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READ | Les Payne reviews Millers finals of the past

24 May 2018

Les Payne looks back over some of the Millers most memorable moments...

The omniscient Les Payne is one of the few living souls to have witnessed each of Rotherham United’s cup and play-off finals. As the Millers set their sights on a fifth final and a fourth trip to the home of English football, he digs deep into the memory bank…

Football League Cup Final v Aston Villa – 1961

There wasn’t many Rotherham United supporters that stayed back when the Millers reached their first domestic cup final in 1961.

However, when it came to the away leg, it was inevitable that some missed out on a ticket. Those fans weren’t refreshing their Twitter on a loop; no live feeds meant that the news of the Millers squandering a 2-0 lead from the first leg journeyed back up the M1 with the travelling fans.

“2-0 seemed a good lead to take to Villa Park but Villa were a top flight side at the time. It was obviously disappointing news when the final score came through (no local radio or social media back then).

“Rotherham goalkeeper Roy Ironside earned his own spot of football history by saving a penalty in that first leg. The FA Cup had to wait 65 years before seeing a penalty kick saved in a Wembley FA Cup Final. It was not much more than 65 minutes into the first final of the League Cup that the same thing happened.”

The notion of playing a final over two games was an unusual one and insult was added to injury when, had it been a standalone fixture, the Millers might have had one more trophy in the cabinet. Forced to re-arrange to accommodate two separate clashes, the club had to refund fans for their troubles.

“Finals should be one offs. The League Cup wanted to be a bit different and so introduced two legs for the semis and the final.

“The Football League said there wasn’t time to fit in a two-legged Final. I imagine a lot of fans who would have been available to watch the final in May, could well have been away on holiday when the first leg was staged in late August.”

Auto Windscreens Shields Trophy v Shrewsbury Town – 1996

Whilst the press endeavor to sit on the fence, 14th April 1996 was the day that Les Payne went from reporter to supporter.

A first time under the arch was enough to change that little prefix.

“I found myself being more of a fan than the usual Press Box neutral on the day, so much wanting them to win and being really nervous. Great journey back up the M1 with a much revered, long-time journalistic colleague and travelling companion (who had travelled from his retirement lair in Cornwall).”

We talk about footballers’ boyhood aspirations but it was also the day that the former Rotherham Advertiser and Star man – partly – lived out one of his football fantasies.

“I had a lump in my throat when ‘my team’ came out of the tunnel and seeing all the red and white. Also it was my first time in the Wembley Press Box so that was a great moment for me, somewhere I’d always hoped to report from one day.

“When I was a youngster (junior school age) I would write imaginary match reports. I’d imagine I was reporting for the Green ‘Un that covered the whole of South Yorkshire. My ambition back then seems pretty small time but all I wanted to do one day was report on the FA Cup Final at Wembley for the Green ‘Un.”

And fame at last for Millers guru Les Payne!

“It also got me an appearance on BBC television the day afterwards to talk about the effects, impact and benefits of such a success.”

League Two Play-Off Final v Dagenham & Redbridge – 2010

The underdogs and the bookies favourites; are they just semantics or does the pressure carry some weight?

It did for Rotherham United as they headed to the capital, supposedly odds on to join Notts County, Bournemouth and Rochdale in the third tier. The Millers kept up the trend of their two-goal Wembley heroes as local lad Ryan Taylor joined the brace brigade but it wasn’t enough.

“That was a huge disappointment because the Millers were expected to win. It is the horrible feeling not just of losing but that you were so close to going up a division, and here you are after all that effort, having only another season to look forward at the level you have fought so hard to get out of - and gone so close to doing so.”

League One Play-Off Final v Leyton Orient – 2014

Arrive at ground, grab programme and teamsheet, pick up pass. If there was such a thing as a ‘Les cam,’ that’s what you’d have seen through the Rotherham United journalists’ eyes on the way into the AESSEAL New York Stadium.

Except something was amiss the night that the Millers hosted Preston North End in the semi-finals decider.

“The night of the 2014 L1 Play-Off Semi-final 2nd leg against Preston, I arrived to find (to my complete surprise and amazement) that the Press room had been named after me.

I regarded it as a massive honour and I was humbled but hugely proud. It was a magnificent gesture by the football club.”

Wembley marked a milestone for him; 45 years trailing around after the Millers. He picked his moment to bow out and not just because the attack of the dictaphones was well underway as his preferred pen and paper became extinct. Les and the Millers didn’t quite make it to their golden anniversary but would settle for sapphire.

“My final game covering the Millers some 45 years after covering my first one. So, what a game to go out on. When the Play-offs came round, I hoped I might ‘finish’ at Wembley. I know a lot of people were hoping I would be able to.

“I was quite calm all way through really. A sort of “what-will-be, will-be” sort of attitude, even the penalties. Nothing I could do to affect things. Just hope they went the Millers’ way and...”

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