The Millers have no intention of resting on their laurels after last season’s promotion campaign as Leon Wobschall discovers in conversation with Steve Evans’s No 2, Paul Raynor.
EVERYONE connected with Rotherham United remembers with a misty eye what happened the season after the Millers were last promoted from the Football League’s basement.
No self-respecting Millers fan needs a second invitation to rewind the clock to 2000-01 when Ronnie Moore’s braves went up to the second tier – which they had previously graced in 1982-83 – and more especially what happened on a special Spring afternoon at Millmoor on April 28, 2001.
A young Irishman by the name of Alan Lee wrote his name into Millers folklore by netting an 89th-minute winner in a famous 2-1 victory over Brentford, the cue to a memorable piece of commentary from BBC Radio Sheffield’s former Millers reporters Brian Chapple and Gerry Somerton and a rare old pitch invasion.
That result, allied to promotion rivals Reading’s defeat against Colchester sent the Millers up and clinched back-to-back promotions, with the club subsequently rubbing shoulders with the likes of Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and West Ham during a four-year stint in the second level.
There were heady days and while you will not get the likes of chairman Tony Stewart and the managerial team of Steve Evans and Paul Raynor openly declaring a ‘deja vu’ promotion double to be the target, equally, they are conscious of history and the achievements of the class of 1999-2000 and 2000-01.
The Millers have had a taste of the Championship in home friendlies against Barnsley, Middlesbrough, Huddersfield and Bolton – and have another high-profile visitor on August 6 when neighbours Wednesday visit the New York Stadium for the first time in a mouth-watering Capital One Cup encounter.
As an appetite-whetting exercise for what the club might expect in 12 months’ time if they emulate the feats of that legendary line-up of the early noughties, this is it.
On replicating that achievement, Millers No 2 Raynor said: “That would be a hard act to follow. It’s in the past, but I certainly would not rubbish that as it was a fantastic achievement. We would love to do it, but we need to be realistic as League One is a tough, tough league with the quality of the sides there for all to see. Just the names, without actually seeing any play yet.
“We want to be challenging at the top end of the table. The chairman has not just suddenly said: ‘Just keep us in League One’. We are Rotherham United and want to progress and get better and certainly want to be in the Championship.
“We had seen the quality of teams who have come here in the last four friendly games and we’ve held our own and certainly not looked out of place against them. We have got some good quality players.
“We will see how we start the season and look at it and hope to be challenging at the top end of the table – although we are not going to be sitting here making bold statements that we are going to be in the top three.
“We are going into a very, very difficult league, but with high hopes.”
With plenty of pressure on their shoulders to clinch promotion from League Two last season with their budget one of the highest in the division, the Millers can expect to slip under the radar a little bit more this time around, with the expectation firmly on the likes of Wolves, Bristol City and local rivals Sheffield United.
Not that the Millers are without their admirers, with some in the know tipping them to be promotion dark horses with plenty of wind in their sails following a thrilling end to last season.
The loan signing of No 1 target Matt Tubbs, who has joined on a six-month loan after being chased by the club for the best part of a year, has further reinforced the belief that the Millers can compete at the business end with his arrival following the additions of the likes of Danny Hylton and Michael Tidser.
With proven operators such as Kari Arnason, Craig Morgan, Lee Frecklington and Michael O’Connor already in situ, the Millers look to possess more than enough quality to handle the step up, something Raynor concurs with.
He added: “You don’t sign people just for one season. We signed players last year hoping they we would be in League One this year and also to hold their own in this division.
“We certainly have not gone for quick fixes. We are looking to progress and keep moving forward as a club on and off the pitch.”