to avoid the torrential rain of course was our only calorific intake prior to the game, which is standard for our trips anyway.
Rotherham United 2 Crawley Town 2 – New York Stadium – Saturday 25th January 2014
“Yeah I’d love to tell you all my problem. You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham” sang the Arctic Monkeys in their song Fake Tales of San Francisco. The angst on the faces of Turner, Cook, , O’Malley and Helders was mirrored on the faces of the 7,500 Rotherham fans faces as the game entered the 5th minute of stoppage time. The visitors had ridden their luck and looked like they would be leaving down the M1 with all three points. But then up popped Kieran Agard in the six yard box to smash the ball home and lift the lid off the stadium.
It’s rare I see a decent game in the Football League(s) but this was an exception. Both teams gave it a go and in the end whilst both teams will feel the pain of dropping two points, a draw was a fair result. Crawley had taken the lead in the 23rd minute when Matt Tubbs, who was on-loan at The New York until just two weeks ago, stroked the ball home from just inside the box. The 201 (we actually counted 202) Crawley fans welcomed the returning goalscoring hero. The stand out player in more ways than one for the home side was Ben Pringle, with his blonde locks and headband (very South Yorkshire) and he fooled Joe Walsh into conceding a penalty which Agard put away with ease.
Half-time, time for another pie and some Bovril. We were blending in perfectly, even learning the words to various songs about Sheffield Wednesday. The second half started with the rain falling heavily but that didn’t dampen our hearts. We had a big evening planned in the bright lights of Kelham Island in Sheffield and what we needed now was 45 minutes of robustious football. And that is what we good.
Crawley took the lead again just after the hour mark, Tubbs turning provider for Simpson. Both Rotherham came back at Town, creating 12 second half chances but it seemed the goal was charmed. Five minutes of injury time were displayed giving the home fans a final surge of cheer. The ball hit the upright, the keeper, a defender and every other possible object but the back of the net until Agard finally got the goal. But it wasn’t all over. Crawley went up the other end and three times saw shots on target somehow blocked.
We came with some trepidation of what we would see but left with a song in our heart, a skip in our step and our faith in new stadiums restored. Start spreading the word…..