When Rotherham United departed from Millmoor at the end of the 2007/08 season, the departure of this football club from its home of one hundred and one years was, perhaps, not granted the attention that it should have been. Rotherham, who had a wretched few seasons during the last decade, had failed to reach agreement with their landlords over disputes that had been running for several years, and left for pastures new at The Don Valley Stadium in nearby Sheffield. Since they moved out, though, they have been making slow and steady progess towards a return to their home town, though it will not be Millmoor to which they return, and this progress took a huge step forward this week.
Rotherham United’s woes were amongst the most severe that any Football League club have suffered in recent years. The club had been under the ownership of the scrap metal dealer Ken Booth for many years, but mounting debts meant that Booth – who was sixty-five years old when he took ownership of the club in 1987 – ended up passing it to a supporters’ group led by a lawyer, Peter Ruchniewicz. They, though, were unable to stop the financial rot and the club ended up entering into administration twice in the space of three years. The supporters’ group passed ownership to a group of local businessmen (although this was too late for director Dennis Coleman, who became the first director to fail the Football League’s Fit & Proper Persons Test when the club suffered both of its insolvency events), but they had continuing issues over the use of Millmoor itself which led to them leaving their home town altogether.
The ground had remained under the ownership of the Booth family when the club was passed on, and they did rather nicely out of it. They received £200,000 each year in rent, and the club was liable for the maintenance of it as well. In addition to this, the family continued to receive free advertising in the ground, first call on away tickets, free tickets for home matches and FA Cup final tickets. The club’s ongoing financial difficulties and the breakdown of talks with the Booth family over staying there, however, meant that staying at Millmoor became untenable and the club played its final match there on the third of May 2008, a 1-0 win against Barnet. Local businessman Tony Stewart took over the club, but they were unable to agree a CVA with their creditors and were docked seventeen points by the Football League for exiting administration without a CVA being in place.
Meanwhile, The Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield loomed. Don Valley, with its athletic track and, therefore, a pitch twenty yards from any supporters, was an unsuitable venue for league football, but it was only four miles from Rotherham and would have to suffice until they could find a ground of their own. There may have been concerns that moving away from Rotherham could see crowds slump but, intheir three years in their temporary home, crowds have held up reasonably well at around the 3,500 mark. In addition to this, Stewart has stuck with the club and worked with the local council to bring them home. A site had already been identified, but establishing funding was always likely to be an issue for a club the size of Rotherham United.
This week, though, has seen a giant leap forward for a club that needs to return to its home town, with the news that the local council is to lend it £5m towards the cost of building a new community stadium. The council has stated that the new stadium is “key to the regeneration” of the town – it is part of a £40m regeneration project – and that it will leave a “positive legacy” for the town itself. That the council is aware of the positive effect that a football club can have on its community is certainly very encouraging. It will, once completed, be down to the people of the town to demonstrate that they deserve such a facility by turning out for it. After all, the club will, in total, need to raise in the region of £17m in order to pay for this development.
For now, though, it is perhaps enough to be able to say that moving back to a new ground in Rotherham will be the closing chapter in a dismal period in the history of Rotherham United. Somehow or other, though, the club has managed to fight its way through it and it is a tribute to the hardiness of football clubs in the lower divisions that Rotherham United is even still with us. Through two spells in administration and leaving their home of over a century, Rotherham United is still here. It is to be hoped that the mistakes of the past have been learnt and that the Millers will never find themselves in the predicament in which they found themselves again. Their new home will give them every chance of flourishing after a difficult few seasons.
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