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The Championship Years - Part One

24 June 2015

Last season former Sheffield Star and Green 'Un reporter Les Payne told the story of the Millers Championship years under the leadership of Ronnie Moore for Millers Matchday.

Here is your chance to re-live those wonderful years, with our second season back in the second tier coming up in August:

Part One - The Championship Years by Les Payne

There will be many Rotherham United fans who had a feeling of déjà vu as they approached last season and the return to The Championship.

Accomplished as it was by back-to-back promotions, the double success mirrored the achievements of 2000 and 2001, both still very fresh in the memory of every Millers fan although, strange as it seems, some 13/14 years have passed since that golden spell under Ronnie Moore aided by his assistant John Breckin.

It was no surprise at all to find the Millers written off at the start of that 2001/2 season. After all, they had been among the favourites to go down the previous season following their promotion to League One. 
But they surprised everyone, probably even themselves because one recalls even Ronnie Moore suggesting that it would be tough in League One. 

But up they went aided by winning all the ten final home games capped by that never-to be forgotten afternoon against Brentford and Alan Lee's promotion-clinching winner in the last minute.

So, it was onwards and upwards and they were in The Championship (then still called Division One but we'll refer to it as The Championship to avoid confusion) and everybody's tip to go straight back down from the second tier. 

Ronnie Moore's summer recruitment plans included bringing in some hard-nosed experience, guys with attitude who also had experience at this new level.

Perhaps the key newcomer was to be craggy central defender Chris Swailes. The sort who would willingly put his head in where others might not consider putting a leg, he set a set a great example and relished the challenge - and the tougher the better.

His centre defence partnership with Martin McIntosh, who arrived a couple of games into the season, was pivotal to the club's survival fight that season. 

Another plater of vast experienced to be recruited was midfielder Nick Daws, another no-frills, get-on-with-it type whilst a key decision was in bringing back goalkeeper Mike Pollitt.

He'd had a couple of seasons at the club but had missed the previous season having been lured away by Chesterfield who were making lucrative offers to players elsewhere, the idea of a club regime later discredited.

Naturally, season ticket sales were the best for a long time and enthusiasm was high amongst the fans. They also had the boost of the opening game being at home.

Saturday, August 11, 2001 - Rotherham United 2 Crystal Palace 3 

Their opponents on that sunny Saturday afternoon on were Crystal Palace who could hardly have envisaged such a fiery reception.

The Millers, as newly-promoted sides often do, flew out of the traps on that opening day. They all but blew Palace away.

Robust central defender Guy Branston had the distinction of the team's first goal of the season on the half-hour. Three minutes later, Millmoor was roaring again when that ace poacher Mark Robins made it 2-0. 

The Championship? It looked a breeze. Except the Millers were to find out that sides at this level aren't blown over that easily.

Palace were back in it before half-time with a Dougie Freedman penalty. 

Just before the hour, they were level through Aki Riihilahti and a cruel turn-round was complete when Chris Swailes made an error and Jamie Smith scored what proved to be the winner 13 minutes from time.

After such a great start, it was a deflating defeat but an early reminder of the level they had moved up to and that sides wouldn't fold and also had quality to make comebacks count.

Just out of interest, he is the Millers XI which set off at 3 o'clock, noting that Martin McIntosh was still a week or so away from signing whilst Alan Lee missed the opening two games.

How does this side, Millers fans might ponder, compare with the one which opened at Derby County last Saturday?

Pollitt, Bryan, Swailes, Branston, Hurst; Sedgwick, Watson, Talbot, Warne, Barker, Robins. Subs: Daws, Monkhouse.

And try this on your Millers mates. Ask them to have a guess at the Millmoor attendance for that opening game on the return to the second tier after an absence of 18 years. It was 6,994. 

They sold near enough that number of season tickets alone for last season!

Saturday, August 18th - Watford 3 Rotherham United 2

The first point of the season eluded the Millers and all hinged on a missed penalty from which Mark Robins denied himself a hat-trick.

The little striker had cancelled out Watford's third minute opener from Tommy Smith only for the home side to go back in front on the stroke of half-time through Allan Nielsen.

When Smith netted his second on the hour, it was very much uphill but Robins struck quickly to make it 3-2.

His chance for the equaliser and his hat-trick came after 72 minutes but he missed the penalty and so it was two games no points.

Thursday, August 23rd - Rotherham United 1 Sheffield United 1 

An unusual midweek date saw the first local derby on a Thursday night - and no one will be surprised to discover that television had a hand in this because it went out live although the fact it was also League Cup week as well played a part.

There was a League debut for Martin McIntosh (his debut had been in the 2-0 Worthington Cup win at Scunthorpe on the Monday of that week) and a first league appearance of the season for Alan Lee (he'd played and scored in the cup win at Glanford Park.)

Rotherham went in front midway through the first half and it was delight against his former club for Rob Scott, for whom this was his first Millers appearance of the season.

The crowd of 7,515 made it a noisy evening and most agreed that a draw was a fair outcome, the Blades saving themselves with a 67th minute penalty converted by Laurent D'Jaffo.

Still, Ronnie Moore's men were off and running with their first point after promotion.

Monday, August 27th - Barnsley 1 Rotherham United 1 

One South Yorkshire derby was quickly followed by another on the Bank Holiday Monday as Rotherham popped across to Oakwell to face a Barnsley side who had dropped out of the Premier League just three years earlier.

The crowd of 15,552 saw Mark Robins give Rotherham a 16th minute lead. 

They held it well and were closing in on that first win only for Bruce Dyer to equalise for the Reds with 11 minutes to go.

Saturday, Sept 8th - Burnley 3 Rotherham United 0 

After a week off due to the international break, the Millers returned to action at Turf Moor.

All went ok until straight after half-time.

The goalless first half was quickly transformed in Burnley's favour with Ian Thomas-Moore, perhaps inevitably, putting the knife into the ribs of dad Ronnie as he notched to have the Millers trailing in the 48th minute. 

They had no time to recover because Paul Weller added a second within 60 seconds. 

The defeat was completed by Andy Payton's stoppage time penalty.

Saturday, September 15th - Rotherham United 1 Norwich City 1 

Next up at Millmoor was another of the fancied teams, Norwich City and it is interesting to note that even this early in the season the attendance only just topped 6,000.

After a goalless first half, Rob Scott was unfortunate in putting through his own goal to give the Canaries a 51st minute lead.

But the Millers fought back and it was one-time Norwich hero Mark Robins who netted the equaliser from the penalty spot 20 minutes from time. 

It was his sixth goal in seven appearances so far in the season including one in the cup-tie at Scunthorpe.

Monday, September 17th - Nottm Forest 2 Rotherham United 0 

Whatever claims might have made been so far for the Millers, they could have no arguments over their defeat at the City Ground despite the fact both goals were from penalties.

They were second best to a slick Forest outfit for whom Chris Bart-Williams netted the first penalty on the half-hour. 

Chris Doig took the second one right minutes later and there was to be no way back.

Incidentally, it was the second and final league appearance in a Millers shirt for striker Jose Miranda, signed from Felguiras in Portugal (he had briefly appeared in a 4-0 home defeat to Bradford City in the Worthington Cup a week earlier.)

Anyone actually remember him? He never played for the club again.

Saturday, September 22nd - Gillingham 2 Rotherham United 1 

The early season fervour surrounding the club was starting to wane a touch as the Millers headed for the Medway. But there was to be no joy there either.

Marlon King and defender Chris Hope scored either side of half-time and the reply from Mark Robins came too late, arriving in stoppage time.

So, eight games in and the Millers were not only winless but also bottom of the table. 

Those who had predicted their immediate relegation were feeling confident with their prediction.

*Next time... Better things to come, sparked by - of all things - a 3-0 home defeat and Ronnie Moore's refusal to shave!

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